Carolyn Hax Live (October 4)

Oct 04, 2019

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax answers questions and responds to comments about a father caught in the middle, potluck weddings, a son's childcare demands and more. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

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Hi everybody, happy Friday.

I'm annoyed with myself for not thinking of this sooner, re kids at protests (and I had two cracks at it already, ugh).

The point of education isn't just for kids to learn and retain the facts about X, Y or Z, right? It's also for them to learn how to think critically, how to find information, how to apply it effectively.

We can look at the idea of taking kids to protests the same way: It's not (just) about the message, it's about how to be engaged, active, aware. I almost got there in the last paragraph, but not quite. LINK


I’ve been with my girlfriend just a little over a year and we started discussing holiday plans. Like last year I plan to spend both Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family who live about 90 minutes from me. My girlfriend is upset that I didn't invite her to Thanksgiving at my family's house. It's not that I don't want her there, I would love for her to come with me someday, but I think our relationship is still too new. In all honesty, it's because my family would take this as an indication that I plan to marry her, and that would just produce incredible pressure from my mom and dad, and even my siblings. It’s all they think about because I’m the only kid who isn’t married yet, but I’m only 29 and not ready to rush into anything so I don’t want to even put that idea into my girlfriend’s head. I just want to have a nice, peaceful Thanksgiving. I have explained this to my girlfriend (excluding the part about marriage), but she is still really upset. I can understand why she is disappointed since she wasn’t included last year, either, but she has her own family she could go to though they live 6 hours away, she could fly or take some extra time off, she has plenty of vacation time. To make things worse, she asked if Christmas was a possibility, and I had to tell her no for the same reasons. I did say that next year there is a good chance she will be invited when we have a better understanding of where we are, but that didn’t help her any. Is there any way to make this up to or to make her feel better about this? What more can I say or do?

I have explained this to my girlfriend (excluding the part about marriage), but she is still really upset.

What did you tell her, then? Because the whole thing is about marriage, as far as I can tell--your unreadiness for it, your family's preoccupation with it, your status as the only one who doesn't have one yet.

"I told her we couldn't go because gorillas were running loose downtown (excluding the part about the gorillas)."

What you need to say to your girlfriend is everything after "In all honesty," except for the part that poses a severe tearing-out threat to what's left of my hair, that you don't want to give the woman ideas. 

So, something like this:

"It's because my family would take this as an indication that I plan to marry you, and that would just produce incredible pressure from my mom and dad, and even my siblings. It’s all they think about because I’m the only kid who isn’t married yet, but I’m only 29 and not ready to rush into anything."

This way, you own your feelings, she knows where you stand, she can know where she stands, you can know where she stands, and you can decide where you stand, so you both can know where you stand together, and no one is playing Hide the Bouquet for fear of catching wedding cooties.

Or, if you like her, then you can just bring her with you and handle it. 



(online only please) My SO suffers chronic pain -- agony sometimes --- but he's unwilling to go to the doctor, find another doctor, navigate the complicated insurance path. But he won't ask for help either! He snaps at my efforts to help or sympathize. I'm not sure what to do.

Explain to him with kindness and love that snapping at you and neglecting himself are not viable alternatives to getting treatment. You will help him with doctors and insurance hassles, but you will not agree to get dragged down into the pit with him. Say you'll give him some time to make his choice.

Please also call NAMI's help line. The way you describe your SO has some hallmarks of depression, and a trained guide can really help with the difficult role of supporting someone whose health condition itself is an obstacle to getting treatment. 800-950-6264.

Hi Carolyn: I have been dating a man, for almost 3 months. Neither of us have brought up, whether we are in a relationship or not, although I trust we are exclusively dating. I am afraid, I am in the friends-with-benefits zone and want to be in a relationship. But I tend to think it's best to wait for him to bring up that he wants to be in a relationship, not me, because then I know he really wants it and he won't think I am trying to trap him into a relationship. I know part of me is afraid of getting rejected because he got out of a very long relationship 7 months ago & maybe I am not ready to walk away if he rejects a relationship. How do you think I should approach this next step? -Friends-with-benefits zoned in D.C.

