Carolyn Hax Live: 'One word. Clowns.'

Oct 05, 2018

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 today. Teddy is on another assignment for a few weeks so the person to butter  up for the best table is Producer Christine.

My ex and I divorced about 2 years ago after years of emotional abuse. We share custody and only communicate by text, as it's still a toxic relationship with a lot of anger on both sides. I try hard to put the kids first, and we attend school events together mostly drama free but it causes me a LOT of anxiety. Our daughter's birthday party is this weekend. I am not hosting, but will be attending. It's been a tough week with a lot of hostility from my ex and I'm really dreading it. How can I get through and celebrate my kid when I really just want to run away screaming?

I don't blame you--that sounds demoralizing.

You do have a few things in your favor though: Precedent is a big one. Your history with the things you attend together is mostly drama-free. Use that to minimize your dread.

And: Your toxic relationship might be open-ended but a birthday party is closed-ended. You just have to bear it for a few hours. Having been through what you've been through, you have grounds for full confidence in yourself that you can do this.

And: it's still a couple of days away. You have time to plan restorative things for before and after the party.  

And: Your daughter. There's no better point for you to fix your eyes on to keep your balance.

This is all for just the event. As for the larger picture, it might be helpful to you to talk to a good therapist about strategies for weeks like the one you just went through. Even if you've had help getting to this point, there's a lot to be said for going in for tune-ups as the circumstances evolve.


Hi Carolyn, I have a narcissistic mother who I escaped by immigrating to the US to pursue a PhD. in economics at Stanford University. After working for a number of years, I quit my job to take care of my son. When I visit my country of birth and am asked what I do for a living, my mother visibly cringes when I say I am a housewife and insists I talk about my education, projecting that she is ashamed to have me as a daughter. What is a good comeback line to shut her up?

I'm not sure a comeback is your best friend here. Instead, stay with the truth, delivered as calmly as you can:

"I'm more interested in [or "invested in" or "proud of" or ____] what I'm doing now. You're welcome to talk about whatever you'd like." Especially if you can then excuse yourself from the conversation.

As the child of a narcissist, you know as well as anyone that you can't make your mom stop centering things on herself; you can only be true to yourself and adjust your exposure to her to protect your own health. That rule applies here as well. State your emotional position, then, as you're able, change your physical one.

Hi - my father’s wife (my mom is deceased) never lifts a finger to help, never offers to pitch in, cook or buy a meal, ever. Nothing! On the other hand she has been on 10+ vacations with us all over the world (at our expense), countless parties, dinners, etc. She is well-off, so ability to do something/anything is there. I am not looking for quid pro quo, but I feel like a doormat. Even Warren Buffet has his limits in 1-way interactions. Am I wrong to be frustrated here? If she even offered to watch our kids once/year so we could go out, that would be a great start. Thoughts? Thanks.

Some of the advice here is an extension of the prior, that you've got a taker and there's no alchemy to render her into a saint.

But there are tactics you can use to take the edge off and, ideally, slow the growth of any resentment you've been cultivating. They are actually the same ones--not coincidentally--that parents use to discourage antisocial behavior in toddlers. Instead of putting on a dinner or family event or trip and just waiting for her to volunteer her effort, approach each of these plans as a collection of individual jobs and ask her which one she'd like. 

Toddler version, to avoid a tantrummy refusal to put shoes on in time to go to school: "Which sneakers do you want to wear, purple or red? 

Stepmother version, to preempt freeloading: "Do you want to do the salad, or set the table? I'm working on the sides but you can take over that if you'd prefer."

The key is to be universal and uniform. Everything you do together as a family becomes a list of jobs that people--everyone involved--then step in to claim. (With the exception of course of things that one person or family chooses to host solo as a gift to others.)

As for the babysitting, similar idea: Just ask. "Hey Dad, would you and Wife be willing to watch the kids for us for our anniversary dinner?" I.e., make it clear the slope isn't greased, you're just asking for this one gift. Once they know it's something you value, they'll have a chance to offer it again ... and if they don't, then ask again next year on your anniversary. There's your once/year.

