Carolyn Hax Live: Figure out early on what you care about most (May 20)

May 20, 2016

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, happy Friday.

I was recently at a VERY fancy dinner with my Fiancé, we had a reservation and when we were seated it was at a table in the back near the desk where waiters run checks. I asked the hostess if we could sit somewhere else. She didn't have another table, and I said we wouldn't mind waiting at the bar until one became available. About 10 minutes later we were seated at a much nicer table. I found out later that my Fiancé was mortified - was I rude???

Nope. It's your night out and it's your prerogative to request the experience you'd prefer, within the limits of what the restaurant can reasonably provide. That can mean waiting for a window seat, choosing not to shiver under the a/c vent, or putting as much distance as you need between your too-rare date night away from the kids and the family there with three kids under 6.

What I'm more interested in here, though, is the gap (or two) between your comfort level and your fiance's. He doesn't know you're assertive like this? He's not assertive like this himself? Are there other areas where you're mismatched and/or this unaware of each other's natures?

Hi, Carolyn. Love your weekly chats! Thanks for all you do! I have to have a (non-emergency but necessary) medical procedure (think a colonoscopy). The facility will not admit me for the procedure unless I am accompanied by someone who will be there for the duration of the procedure and drive me home. I cannot take a cab home, and I cannot arrange for someone to pick me up when I'm ready to go. I'm not married, I don't have kids or other family that could take me, and although I have good friends, none that I feel comfortable asking to take a day off work to sit in an office waiting room with me. So I've repeatedly had to delay the appointment. What do people like me do in this situation? I have a chronic medical condition, and I'm suddenly very depressed about the fact that I have to go through life wondering who is doing to take me to my various appointments. I realize that this is a silly logistical question, but it's really triggered some profound feelings of loneliness and fear, and I'd be interested in your thoughts. Thanks!

I don't think this is silly at all, and I also think it's a lot more common than you may realize. Solo adults make up a larger percentage of the U.S. population than ever before. That means issues like this are the new normal.

I don't know if you've gone back to the facility to challenge their policy, but that's where I'd start. (Of course this is not my area of expertise, so if this is a matter of law, then please pardon my ignorance.) If there is room to budge but they won't do it, call around for another reputable facility to see if they'll work with you.

I'm making these suggestions because you seem to prefer doing this on your own, so I'm accommodating that. However, I think asking a friend might come to be the better option, and not because of red tape. For one thing, there might be someone among your friends who is in a similar position and would be grateful to have a reciprocal agreement with you. Even people who supposedly have a spouse or family to lean on might not want to--say, because X asks too many questions or Y gets anxious around doctors or Z will broadcast your private medical business across the entire time zone. Establishing a mutual go-to could spare you not just this time, but also from the general despair you're feeling of having to rethink this every time.

And, another benefit to consider, people often have a backward understanding of asking favors, including yours truly. We look at asking a favor as an imposition, but sometimes, especially when it's rare and comes from someone who prefers to stand alone, asking is actually a gift. Have you ever had a friend trust you with something big, and felt flattered to be asked? And/or grateful for the chance to show this person you care? That could be what you offer here. Trusting someone with your vulnerability can help can bring the friend you choose (carefully, of course) a notch closer to you--especially if you're able to return this level of favor for him or her.

I hope this helps, and good luck.

Carolyn: I’ve always wanted to be the "author of my own life”—and when I was younger, I was pretty good at it. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more and more afraid of making important decisions—and so I delay them, and just overthink them/gather more information. (I’m in therapy for anxiety, but it doesn’t seem to do much to help my decision making abilities) Whether in my career or relationships, I’m starting to see my life evolve based on the decisions I HAVEN’T made rather than the decisions I have. But I feel powerless to fix this. Please help! Do you know any good resources for learning how to be a better decision maker? I know I need to make more decisions, and more frequently…I just don’t know how. -Paralyzed

Therapy should be addressing this. I can't say whether the problem is the therapist, or the type of therapy, or whether the therapy needs to be paired with another form of treatment, but something is missing in your current treatment arrangement.

