Carolyn Hax Live: 'Grandpa got licked by a buffalo'

Dec 14, 2018

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax will be online to take your comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

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Hi everybody, happy Friday.

I will be off for the next two Fridays--I need some family time. 

Hi, Carolyn: My boyfriend's parents hosted an early Christmas celebration last weekend. At the end of the evening, they asked everyone to gather for a family photo (20+ people). They took one, and then they awkwardly asked me and one other person (my boyfriend's sibling's SO) to step out so they could take a family-only photo. Am I wrong to be deeply offended by this? The sibling's SO has been in the picture for about five years, though not married; my boyfriend and I have been together for longer than that. In our case, we are unlikely to get married because we both have children from previous marriages and have decided to keep our future estates separate (for now, at least). I get not wanting temporary additions in a major family portrait, but this one was taken casually and I do not consider myself a temporary addition. If anything, I understand and treat my boyfriend far better than anyone else in that picture ever has. Please knock some sense into me before this turns into a grudge.

Some people are just idiots.

Is that enough?

Carolyn, I'm a 30something married woman with a toddler. I have a big hole in my life right now and I very much need one or two new friends, yet I can't seem to get past the acquaintance stage with any of the most obvious prospects. The little one makes it tough for me to join coworkers for most happy hours, but even when I do, I feel shy and nervous about going "deep" with them (so I don't really tell them anything personal, which inhibits friendship). The other daycare moms and dads seem to have some established relationships among them, but I can't find my way into that either. No time to take up a new hobby or go to meetups or anything. I just want someone, other than my husband, I can text funny things to and gossip with after the work meeting/birthday party. How do I find this person???

First thought, you're not alone in feeling alone. The stage of life you're in really does this to people. It's very isolating if you don't happen to have just the right social conditions lined up.

And: It might help to see this as a problem that will resolve itself eventually--meaning, don't work too hard to fix it or get too upset/frustrated when the work you do doesn't seem to pay off. You don't have the time, energy or availability for a real effort to make friends. So, it's okay to look to half measures that make you feel better, if not completely fulfilled--like those happy hours. 

It's also useful when you're in little-kid phase to multitask. Can you combine social time with child-care time? Are there any baby-and-me-type music or movement programs on weekends? Again, it's probably not realistic to look to a 60-minute circle time for a lifelong friend, but it can add to your list of half-measures--and at least give you a shot at more.

Last: I realize these are coworkers you're talking about, so "What the hell, go deep!" is probably not prudent--but you can go deep-*er,* just a little. See if there are any takers.

And, really, if I wasn't clear enough--be patient and don't be tough on yourself when it doesn't go as you hope. An old friend with older kids assured me when my kids were toddlers (and I was very much in your position) that she didn't really make "mom friends" until her kids were in grade school. It turned out to be true for me, too, and I found myself thinking often of what she said as a kind of stick-with-it encouragement. Looking after a toddler (or a baby) is just so consuming that your interactions with others tend to be glancing, distracted, rushed, tired. Those just aren't the conditions that encourage glue to cure properly, for lack of a better analogy.

Our friends "Fred" and "Jane" having a get-together this weekend, and my spouse and I are happy because we're all busy with young kids and don't see them more than every other year or so. Then last night I had the single most, ah, vivid dream of my entire life about Jane. Even though nobody actually did anything and nothing actually happened, but I'm kind of mortified and afraid I won't be able to look Fred or Jane (mostly Jane) in the eye. I already thought about telling my wife this morning, and then thought better of it, so I'm also feeling kind of guilty. Any tips on navigating an awkward situation that exists only in my head?


Enjoy it? 

I'm guessing the awkwardness will not linger past the initial greetings. And if they do, just laugh at yourself and be awkward. Whatever.

My BIL and his wife have struggled with infertility for years. My husband is not especially close to his brother, but we have heard some of the various testing and processes from them over the years. Here’s the thing. I would be willing to be a surrogate for them. I suspect they would not consider IVF in any form (religious reasons); and even if they did, they may prefer to use someone else. I could accept any decision gracefully. I just can’t see any way to say “hey, if you wanted, I would do this.” But of course, if they were considering such a thing I could spare them a not insignificant expense, and given the semi-distant relationship I don’t expect they would consider to ask. Do I continue to keep my nose out of it? (I have two kids, so have shown I can carry to term, and do know what I would be signing on for)

What does your husband think about this? He may not be close to them, but he knows his brother better than you and I do, so I'd start with his opinion and take it from there.