Why aren't you worried he's trying to "trap" (ugh!) *you* into a relationship? He has value, but you don't?

My follicles are trembling in fear and it's not even 12:30. Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh.

Live! Your! Life! 

*Ask for what you want.*

If you don't get it, then say, "Oh well, at least I tried," and then *walk away.*  Hurt like hell. Have a cry. Eat some pasta. Go back to living your  life.

Whatever you do, whomever you love, however you express yourself--so much room there for you to be you, in a variety of ways, as you go through life--

 stop handing control of your relationships to other people. 

Thank you very much.


I am a single mom of 3 almost grown kids. My 25 year marriage was loveless and sex was forgettable. I now find myself w/a man who adores me and he easy to be around! He has has depth of integrity and has many great qualities, great humor, we laugh alot( which was missing from my past relatioships) and my kids love him and welcome him into they're lives. He is 10 years my senior which shouldn't be an issue at 68. He has zero desire for any sex (basically a selfish lover). He has discussed this w/his doctor who suggested some solutions but to no avail.Nothing has changed. I don't really want to loose him but I go from loveless to feeling insecure because there is no physical closeness. we have talked about this and he is very proud! What happens next? I suggested therapy and he doesn't think there is a problem.

Of course he doesn't. He's happy!

But you're not. So, enjoy the company of this lovely friend, who is just a friend, and keep your heart and mind and parts of your calendar open just for you, including for the possibility of something/someone different. Just because you love this person doesn't mean he has to occupy a space at the center of your life. Don't make an unsatisfying mistake twice.

Again: You be the center of your life. Take your best care of yourself and be your best company. Have fun times with your friend when you feel like it and don't when you don't. 

And any time you're using the S word ("shouldn't be an issue"), please recognize you're in the clutches of wishful thinking. Facts only, and the facts say you have a nice friend and a lot of life ahead of you. Check back in sometime if you have some adventures to report.

Hello Carolyn, I'm a little early, but like to plan ahead for gift giving during the holiday season. My assistant at work is Jewish and very active in her faith, and I would like to give her a holiday gift as I have all my Christmas-celebrating assistants that came before her. I'm wondering if you or the nuts had any ideas about what to give and when to give it. I feel like a lot of my standard gifts lean toward the Christian tradition...poinsettias, Christmas ornaments, stocking filled with coffee cards/chocolate etc. We get along great but work out of different locations, so I'm not so familiar with her that I can think of a specific gift she'd be sure to like. Should I plan the gift to coincide with the first day of Hanukkah or is there a more appropriate time to give? Am I over thinking this? Probably. But any help or insight would be much appreciated. Thank you!

I'd rather see Karla Miller's answer than my own (LINK), but I'm thinking your Jewish colleague is a wakeup to the wisdom of uncoupling your workplace appreciation gifts from religious holidays. Conveniently, there is the New Year, standing neutrally by and carrying only the calendar as symbolic freight. Coffee cards and chocolates are just as excellent wrapped in sparkly gold and silver. I've done extensive research on this personally.

Hi Carolyn! I'm 23 weeks pregnant, and every OB appointment I've been to (with the exception of one doctor I saw) I get a lecture about how much weight I'm gaining, what I should be eating, and how much exercise I should be getting. It feels like they are saying I'm not doing it right and I feel very defensive and go home and cry after these appointments. I am 5'5", started at the top of the normal range at 150 lbs, and have gained 20 pounds so far. I mostly eat healthy (fruits, veggies, lean protein, etc) but I also indulge my sweet tooth and cravings. I walk almost every day and do strengthening exercises. In my first trimester I was hungry every two hours and would get nauseous if I didn't eat. Now in the second trimester my appetite has picked up significantly, and while I understand i have gained a little more than recommended, it doesn't feel like it merits a smacking every time I see the doctor. At the last appointment she acted like i was on a path to gain 70 pounds which seems like a completely unfounded fear. Anyway, all that to say, am I being overly sensitive to these talks? Or are they bringing this up too often? I want to switch to the doctor that didn't talk to me about my weight gain/nutrition/exercise, and seemed more relaxed overall (which i like, as someone who has generalized anxiety and worries enough without prompting). If I do switch, should I say something to her about why I switched, so that she knows this is a sensitive topic for me? I don't really want to stay with the original doctor and bring it up, but both of these doctors are in the same office and it is possible that even if I switched I could get the original doctor when I give birth - which would be awkward. What do you think?