To address that, I suggest both saying something to your therapist about how you feel you;re not getting better in this one, very important respect, and also getting a second opinion from someone who perhaps approaches anxiety treatment in a different way. Your regular doctor can be a starting place for your search for names.

Tom Sietsema (Post restaurant critic) has said many times in his weekly chats that this is a completely valid request.

Hi, I don't know if this is the right place to write this or not, but I'm 12 and read your column every day. Your chat for May 13 featured a question about sharing baby gear. I think that the proper response would be to say that it's sexist to say that "we're just glad there's both sexes in the family so we won't have to buy new [clothing]." Babies will not mind whether you dress them in pink or blue onesies. I'm the second of two children; my parents didn't mind that I was a baby girl wearing her brother's hand-me-downs.

This is the right place, thank you. 

Things are getting MUCH better on this front than they were even a decade ago (thank you, all you pink-wearing athletes during breast cancer awareness efforts), but it's still somewhat true that people are more comfortable putting a girl in blue onesies than a boy in pink onesies.

That said, you're right to call out the reflexive acceptance (mine included) of gender assignment of color. The sooner people just wear what they wear, the freer we all get to be--and the less of a toehold we'll grant society's dark/judgmental side.

If people dread having to explain and reexplain that the pink-wearing baby is actually a boy, just say, "He's a boy with a big sister." Most people will get it, not that anyone needs them to.

For the person who needs a medical procedure and has to have someone accompany them to the facility--I recently went through this myself, my husband is deployed, I don't have family in town, and I felt uncomfortable asking friends (in the end, I had a family member come from out of town). As I understand it, this is standard practice at medical facilities when a procedure requires anesthesia, because it's not safe to drive afterwards and you might have problems crop up afterwards (so they don't want you to be alone or with a taxi driver). I don't think the OP will be able to persuade the facility to waive the rule or find another facility without it. I asked the facility what to do if I didn't have someone who could come, and they said you can hire a nurse for the day, so that may be the best option for the OP; I also agree that friends are often really understanding about these things, even though it's awkward to ask.

Hire a nurse! Sounds like a natural and ridiculously expensive solution. 

Have TaskRabbit-type services caught up with this yet? Or home-care companies (the ones that place caregivers in in-home positions as a patient recuperates, e.g.)? 

Hi Carolyn. My daughter is 4.5 months old and I couldn't love her more. However, I'm a major introvert and I'm worried about how I can provide interactive experiences for her while fighting the inevitable dread I have toward socializing. I google Mommy and Me classes frequently but they're expensive. Besides, I can probably talk myself out of any of these things fairly easily. It's not that I hate people, I just prefer being alone. Also, I don't have the greatest self-esteem so I feel I won't be classy enough, smart enough, interesting enough to hold my own with other moms while my daughter is playing. But, gaah! I want to give her opportunities to enjoy other people. I know it's important. Are there ways to ease into this that I'm missing? Will it get better/easier? I don't have many friends and the few that I do have don't have children. Oh, I'm a SAHM, so she isn't getting to meet people at daycare. Thank you.

Yes, your power to talk yourself out of things is on full display here. 

It's wonderful that you see the need for her to have her own experiences vs. just make do occupying the life you've built for yourself--this is actually a difficult bridge for people to cross. 

But you will have to take action besides just concluding you need to do it.

First, I suggest you take on the bear: "I won't be classy enough, smart enough, interesting enough to hold my own with other moms." My shoulder-devil wants to tell you this fear will be obliterated in the first 5 minutes of "My baby [whatever]" talk at the first playground you see. But that would be unkind. Plus, your self-doubt is obviously a longtime, soul-sucking companion of yours and it's going to take some doing to cut her from your life. Please seek professional help with it--if not for your sake then for your daughter's. No matter what she needs, you'll be better at providing it if you feel stronger emotionally.

