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Carolyn Hax Live: "Sometimes a party is just a party" (June 24)

Jun 24, 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, thanks for stopping by early today.

I’m trying to figure out a graceful way to stop my brother and SiL of making absolute fools of themselves. They just completed a remodel of their kitchen and want to have a party to “celebrate” (i.e. show it off.) The first problem is that there’s nothing special about their remodel. It was really basic: new cabinets, floor, countertops, a coat of paint. That’s it. The second problem is that this party is going to come off as a total gift grab. They say they don’t expect gifts but I know people receiving the invites are going to think it’s required. (I even did a poll at my work place and most people agreed with me that upon getting a “kitchen reveal” invite they probably would think a gift was in order.) I tried explaining to my brother that when my husband and I did a huge remodel of our kitchen 3 years ago (total gut job, kitchen island, all new appliances, the works) we didn’t find it necessary to have a “reveal” party. But my brother is totally guided by his wife who is a very sweet woman but not socially savvy at all. I cringe every time I think of how clueless and greedy this party is going to make them look even though they seem to have the best intentions. Should I try to do more to prevent this disaster or do I need to back off let them suffer the consequences of their stubbornness?

Or (c) Let them be themselves, as-is, which is what their friends probably/presumably love about them.

Why do you care so much?

I have a quick question for you and the 'nuts. I'd like to give an expecting couple a guide book on parenting as a shower gift. They will be first-time parents. Do you have any suggestions? It seems to me that Carolyn's parenting philosophy is similar to my own.

Since this has come up a bunch, I think the readers and I have come up with a decent short list, depending on what type of guide you're looking for: "Nurture Shock," which I love, because it's both fascinating and full of grounding perspective on so-called common knowledge vs. what research actually says (even if it outlives the research in it, the skepticism is the thing); "The Happiest Baby on the Block" (and follow-up, "Happiest Toddler ..."); "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk"; "The Sh!t No One Tells You: A Guide to Surviving Your Baby's First Year" (which I haven't read but nutterati have endorsed). 

Are you sure this is how you want to shower this couple, though? I don't know. A book has some killjoy vibes to it, except maybe the last one.

If you're tempted to reach for a "What to Expect ..." book, ask around. I found them to have so many "don'ts" and "can'ts" and other dangers that they were needlessly stressful. 


To today’s LW who wasn’t sure whether her boyfriend’s aversion to hand holding in public was a deal-breaker: my husband was this way, not as extreme as your BF but close. I think my husband had/has an aversion to intimacy. Over the years, he found excuses to pull further and further away. He never initiates a casual hug, we don’t have meaningful conversations and haven’t had sex in years. I may be wrong, perhaps the lack of PDA isn’t the tip of the iceberg, but how many years of your life do you want to throw away to see if I’m right?

Perfect question, thank you. 

One for you: Do you feel like *you're* throwing away years? And if so, do you have a plan for dealing with that?

Muffins? Do I smell muffins?

Who's Muffins?

Daughter plans to use money she's earned at a summer job and along with cash she received as graduation gifts from family and friends in order to pay for said tattoo. I can pretty much guarantee that her grandparents and other relatives will have much the same reaction as my husband. Husband thinks she is ungrateful to be spending her money on something we disapprove of when we are paying a not small sum for college (her scholarships cover about two-thirds of tuition and we still need to pay for room and board) and because the money she earned this summer is supposed to be for incidental expenses while she is at school. I am uncomfortable with this tit-for-tat attitude. We have saved for college since she was born and she has earned her place at a good university on her own merits. He's not suggesting that we withhold tuition over this decision, but he is basically saying, "We're paying out all this money for a college education and this is how she behaves?" And if I know anything about my daughter, I know that the louder he yells, the faster she'll run to the tattoo parlor. Not a mark in her favor in the maturity column, I grant you, but I'm not sure my husband is being any more mature.

Do what you can to keep Dad off the ledge, ideally by appealing to whatever sense of pragmatism he has: Taking a stand on this will not only fail to stop this tattoo, but will likely also help that one tattoo multiply into a bunch.

You also have an obvious recourse that's very straightforward in its application of consequences: Let her know it's her body and it's her money, but also remind her that her gift money and earnings have to last her the full school year, so she should govern her spending accordingly. If she wants to be in the position of scaring up a part-time job mid-semester next spring when her funds run dry, let her. The beauty of it is that it doesn't need to have anything to do with ink; you can have the same answer if she wants to spend her summer at expensive concerts, or traveling to see friends, or whatever else. She has to weigh the value of any indulgences against the potential for going broke.

Assuming you and your husband both agree to take this position, make sure you're the one who articulates it to your daughter, since you apparently have the cooler head on this issue.