Dear Carolyn, My daughter 'Fiona' is 21 years old and just moved to her own apartment. Not a great neighborhood, but my first apartment wasn't in a great neighborhood either. Fiona has always been empathetic and kind. She donates her time at soup kitchens, fosters rescue animals, and will go the extra mile for friends and family. Today she sent out a family and friends group text saying she has discovered an encampment of homeless people living near her apartment. She sees them on her drive to and from work. She wants to help and has asked us to donate spare blankets, warm clothing, feminine hygiene products, 'durable' non-cook foods (e.g., peanut butter, granola bars, crackers), and toiletries, and she will stop by and deliver them. This is a wonderful idea but it seems risky and I am conflicted. This seems to me like a bad move at this time in Fiona's life. She lives alone, and close to the encampment. Sometimes desperate people do desperate things. I would rather she tempered her generosity with practical safety, and let us donate to a homeless shelter in her name, rather than her hand-delivering items. How should I reply? Sincerely, Hard-hearted

Reply with a donation of spare blankets, warm clothing, feminine hygiene products, accessible foods and/or toiletries. She is going to be the person who does things like this no matter what, with or without your support; she'll do it next time even if you talk her out of it this time; and she's going to do her own accounting of risk vs. reward.  

I know you're worried, but I think you will feel better if you choose, consciously, to turn your face toward her light.

Congratulations on raising this beautiful child.

Hi Carolyn, My wife has gone overboard for Christmas this year—homemade cookies for every person she’s met, it looks like Santa threw up in our house, and gifts for every person you can imagine. She lost her mom six months ago and her dad’s health is failing. She was incredibly close to her mom and we live walking distance to her parents’ house. I suspect she’s compensating for losing her mom but whenever I bring up the holiday overload, she gets defensive and sometimes she starts crying. What should I do? Annapolis

Stop bringing up the holiday overload.

Am I missing something?

Grief doesn't respond well to preemptive efforts. Unless someone's grief involves highly risky behavior, it's better to get out of the way, let grief express itself, and then respond to the fallout accordingly. Cushion vs. correct.

It came to light yesterday that my MIL is lying about me joining her with my husband for the New Year. She has used me as bait to get other family to visit her in years past regardless of my actual plans or presence for the festivities. A truthseeker among the inlaws asked me if I were REALLY going to be there and it sounded like I had told MIL to count on me being there and I dropped them last minute. I have gone ultra low contact with my husband's family (because they tattle) so it would be awkward to send announcements in Christmas cards saying " I won't be there...again...because of your mother's behavior," but I would love to. Address the lie or the liar? Ignore both?

The truth-seeker's question suggests they're all on to your MIL. Possible?

Regardless, the answer is just to do your thing as if there were no weirdness going on. That includes making your own plans; sharing your plans only with the people you'd tell under any other circumstances; responding to questions about your plans with the straight-up truth ("No, we won't be there. ... She said that? Strange--we made other plans back in October"); and responding to any fallout with the kind of plain statement you would use with logical people. ("Huh--that's odd. We never said we were coming. We made our plans back in October").

The answer to weirdness in general (baiting, manipulating, lying, guilting, throwing tantrums) is to be aggressively unweird. And unaggressive. Good luck.

Dear Carolyn, Today is my birthday and I'm getting some nice messages on Facebook. A woman I went to school with from grades 1-12, who for about seven of those years made my life a living hell with teasing, exclusion, and all-around poor treatment, sent me a long private message this morning. Her message, summarized: "I've been reflecting and I see that I was a bully when we were kids. Sorry! I hope you're doing well." There is an avenue for me to respond, but I'm not sure what to say. All morning I've been indulging a fantasy of writing back to tell her that I actually don't forgive her and that I've spent 25 years replaying all her insults about how ugly and stupid I am. That at least 50% of my time in therapy has focused on undoing the inferiority complex and imposter syndrome I developed as a kid hanging out with that particular "frenemy." That her name is a household word for my husband and me, referring to someone who kicks you when you're down. I know the answer is probably no. But is there ANY value at all in saying any of these things to her? I feel that silence, or just pithily accepting her apology, lets her off the hook.

