Carolyn Hax Live: "Big day for kooky Kates"

Oct 13, 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.

My husband and I adopted a dog that does not like strangers, he is in intensive training and part of that is having strangers over to our house to practice meeting people. I usually invite a friend over after explaining the situation to them and promising free dinner and drinks. I invited 'Katie' over last month, and she proceeded to invite 10 mutual friends to my 'party' while we are all out as a group. Leaving me in a really awkward spot. I ended up cancelling because 900 sq ft plus 10 strangers and a nervous dog is a terrible combination I never would have signed up for. I really like Katie, and would like to have her over, but I'm nervous she's going to invite more people again (she works with a lot of our mutual friends and sees them everyday). Is it rude to have a talk with her about not inviting people over to our house?

There is zero need to be hesitant or awkward about handling this, because it doesn't involve anything mean or wrong or anything that appears mean or wrong. 

So when anyone invites people to your home for you: "Ooh wait, no--I'd love to have you another time but it's not possible this time."

And when you talk to Katie: "I realize you meant well, but please don't invite people to my place without checking with me first."

Awkwardness is when there's a risk of a perception gap between what you mean and what you appear to mean. The (one) advantage of the wild overstepping that Katie has done is that it's so clearly overstepping that it will be clear to anyone with a clue that you're just pulling her back--i.e., not disinviting people because you don't like them personally.

As always, there's not much you can do to manage the impressions of the clueless.

Dear Carolyn, A few years ago my husband passed away young. I just started dating a great guy, he got divorced about the same time I became a widow. He has some family friends he is very close to. It's pretty obvious that one of them has a major thing for him. She texts him constantly and when we are all hanging out she is really clingy and uses a lot of inside jokes. She is separated with two young kids and it's pretty clear she thought she was going to be with my boyfriend. He handles this really well, talks to her but doesn't lead her on, is totally transparent the entire time. I'm not worried about him cheating. I'm just tired of the dynamic in the group. Everybody else just ignores her and thinks this will run its course. I would much rather pull this issue out into the open and address it. I told my boyfriend I want to pull her aside and ask her to cool it around him because it makes me uncomfortable. He said it's totally up to me if I want to do that, he would support me but is on record that he thinks giving it more attention is a bad idea. What do you think?

Yeah, no. Bad idea. Presumably she clings to him because she's under the impression/delusion that he'll eventually come around to her when he finally realizes she's the one who really is right for him.

The moment you step into that vision of hers as the person actively trying to keep her away--i.e., keep him from his destiny--then you will only confirm for her that you're nothing but the huge mistake he's making instead of dating her.

Even if that's an exaggerated or unfair interpretation of the way she feels, the absolute last thing you want is for her to see *you* as the reason they're not dating--*he's* the reason they're not dating, because he isn't interested in her, and that message needs to be as clear as possible.

If indeed he "handles this really well," then you should take your own word for it and let it play out. I do think, though, that it would be appropriate for him to recognize at some point (soon?) that polite transparency is not sufficient to break through her bubble of wishful thinking, and that he's going to have to stop responding to the texts and ask her discreetly to back off--not so much because you feel threatened but because she's embarrassing herself. And because she deserves to hear the truth. Sometimes that means turning the truth up to a volume she's able to hear.

Hi Carolyn, My husband's sister, "Kate," and Kate's husband, are expecting their second child (they have a 3-year-old girl). My husband and I have two girls, 8 and 6. At our house this week, Kate talked extensively about her hopes that this next baby is a boy. Some of her reasons are cultural (her husband comes from an ethnic background that is known for valuing maleness very highly), but otherwise all she says is "of course, everybody wants one of each." (We didn't feel that way--we just wanted healthy kids and were excited to welcome whoever came our way.) It turns out that our 8-year-old overheard the conversation (and has passed what she heard along to her sister in daily chitchat). I am wondering how to now talk to her about what she overheard and help her to make sense of it in a way that doesn't vilify her aunt and uncle. Any ideas? She doesn't seem to be insulted by it or even have any personal reaction, she's just generally interested in the topic.

Big day for kooky Kates.

Let me say upfront that the biggest risk here is probably of making too much of an inane remark.

And that the ideal way to handle inane generalizations without giving them more credit than they deserve is to rebut them lightly in the moment. E.g. "Hey, don't speak for 'everybody'--I would have been happy with any combination of boys and girls."

Same goes for when you overheard your kids talking about what Kate said. It would have been fine just to jump in. "I heard her say that, too! What did you think?" Then, in the course of the conversation, you'd get your chance to say you didn't have any preference. And you could even talk a little bit, in an age-appropriate way, about how hard it is to say things about "everybody" when everyone has different opinions. Ahem. No names need to be named.