Second, give yourself permission to be practical, even a corner-cutter, about socializing your baby. You say no day care because you're a SAHM, but are there ways you can work in some time for her in a high-quality care center? Can you take part in a co-op, can you work one day a week to pay for the one say she's in care? You have time to think about this part--waiting till she's a year, 18 months, even older, will still leave plenty of time for her to grow accustomed to a noisier environment than she's getting at home. 

I say corner-cutting because these don't involve your having to socialize. Still, I think some effort on your part will be good for both of you. Your friends, for example, might not have kids, but they're people, right? So being around them will help your child and therefore be worth any effort you make to arrange times together.

And, the Mommy n Me stuff (imho) is overrated and mostly to allow the adults to mingle, but when your daughter gets older, the gatherings both get more kid-centered and, yay, cheaper--mostly because this is when local recreation depts get involved vs. expensive private storefront operations. Little person soccer and swim lessons and camps will provide exactly what you're hoping to give your daughter.

To ease yourself in, btw, if that's what you want, check out the offerings at your local library, YMCA, community center, rec center, etc. Often they're free and drop-in noncommittal.

Had more to say on that than I thought, sorry to disappear for so long.

Hi Carolyn- my husband and I are expecting our first baby, and we would really like to keep him/her off of social media. We obviously won't post pictures ourselves, and our parents agree with our preference. However, I'm not sure how we deal with other relatives and friends who might post pictures. If it's only one or two here and there, I don't want to make a big deal about it, but I also don't want to set a precedent of being okay with it. Is there a way you suggest telling people our wishes without sounding controlling? I'm sure people will try to be respectful, but it's the first baby in the family so everyone is also excited.

The best way not to sound controlling is to figure out early on what you care about most and what you can let go--because if you're announcing expectations on Facebook exposure, sugary foods, preferred colors, acceptable toys, screen time, music volume and shoes in the house, then, well, you get what you get.

When you're expecting would seem like a good time to sort all this out, because you have time to think while you await your baby's birth, but the reality of your child--and of the number of fronts on which your relatives and friends push back against your preferences--tends to force adjustments on the fly, to the extent that some parents adopt strategies that don't even resemble their original intent.

So. Facebook. When the opportunities present themselves, say you prefer not to have your child's image on social media until s/he is old enough to consent to it. For those who don't hear this and post an image, ask kindly for them to take it down or change their privacy settings (assuming that's okay with you, that a just-family, closed group has access).

And, like I said, pick your battles with the other stuff.

Unless you're under a full-on assault of boundary challenges, but that's a whole other answer.

Dear Carolyn, My only have one child, a ten year old. She is very good friends with our neighbor, also ten, the youngest of four. These girls go to different schools, but have many mutual friends due to sports, clubs, etc... A problem arises when my daughter has a sleep over with anyone but the neighbor. Even though neighbor sleeps over often (just the two of them, or with up to four girls,) when my daughter has another girl over, and she just wants it to be the two of them, neighbor throws a fit, to the point where her mother has gotten involved, asking if her daughter can please be included! My daughter is now starting to turn down fun suggestions from me, because of how neighbor will react. For example, a school friend is spending the night next weekend and I suggested the drive- in and then sleeping in a tent in the back yard. My daughter said no, because "if neighbor finds out, she'll never hear the end of it." Thoughts on how to handle in the future would be appreciated.

Agh! That mother!

Please encourage your daughter to live her life as she chooses without hiding. Use this experience, in fact, to teach her the points on the "live without hiding scale," from flaunting at one extreme, to just being, to hiding at the other extreme. You want to teach her to be comfortable in the "just being" zone, which means she's mindful of flaunting and resistant to hiding.

So, have other girls over. Maybe pass on the backyard tent--arguably a flaunt--or, invite the neighbor to camp out with your daughter one weekend and have the friend camp with her on the following one. 