The easiest route: Switch to the doctor you like; don't say anything; play the odds. If the on-call schedule (and cruel Fate) hands you the original doctor to perform the delivery, then trust her to be professional about it all. It'll be all business at that point anyway. 

This is a good option if you've got a lot going on already and aren't in a position to manage a whole other stress.

The more difficult, get it over with route: Keep your next appointment with the weight-harping doc, and say your piece: "When I get a lecture about how much weight I'm gaining, what I should be eating, and how much exercise I should be getting, it feels like you are saying I'm not doing it right and I feel very defensive, and go home and cry after these appointments." 

This is a good option if you don't want the dread of your next appt or your delivery to be hanging over your head.

If saying your concerns out loud feels like too tall an emotional order, then please first consider: Your appointments are *yours.* They are about your care. You get to direct that care. If you don't like the way your doctor responds to this direction, then you switch.

Another, arguably bigger reason to articulate your concern: Being a parent forces you to become a caregiver, and being a caregiver means you're an advocate on a whole other level. You aren't just speaking for yourself; you're the last line of defense for your charge. So, if you don't feel comfortable starting, holding steady through, and managing any awkwardness after a difficult conversation, then now is the time to start getting good at it. 


Dear Carolyn, My husband’s sister has a sensory processing disorder. She was diagnosed right before our wedding and when she told us, my husband said it really clarified a lot of his childhood. She explained to us that most of her life is overcoming this and she would like family events to be as accommodating as possible. My husband and I are sympathetic to this, so we always have events at somebody’s home with no media on in the background, crate our dog, put away the loudest kids toys, serve familiar and basic foods, things like that. My husband’s family is local and my family is not. This Thanksgiving, we are hosting my sister and her kids and my parents. I do not want to invite my sister-in-law or my husband’s parents. It would be really hard/impossible to keep the noise level down with my kids playing with their cousins, my Dad will want to watch football, and my husband and I will be focused on making a holiday meal. I would like to see my in-law’s on the Saturday or Sunday after the holiday instead. My husband thinks we should invite everybody, but let his sister know that we cannot accommodate her with this many people, and she can decide if she wants to come. What do you think?

I think this is a no-brainer, and you will agree if we cut the question down to its basic elements:

You want to exclude your disabled in-law for being disabled.


So, nope.

Your husband has a perfectly elegant solution. Why didn't you agree to it right away?

My wife is 26 and says she’s ready to have a baby but I think she’s too young and we should wait. I know on paper the timing looks right. We both have good, stable jobs and good health insurance and financially a baby is doable, but I think it is the wrong decision for other reasons. I think my wife underestimates how much work and drudgery its going to be and may someday look back and regret having kids so young and wish we'd waited a few more years. I’m 33 and couldn't imagine having kids when I was 26. It would have been awful since it would have meant the end of my leisure. I say you have such a short time to be young and carefree and you have forever to be tied down – why rush it? We have plenty of time to have kids. We've only been married for two years, so there's nothing wrong in my mind with her enjoying the next couple of years carefree and then having a baby once she's closer to 30 and her friends have started settling down and starting families. Then she’ll have company and won’t feel so isolated. She thinks that I am infantilizing her by assuming she misunderstands the difficulties and how much of a sacrifice it will require, but I don't see it that way. I just want her to enjoy this time we have when we're DINKs so that she doesn't have regrets later in life. I am only trying to look out for her best interests. Am I wrong to believe she's making this decision without considering what she'd be giving up?

Mark the time, 12:59. I am officially freaking bald.

You are totally infantilizing her! Sweet cheeses.

my wife underestimates

she may someday regret 

there's nothing wrong with her enjoying 

she won’t feel so isolated

she's making this decision without considering

A baby is a terrible idea because you think you can have your wife's thoughts and feelings better than she can.