My mother makes everything negative. Tell her a piece of good news, like a job promotion, and her first impulse is to belabor how insecure job security is, how much hard work managing people might be, how messy interpersonal politics can be at work and how to guard against it, how I'll likely have to fight this or that battle. There's never really a "oh that's great!" part of the conversation, and no matter how much I try to shake her off the "everything is fraught, be worried all the time, set phasers to stun" path, she inevitably reverts to negativity. It's severely impacting my mental health (therapy for anxiety should not be a surprise), but I can't seem to find a way of having *any* conversation with her in which I reveal even so much as what I ate for breakfast without her going down a negative wormhole. I feel like my only choices are to cut her off completely, or spend every call fighting this battle. Any ideas on how to fix this troubling pattern?

You used "Mom's Negativity" as your topic, but it could easily have been "Mom's Anxiety." With the important disclaimer, as always, that I'm not a medical professional, what you describe suggests your mother is the anxious one. You say you're in therapy for it--and maybe it's not just mom's reactions that have pushed you there, but also mom's own medical history.

Worth asking your therapist, at least.

As for your choices, I see a third one you didn't mention: spend every call *not* fighting this battle. Let's say she is indeed anxious--and that your positive news activates her fears that something bad will come of it. I.e., the way she sees it, the more you have, the more you have to lose.

You can choose to see that as her version version of "oh that's great!" The more negative scenarios she reels off, the more certain you can be that she recognizes this is a big and positive development for you. Twisted, but logical, no?

Once you get to that point, then you are better positioned to work with her on this vs. constantly pushing against it. "Yes, Mom, I expect managing people will be hard work. There is a lot for me to think about."

Give her the satisfaction of being heard. I won't promise it'll soothe her, but it's at least possible that it will--and it's a change from the past approach of countering with your positive message, which apparently hasn't worked.

Then, after validating her concerns, assure her you're preparing for them AND give her a sense that she made a difference: "I'm glad you mentioned that, because I've got a few strategies in mind for when things come up but I do need to work on some more."

If you're feeling particularly badass: "Do you have any suggestions?" Because that changes her role from diagnostician to healer, meaning, it turns her toward the positive. Only when you're ready, of course, but it's worth a try.

And as always, if talking to her starts to feel like being caught in an undertow, then end the conversation. You always have that option; Make the call, steer it where you want it to go, end it if she won't come along. 

The complete cutoff might ultimately be necessary if interacting with her puts your health at risk, but do exhaust your alternatives first. 

My Fiance’s parents divorced around the time he and his siblings graduated from college, nearly a decade ago. Since the last one’s graduation they have not seen eachother in person and have not communicated in at least 5 years. None of the kids has gotten married, had a child or, thankfully, had some sort of emergency where the whole family would be together. So our wedding festivities will be the first time they see eachother in years and they are both being kind of squirrely about it. I don’t really understand why two adults couldn’t at least say hello, isn’t our son great! and enjoy the party to eachother, but this impending meeting is causing a lot of consternation amongst the parents, step-parents and kids about who will sit where, who says what and when so and so will be where. My fiancé and his siblings generally avoid mentioning one parent in front of the other and he seems stressed about the whole thing. Is there anything I can do or say to help ease the tension?

Is there any chance of getting them together before the wedding, to get the first awkward reunion over with? An engagement party or something. 

If that's not realistic, then at least encourage your fiance to mention one parent in front of the other, thereby pre-breaking the ice in a small and low-stakes way. When the seating and sayings and etc. come up, too, take the same position, that pushing through the awkwardness as soon as possible will allow everyone to get on with the business of celebrating. 

Beyond that, just be calm and be a patient listener. That includes *not* saying things like, "I don’t really understand why two adults couldn’t at least say hello, isn’t our son great! and enjoy the party to each other"--because, while I understand what you mean--you believe in the power of maturity--there are so many families torn up by and about terrible behavior by exes that your attitude could come across as naive or worse, smug.

So go with the, "Yes, it could go south, but we'll get through it--we'll be okay. And who knows, maybe they'll shock us all with their grace."

His stress has an end date, at least. Congratulations and good luck.