Happy $^%& birthday.

I am so sorry she treated you that way, and it shaped you so, and you still carry it with you. It's just not right and no apology will give you back those years.

Was her message at full length as flippant is you suggest with your summary? Because that would be insult to injury. Maybe let it sit for a while--leave it to soak--before you decide anything, and then read it again to see whether the words are more potentially healing than they seemed at first. A few days from now at least. See if anything softens.

Whatever you come to then will have a higher ratio of logic to emotion, and therefore will be more likely to represent who you are now instead of the angry, wounded kid you were then. Not to say that kid hasn't earned a chance to yell--but I think you'll be more satisfied by the exchange if it's really you talking.

If it helps, the silence she'll hear as you figure this out won't be "let[ting] her off the hook"--if anything, it'll leave her to twist. Not that I recommend you do that to her on purpose, just that I don't think you do her any favors by not responding right away/not responding at all.

Full disclosure, my hope is that, given a few days to turn this over in your mind, you'll find enough sincere remorse in the note to justify talking to this person directly. But if you just don't see that, then it would make sense to exercise your prerogative not to respond and to make peace with her in your own way.




I'm involved in homeless outreach. All of the things Fiona asked for are desperately needed by people experiencing homelessness, and what a wonderful thing she wants to do. Mom, if you're scared, offer to out with her or ask her to take a friend or two along. That is a basic safety step. Also, trust your daughter that she won't give out her address. I assume she wouldn't to any stranger, and there is no reason to treat a person experiencing homelessness differently in that regard. We need more Fionas in the world.

Don't drink too much at the get-together.

Right! Thanks.

Been there! A 2 year old is tricky because they don't actively play with other 2 year olds. When my daughter hit 4 and started saying "I want to have so and so over" that's when I really hit my groove with other parents, some of whom are now close friends. I'm also a huge advocate for taking a leap. I bet half of the other daycare moms or mommy and me playgroup moms also want a friend but it's hard to initiate conversation in the 15 minute drop off window. If you can find it in you to approach someone and say "Susie talks about Jimmy at home. Want to meet at the park Saturday," I bet you'll make progress. It's a lot like dating, awkward at first but eventually you'll find your person.

At daycare it's easy to focus on the folks who are in the middle of the social scene, but start looking for other people on the fringes who may also be looking for a way to connect.

On my wedding day my husband's family wanted a picture of the family. It is a really sweet picture of my husband, his mom, siblings, nieces and nephews and NOT ME...the bride! That was 25 years ago and we laugh about it now at family functions. My sisters-in-law are particularly embarrassed commenting about 'what were we thinking not having the bride in the photo?!' It really is funny and endearing now. Even people who are not idiots can make a poor judgement now and again. Please don't take it so hard.

I totally feel you. The mommy and me suggestion is real, but you have to be willing to make the hard step of suggesting coffee and hot chocolate after the next class, and then follow up with a park date suggestion. But it worked for me--my closest friend in my newish town of residence is the mom of the little boy who was in swim classes with my daughter. We gestated our second babies at the same time and say they were in utero friends. But the first invitation was HARD. And because little kid life is rough, it meant that sometimes our schedules didn't--and still don't--sync. You can't take a no personally in this stage. Even now, five years into friendship, sometimes we can't get together for a month. But those text messages are a lifeline. It just feels a lot different than pre-kid friendship. Good luck. Feeling for you.

Is there a manual on pacing the getting-to-know-you process? I feel like I keep blowing promising connections with the people I want to date by revealing too much about myself too soon or by holding out until they lose all interest. I feel like I just can't get it right, while other people seem to be able to do it effortlessly. Help!

Yes, yes there is: "Conversationally Speaking" by Alan Garner. That's the co-author of the other basic-social-skills book I swear by, "Lifeskills for Adult Children." These books are short, clear, and loaded with step-by-step examples, and they're not trying to be cool or funny or unique and they're a way to start from zero. If you're not at zero then some of it will seem obvious or cringey, but considering how short they are, it's not like you invest much of anything in redundancies. 