Until you can respect her as an equal--at least!--then this is not the environment I'd wish on a child. Or your wife. 

Please speak for yourself, get over yourself, and, when you achieve those two, apologize to your wife. 




Hi everyone, happy friday.... seeking some advice. I have a therapist I have been w for about 5 years and she knows all the uglies.... (alcoholic, i was a terrible mother, nasty divorce, estranged family, yep, I am a gem!) now my e'er changed health care and she is not on my plan. i am afraid to start over with someone new and afraid of being judged for the horrible person i am...but not sure i shd just rely on myself so - any advice?

Sigh. If you were as terrible as you say, then you wouldn't be able to say you're terrible.

I am serious.

Please talk to your therapist about your predicament. She might be able to adjust her fees. If not, then she can help you find another therapist, and hold your hand through the process. This is not a process that will be new to her. Take care.

My wife and I have been married for 7 years and she's the smartest and most practical person I've ever met, and I love her and her way of seeing the world. I’ve always seen her as very logical person who's not prone to random flights of fancy. She has talked about liking tattoos for a long time, but she's never gotten one because she always said it’s a big decision having something permanently on her skin forever. Personally I hate tattoos. I don't find them attractive, and I've never wanted one and I never wanted her to have one. She's a teacher, so her professional image is very important to her. I was out of town for business last week and when I got home she showed me her wrist, bearing a brand new tattoo. We talked every night while I was gone but she didn't even bother to tell me she was seriously thinking about doing something like this before she decided to do it. It's small, and she said it's the only one she ever wants, but I'm still flabbergasted and ticked off. I haven’t told her yet but I hate it. It seems so unlike her, like she just got bored and randomly decided to mark herself for life. I know it was a tattoo that she had mentioned wanting for a while, but she always acted like it was just a joke. Now it's on her body forever, and I'm concerned, annoyed, and worried. Concerned that she would do something like this seemingly out of nowhere, annoyed that she didn't bother to tell me first, and worried that maybe somethings going on that I don't know about? I don't know how to react, I've been kind of distant since she showed me. How do I deal with this?

You say it "seems so unlike her" and she did "something like this seemingly out of nowhere," but everything else you say tells me she is being exactly who she has always been, and did something she always wanted. She likes tattoos, and has always said so. She has talked about getting one. She thinks it's a big decision. 

So, she thought about it for a long time, openly, with you, and then did it.

What happened "out of nowhere," from my perspective at least, is that her getting the tat knocked off your filter, the one through which you ran all of her talk of tattoos so that you could tell yourself she would never get one. She's too sensible, you told yourself. She's too professional. She was just joking. 

You wanted to see her this way, so that's what you saw.

But, she was this person all along who loved tattoos and wanted one eventually. And, "eventually" eventually came.

Your frustration with the timing is valid--it took your going away and she kept it from you on the phone? So obviously she knew you were going to hate it and take the news badly, and she went at it sideways vs head-on.

That is on her. She owed it to you to be open about her choice.

And it's on you still, somewhat, because you owed it to her to listen to her and not spin her words to your own liking.

Regardless of what you think of all of this, she is who she is. As-is. Are you really ready to change how you feel about her and what you've built over this? If it were my marriage, I'd tell myself in as persuasive a way as possible that it's time to find ways to be thankful this is the worst problem you've got.

BTW, the days of tattoos being an issue professionally are, if not dead, then at least on life support and furrowing the brows of onlookers.


My girlfriend and I had a baby about seven months ago. My gf was a SAHM and I work long hours so I know I wasn’t much help but I did notice she was struggling with motherhood - unhappy, distracted, seemed irritated when I paid attention to the baby, she even seemed irritated when I said how smart or beautiful our daughter is. I thought that she had post-partum depression and asked her several times if she needed to talk to her doctor or if she needed some time for herself. Every time I brought it up she’d get angry and say she just needed time with me to herself. So I arranged for some date nights and she perked up while we were out but went back to being angry and disgusted when we got home and I was so excited to see our daughter. Last week my gf told me this was all a huge mistake, she’s not cut out to be a mom and then she moved out. Since then I’ve been running around finding a nanny, dealing with my job, and talking to lawyers. My plan was to let my gf terminate her parental rights and start her life over like she wants to. I think our daughter will be better off without a reluctant, angry mom in her life. My sister is telling me that I’m making a huge mistake, that I need to slow my roll, get my gf some help since the root of her behavior is so obviously post-partum depression. Even if she’s right, what more can I do? I feel like letting my gf drift in and out of our daughter’s life would be disastrous and I can’t make her get help if she refuses. Am I wrong to just want her gone and this whole mess over with?