Once you've got the communication with your daughter behind you, I hope you'll tackle the longer-term issue of "ungrateful to be spending her money on something we disapprove of" with your husband. On the micro issue of tattoos, this is a question her generation (and the one or two above, arguably) has asked and answered: Judging appearances is your thing, not ours. Yes, some hiring managers aren't on board with this, but only the ones okay with missing out on talent  for arbitrary reasons. And there are also such things as long sleeves.

On the macro issue of expecting grown children to hew to a set of parental beliefs, because you Say So and because You're the Parent, see the 18 and let go. Save what intervention power you have left for matters of malevolence or serious risk.

A family member is getting remarried & is doing so low key- I got an email about the details instead of an invite. It's not even an e-vite or similar but "here's where and when to be- block off the day" sent en masse by a busybody sibling because she knew the couple hadn't shared it (yet??). I don't want to go. There's no travel involved, no major family drama, no previous commitment... we're just not close despite being fairly closely related and frankly I'd rather do other things with a weekend day in summer. If it was important to the couple themselves they'd have invited us directly, no? questions: do I have to go? If no, do I have to make clear that I won't be there , given that I've not been asked to attend (even though I know the person who sent the email expects us all there)? There's no food-purchase or related reason for them to need a firm headcount. If I'd gotten an invite w registry I'd send my regrets & a nice gift but in this situation I'm less sure what to do.

Situations like this are why etiquette exists--free-for-alls might seem "casual" but they leave people with no idea what to do.

No, you don't have to go. No, you don't have to tell anyone you're not going because you were not actually invited.

If you'd like, you can reply to the busybody's email to say thanks for letting you know, but you won't be there--is there anyone you should tell, or is it totally informal? That way you're covered and still "low-key."

I've been married 27 years, am in my mid sixties and retired. I live in a nice house, have nice friends, and an active lifestyle. But I feel emotionally abandoned by my husband. He expresses no feelings or affection. He spent this past Saturday drinking all day with his brother while I attended the out-of-state funeral of my aunt. There was a cemetery service at the graveside of my mother and grandparents. Instead of coming home to a bit of a welcome, a hug, "How was it?", I was greeted with a wobbly "Hey girl," a drunken grin, and a trashed kitchen. The next day I was able to calmly express my feelings. He said he was sorry and I accepted it, but now I am into the 3rd day of the silent treatment. Thinking back, I can see how I usually get punished like this for speaking up about my needs. But my needs are more than zero. If I am going to the wrong person for love and support, I need to recognize that. I can accept that two people have different ideas on the extent to which they should make an effort to understand and support each other's feelings and needs. He is my husband and partner. That is something I want from being married. Is there a good way to frame this as a question to him?

I recast the way you put it in your question into a version you could use with your husband: "I can accept that two people have different ideas on the effort they should make to understand and support each other's feelings and needs. You are my husband and partner. That is something I want from being married. Can I come to you for love and support? Would you rather I didn't, or is there a way for me to approach you that you'd prefer?"

And when I got to the end, all I could think was that any way you put it can be twisted into something else by someone who doesn't like what you're asking, or doesn't like being asked, or doesn't want to say the answer out loud. Imagine how easy it would be to respond to your (IMHO) basic and fair request with, "It's always my fault!" "Get off my back," or similar, or just by going silent again.

So certainly you can try, but it might make sense also/afterward to find yourself a reputable therapist to talk to about the emotional lacuna that is your marriage. Can you fix it, does he want to, do you want to? How did it get that way, or has it been that way all along and you're only now seeing it because this stage of life gives you room to see it? Frame the questions for yourself, and I think that will help you frame any questions for him.



How do you deal with a wife who doesn't want to announce pregnancy? She is 11 weeks along and keep coming up with excuses not to announce. First it was she wanted an ultrasound, then it was she wanted to wait for a certain dr appt, now she wants to wait for blood work. We are very low risk for any issues or problems. We got pregnant really fast, and she had fully prepared herself that is was going to take 6-12 months. She is having really bad fatigue and nausea and is leaning heavily on me. And it is wearing on me hard. She got upset when I told my dr that I was having trouble sleeping b/c of my wife's pregnancy insomnia. I just want someone to be able to talk to about this, but she doesn't want to tell friends or family. She does have a history of anxiety, but I am not sure if I should/how-to bring this up to her dr.

It's not about announcing the pregnancy, it's about the anxiety; as so often happens in the questions I see here, you started at the symptom and wrote your way to [what you believe is] the underlying ailment.

Please say to your wife that you're concerned her pregnancy has aggravated her anxiety. Assure her it is entirely normal--even people without anxiety can feel anxious, and you're not judging in any way. But it's also important to get out in front of it. If you go with her to her appointments, then say you'll be happy to be the one to mention your concerns to the doctor, so she doesn't have to worry about what to say.