And I meant to reply to this a week or two ago ... someone posted to complain about how dated the books seemed. To which I say, yes, "Lifeskills" is a senior citizen by self-help-book standards. But this isn't art, it's social math. 2 + 2 still = 4. If someone steps up with as short and clear a math booklet using 2018-speak, then I'll promote that instead. Till then, I'm sticking with the most useful recommendation over one that might be more entertaining.

For years, I was active in the competitive hand-dancing circuit. (It's really great; people meet at night to practice and learn routines, you make friends and get lots of exercise.) Then I met my now-husband, and he was uncomfortable with the amount of time and energy I was putting into this hobby. He also took issue with all the coed bodily contact that is by definition a big part of hand-dancing. He suspected (not incorrectly) that some of my hand-dancing friends, including the married and partnered ones, might be hooking up with each other. He always said that he trusted me but did not trust the setting/situation (hours of dancing some evenings, occasional hotel stays for competitions). So long story short, I hung up my shoes about three years ago. It simply stopped being fun for me because the arguments were not worth it. I also got busy doing other things (we had a baby), but I have missed the dancing terribly. I brought it up to my husband the other night and to my surprise he now encourages me to go back. He says that he feels more secure in our marriage now and that he no longer has the visceral worry that he used to feel when I would leave for dance practice. He also recognizes that I have never found a replacement source of consistent exercise. do I go back without feeling that I'm doing it now because he "let" me? I want to, but I wish that I could rewrite the past and undo being bullied into quitting. Returning to the hobby now has less appeal if I am doing it only because I'm now allowed to. Any suggestions welcome.

Just start up again. You're going back because you want to, and that's regardless of his response. You'd be going anyway even if he didn't "let" you, so go.

For the record, I don't love anything about the controlly nature of his arguing you out of your treasured hobby, or your deferring to his insecurity at great cost to you, or the implication (I'm not imagining this, right?) that he might be okay with it because he wants his postpartum wife to get more exercise ... 

But these are all issues that will be just as ripe for your attention *after* you find out whether they're actually (still) there. Because it could also be that your husband has done some significant growing up in the past few years--and maybe you have, too--so why not proceed as if you both have, dance again just because you want to, and see for yourself?

My high school senior (usually quite level-headed and droll) applied Early Action to an ivy league college in New England. He is supposed to hear any day. The usual teenage behavior is magnified this week, but we're kind of tolerating it, knowing that very soon he will either be bouncing off the walls with ecstasy, or grumpy and sad and feeling like a failure. I don't think that attending this school will make or break his life, but he is convinced that this is the only place for him. What a stupid and destructive system this is. Thoughts? Advice?

1 percenters have feelings too!

Jake Tapper is all over this on Twitter. His tweet last night was pretty basic, if important and apt--"Rejection sucks but you can almost certainly end up someplace you absolutely love and get a great education. Hang in there."--but the responses are what make it so great. So many rejection stories that ended well--plus some clutch reminders about privilege. (LINK) Worth a scroll for perspective.

I'll spare you all the rant I've been on lately about the "stupid and destructive system," because it is a larger issue, but I do want to point out these schools accept 5 or 6 of every hundred applicants, and most if not all 100 are qualified enough to do belong there and do fine. The more we can talk about the final admissions stages as lottery vs. beauty contest, the better--it's a more accurate reflection of reality. A bit late for your son, but better than never. 


It’s been more than a year since I submitted my chat question about parenting while grieving so I was surprised to see it in your column recently. Last year’s holidays had some tough moments but we came together as an extended family and are all doing fine. My son got to see everyone acknowledge the loss while still having joyful moments and appreciating all the great memories. He heard lots of stories that helped him know my dad beyond his own experiences. He brings those up now and then saying, “I think Grandpa would have liked that!” or “Remember the story about when Grandpa (accidentally ate a bug/got licked by a buffalo/other family story)?" We also started a new tradition of doing random acts of kindness in honor of my dad because he was always doing them for everyone else. Thanks for printing the question and reminding me about how far we’ve come. It was hard but my son (and I) have come through it happy and healthy.

This is so nice to see, thank you.

to "I wrote today's letter about the in laws"

Were you the "vessel" who wrote to the chat last week? If so, you're my Jan. 9 column.