That's terrible, I'm sorry. 

IF there's a way to "slow my roll"--big if--then please do. I agree with your sister that PPD would explain your girlfriend's emotional state.

I also agree with you, though, that you can't make anyone get help she doesn't want.

The path you're looking for is the one that's best for your daughter. A mom who drifts in and out of her life, that's a no; a mom who's angry and resentful, also a no. Those are easy calls. But a mom who realizes she was sick, gets treatment, gets well, and wants to share in the upbringing of her child? That's someone you can't dismiss as a "mess" you get "over with." That's a human whose frailties need to be understood and forgiven, as you would hope your frailties to be. And that's a mom for your child. 

So, please make sure that in securing your daughter's emotional health now, you don't make anything permanent later that doesn't need to be. Consulting with a good family therapist, not just lawyers, would probably help you all. 


Dear Carolyn- Some readers requested follow-up posts to questions, so I thought I would post a happy update on my life. I found the letter I sent to you 2 years ago (LINK). I wrote to you about working full-time while my husband chose to quit his job to stay at home when my daughter was about 8. I was completely exhausted and my feelings of resentment were becoming clear to my tween daughter. You told me those feelings were the dead canary, and it was true. My husband wouldn’t go to counseling (I had asked several times before I wrote you), and I had told him I wanted a divorce over a year before I wrote you. I stayed married because I didn’t know how my husband would support himself (!!!) and I didn’t want to upset my daughter (oh, the irony). After writing you, I realized how unhealthy my marriage was and staying married until my daughter left for college was mentally and emotionally unsustainable. I am now divorced. I am paying my ex alimony and he pays no child support. He is still unemployed, although he is smart and able-bodied. You told me this process would likely be expensive, and it was. It was well worth the cost. My ex did tell me after the divorce was complete that he had been depressed through much of our marriage and blamed me for not recognizing it. That stung, but my own sadness and anger was overwhelming, and I only had the energy to focus on my child and my job at that point. He went to therapy for a bit after the divorce, and I hope it helped. I met a kind, sweet and wonderful man and we married last week. My daughter has adapted amazingly well to all of the changes over the past 2 years and she now sees a happy mom in a loving, communicative and healthy relationship. It was painful deciding to divorce and more painful to tell my daughter about the divorce, but life is so much better now. It’s all truly been worth it. I don’t want to ever be responsible for another dead canary. Thank you for your help.

And thank you so much for the update.

Why did you marry someone you didn't respect as adult enough to make intelligent decisions?

You can also request that your current therapist send notes over to your new one, if that would make you more comfortable. You could ask that Old Therapist share things that you want New Therapist to know without having to dump everything out on day 1.

Please read your question carefully and be honest with yourself: do YOU want to have a baby right now? The references to the end of your leisure etc. indicate otherwise

Exactly. It's like ventriloquism meets telephone. 

Friendly neighborhood Jewish person here: Please take Carolyn's suggestion. Chanukah is not Jewish Christmas and the conflation of this minor holiday in the Jewish calendar with the most important holiday on the Christian calendar is an annual frustration for nearly every Jew I know. I have received work gifts for Chanukah from lovely and well-meaning colleagues and bosses and have been truly touched by the fact that they care. But it is still frustrating to have Chanukah be the only holiday that my faith is known for--and simply because if calendar reasons. (Gift giving isn't even a traditional part of Chanukah). So show your assistant you care by giving a gift to celebrate the secular New Year. And, please do familiarize yourself with the Jewish holidays that are far more important. Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, is just next week. I am certain your assistant would appreciate you wishing her a meaningful fast.

