Carolyn Hax Live: "The head of a marzipan dove" (April 7)

Apr 07, 2017

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.

Former public school teaher here. The parent who heard through her daughter about the hot tea punishment can and should call social services herself to make a report. You don't need to have proof to make a report - you report if you have suspicion and it's up to them to verify the claim. Sometimes they will not investigate if there's insufficient reason; for instance, if the daughter hasn't seen burns on her friend they might not investigate whereas if daughter had seen burns they 100% would. But, even without investigation, the report will be filed and if later a teacher or the daughter does see burns, there is corroborating evidence on file which helps. Also, I called social services on an apartment neighbor once who I suspected was scalding kid in tub and they took info but directed me to also call police because police could investigate immediately and help in imminent danger and police will refer case to social services and remove child if needed. For this case, it sounds more like reporting to social services is all that's needed for now and yes, alerting the school principal too is helpful idea so staff can keep an eye out for burns. Could also call her daughter's teacher directly and tell the teacher bc sometimes info doesn't get passed along like it should to people who are most likely to see the abuse marks. Oh, and people who make reports to social services are kept anonymous to the child and their family.

This is good information, thank you.

Just to explain about about why I advise as I do, to talk to school administrators: I've found that people are very reluctant to call child services (and/or police). There's just this wall of "What if I'm ruining these people's lives for nothing?" doubt that holds people back, to the point where many calls that should get made never do. This is anecdotal, of course, but I've been reading it in people's letters for a lot of years.

So, I advise an action that has a much lower barrier to entry, and that also puts the matter in the hands of someone trained to take the next steps. That way at least someone knows.

For people who aren't hesitant, then the direct call is the appropriate action.

Thanks again.

Hi Carolyn! I'm getting married in six months! I'm getting pressure from my friends because they want to throw me a wedding shower. It's really not my thing. Is this kind of pomp and circumstance required? Arlington

If you wake up one morning with the head of a marzipan dove in your bed, then I urge you to contact the authorities.

Pressure to throw you a party you don't want. I do wonder that they're thinking. 

I understood it a little in this situation--Link, Link 2: The Sequel--but with friends as the pushers vs. outside-looking-in relatives, it's hard to figure out their motivation.

Regardless, nothing is "required." You don't want a shower, then you stick to your no on a shower without apology.

The answer gets more flexible when you throw in the variables you don't talk about here, such as, why they want it so badly (do you do nice things for others but make it hard for people to do nice things for you, for example?), why you're so resistant (is it the appearance of a gift grab, maybe, or fusty traditions that seem dated?), and what your options are. A party can take on about as many forms as you can imagine, so there's room to work with your friends if you want to.

I'm the letter writer from last year who's girlfriend's friend kept undressing in front of her and making passes at her. I wanted to give a quick update. As I'm guessing was anticipated by many based on the comments, the relationship did not last much longer past the time I wrote. She broke up with me to "figure out her depression while not worrying about a relationship" and was immediately in another relationship not dealing with her depression. I was heartbroken at the time, but started dating again a few months later. I have now learned what it is like to be in a healthy relationship, which I hadn't known before. That it isn't normal to fight about how I deal with my parents being homophobic. Or given the silent treatment. Or being called names because I enjoy being intimate. Or being told it's weird I have so many friends and it must be because I had been single for so long (or it could be I'm a nice person who enjoys people?! "Or or Or. I am now dating someone who is wonderful, supportive in how I deal with my difficult family, and realizes their reactions to my being gay are not about her personally but would be the same for anyone I date. And also is actively treating her anxiety. There is such a huge difference between dating someone who refuses to seek treatment and dating someone who actively treats it and initiates discussions on how I can help her when she's struggling with anxiety. It's been really great to be in a healthy relationship, though it did take me a while to trust it, but my girlfriend was very patient with me.

You're not the only one who was starved for a little good news; thanks so much for sharing yours, and congratulations.

 

Read the column from last year here.

