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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 6, 2005; 12:00 PM

Carolyn takes your questions and 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.

Appearing every Wednesday and Friday in The Washington Post Style section and in Sunday Source, Tell Me About It Bæfers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there -- really recently. Carolyn Hax is a 30-something repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.

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Herndon, Va.: Re: the "dork" in today's column who is about to spend a weekend in the vicinity of her ex. have been in that exact situation -- whatever you do, DON'T DRINK TOO MUCH. Especially at a wedding, where the resulting stories tend to live forever. Good luck.

Carolyn Hax: Courage.

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Baltimore, Md.: Hi there, my question is this...

Should I seek counseling? About a month and a half ago, I broke up with a woman because it was the best thing to do for me. She was a drug user and was not going to stop. Now I am still depressed for one, not being with her (we had a lot of good times) and for two, the realization that she basically chose to have a life of getting high rather than with me.

Carolyn Hax: It's not personal, it's just the neurotransmitters. And, a month and a half isn't that long. However, if you want to talk about this with someone or get a third-party perspective, I think counseling is a fine idea. If it's not for you, you can always stop.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn: It's the spring season in Bridezilla-ville. I was invited to my friends' wedding, which is out of town and requires airfare, hotel and all the other expenses of being out of town for a weekend. I'm happy to go their wedding and take part in their celebration. That being said, in one week, I got invites for her bridal shower and her bachelorette party, the latter is also out of town and requires an outlay of cash. I'm limited on what I can afford and want to opt out of one or both of those extra-wedding events. Bridal showers seem like excessive gift craving on top of all the other expenses that we are required to make when a friend gets married, especially when it is out of town. I plan to decline and simply say that I can't make it. If pressed on why, do I tell her that I just can't afford it (and don't believe in bridal showers)? Is this terrible?

Carolyn Hax: Actually, declining an invitation is more polite than judging the bride before you know her motives. She could be fine with the fact that not everyone can afford to travel to three events, and happy to welcome whoever's up for one, two, or all three. So say, "I;m sorry, I can't make it," and if pressed say, "Sorry, I can't make it," because if she does press, that would be over the border into Bridezillaville.

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Arlington, Va.: Carolyn, Just curious what your thoughts are on the woman from Georgia who ran away from her wedding and it ended up on the national news.

Carolyn Hax: It's one of the reasons I've stopped watching TV news.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey Carolyn, I am a single, gay, black male who would like to move to California. I love the weather, the people and I've been admitted to grad school there. My issue is that my friends all tell me that I shouldn't move there unless I am going there for something. I have moved before and often done so that I could "get away" from my boring life. I am a lot healthier than I was when I made those moves and I really feel ready now. Can't someone just move somewhere for the hell of it? I am conflicted.

Thanks, California or Bust

Carolyn Hax: If weather, people and grad school don't even appear on their radar as "something," I want what your friends have.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn, do you have any advice for fulfilling a yearning for children without actually having children? When my husband and I got married neither of us wanted children. He is still adamant about not wanting kids, and nothing is going to change his mind. I don't think he should do something he doesn't want to do, but as I get older (38 years) I realize I've changed my mind. I understand now what people mean when they say their biological clock is ticking. I love being around my neices and nephews, but I don't get to see them very often as they live too far away. I'm feeling more and more that I'm missing out on something really important. Two of my friends who "didn't want kids" just got pregnant. But, I've thought a lot about it and my desire to stay with my husband is greater than my desire to raise a child. Do you have any suggestions for fulfilling this mothering need? I've been thinking that I could volunteer in some capacity, but I don't know where to get started. Being a foster parent is not an option. What can I do that would involve me being around children on a regular basis a few times a week, without having to involve my husband? Also, any thoughts on whether volunteering with kids is just going to make me more sad about it? Thanks for your time. (I would prefer an online chat response as my husband reads your column in the paper and would surely recognize me. I don't want to worry him as we've already discussed this at length and we're done discussing).

Carolyn Hax: Even before you consider how sad this situation must be for you, your approach to it is impressive. It could be a primer for dealing with excruciating choices.

Not that this helps you any, but there it is.