Carolyn, perhaps you are right about why Thanksgiving Sister-in-law wants to include only her family at Thanksgiving, but I wonder if actually she has chosen a terrible reason as cover for a simpler reason- holidays are usually with only her husband's local family and this year she wants to celebrate with only her family (she seems to not want his parents there either, after all). It seems that isn't an unreasonable ask, but she should own her preference rather than try to pretend that she is just trying to protect S-I-L.

I actually typed up a paragraph on this and then deleted it. I agree it's possible that's what OP really wanted; I agree that it's a terrible cover reason, if that's what OP intended; and ... here's why I deleted. Unless the in-laws are overbearing, I think the way to go is inclusion for turkey hours (because inclusion) and then immersion in OP's own family for the rest of the weekend.

So, my whole graf was advisory wheel-spinning. Glad I got to type it out twice!

But anyway, yes, if you're right about what OP really wants, then that's what OP needs to say. 

I’m so sorry you’re going home crying! However you’re OB’s are right to be concerned! You could easily gain another 20-30 pounds by 40 weeks. I’m an L&D nurse with over 30 yrs experience- you’re putting yourself at risk for gestational diabetes and blood pressure problems and an increased risk of an Cesarean Section. That’s what your doctors are thinking about when they see you! Ask your doctors for a referral to a nutritionist to help figure out better food choices and probably portion control. If you have a gym with a pool- swimming and water aerobics are great! Good luck!

I've been having private agony over whether to post one of the many comments along these lines, because the weight issue is one the OP needs to take up with her doctors after she airs her objections and defensiveness. And mentioning "but it is a problem!" could act as a deterrent to that initial convo. Aaaaah. But, the nutritionist referral is a nice add and would take the food issue out of the checkup loop, so here it is. Fingers crossed.

I had a LEEP (laser survey) done at my Ob/Gyn for a precancerous condition and 3 days after had extremely heavy bleeding that was unusual. Heck yes I panicked. I went to the doctor and his reassurance to me was to tell me to relax. I snarled "you come lay here and I'll come up there and then I can relax." Admittedly not my most shining moment. At the follow up, he and I talked and he apologized - he had never given any thought to how his statement "relax" wasn't really helping the situation and he wanted to thank me for making him aware of it and that he would be trying his best to show more empathy when his patients were in stressful situations. Sometimes speaking your piece does a world of good, not only for the speaker but for others who may come after.

Great stuff, thanks.

Is there really no way to create a quiet space that SIL can retreat to if things become too hectic? I agree that husband has a great solution, regardless, and they may have a full house, but maybe there are other solutions too - can SIL be prepared to take a walk around the block if she gets overwhelmed? Is there a basement that could be turned into a quiet reading nook? An extra sofa for naps? A yard that even with playing children might be a break from the crazy? Invite SIL, explain the limitations on making it a sensory friendly holiday, invite her to offer a few suggestions to help you make it work.

Invite her. Have a quiet place for her to excuse herself when overwhelmed. Don’t make a huge thing of it. Speaking as someone with a child who has this and has to leave restaurants, parties, etc. to get away for a bit.

When I was dating, I met plenty of boyfriends' parents. Initially, I thought this was flattering until I learned I was one in a long assembly line of gfs that came home. Relatives would nod and smile and quickly forget my name and then needed to be reminded the next time I saw them. One grandma couldn't keep any of the gfs' names straight so it was "Hey you" for three years. Wedding invitations were always addressed a "& guest" and so was my name card. I did hear "What's her name again?" whispered a lot. The whole experience made me feel the opposite of special. When I turned 30, I put an end to it by asking "Why" every time a guy wanted me to meet the parents. I never heard an answer beyond "I don't know" until I met my husband.

If I run this in an adapted column, I'm signing it, "Hey You."

This is not only a great point, thanks, but it's also potentially instructive to OP, who needs to get right on with bringing home every single woman he dates from now on, for every holiday--major, minor, Canadian--thereby overwhelming his over-invested family with too many names and possibilities to keep straight. You're welcome.