Again, this is the kind of stuff you get to talk about over your kids' entire childhood, so it doesn't need to be a big deal that Kate may have sold your kids one little idea that you yourself don't buy. Just use this as a reminder that things you care enough about to register concern are the ones you'll want to talk--and listen--about with your kids.

This week I was involved in a discussion with a bunch of other third grade parents about what our kids know about sex. The vast majority of these parents said their children were "clueless" on the subject and talked about wanting to maintain their kids' innocence. I was one of the few people who had even had conversations with my child about reproduction, consent and puberty. Most everyone else was taking the "I'll talk about it when my child asks" approach. I don't go out of my way to raise this subject with my daughter but I do look for appropriate opportunities to initiate these conversations. I don't know that a child always knows what to ask or how to bring these topics up. We have talked about inappropriate touching and rape but also the fact that adults engage in certain activities because it feels good. We have discussed internet predators and the fact that I have an IUD and why. We've also talked about what she might feel when puberty begins. After finding out I'm such an outlier, have I jumped the gun on this? I grew up in a house where this topic was entirely off limits so I'm trying to feel out how I'm supposed to do this.


No, you did not did not did not "jump the gun on this."

As you can see ^^, this topic makes me nuts, because kids are certainly not now and have rarely ever been "clueless" about what adults do and delude themselves about keeping from their kids. Especially now that so many of them are carrying the entire internet around in their pockets.

Pop quiz: Do you know the average age at which kids first see porn? Anyone? 


How old are kids in 3rd grade? Mostly 8 and 9. 

And if you're a parent who thinks you're okay because your kid doesn't have a phone or iPod yet, and/or you've used all the parent controls to filter out explicit material, you're not okay. The filters are tissue paper and your kid without a phone is on a school bus or in a locker room or at a public park with phone-equipped kids every day.

And they're like all kids in exploring--by whatever means available to them--exactly what their parents are treating as too embarrassing or taboo to talk about. Please tell parents like these that their kids *are* asking, they just aren't asking their parents. They're asking Siri, or they're asking bus-stop Bobby who has much-older siblings and parents who aren't paying attention.

The only answer that has any chance against against the information saturation kids face these days is to talk openly with kids, early enough and often enough and unflinchingly enough that you set the precedent of being the safe place they can go to ask their difficult questions. It has to happen starting when they're 2 or 3, and they ask you where babies come from and instead of freaking out and deflecting, you give facts commensurate with their ability to understand.**

Even then, when they get older they're still going to Google stuff they don't want you to know about, but with diligence and openness and (ahem) a minimum of self-delusion, parents can at least increase the percentage of what their kids share with them.

And yes, no topic should ever be off limits. Good for you and your parents.



*There are other numbers out there, including 11, "under 10," etc. But kind of makes the point, doesn't it?

**Deborah Roffman books are excellent on this.



So when's the Halloween Hootenanny? Seems like a good day for horror stories.

Just posted one. Sigh.

When my parents were dating, my father was very clear he didn't want kids, and if he had kids, he definitely didn't want girls. He has three daughters, and I have never felt, for a second, that he wished one of us were a boy, even when he told me this story. I wouldn't really be concerned about this -- if you clearly love your kids for who they are, they're not going to fixate on this one throwaway remark they heard.

Right--as long as parents walk the walk of loving and respecting the kids they have.

If a parent in this situation then openly and frequently remarked that boys would have been so much easier because girls are all drama--and who has not heard someone say this at least once?--then the remark becomes less a throwaway, more of an expression of world view.

My husband and I are late-twenties and expecting a baby girl. FIL has absolutely lost it upon learning that we plan to hyphenate the baby's last name (for professional and personal reasons, my husband and I both kept our own), reportedly crying and fuming every day. His concerns are not even tangentially related to the welfare of the baby but more related to his rights as patriarch and the destruction of his legacy, to paraphrase. This issue first arose months ago, and my husband has done everything possible to listen, make him feel heard, ask where the vitriol is coming from, understand any deeper issues, etc, still send cards for bdays and extend invitations for holidays. But it has been months, and the bottom line is that if we don't use only dad's last name, he wants nothing to do with us or his granddaughter. FIL's daughter and wife have not disowned us but have taken his side because they just want everything back to normal and know there's no talking down FIL's temper so they claim we have to concede and placate him and are regularly applying guilt trips as well. My husband and I are both on the same page that the name is not changing and he has been incredible through all of this, but obviously he is hurting and I feel a bit guilty about, essentially, forcing the issue of healthy emotional boundaries in their father-son relationship by feeling strongly about a less-conventional naming outcome. Any suggestions on how to handle this better, or potentially how to move on and have a positive relationship if FIL has an epiphany after the baby is born and wants to sweep his behavior during the pregnancy under the rug? We live across the country and can't drop by to try to talk in person.