My first thought was for you to be a Big Sister--or to join one of those programs where you "adopt" an elementary schooler and read to him or her once a week during your lunch hour.

But I can't help but believe even a quick scan of local charities/nonprofits (United Way publishes a big list with its annual drive literature, and I'm sure the peanuts will be throwing out suggestions for the next 2 hours) would turn up dozens, maybe hundreds of opportunities for an enthusiastic volunteer to spend time with kids.

You could also start just by looking around you; turning new eyes on your own neighborhood could reveal schools, churches, hospitals, community centers, libraries, etc., that could make your volunteer effort both more personal and accessible.

As for whether this ends up torturing you, that's something only you will know. Maybe if you're worried, you should start small, with a one-time event, and work your way up to a long-term, one-on-one commitment to a kid or group of kids.

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New York, N.Y.: As someone who will soon be getting married in a very expensive city, I have a brand new view on people who whine that they have to spend so much to travel for weddings: if you think it will be too expensive, don't go. As a soon-to-be-bride, I realize that not all of my friends can afford to come here to see me married. But I'm still going to invite them, to give them the option of coming or politely declining.

Maybe I'm strange, but I think that my wedding should be a low-stress celebration, and while I hope that my friends can come, I'm not going to cut them out of my life if they can't.

Carolyn Hax: Strange? You should be in a cage with a latin name on the plaque.

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Alexandria, Va.: This is my problem. For over eight years, my husband's ex-sister-in law shows entirely too much affection to my husband. She was divorced from his brother over 20 years ago, but they have continued to have family ties type of relationship. I don't have a problem with that, but I do get out of sorts when she comes over, and corners him seductively. On more than one occasion, she has stood intimately with him, in front of guests and her husband. Her husband usually leaves the room, and I have also in the past left. My guests have mentioned it to me when they see it, and I have no response to them. Naturally, I have spoken to my husband about this, but he tells me its no big deal. I am at the point that I don't want to be at family functions because he won't say anything to her. The last time she did this (two weeks ago) I told him he made me sick with her standing all over him and left the room. I hate to be so bold to say "Can you give my husband some space?" I guess I realize he likes it or he would have stopped it by now. Any suggestions on how to handle this sensitive subject?

Signed: Not Usually Shy

Carolyn Hax: I guess you guess right--he likes it or he would have stopped it by now.

But his liking it is not carte blanche to indulge, because it's not harmless behavior and it claims an innocent victim--you. So, even though you've mentioned it to him before and he has dismissed it (i.e., dismissed you), you aren't without recourse, if you want to give this one more try. You said other people have said stuff to you when the cornerings have occurred. That's means you can point out to your husband that he's welcome to see it as nothing, but that others don't, which means he's embarrassing you when he allows this to go on. So, you would like to request that he take your feelings into account next time, be a gentleman and deflect her attention.

Or, you could see it as his making a fool of himself and keep leaving the room. Or you could walk up to them and say, "Could you please give my husband some space?"

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Potomac, Md.: Out of town Bridezilla: Maybe she's just being polite because, she doesn't want you to feel left out.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. Another theme that has emerged from eight years in this chair (imagine how I'll walk when I finally get up) is that people who put a positive spin on unknowns vs. a negative one--e.g., that the bride is being inclusive, vs. greedy, or that your friend is not calling b/c she's preoccupied with her own crap, vs. snubbing you over yours--are much happier people. Not to mention almost as rare as the womanus nonbridezillus.

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Alexandria, Va.: Carolyn,

What is the proper etiquette for brides getting married for the second time? Is another shower/bachelorette party expected?

Carolyn Hax: A shower/bachelorette party isn't "expected" for a first wedding. Glad for the chance to say that, thanks.

A lot of second-wedding customs arose out of a sense of shame that bride, groom or both had been d-d-d-oh I just can't say it. But given that society has moved on from there (or apparently needs to), a second timer ought only realize that a ceremony that doesn't incorporate humility in the face of "till death do you part" won't pass the laugh test. But, then, first weddings without humility are a little tough to take seriously too.

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Two observations for the price of one: For childless Washington, D.C.: How amazing! And she's so lucky. I don't want kids, but I love hanging out with them. I am a gay guy, though, and in this day and age, I fear that people will just label me a pedophile.