I wrote this letter. I didn’t agree to it right away because I am afraid she will say yes and then get overwhelmed at the dinner. I don’t see my family that often, and I would really like to have a holiday once in awhile where I don’t feel like I need to control or change everything in the room for my sister-in-law. It’s a lot of mental energy for me to do this and every so often I just want one holiday where I’m not stressed the whole time about making things just so for her. Does this make me a terrible person?

No! Just an iffy communicator. Please be honest with your husband about your concerns, and come to a plan together: Either make plans for a second celebration with his family on the weekend, or include the SIL and agree this is a no-accommodations deal. None.

In fact, it sounds like it's time to figure out a sustainable boundary there, because, while it's important for you all to be inclusive, it's important for -her- to take charge of her portion. Such as, knowing when to step away to a quiet place when she's overwhelmed. So, it's reasonable for you to create a hospitable environment, and then pass the functioning within that environment to her. It's not reasonable for you to create the environment AND manage her experience with the environment throughout an event. That's her responsibility.

Again, all things it's time for you to say explicitly to your husband as you come to a plan, together, for handling family events.

My SO is in the same boat. He has been to sooooo many doctors and none of them are able to diagnose him. It doesn't help that his parents constantly pester him about taking care of himself. He tries to take care of himself but he is tired of doctors telling him the standard and not helpful "he is getting older/fat/too much stress/etc." After a good long talk, he finally shared that he is scared. Scared he has something really serious (like a rare genetic disorder) or a tumor or something deadly. I basically just said, we will get through this together and I will go to the appointments with you and be your advocate (even if that means me arguing with the doctors) and help you navigate this.

A tradition that has worked well for me with my employees: Instead of gifts, I write them personal thank-you notes for all of their great work throughout the year, and give them the notes the first day at work after New Year's. I decided on this approach for two reasons: I don't want my employees to feel obligated to give me a holiday gift, and because a personal thank-you always works for everyone, no matter their religion, dietary preferences, drinker or non-drinker status, etc. The notes always mean a lot to the folks who work for me, and I look forward to writing them toward the end of the year!

This was my exact situation with my first pregnancy! I am 5'6" and my doctor kept bringing up weight gain--and I ended up gaining only 30 lbs. I handled it by simply saying, "Enough. I've heard you, and I don't need to hear you again." He stopped mentioning it. I was further along, so I really couldn't switch. Best of luck.

Did you know there are Health Psychologists? They help people with many chronic conditions. Google for this specialization in your area. Some might be able to work over Skype if you live in a remote area or your friend is hurting too much to leave the house.

New to me, thanks--I'll look into it.

Give a Thanksgiving gift! There are all sorts of things you can give and the message is: I'm thankful for you.

No one should be rushed or pressured into marriage at any age. That being said, I think you’d be well-advised to start thinking of yourself as old enough to be honest, if not to get married, and also to think about the lengths you are willing to go (or have your girlfriend go) to avoid speaking your own truths, not only to your girlfriend but to your family and, even, to yourself. In your quest for a “quiet” life, you’re hiding from just about everybody - and that’s just no way to live, at any age, single or married.



mic drop.


What did she do last year?

She tucked herself away in a Girlfriend Pod in a field of Girlfriend Pods, which is not on any maps, don't even bother, and she wore flannel and ate peanut butter straight from the jar.


Hi Carolyn, The other day I was in a store when a woman of a certain age tore into the checkout clerk (20-something male) when he called her "ma'am." I thought the clerk was making an effort to be polite, but the woman clearly thought otherwise and reprimanded him for blatant sexism and ageism. I could tell the clerk was embarrassed but was so dumbstruck by her outburst that I couldn't find the words to intervene. Would you have stepped into this if you'd been there? My sense is that it wouldn't have changed the woman's behavior, but would appreciate your take.

I freeze like a headlit deer, but there's a reasonable probability I would have gone up to said clerk afterward to say something. Ugh. 

Has anyone come up with the form of address for service exchanges that isn't a social land mine? I'll take "ma'am" any day over "young lady," which risks activating some people's punching mechanisms (not mine, of course), and if you call me "mom" I will probably let it go if you're 23 and just trying to sell my kids some sports gear. Ideas?