 

Carolyn, this whole Pence marriage/no dinners with opposite gender has kicked up a disagreement my husband and I have been having. He and I are apparently at very different points as to the shape opposite gender friendships take. An example: he is an avid, hardcore hiker. He met a woman (also married) on a hiking forum and wants to take a week-long hiking trip with her to an extremely isolated location. He says since there's nothing there between them, it's fine to take a trip like this. I feel uncomfortable and think it's weird to take an extended, super-isolated trip with an opposite gender friend. To add, I've never met this woman and likely never will, as she lives across the country. So this isn't a pal that I know and knows me. It's not someone we would ever socialize with otherwise. Thoughts?

Make sure it's not the Appalachians.

This might make hairsplitting seem like an exercise in wild generalization, but what would bother me most is that my husband put me in this position to begin with.

Maybe it's all the most innocent progression ever, from the moment they laid pixels on each other. But he's asking for such an outsize degree of trust that in a way you can't win. You say no and you're possessive, jealous and distrustful. You say yes and you're a rube.

If I presented it to him that way and he didn't see my point, then I'd start thinking hard about the context of him and the marriage and gauge my level of trust that way. I might also just say maybe (based on a real possibility of an eventual yes) with a side of very hard thinking about my own beliefs about marriage.

I also don't mean this as a bell-toll of doom, either, since there's such a wide range of answers. One person could see "over" and another see "open."

And I'd still be peeved at being put on this spot.

Their motivation could be well-intentioned "we love our friend and want to celebrate her happiness plus we love planning a good party." If that's the motivation, I would try to work with them to plan something you WILL enjoy: a lunch, no gifts? happy hour at your favorite bar? etc. where they can express their love for you and which you will enjoy as well.

Dear Carolyn, My sister and her husband had a baby a few years ago, they have two older kids ages 17 and 14. The 17 year old "Nicole" is on the shy side and we've always had a good relationship. The baby is 6 months and when I hear Nicole talk about the baby, it almost sounds like her baby, not her parents. Nicole is responsible for the baby at least 3 nights a week from the time she gets off school to about midnight when my sister's shift ends. Nicole also watches the baby quite a bit on the weekends because the 14 year old is heavily involved in athletics. Nicole seems to like it, but has also confided in me that she's turned down social stuff with her own friends because she was babysitting. Nicole also said from time to time her homework suffered, but since she's already been accepted into college she's not too worried about it. This is Nicole's senior year of high school and instead of hanging out with friends she is babysitting. I think this is unfair, and I think Nicole gets overwhelmed, but I don't think she knows how to tell my sister and brother-in-law that. The baby is adorable, but it seems like a lot of responsibility for a senior in high school. Can I do anything to help?

You can encourage Nicole to stand up for herself. She's certainly going to need it. And if she's caving completely here, then she's getting a late start at developing self-determination skills.

So, when she "confide[s] in me that she's turned down social stuff with her own friends because she was babysitting," you say, "Does that bother you?" or, "Would you rather be out with friends?"

If the answer is yes, then: "Have you said that to your parents?"

If the answer is no, then assure her it's okay to articulate what she wants and needs. Period--it's not just about parents and siblings and babysitting.

If the answer is yes, then ask how her parents responded to that.

If she says they responded by not budging, then ask her: "How do you feel about that--do you think they're right, or being fair?"

If she expresses unhappiness with their response, then ask: "What do you think you'll do about that?"

If she expresses qualms about doing anything, then be encouraging on your way to butting out. "That's your prerogative. You'll be on your own soon, though, so give some thought to how you'll handle something like this when it's not your parents asking."

This isn't a script, it's the demonstration of a point--that you can discuss this with her without actually telling her what to think or do (except the assurances here and there of what's possible), which would be just another person cutting in on Nicole's autonomy.

The way I've laid out the questions, at any given time Nicole can express that she shares her parents' values on this and sees it as her place/duty/honor to pitch in with the family responsibilities. Which is fine--the important thing here isn't that Nicole parties with friends, but that Nicole at 17 and graduating soon is at least on the cusp of being able to make decisions for Nicole. 

 

Hiker wife should express interest in going along on the hiking trip. His reaction would tell a lot. As a liberal married (30yrs) guy, I'd never ask anything even remotely similar of my wife for the reasons expressed here. I have traveled internationally for up to 2 weeks with (married and unmarried) women other than my wife for work. I take business-related meals (lunches and dinners) with women without my wife (including ones with alcohol in extreme moderation). Nothing untoward has ever happened. But I'd never take a social-only trip or a meal alone with another woman. And my wife wouldn't with another man. Hiker hubby is not being cool.