When the mother gets involved, you stand up to her kindly, armed with something your daughter agrees you can offer: "I'm sorry, I told Daughter just one friend tonight, but if Neighbor would like to come over tomorrow for brunch, that would be perfect."

You can use yourself as the heavy here--having one girl over is different from 2 or 3, and it's your house. You can draw that line. 

And, meanwhile, you can coach your daughter to handle someone who won't let her hear the end of it. Role-play it, even. It's a really, really good thing to know how to do.

Please look into your local library for story time. It may seem like your daughter is too young, but many of them start at around 3 months. These are usually about 30 minutes to an hour and free of charge. This might be a good way to ease yourself into socializing without spending a ton of money.

When I was going through a similar period in my life, my therapist suggested I go out and make some random minor decisions without a lot of research-- choose a restaurant without reading Yelp, etc. I realized I had come to make a huge issue of buying shoes-- going to every store, trying them on multiple multiple times etc. I needed some new hiking boots, so I went to two stores next to each other, picked the best boots of the bunch, and bought them, without waiting overnight, reading reviews etc. it was the first step in breaking the pattern of overthinking (and the boots worked out just fine). Good luck.

Hi Carolyn, I've known a man for about three years now. When I met him, he was very immature and generally a jerk to almost everyone, including my friends (who all still dislike him). I dated him briefly and broke up with him. Over the years, I've seen him grow up and become more mature, but there are still some aspects of his personality that I really disagree with (mostly, how he treats other people who are not me). Recently we've reached out and are slowly growing a fledgling relationship. However, he has a tendency to pressure me to commit to things that I'm not willing to do, because while he is certain that I'm the person he wants, I am not so sure he is the person I want, and would prefer to avoid serious commitment for a while longer. This past weekend he basically "took a bullet" for me---he heroically caught me when I fell in a dangerous situation, and as a result his nose got sliced up and required an ER visit. I was completely unharmed thanks to him and took him to the hospital, where he suffered greatly during stitches due to his fear of needles. Since he saved me from what would have surely been a broken ankle, I feel like a terrible person for yet again turning down his pressures to move in with him or spend more time with him. Am I a bad person to not make a sacrifice of my own (values, that is) in parallel to his physical one? Thanks, Gravity-prone

Yikes. You are never under *any* obligation to offer yourself up romantically in exchange for something somebody did. Wow.

I was already leaning toward your friends' (presumed) take on this guy, because "he has a tendency to pressure me to commit to things that I'm not willing to do," and that is the deal-breaker of all deal-breakers in a person. It's disrespectful of you and of your right to run your own life--and, please agree with me on this, what people have to offer in a relationship is irrelevant unless they clear that basic "respects me as a human" hurdle.

But, already thinking that, and seeing that he expects a relationship from you because he got hurt breaking your fall? I'm in the "I can't even" zone. 

I do so hate it when a chat becomes Please Get Therapy Day, but, please consider getting therapy. Or at least reading the little book of big boundaries, "Life Skills for Adult Children," by Janet Woititz and Alan Garner. Not only might it actually save you from a much bigger danger than a broken ankle--guys like this one, and/or your tendency to capitulate to same--but I'm guessing also your friends will be relieved to see that you've got some boundaries under construction.

Hey Carolyn! How does one get over the feeling of 'settling' on a relationship. I'm sure, in the world of billions of people, there are others who are better matches for me. And I rationally know that one doesn't need a perfect match to be happy and fulfilled. But how do I fight the subconscious feeling that a better match for me will come along, keeping me from fully committing?

When you stop wanting to be with someone else is a pretty basic sign. Not that you should immediately marry the person who moves you to feel that way--that's just your sign to then give it some time to see if that feeling lasts. If it does, congratulations.