There will be limits to what the doctor can tell you because of privacy rules, but you can talk to your wife's doctor on your own, too, if need be. I hope it won't come to that. In the meantime, though, if she won't even engage with you on this, then I suggest you get your own professional to talk to. Again, she can't control you in this regard--it's your feelings, life, business, and your call. All you owe her is discretion.

I did not receive an invitation to my niece's birthday party. When my mom asked if I would see her there, I told her I wasn't invited and she said she's sure that was just an oversight and I should call my brother and his wife to let them know I didn't get an invitation. I'm not so sure it was an oversight (I think they might be short on space and I didn't make the cut on their guest list) and I think it's rude to call someone and ask whether they meant to invite you to their party. Who's right?

This is going to sound like passing notes in middle school, but your mom is the one to ask your brother whether you're invited. She can say she was talking to you about the party assuming you were going, and she can ask him, "Should I not have assumed?" This way makes it easiest for your brother to tell the truth (vs. invite you out of guilt when he didn't intend to).

My mother in law wants to host a party for my daughter's first birthday. I know it will be a dog and pony show for her friends and won't be about my daughter's best interests. How can I get in the right mindset to enjoy this event so that I can provide the best example for my daughter?

Your daughter is 1. What examples do you think you're setting? She drinks from nipples and insouciantly poops in her pants.

The key to when your behavior will become a matter of example-setting: Admitting to yourself that you don't like your MIL, and therefore you need to be extra careful not to judge everything she does through that lens.

For what it's worth, every single party for a 1-year-old is for the adult who's throwing it. But, cake! And the whole world loving your kid.

The column earlier in the week hit home for me: I recently had some unexpected surgery and found myself on the receiving end of helpful support. Here's what you can do that is really useful: --one friend brought a pack of charmin, a box of tissues, a roll of paper towels "just in case" I needed a grocery run --my next door neighbor dropped by every evening to grab any trash on his way to our condo's trash room--never asked if I needed help, just showed up. --a been there, done that friend brought homemade muffins for the freezer, and lunchbox cups of fruit so I'd have a snack to eat when taking meds. While I loved company and appreciated phone calls, those three things stood out among all the generic offers to help.

Thanks for this, and hope you're mended soon.

We had a kitchen reveal after a remodel and it was a BOATLOAD of fun. Yeah, one or two people brought gifts (That kind of surprised me), but mostly we drank and ate and generally made a lot of noise and just showed off how happy we were about the work. I looked at it as a way to have a party, to break in the new kitchen after months of cooking on the grill in the rain, and showing off the work, and sharing with the neighbors who lived through the noise, dust, and a giant dumpster.

I.e., sometimes a party is just a party. Thanks.


When I was 18, and wanted ink, my mom made me a deal: get it designed, wait a year, and she'd pay for it. She couldn't talk me out of it (and didn't), but her offer meant that I was not going to do it capriciously. That was the 90s, but this still seems like a pretty good approach to me.

Pretty great, actually. Money as carrot vs. stick.

Could you explain what you meant by that? I've given and received books as gifts often, and I've never thought there were any killjoy vibes, nor (as far as I can tell) have any recipients of any books I've given.

Baby-raising books, not books in general. I love books in general as gifts. The childrearing book, though, can come across as the new parents' first encounter with the public "You're doing it all wrong!" culture that puts a big sucky dent in the modern parenting experience. 

Sure, it has always been there, but we are living in a particularly blamey-shamey moment, so ugly and pervasive that a gift conveying "Yay for you" type warm fuzzies might be more apt.

Dear Carolyn, I live in an apartment building and my upstairs neighbors have this awful dog that barks endlessly (I have counted 40 barks a minute) which goes on for hours and hours at a time. My job requires me to work from home during the day and to work late evenings out, and this dog makes concentrating at home or sleeping during the day for a late night at work very difficult. I don't know these neighbors at all. Is there anything at all I can say to them about their dog? It's possible they have no idea, as it sounds like this only happens while they're gone.

It's a safe bet they don't know, so talk to them accordingly: "I know there's no way you know this: Your dog barks constantly while you're away." Show up to tell them this with a peace offering, a loaf of pumpkin bread or something, the universal phrasing of, "I'm not being a jerk and blaming you." Yet.

You actually can't even blame the "awful" dog, because a lovely dog would bark constantly if anxious, under exercised, understimulated, improperly confined, or whatever else is happening to stress the dog in the owners' absence. 

Anything from better walks to chew toys to training to crate training can solve this. If your neighbors aren't jerks/bad dog owners they will be glad you told them and will try to help their dog. If they are jerks, then you're looking at noise or moving, unfortunately.

This will sound batnuts, but if you like dogs, maybe even let the neighbors drop him off to hang out with you?


That's it for today. Thanks everybody, have a great weekend and type to 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 She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.

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