No--don't you dare feel guilty for this. 

This butthat "patriarch" forced the issue, not you. And the only reason he's crying and stomping his little feeties is that he can no longer control his son the way he has become accustomed to controlling his immediate family.

Which is something only petty and insecure tyrants do, by the way--as we've seen over and over again in this space, it's not hard to control someone who cares about you. All you need to do is be selfish enough to think you're entitled to make people do your bidding, and then hold off on marriage until you find someone you can keep on a string--which you find out easily enough by using the classic technique of combining unreasonable demands with lavish attention, then waiting to see if the person meets the demands (or tries to) in hopes of earning the attention. Voila, you have a devoted victim of your abuse.

With that you'll be able to control your household, and once you have kids, you have more little pawns to move around, at least till they start to mature and get some idea of what a butthat you really are. They're good odds to play, though, because a lot of kids grow up too stunted to see how bad you are and/or tear themselves away even when they do see it.

Anyway, so, this weak and selfish little person has to deal with the fact that one of his pawns got away from him. This is NOT about you at all, this is about him, and any guilt-pellets being shot at you are the natural reflex of people so stuck in the web that their well-being is dependent on keeping the peace. Sad stuff.

Where you come in is with your husband's obvious and understandable stress at having to reckon with the poor emotional health of his family and upbringing. Whatever he told himself to make it seem okay, it's breaking under the weight of his father's tantrum and of the truth behind it. 

Be your husband's most sympathetic listener, and be emotional proof that a relationship based on mutual trust and respect is the relief he earned by breaking himself out of the dynamic of controller and the controlled.

I'm a subscriber. I'm signed in to the app. I can read articles. But I hit the paywall trying to load the chat on my phone. Very frustrating. I understand why you have the paywall generally. I don't understand why it is on the chat, and why it is on the chat on the app when I am signed in to the app.

Hey -- Chat producer here. I work in the newsroom but I can forward your issue to our customer service team I'm the comments editor, so, I get this question a lot. Can you email me a quick note

Hi Carolyn-- Long time reader, first time questioner. I have been seriously dating my boyfriend now for over 2 years, and live together. I have expressed wanting to be married more than once, and that it is something I value and want in life, and we had a lengthy conversation about it a couple months ago. He always tells me "he's not ready, but maybe one day", and the same thing with having kids. We've had our ups and downs, and lately I feel as though he doesn't actually want to marry me or make any big commitments. In fact, it took about 9 months to just call me his girlfriend initially. I am almost 30, and don't want to wait around forever for him make up his mind. I've also written him emails and notes to fully articulate my feelings without him interjecting, and he doesn't even usually take the time to write much back, it is either defensive, or will say something will say something like "thanks for sharing". Truly, I don't know where most of his feelings lie about any of this, and feel as though I am being very transparent. Should I just start to accept the fact that we in fact do not want the same things?

Or that even if you do want the same things, you're not going to know that because he doesn't talk to you.

What you describe isn't the absence of an engagement--it's a total absence of intimacy. Intimacy takes two people who are being transparent. And if it's intimacy you want, then this isn't the person you want for a life partner, even if he proposes to you today.

Is there a kind but effective way to deal with a person who interrupts, talks over, or starts to act loudly goofy in a group situation to get attention? I've tried the "when you talk over me, I feel disrespected," but she said that she developed this as her only way of getting attention as a child. Help?

"Okay, but you're not a child anymore, and maybe it's time to trust that your good traits are enough on their own for people to like you."

Should there be expectations about taking vacations/trips with other family members? We have 2 issues: We have 3 kids, including teenagers and my brother & wife have 2 kids, the youngest is 6. We (my wife & I) find it hard to find something other than a cruise, beach or all inclusive that can capture all the kids' attention and make everyone happy. Some trips we want to go on dont seem as appropriate for young kids (hiking, etc) and sometimes their little ones have held us back (via whining, not wanting to walk, etc) when we've done some things (ie, visit college, lots of walking, etc.); 2) Sister in law can be moody and snap sometimes, occasionally making things uncomfortable especially with my wife. They are friends, but my wife sometimes has to walk on eggshells to not say the wrong thing. Who wants that on vacation? But we'd like to travel with them occasionally (aforementioned beach, etc), but I feel like if we take a vacation on our own we'd be excluding them.