For the bride who is getting married in an expensive city, please take the opportunity to actually TELL your friends (not in the invite, though) that your wedding is not a requirement for continued friendship. It's hard to know just how you feel about your wedding when the doubtless engraved invitation arrives.

Just my two (four?) cents. Thanks, Carolyn.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, and I'll chip in my own penny--that is so effing sad and wrong that you can't coach little league or something. (Maybe girls' soccer?)

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Aberdeen, N.J.: For the poster looking for volunteer work in the DC area. There's a program in Loudon county that allows adults to mentor children who have difficult home lives. Its very much like a big brother/big sister program. It allows the adult to stay in contact with the child for years. My husband did volunteer work at a middle school in Loudon teaching troubled children math, and one of his "kids" was in this program. The child showed remarkable improvement after a few months. We talked to the child's mentor and they felt it was a very rewarding experience.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks--I bet a call to local school district offices will turn up other programs like it if Loudon is a schlep.

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Out of town Bridezilla: I was the one who moved far away (London for six years and now the east coast). I always invite family and far away friends to major events (wedding, graduation, baby shower) but follow it with a phone call to let them know that I understand if they can't make it. I feel that is better than leaving them out and, at least to my knowledge, there have never been hurt feelings on either side.

Carolyn Hax: It's an important step, thanks. In fact, it's a good thing to tack on not only to invitations, but to requests for favors: "I was wondering if you could help me move next Saturday--but please know that 'no' is an acceptable answer."

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

I've been feeling unmotivated, a bit blue and unproductive of late. So I took a few of the online depression screening tests and they said I was moderatly depressed. Now what do I do? I just need to make it to next Friday and pass all my final exams and write my final papers; however, I seem to be on the path of self-sabatoge as I haven't been able to really do my work over the past week. I normally never cry but I've started crying on average twice a day. I don't want to go on drugs because I think this is just a phase and I'll be fine once my exams are over. Just knowing I'm mildly depressed hasn't helped. What are the next steps to pull myself out this slump through next week?

Carolyn Hax: Structure your day, even rigidly, into small bites of studying with clear, achievable goals, and (this is even more important) include some clear, substantial study breaks in which you do something completely non-academic. Walk for 30 min, bake something, have a quiet, full-hour meal while you stare in to space or flip through a stupid magazine just to look at the pictures. Watch a TV show from 8 to 9. Cry when you feel like crying. And, keep the numbers handy for school counseling resources if you start to scare yourself.

And if you get through exams and still feel [pooey], talk to your regular doctor about getting screened for depression.

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Curly Kid: I agree about the second-timer laugh test, but let us not forget the ones who faced d-d-d-oh, death. In that case, no laugh test necessary, please.

Carolyn Hax: Right, sorry to be a d-d-d-dork about the other d word.

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Scrambling for Control: Carolyn,

What's your standard advice for people in a committed romantic relationship that notice another friendship slipping towards something more?

Carolyn Hax: Don't try to control! That's the first thing. You can't control, and so by trying you'll only flail around looking desperate and paranoid. Instead just keep your eyes open, wait to see if the slipping progresses, then say something kindly and judiciously, along the lines of, "I've kept my mouth shut for a while to make sure I wasn't jumping to conclusions, but I can see you're attracted to X. Is there something there, and is it something we need to talk about?" (Since we all talk like this when we're upset, right? But the way I see it, we're less likely to get lost if we have a steeple to chase.)

And since I can't beat this point hard enough, the best thing you can do to prepare for this unhappy situation is NOT (not not not) to have set a precedent of getting jealous and paranoid and controlling over every little eyelash-batting incident. Then you have some authority behind your words--and if your partner doesn't see that, you can say explicitly, "... and you know I'm not one to get jealous over every little eyelash-batting incident so I hope you'll respect my judgment here."

And last: The way you worded your question leaves it open to intepretation whether you're slipping toward something more with your own friend, or you're watching you partner slip toward more with his or her friend. So please tell me I've blown 10 mins on the right one. Thanks.

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Child-free: How do you even find someone who doesn't want kids? I'm so curious about how childless couples find each other. Now that I'm out of my first serious relationship and facing the adult dating scene, I'm wondering how to look for a compatible mate. Is it a topic that has to be broached early on? Should a get a tattoo?