My husband has a female best friend. She is also a dear friend of mine and he and I talk about everything, and I trust them implicitly. He also has other female friends I have no problem with him spending time alone with. I'd STILL be upset if he said out of the blue that he wanted to spend a week alone in a remote location with a woman I'd never met and likely never would.

Interesting re the hiking with a woman, I truly would not mind if my husband wanted to do that. I would have a twinge of jealousy, sure, but then it would go away because 1) I trust him and 2) if he wanted to do something with someone else and didn't talk to me about it, then this trip would not be the problem. He'd find another way to do it

My friends and mom persuaded me to have one anyway. It was not fancy. We wore jeans, drank beer and made a scrapbook about my pre-wedding life. It was great, It is a wonderful memory - and years later, the scrapbook is priceless. Think about letting people celebrate you, in a way that you're comfortable with.

Thanks so much for this. It's a humane example of the flexibility in the word "party." You do need to be able to trust party-throwers to honor any downscale/offbeat wishes, which I suppose can be no small obstacle, but with that trust there are a lot of great possibilities.

Hi Carolyn, Been reading your chats since the beginning and could use some suggestions! My husband and I have spent roughly the last 2 years going through fertility treatment, so far without success. We keep this mostly private when we're asked (often, as I'm not young) if we're planning to have kids, but occasionally if appropriate I'll say we're trying, but no luck yet. Inevitably when this happens, the person I'm speaking with immediately suggests adoption as though it's a new thing they just invented. I know adoption is a valid way to build a family, but for various reasons that I'd rather not share with acquaintances, it's not right for us. But when I say that it cues the "but there are so many children in foster care who need homes" speech. I know these people mean well, but how can I shut down this conversation in a way that doesn't get into details, but also doesn't make it seem like I'm a heartless glassbowl who doesn't care about orphaned children?

I'm so sorry you've had a tough time of it. And that people can't seem to help themselves from making it just a wee bit worse when they run their mouths.

 

The conversation I fantasize about in this situation:

They: [the "but there are so many children in foster care who need homes" speech.]

You: "You seem knowledgeable--have you adopted children out of foster care yourself?"

Crickets, right? Except for when you're talking to someone who actually has adopted children out of foster care--which I doubt because in my experience people who have adopted children know how not to put their feet in their mouths when talking about adoption. But anyway, if you do say that to someone who is a parent via adoption, then you respond by expressing an interest in their experience--"If you're willing to share it, of course--I don't mean to pry."

 

The conversation I advise in this situation:

None. You say, "occasionally if appropriate I'll say we're trying, but no luck yet." It's your decision, of course, but since it's prompting commentary you're tired of hearing, then I urge you to deflect across the board from now on.

They: "Are you planning to have kids?"

You: "Ooh, we get asked that a lot." [patient smile, if you've got one.]

If your questioner doesn't accept that as an answer and presses, then:

You: "We get asked that a lot." A little eyebrow-raise is the perfect accessory to say, get it?

Step 3 is the excuse-me-I-think-I-see-Elvis-over-there step.

 

I hope your luck changes soon.

 

 

Husband is planning to go hiking with a person he's never met! A long, arduous journey! It should be with someone he knows he can depend on and has his back. What if he realizes she's a flake an hour after meeting her? Does he have a backup plan?

Different but excellent point, thank you.

I have one friend who, when asked whether he and his wife were planning to have children, would look the other person right in the eye and say, in an extremely kind tone of voice, "You never know when you're going to cause someone tremendous pain by asking that."

Boom. 

Am I weird that I would be ok with my husband hiking with a like minded companion? I certainly wouldn't want to go, and if it was something he loves to do, he is safer with another person. Is the other person's gender really the issue? What if she was gay? What if it was a gay man he was going with?

Good questions, which are the foundation of any good decision-making process because the answers are ours alone to find. Thank you.

That's it for today--the trails beckon. (No, there's nothing in my eye.) Have a great weekend and type to you here next week.

gave me quite a laugh. "How can I invite drama queens to go with me to a place where they'll create drama and keep them from creating drama?"  

Touche.

Seriously annoyed I didn't think to put it this way. 

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Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on washingtonpost.com. She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.

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