My boyfriend of a few months seems to like going on vacations with his ex and their teenage son. It really bothers me. It first happened a couple of months into dating, with the justification that it was booked a year ago before they split up and the son really wanted both to go. It almost broke us up, and he said it wasn't going to happen again. Now he's talking about a vacation in January that he says his ex and son want to take together, and he admits that if I weren't around, he would go because he thinks it's a good idea for his son. I think he's trying to talk me into letting him go, even though he denies it. Complicating all this is that he still hasn't filed for divorce, despite promising to do so for months, nor has he told his son that they're getting a divorce (he thinks it's a separation - BF moved out about eight months ago after more than a year of separate bedrooms). Obviously I haven't met the son, nor will I anytime soon. Given all that, no wonder his son wants the family to go together, and while I don't really believe my BF will get back together with his ex, it feels wrong to me. Assuming the divorce does get filed before the trip, do I really have any right to say no if my BF thinks his son wants it? I want the best for his son, but there are so many other ways to have a fun vacation that doesn't require the ex to be there, such as inviting other family members and cousins along. I'm sympathetic a bit, too, to the idea that BF may still want the feeling of stability of being with his family in the way he used to, but I feel like he's going to have to adjust to a new normal, too, i.e. being a parent without his partner of many years as a part of his daily life (co-parents, fine of course). I can't get my head around it, but I'm trying not to be selfish. Also, although we've only been dating a few months, I've actually known him for years, so I trust him and want to make it work more than I might some brand new person. I think he cares a lot about me, but I also know he has serious issues with boundaries with his ex - she gets what she wants from him even though she's the reason why they split up (long term affair). She knows about me and apparently completely freaked out at the idea of him moving on, so I think he's being a bit deliberately oblivious to the dynamic. I'm stuck - do I sadly cut ties because he's not ready to be in a new relationship, or do I learn to live with something I feel isn't right for me because I trust he's doing the right thing for his son?

Oh goodness no. You could take this without all the other stuff--"do I learn to live with something I feel isn't right for me"--and zip to that same "no" via the express lane.

But since you took the time to type out all the other stuff:

You don't have a small, iffy-vacation problem, you have a big, still-way-too-enmeshed-with-the-ex/not-ex problem.

So please tell this lovely man that you care for him and hope to be with him someday, but you cannot be with him while so much unfinished business remains from his marriage. When he's divorced, when he's telling his son the truth, when he's honest with himself about the dynamic and his struggle with boundaries, when he's owning his choices instead of hiding behind "a good idea for his son" rationales, when he's able to be with you in the full light of day, then he should absolutely give you a call.

Painful, yes, but not nearly so painful as the place you're headed with him. Proceeding on this road is the dating equivalent of getting out of your car, moving the "road closed" sawhorse to the side, and continuing on your drive. Not recommended.

Dear Carolyn, I had a baby in April. Due to a combination of factors (luck, general good health, and diet/exercise), I gained a fairly small amount of weight during pregnancy and shed it pretty quickly afterward. My friend "Mia" is about 18 weeks pregnant with her first baby and has gained substantially more weight than I did, but looks great and is in apparently good health. Our families get together often, and her husband has taken to casually interviewing me about how I stayed in shape while having a baby. He is totally transparent - he only asks when Mia is in the room, presumably either to help motivate her or to outright shame her for gaining weight. I don't want to be complicit in this. What should I say to Mia's husband, and do I say it in front of her or privately? I don't just want him to stop asking ME for advice, I want him to stop shaming her altogether.

O. M. G.

"Stop. When you incubate a human in your body, then you're allowed to have an opinion."

Privately to him or in front of all, makes no difference to me.

Actually, that leaves too much room for people who have been pregnant to judge others. Women have a hard enough time with everyone's opinion of their pregnancy--even the ones who don't get pregnant, in fact--that the last thing they need is for any bystanders to scrutinize their choices. Especially when choices are only part of it: Everyone's body is different, responds differently, recovers differently.

"You want my advice? Okay: Love Mia for who Mia is."

And make sure Mia knows you have her back.

And no, he is not "totally transparent." "To help motivate her"? What, to resent him eternally? Totally transparent would be: "I'm annoyed that Mia looks fat." 