Carolyn Hax: Dept of convergeance: An "I don't-heart kids" tattoo on your forehead would be a great icebreaker on a first date.

I think it's fine to talk about when you start to feel like talking about life decisions. That can be on a great-great first date, or a few weeks in, or whatever. Don't mean to be vague, but these revealing conversations are best allowed to have a timeline of their own.

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I think the 10 minutes were wasted: I assumed the poster meant his or her own slipping friendship; the wording is more conducive to that interpretation in my opinion.

Carolyn Hax: But that's so much easier! You figure out how you feel about your current committed relationship, and if you decide you want to stay in it, you distance self from tempting friend. And if you don't want to stay, you don't, but you don't explicitly leave FOR the new person because each relationship has to be judged on its own merits and not one vs the other. Cheez. Where's the challenge in that.

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Arlington, Va.: Carolyn, your comment about putting a positive vs. negative spin on things hit home with me, so I hope you could address a related issue that I have: I tend to take everything my friends/family does personally -- so, if someone doesn't call back right away, I think it's because I'm not important to them. If they are too busy to make plans, I think it's because I'm not enough fun to be around. And I really believe these things most of the time. What is my deal?

Carolyn Hax: The pat answer is low self-worth, but that brings with it a funny twist--that to see all these things as personal, you have to put yourself into the center of all their reasoning, which in fact probably inflates your importance to others.

I can't pretend I'm going to get to the center of your psychic makeup from one paragraph about you, but you can try a few things to help you start to figure yourself out--like, to make a point of reminding yourself, whenever you feel hurt, that it might not be all about you (it might not be all about you, it might not be all about you). And that it might be ... possible upbeat scenario A, or possible upbeat scenario B, or possible neutral scenario C ... And once you've lined up some plausible possibilities, you can either ask what's up, or wait to see which is borne out by context, or just permit yourself not to worry about it and do something else with your time.

Point being, it is possible to retrain yourself to start seeing situations from more than one perspective; if you doubt that, consider that an education is merely training your mind to do just that in an academic context, so there's no reason you can't make at least some progress in an emotional one.

And if that progress isn't enough to make you feel better (break out the Radio City-style kick line, the Therapettes ...), then you might want to consider delving a bit with a pro.

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Vienna, Va.: Carolyn,

Is it OK to come up with an excuse not to go down and see your mother for Mother's Day? It's a two hour drive one-way, and I've been traveling the past two weekends. I promised her that we'd do it later this month -- but am still feeling guilty.

Carolyn Hax: Stop feeling guilty. It is a day. But an excuse is lame. Just say, I'm whupped, will make it up to you when not whupped.

And since it sounds like the excuse has already been made, take this guilt as incentive not to make excuses again when next in this kind of jam.

Which is hardly a jam, a manufactured holiday. You can be good to mom 365.

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Oh how depressing: Do we really have to start calling our friends to announce that invitations are optional? I feel the same way about this that I feel about "no gifts please" -- can't we, the reasonable people of the world, just carry on assuming that our friends aren't gift-grubbing or psychotic? Because when every invitation requires a disclaimer, the bridezillas have won, people.

Carolyn Hax: Fine in theory, I agree, but I can't condemn a practice that takes into account that not one theory works with all people, even etiquette, which of course exists to do exactly that. If you happen to know a particular friend's particular vulnerability will get caught in the invitation machinery, it just seems like good friend business to call that friend and address it openly. Not to encourage excessive maintaining of high maintenance people, either; i just think a little extra thought and effort can't be written off as universally depressing.

I feel like I'm pedaling 12 bicycles at once.

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New York: Hi Carolyn:

We're sort of a Red County inside a Blue State, so here goes. I work in a conservative office of older white male engineering population (many with stay-at-home wives). I'm young, female and not white. Well, because of the predominance, people are quite free with their speech, i.e. anti-gay sentiments, the likes. (Which, is against corporate policy but, who's to enforce it?) I want to say "I don't stand for that," but I've been ostracized in a way because of my aforementioned "differences," or admonished by others as being too "PC", so now I just respond with silence. I'm tired of committing political/career suicide. It's against my nature though, and I think with these men silence is taken as approval. What would you do?