That last sentence mystifies me.

Plan your own vacations when you want to, and plan a suitable combined vacation with this other family when you want to.

If they freak out at your planning your own vacations as you see fit, then let them. Bowing to unreasonable demands because someone will make you pay emotionally if you don't (sisters can use the abuser playbook, too) is not a healthy option, and you and your wife need to stop treating it as one.

I terminated a pregnancy recently due to medical reasons. It was a planned pregnancy with unplanned results. I need to talk about this. I know I should see a therapist, and maybe I'll call today, but my husband doesn't want to talk about it and I do. It's been four weeks today and the only thing he'll engage on is the medical bills (painfully low five figures with insurance), although it's still up to me to figure those out too. I need engagement, let alone intimacy.

I am so sorry for your loss.

I am also sorry you're so alone in your grief--which might even feel harder to deal with because it's not the result of "medical reasons" beyond your control

So, yes, please call a therapist today. Also try, which offers online support and therefore has a much lower barrier to entry; you won't have to wait till there's an appointment available.

Take care.

I'm a freshman at a small college and I'm involved in two groups (let's pretend tennis and choir). At a choir event, a guy I didn't know started flirting with me and we ended up kissing but nothing else. Someone told a girl in the tennis club they'd seen me kissing her boyfriend. I told her I was sorry and I didn't know he was her boyfriend and I'd never have kissed him if I'd known. That is the truth. It's obvious I'm not welcome in the tennis club anymore. Tennis is very important to me and a big part of my life and it's a very small college. I want to transfer to the large state school where I can keep playing and there are many different clubs and one social disaster won't ruin my life, but my parents are vehement against it. My tuition will be less expensive at the state school and I have student loans. Do you think it's a mistake to transfer?

Why the vehemence--did your parents say?

I don't think it's a mistake to transfer, per se, nor would it be one to stay where you are and push back against the summary judgment of the "tennis" in-crowd. You're just a freshman and it's only October; there are still a lot of possible outcomes to this story. Being rash is generally a mistake, so I suggest making your decision with patience and care instead of RIGHT NOW based on the fresh agonies of RIGHT NOW.

Plus, learning to overcome ostracism could be the most valuable thing you take away from college. Anyone remember "The Paper Chase"?

The details aren't that important; it's really a matter of your going methodically through your options, choosing what you think is right for you, and then making the best of your choice--whichever one you make. As long as you manage the money and logistics on your own, this is your decision.

One way to make tough decisions is to take incremental steps that don't commit you to anything yet. In this case, you research the transfer process completely. Do you have to finish this semester? Is there a deadline by which you have to apply to the state school? Would this year's tuition for Small College be forfeited--and in that case, wouldn't your parents have a good case for your finishing out the year, and not flushing thousands of dollars on a smooch? 

Almost 30 years ago I was teaching 1st grade Sunday school when something about sex came up from a 6-year-old. Many of his classmates had opinions before I could corral the discussion with "these are really good questions for your parents." When I warned the parents they had questions coming, they were very surprised their kids had thoughts at all. And this was before the Internet.

Yep, thanks for the backup.

And of course the thoughts and awareness are there, but it's all incomplete and often fanciful--kids know there's something to know, and they fill in a bunch of the blanks with their imaginations if their parents haven't had the conversations and/or established themselves as sources of information. I meant to say this in my original answer: It's rare that the kids know nothing at all, and the somethings they do know are often only partially right or flat-out wrong. 

Confidential to the person getting divorced--thank you so much. It sounds as if you're in a good place, or near to it, and that's your doing. Here's to better days.

Thanks for taking my question! I'm a little shaky on dating, this is my first relationship since my late husband died. Since I submitted the question I realize what I really want is to just be excited and all the fun parts of being a new couple and it seems like the friend is harshing that a little, at least when we hang out with the group. I need to just not let her have that much power over this, right?

Right, yes, though how your BF handles it will matter--not just toward preserving the "fun parts," but as an indication of his integrity and judgment in a difficult situation.

It's fine not to get sucked into plays for attention. If he (for example) won't give her a clear "not interested" message because he doesn't want to be bothered, though, or if he on some level enjoys the attention, then these will be important issues brought to light by a nuisance one. 

Sorry--sounds like you're more than due for some uncomplicated fun.

Adding my apologies (and frustration) to all who aren't getting appropriate access to the chat and columns. Please do report problems HERE as they come up.

That's it for today. I will be at my kids' school for conferences next week so there won't be a chat. Thanks all, have a great weekend and type to you here again on Oct. 27.

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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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