As the child of parents who had a terrible marriage and divorce, thank you for attending family functions with your ex. My mother could not be in the same room with my father (or even hear his name) without being openly hostile, which made all of my life milestones difficult and was one reason why I ended up eloping. I understand that he was not a good husband to her, but still resent her unmitigated hostility and it has driven a wedge in our relationship. I know of other families where the parents could at least attend the same function, and the kids had better relationships with both sides. So, it sounds really hard now, but in the big picture, I think that you are doing the best thing for your family.

This is lovely support, thank you.

Just wondering -- where's Dad in all this? Does he offer help, pitch in, reciprocate in any way? Is his wife taking her cue from him? Is this a case of a woman being held responsible for the social contracts of a couple?

Excellent question, thanks.

My husband and I are expecting a baby via gestational carrier. The surrogate is my husband's cousin, who has three kids of her own and very generously offered to help us when we learned that it would be life-threatening for me to get pregnant. My friends are throwing me a baby shower next weekend. It's one of few "normal" things I get to do as an expectant mom, even though it's technically a modification of a regular baby shower. (For one thing, there will be cocktails and I'll get to enjoy them.) The hosts asked me if I would like to invite the surrogate, who lives nearby and would almost definitely come. They suggested that they could do something special to include her. I owe them an email and I am gripped with a sick, guilty feeling. I don't want her there. I feel as though having her there will just throw a spotlight on the fact that she gets to carry my baby and I don't. I am already faced with reminders of this daily, and I didn't want there to be more of them at this shower. She is doing so much for us, but she also HAS so much (beautiful kids and the ability to give this amazing gift). The hosts are some of my best friends, I can be honest with them. But I feel so bad about all of it. Will I regret it if I ask them to simply keep things the way they are now (surrogate not invited)? Will it make me a bad person?

No, it won't make you a bad person, and it's great that you can be honest with your friends. You are entitled to have your shower for your baby with your friends.

Do be careful, though, about making calculations of "doing so much for us" (yes, it's a beautiful thing) and "but she also HAS so much" (nope nope nope, that does not factor in here). She is making a huge gift of her body, and that is something worthy of lifelong thanks, and you don't have to give that thanks through this particular shower. That's it.

If it helps you feel better, the idea of having her there made me think of the baby shower scene in "A Handmaid's Tale." Not that there would be anything wrong with it if your surrogate were there--just that if you need an excuse to let yourself off the hook, then Hulu stands ready with one.

Not a piece of advice, but a slightly different perspective. When I was pregnant, I was spending a lot of time with Europeans. To a person, they complimented me on my (noticeable but not excessive) weight gain - they all told me how wonderfully large and healthy I looked. The German guys especially. I finally had to take a couple of them aside and explain gently that while I understood what they were saying and took it as a compliment, it was different in the US and American women rarely like to hear about how large they are, even if it is accompanied by the word "healthy". It's better in general, under any circumstances, not to comment on people's body size.

Under any circumstances, yes, thank you.

If you say this, please either say it privately or in front of just him and Mia. If others are present, you have no way of knowing who might be collaterally hurt by that remark (people with fertility problems who have nothing to do with Mia’s husband’s bad behavior).

Ah, fair point. My apologies.

How about:

"I will not have a conversation with you about Mia's body."

Have you tried telling your mother how her reaction makes you feel? My own daughter did this for me in a very loving way. She explained that she was an adult and could handle these things I would mention, and what she wanted was to share the joy with me. What a gift from her to take me off "mom duty" and help me see her as an adult who can handle things. Now I only share concerns if asked.

I love this, thank you. What made it work of course was your maturity and willingness to admit your approach needed to change. Not everyone has your strength. 

That doesn't mean it isn't worth a try, just that one's mileage may vary.

Catching a whiff of undermining there, a tactic honed to perfection by the truly insecure. That may be why it's affecting the LW's mental health -- she is sensing that mom isn't on her side. And that's unfortunately not an uncommon scenario. She may need to take that into account as she weighs interactions.

1) Why on God’s green earth are you paying for vacations for parents who are well off? Stop that right now. 2) Covert contracts are a bad idea. They’re especially bad when used with stepparents who were not involved in raising/programming you. Stop keeping a mental ledger, and use your words. 3) Does your dad ever offer to set the table/babysit? Why do I think he does not, but you give him a pass? Just throwing that out there....