Nice move on my part--soliciting input and then signing off. 

But ... that's it for me today. Have a great weekend, everybody, and thanks for stopping by. We'll pick it up again next week or I'll post what I see as I go through the outtakes.

is a perfectly reasonable way to respectfully address a customer - correlates directly to sir, does it not? I'm a 43 year old woman and can't fathom how this would be offensive to anyone.

People started calling me that when I got around 50 and I am not having it. I have lived every one of my 50+ years and have earned the title of ma'am, so you'll get no giggles and jumpy-claps from me with that young lady stuff.

I just jumpy-clapped "jumpy claps."

I've always looked youthful for my age (a curse as a teen, a boon since middle age). The first time a store clerk called me "Ma'am" was by a high schooler working at our local upscale department store. I was 23. I didn't "go off" on her, merely completed my transaction politely and went on my way. With a good story to share with contemporaries. While the interaction had startled me, I wasn't insulted -- not for One. Single. Moment.

I'm with Carolyn -- I'll take "ma'am" any day over "young lady." The latter smacks of smarminess and a false attempt to be friendly (OK, just my opinion). The former is, again just my opinion, a sign of respect. I probably wouldn't have said anything to the other customer but *would* have said to the cashier that some of us appreciate respect.

Young Lady will get your head snapped off, as will honey, sweetie, and dear. Now that I have let my hair go gray, I get called dear frequently. Makes me insane

"Ma'am" is a 100% correct way to address a woman you don't know, such as your customer in a store. If anyone overreacts to that, chalk it up to her having a bad day and move on. (And if I'd been there, I'd probably have frozen, too, but now I imagine myself telling her, "It beats the hell out of b*tch.")

As long as he doesn't say "Ma'am, do you want my seat."

I’m a receptionist at a hospital. I’d like ideas on how to address people besides “sir,” or “ma’am,” because I don’t know what pronouns each patient prefers. This also applies to scheduling over the phone. Saying “sir” or “ma’am” usually helps me to sound professional and respectful - except when I’m wrong. I need something that functions the way “they” does, i.e. can be applied to anyone.

Phones, problem, yes. Good point. 

The clerk's confusion could have something to do with regional differences. I've lived in the Deep South all my life, and I've always taken for granted that females from their late teens or so forward are addressed as "Ma'am." Unlike other parts of the country, here it's not reserved for women "of a certain age."

I'm old enough to remember when that was the preferred and accepted form of address to a woman who was an adult if you were a child, no matter how old she was. Also used by all people in their 20's for anyone older than they. The first time someone called me ma'am I was surprised but realized I was now an adult. That woman needs to get over herself. I also remember hearing my father always call a man "sir" when he was talking to someone he didn't know. Even when my father was older than they were.

As a person raised in the south, I call everybody ma'am and sir, even my two female 9-year old cats. "No ma'am! Don't jump on that table!" I think folks who chafe at politeness or attempts at politeness typically have personal issues going on: admittedly, when I worked around 400+ men in a very industrial environment, I did get raised hackles when people would attempt to do things for me... I wanted to prove my competency. So I'm betting this lady might have just had a birthday or something to remind her of her age. That's on her. My suggestion: next time say something like, "Sir, you are free to call me [sir/ma'am] anytime you want, that would tickle me pink! I'd appreciate the respect!" It might also open the door for a conversation with the lady in front, who might soften at the non-call-out? Just what I'd (try) to do...

How many men are offended when a store clerk calls them "Sir"? None I know.

I think we're back to "Hey, you!" It's just about the only term that isn't offensive to someone.

I was going to name my next dogs Ma'am and Sir, but you've made a good case for Hey and You.

Not everyone feels like a clear gender. The world's changing. "Ma'am" makes some assumptions...

"Hey you." Obviously.

Last week, a toll booth operator in Florida called me "Baby Girl." I'm 43. I'm going to start using "baby child" (for a non-gendered version) from now now.

All we need to do is drop the idea that using a vocative adds politeness (in other words, treat "Excuse me" like it's just as polite as "Excuse me, ma'am"), and make it socially acceptable to say "Hey, you!" when getting people's attention.

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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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