The one thing that keeps this from being a one-size-fits-all formula is that not everyone is comfortable enough with intimacy to get close enough to anyone to feel this way. If you suspect that's you, then the better-match thing is beside the point, and the person you need to understand, embrace and commit to fully is you.

My sister-in-law is very overprotective of her 1-year-old son. There's already a long list of places she won't go with him because of germs, foods she won't let him eat because of alleged health risks, etc. The other day I off-handedly mentioned that maybe our sons would play sports together when they're older, and she replied that there's "no chance in hell" she will allow her son to play sports because of the risks of injuries. Is there anything I can or should say or do to get her to relax a bit and understand that children aren't quite as fragile as she thinks they are?

It would be nice if you could productively say, "Protecting kids from everything has a much bigger risk: That they'll be emotionally stunted and afraid of their own shadows. I know you mean well and you're being the best mom you can, but I think the healthiest thing you can do for both of you right now is to seek treatment for your anxiety."

But mindful of how powerfully that can backfire, I'll suggest instead that you talk to the family member you share--her spouse, her sibling, however you're connected-in-law--to plant the seed that there's serious trouble brewing in her protectiveness. There's a limit to what you can do, of course--which makes this a nice bookend to the Facebook-photo post in defining how much say outsiders have inside families and vice versa--but that doesn't mean you can't sound an important alarm. Good luck.

One book that really helped me, in conjunction with counseling, was David Burns' "When Panic Attacks," a good overview of possible causes of anxiety, plus an overview of cognitive behavioral techniques to address it. I agree with Carolyn, something is not right if your therapy for anxiety isn't helping this one major area of anxiety - in my case, counseling was really helping, but it was Burns's book that helped me realize that a lot of my anxiety was in fact anger I wasn't addressing, and was then transforming into anxiety. My counseling was excellent, but that was nonetheless a lightbulb moment, which we then expanded upon in counseling. So, in addition to talking to your therapist, considering other therapists, etc., you might check out his book -

When we sent an email announcing our baby's birth, we said that baby was feeling a little shy and didn't want to be seen or mentioned for the time being. People have respected the request.

Major props to the 12 year old reader who can correctly deploy a semicolon!

And, and, brackets for an edited quote. I'm a little verklempt.

Please don't discount your friends without kids. I'm kidless, but a few friends have small humans. I love visiting, usually because it means I can bake something delicious to leave behind, chat/play with the baby for a bit (I'm trying to teach her how to say helicopter) and generally be a friend. Just because I don't have a kid attached to me doesn't mean I won't want to hang out with your kid for awhile. Never hurts to ask.

We had this dilemma when I was pregnant. The best way I found to head it off was to be very upfront about our preference, and also find another way to share pictures. Friends and family will want to see pictures of your baby. What we said was, "We are not posting pictures of the baby on Facebook, but we can invite you to see pictures on (fill in the blank)". This can be a dropbox, a blog... we found a service that is specifically designed for just that. This will let people know you don't want pictures posted while also allowing them to see your little one (which is what they really care about). Of course, my MIL posted pictures on Facebook anyways after we specifically told her not to, and we had to ask her to take them down. Some people will truly not care what you feel about it, and you just have to roll with it.

Yes to the alternate sharing option. Elegant solution, thanks.

My brother in law recently confessed to me that my sister is abusing him. From his description the abuse is emotional, psychological and sometimes physical. And their young children often witness these things. I tried to broach the topic with her by asking how her marriage is doing and she just gave me the generic "it's fine". I'm not sure where to go from here. Any advice?

Urge him to get help. Suggest he call 1-800-799-SAFE to find out where he can go locally for counseling, just him to start, though he can't drag his feet on lining up help for the kids as soon as he gets his bearings.

It sounds like you believe him, and that your sister is capable of this. If I'm reading that correctly, then just that level of support for your brother-in-law is important for him to receive.

That's it for today. Thank you everybody, especially pinch-producer Teddy, and have a great weekend. 

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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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