I see you, LW. You're a good husband* and a good stepson and a good son-in-law and, though your mother would probably snarl a bit, a good son, and those go a long way to being a good dad. Well done. I'd love a line break here but doubt I'll get one. I've got stuff here about how many grandparents my kid has and how they are related to him by blood, but it actually doesn't matter. And what they're called by the kid is also sooo not up to any adult. That's actually hilarious.

More good support, thank you. Here's the relevant column: LINK

When I said the LW was "a good husband*" I meant to follow up with something like "*I am assuming the LW is a dude but LW could equally be a lady married to another lady." Now that I think even more about it, I don't know why I went with "husband,* stepson, son-in-law, and son . . . dad" instead of just choosing "spouse, stepchild, child-in-law, and child . . . parent." I'll keep trying to do better.

Thanks. I will too.

Dear Carolyn, I just started a new job 3 months ago. I really need this job and so far I’ve very much enjoyed working here. My new company has a policy where people can donate PTO to other co-workers who need it. One of my co-workers recently suffered an extreme tragedy. HR sent out an email with a link to donate vacation time with an assurance that who donates what hours is anonymous. I do not really trust this assurance, I’ve had plenty of experiences at work with stuff leaking out that shouldn’t have. The problem is that I don’t want to donate my PTO. I really value my vacation time and I use every bit of it every year. I am afraid if I don’t donate this time I will be labeled not a team player or heartless. But I am resentful of being asked to do this and put in this position. I am resentful I might lose a vacation day to a co-worker. Is there any way out of this?

You have the feelings before the problems have even happened: You're resentful and afraid and distrustful just on the possibility that something won't work as promised. 

Resentment, fear and skepticism can certainly be justified before the fact when all the facts point toward a dreadful outcome, but in this case you were presented with a request that anticipated your reaction and addressed it preemptively, or at least attempted to. That's what the confidentiality assurance is about. "We want to do this good thing without putting people on the spot." That's the intent. It's okay to embrace that intent.

Or, not: At a certain point, your peace of mind needs to find its way to the top of your priority list. You value your job, of course, and you value your time off, of courser ... but the thing here is what will allow you to sleep at night. Can you trust the confidentiality promise enough to decline to donate and not dwell on it? Or would the loss of one personal day be worth it to you just to put this to rest?

Here's another, albeit single data point in favor of not donating and sleeping like a baby thereafter: I would not judge anyone for not donating. "Heartless" or "not a team player"? That's like TP'ing the house with its porch light out on Halloween, So-Called-Adult Edition. People have their reasons and they have their causes, and judging them on such narrow slices of information is just wrongheaded at best.

My friend "Cassie" has developed a romantic interest in my friend and coworker "Joe." They met through me. Cassie has invited Joe on a number of dates, the first few of which he agreed to. The fourth time she asked him out, he asked me to tag along and turn it into "a friendly thing." Since then, he has either declined her invitations or asked me to play buffer. I feel bad because I know Cassie's interest is not reciprocated, but I really hate to involve myself in it when they could easily work it out as adults. Am I obligated to stay out of it, or to tell Cassie plainly (as Joe has not done) that Joe is just not interested?

Oh, Joe.

Next time he asks you to tag along, tell him no, you won't keep helping him dodge Cassie.

FWIW, Joe has told Cassie, about as plainly as he can without actually telling her, and she has opted not to hear it. This is on her, too.

A neighbor's wife is an alcoholic. I have not met her, but know her husband well as he and my husband are friends. I received a phone call today from her asking me to return her call as soon as possible. I did, and she asked if she could share a surplus of veggies from her garden in exchange for a few beers. I replied that I had none, so sorry. My quandary is, should I let her husband know? She is recently out of a ten day stay in hospital due to alcohol poisoning. If she had not been hospitalized so recently, it would be an easier decision. I have never been put into a position such as this and really don't know what to do.

Yes, the husband needs to know, because it's life and death at this point. I'm sorry. It is a lousy spot to be in.