I met my now BFF 11 years ago, when we were both helping make enchiladas to raise money for our 7th graders' theater program. She had enchilada sauce in her hair, she was close to crying because the sauce was not setting up like she wanted, and the entire situation was a bit crazy (the teenagers throwing cheese didn't help). But she kept on making sauce and it all worked out. After we got through the day, I said to her "you seem cool, do you want to have lunch or wine sometime?" She thought I was maybe insane, but we met for wine after work the next week. But I figured that if this was her at her worst, she must be pretty neat. I was right, and we have seen each other through divorce, kids' medical nightmares, and the suicide of a spouse. I am very lucky to have her as a friend! Lesson: sometimes, you just have to be bold and put yourself out there.

Oh my goodness. Those are several lifetimes you've shared. Thank you.

I would SO love to read that story! Maybe you could title this chat "Grandpa got licked by a buffalo." Please???

Yes, and I think it's even better if we don't know anything beyond that.

Let's retire the idea that you can trust someone "but not the situation." If DH trusted you, he would trust you even when others were hooking up because they aren't you, and you would say no if the situation arose. For the most part, if someone trusts you, s/he trusts you everywhere - that's what trust is!

Yes, thanks for the catch.

If I can't have Cousin Susan's phone number, can I get Jane's?

Hey, I know you.

We have solved the family photo problem by taking pictures of every combination possible, starting with an "all comers" photo (with everyone, including the dog) followed by pictures of cousins only, sibs only, sibs with spouses, sibs with Grandpa, family groups with Grandpa, and so on.

This is really the only way, *every combination possible*--besides just taking one picture with absolutely everyone in it. It's like playing hearts--all in or all out. Thanks.

If you are someone who has an established group of a parent-friends, it never hurts to invite someone new to play group or game night or book club or whatever it is. One of our family’s closest family-friends is a family who was invited by another parent in the group. I didn’t think to reach out myself, but my other friend did and they are now dear, dear friends of ours.

Yesssssss. Thank you.

If you're worried someone won't fit, make such inclusion a one-off instead of inviting people into regular gatherings like a book club.

I know it sounds cynical but one of the evergreen problems in my queue is, "We used to have this great weekly group, but then we invited X to join and X is domineering and has changed everything, and now we might have to disband the group just to get rid of X."

What a grim end to a happy "other side" ... but, there  you go.

I have had so many parents come up to me to say, "Susie talks about Jimmy at home..." I respond with a "that's so sweet!" and wondering why my Jimmy never talks about Susie. I am facepalming so hard that I did not realize it was code for a playdate invitation.

Don't hurt yourself!

WTH is that?

So fun! Was there ever a follow-up about the naked charade player? Dying to know.....

Yes, and I am acting it out right now.

I did a much more scatter-shot method - not invite one Mom to A Thing, but invited ALL the kids to the playground after the mom-and-me class. And ALL the kids in the world to my kid's 3rd birthday. WHY? Not for the presents or my kid, but for ME! I was throwing my friendship into a giant pack of people in hopes of some sticking around after to get to know better. It required a lot less out of me, an introvert, to throw a party or big playdate where I could naturally converse, than to ask an individual to coffee with the first-date-like awkwardness. Once pre-school started, and the same parents showed up for all drop offs and pick ups and parties and events - and birthday parties for every kid in the class - I slowly found friends. Even with the kids in different high schools now, the friends stick around!

Why try Introversion 101 when you can write the curriculum for Introversion Goes to 11. Nicely done.

OP should keep in mind that dreams are usually not expressions of intent, but a mixed-up potion of feelings and reactions. You dream of someone's death when you're just missing them, walk naked when you're feeling anxious and have wild sex dreams when you're eager to reconnect.

Reassuring bit of no fun at all, thanks.

I think I will add the sentence "The teenagers throwing cheese didn't help," to every difficult situation description from here on out. Thank you.

I'm here to serve. (And volley.)

That's also it for today. 

If I haven't said it recently or emphatically enough: Thank you all for being here and teaching me over the years pretty much everything I know, and for keeping me honest in real time, and for rolling with my slow responses and weird sense of humor and references to movies only 5 people have seen and answering the doorbell at 12:37 p.m. mid-10-paragraph answer. Thanks also to Teddy who gets it all done without complaint. 

Bye everybody, have a great weekend, and a merry everything--or a pleasant nothing-special, or hang in there through the onslaught, apply as needed--and see you in January. 


In This Chat
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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