I am married with a two year old son. Last week, someone sent me 2 dozen roses with a note that said they wanted to make me smile, because I make them smile. It was signed with a first name only, and its a very popular name (think John or Tom). The flower shop told me that will not release information about the person without a police report, and when I went to my local police station they laughed at me and told me I should be happy someone is sending me flowers, and that I shouldn't worry. I am very freaked out that someone knows my full name and address. This information is easy to get online with a simple search, but the fact that someone is using it to send roses to my house really scares me. I know the roses themselves are not threatening, but to me, the action is threatening. I am having trouble sleeping at night and am experienced increased anxiety. What can I do? My husband is kind of supportive in the sense that he knows I'm freaked out, but I think in the back of his head he is also wondering if I am hiding something from him and I don't feel that he's being as supportive as I want him to be. We both work full time and our life is a whirlwind of childcare, housekeeping and trying to find 5 seconds just to say how was your day... so its hard to sit and really talk about this. I need advice!

This is my second bout of slack-jawed horror in this one chat. Or third. Wait.

That is not not not an acceptable response from the local police. They think stalking is funny? Really? Because that's the sum of incidents like yours. They see flowers, bahaha, but this anonymous creepy thing x 2 or 3 would be enough to encourage me, at least, to consider staying at someone else's house for a while. And yes, just the one incident would be creepy enough for me to feel threatened. 

Go back to the florist and insist. If you get stonewalled again, then go back to the police. Say you need the report. Bring your husband if you have to, though that's enraging right there. Next step, an attorney.

Anyone who thinks this is an overreaction needs to recall the power of being creeped out. It's a feeling that demands respect--and it's just a report, just so you can find out from the florist if it's harmless or there's cause to be concerned. If it's nothing, then there will have been no harm from even the police/attorney involvement. 

It might be helpful for you to imagine how you will feel when you wake up the day after the shower, when you can't change anything.

Excellent decision-making tool, thanks.

There are SO many other ways to support your co-worker during this time. Can you send a meal? Pay for a day of housecleaning? Donate to a cause she cares about? Send a letter of support? I suggest you find a way to show your compassion that doesn't make you grit your teeth. Everyone wins!

Some readers asked follow up, and am happy to oblige: I have tried, for years, telling my mom in very different ways exactly how this makes me feel. "You say XYZ and all I can hear is the negativity because it sends me down an anxiety spiral..." "You are trying to help me and teach me life lessons and that's amazing and I love you, but this makes me incredibly anxious or makes me feel like I'm not allowed even a moment to bask in an accomplishment." "I know you are trying to help, but this is explicitly hurting me, making me feel like I cannot tell anything to you." "Every conversation feels like a deposition and an indictment of a future that hasn't even happened yet..." Cuz she also harps with the same negative "advice" over and over again for how to handle future events, and it weirdly turns into her chastising me for not following her advice for events that haven't even happened yet. She tends to see herself as the victim of her own life story, or hit by out-of-the-blue misfortunes that she could not have foreseen or prepared for, so I think this is a big part of that. She feels 100% at risk and under attack at all moments, no matter the circumstance, and wants me to feel that way too because it's the only way to get by in life (in her eyes). So when I push back because that feels incredibly toxic to me, she patently doesn't hear it because making me on guard is pretty much her explicit goal.

Thanks, this is helpful.

It sounds as if your most useful approach now would be, gently, to refuse to engage, because all that harping can happen only if you grant her the time to harp. You've "tried ... telling" with words, but your actions have said, "Okay, Mom, bring it on, I won't stop you." So: "Thanks, Mom, for looking out for me. Is there anything else you'd like to talk about besides my [job/relationship/whatever the day's topic is]?" (Or the more general, "So, what's going on with you?") If she starts back in on the harping, then you gently interrupt and say you have to go. "Bye, talk soon."

Also deploy, without guilt or fear, a strict call schedule. Once a week, say? Every Monday night? Okay. Write yourself scripted lines for when your words get lost to your frustration. Best case, you shape these talks to your terms. Worst case, you'll have to pull back even more.

Go back to the police and insist on speaking to a female police officer or someone in the rape unit.

It's been my experience that men often forget that they live in a parallel, safer, better universe. And so random flowers are no big deal because they don't see the intrusion and ickiness of it. Just the other day, I was stunned to hear my husband say, "Yeah, but no one judges a pregnant woman." LOL, what?

My husband is 14 years sober. A relative is battling alcoholism and he is talking to her and her sister. From this lens, I agree with Carolyn - the husband has to know. It's too important to keep from him. Perhaps your husband / both of you tell him - as he has friendship with your husband. This is a horrible situation but sadly not unusual.

Not trying to make OP feel bad/worse, I swear, but I think not inviting the surrogate to the shower is a mistake. It might be acceptable not to invite a "stranger," but this person is family and will presumably be in your life forever. She IS doing something amazing for you and taking on a huge health risk despite having three children of her own to consider. I know you know this, but I can't imagine she wouldn't feel hurt. If you don't invite her, I think she deserves an up-front explanation that it's not about her.

Even if you were asked to donate, no one in their right mind to expect a new employee to have even accrued enough time in order to donate! Don't worry about it. That email was meant for people that have more time than they know what to do with, not new employees. Find another way to help the employee that doesn't involve you donating vacation time, and you will be appreciated just as much or more by the needy employee.

"What worked for me might not work for someone else. I'm sure Mia's doctor will let her know if she needs to do anything differently." Which doesn't slap Mr. Insensitive in the face quite as harshly as it's otherwise tempting to do, and reminds him that this is about health and not about beauty standards.

People appreciate it when people donate their leave. People don't care if they don't. It is not a big deal; it's not even a small deal. Trust me.

Seconding Carolyn's answer. My friend's friend died of alcohol-related stuff (organ failure, etc.). Sounds as if your neighbor needs further treatment. Tell the husband, in case there's anything he can do towards her getting it.

What if abuse was an issue in the marriage? Should the party who was abused, maybe even had their life threatened be expected to suck it up and go to the event with their ex? My ex tried to kill me, there is a restraining order for now, and he has supervised visits with our child. If our child wants him at his graduation or wedding it becomes complicated for me, not wanting to be in the same area with someone who tried to murder me.

That is definitely a very different story, and no, you would not be expected to "suck it up and go." I'm sorry that happened to you.

What's almost worse, to me, is that my friend's husband has been noticing and is commenting on MY body. Ew!

Yes, ew.

I used to handle domestic violence cases for many years. In most jurisdictions int the DC area, police cannot "refuse" to take a report but they will use whatever they can to discourage it. Ask for a superior or the "officer in charge." It is just a piece of paper that will take them 5 minutes to fill out. Don't take no for an answer.

"You've just made four negative remarks. Now say something positive."

It's a flat-out glorious New England fall day and I can't wait to get outside with my doggies.

Oh. You meant the mom.

Before we jump to conclusions that this is a creepy stalker thing, the flowers WERE signed. It was just a common name so the LW couldn't figure out who it was. The sender probably thought he was identifying himself just fine. She may not want the flowers - and I agree with her on that, it is a little creepy -- but a one-time unwanted gift from a thought-he-had-identified-himself person does not a stalker make.

Noooooo, this is the same mistake the police made. There are no conclusions being jumped to. The recipient feels unsettled, that is real, and is asking for more information so that her response can be an informed one. That's it. No one has enough information.

I made the point about stalking to underscore the importance of getting the information and of taking seriously someone who feels threatened and of not using "flowers = nice" as an excuse to dismiss anything. If anyone needs a lesson in how a jolly-good-fun thing can have seriously dark possibilities, I have one word. Clowns.

A counter argument to the shower question - because the surrogate is family, she'll presumably be at many, many events throughout your lives. But at a baby shower, an actual pregnant person sucks all the air from the room, and it's not wrong to want one day if you're loving and respectful the rest of the time.

Chatter with the flower sender: I got these once, and it turned out to be harmless. I understand why you're concerned, but let's just hope this was a one-off. This is what I would do. I would tell the florist that they are not covered by florist-client privilege and that unless they tell me who it is, I am going on yelp and FB and every other social media outlet to explain how this florist entity facilitates stalking, and not just stalking, but stalking of other men's wives. Because that will cover both halves of the population.

Florist-client privilege. Where were you when I needed a wing-person.

Okay, enough of this chatathon. Bye, thanks again for being here, have a great weekend, see you next Friday ... and early warning, there will be no chat Oct. 19 unless a scheduling miracle occurs to erase an anticipated conflict.

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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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