Carolyn Hax: I hope what I'd do is model my decision after the one the woman used above when faced with the decision between having kids and remaining married: think about it, a lot, and decide which best preserves my integrity--tending quietly to my career, or tending noisily to my beliefs. Neither is right or wrong, it's right for you or not right for you. Or I suppose more realistically, easier to live with or harder to live with.

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Re: Arlington, Va.: I have a similar issue with taking everything personally. I react as if everything is a referendum on my worthiness as a human being. I don't assume that the other person meant it personally, I just assume that the person is showing a perfectly natural reaction to my rottenness. I'm terrified of all strong emotions, even my own. Yes, I've considered therapy and/or counseling (not sure if they're the same thing), but for some reason going to therapy would feel like going to the principal's office, like punishment for being bad or doing bad.

Carolyn Hax: No, punishment is being miserable for the rest of your life when it's possible you don't have to be. Make a few calls, give it a few tries, drop it if it's not for you. And don't hold back from therapist for fear of being punished, because then you'll defeat your own purpose (and we'll be back at that opening definition of punishment).

Blanket reminder on mental health: Leaving a broken leg untreated doesn't make you brave, it makes you unlikely to walk well again, if at all. So if there's something wrong with your brain chemistry or learned behavior, leaving it untreated doesn't make you brave, it makes you unlikely to feel good again.

And ... if you're worried about overreacting to something, the same applies. You can go to get checked and find there's nothing wrong.

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Gay man who likes kids: Not alone. As a lesbian I am expected to want children, yet as a gay person, I've gotten I'm also apparently expected to abuse them or "convert" them, regardless of my or their gender, at least once it's known I'm gay. While not in need of a chaperone, I solved the problem this way: I do things involving kids -- boys and girls -- with my straight women friends (coaching sports for a season, helping them earn scouting badges, organizing haunted houses...). Then, no one can point fingers, which, given the previaling stupidity out there, also protects me.

Carolyn Hax: I'm posting this in hopes it will get even one (1) person of the "conversion" mindset to reconsider this mindset.

See? Happy thoughts. Happy happy happy.

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Invitations: An invitation means "I hope you will come see me", not "Visit me or I will hate you and make sure you bring a big gift or I will also hate you". Or at least they do in my world.

Carolyn Hax: Hey, Louie, we need another cage over here.

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10 minutes well spent: For heaven's sake, even if what you answered wasn't the original poster's question, it was a great answer to a question that lots of people are going to have. I'm actually bookmarking this page so I know how to start if I ever need to have that conversation with my wife -- and, with only five years under our belt, I'm guessing that we're going to develop crushes sometime in the next 45 years or so, and I'll need to know how to weather them.

Carolyn Hax: Well shucks. Thank you.

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Re: New York: Has the woman gone to HR yet about this apparent breach of harrassment policy?

And she may also want to check her own gross generalizations at the door. The fact that the people in question are conservative, older, white men with SAHW, doesn't mean anything.

Carolyn Hax: And with a humility chaser, as always. Thanks, mad at myself for missing that one.

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RE: Getting Help: It seems like you advocate getting help where needed, but how do you do that? I work full time. It would raise huge red flags if I were to try to take an hour off each week, and I'm fairly sure most councelors have normal working hours.

Getting professional help is a great idea, but for most people not feasible.

Carolyn Hax: Not true not true! Many therapists are sensitive to people's work commitments, and are willing to keep some weekend and evening hours or even consult by phone (the last probably best saved for when there's an established relationship already, since eye contact and body language speak volumes).

And if money's the issue, many MANY centers offer sliding-scale fees, reduced fees, sometimes even free sessions. Calling the professional associations directly (American Psychological Ass'n, Amer Psychiatric Ass'n, Ass'n of MArriage and Family Therapists, among others) is one way to learn about these, as is calling local hospitals or universities with psych departments.

If you have other reasons, I will at least try to have other answers.

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Red state but Blue County: This may come across as sounding defensive, but why does New York feel the need to include the "(most with stay-at-home wives)" bit?

Carolyn Hax: Because to some people it's still a sex-based assumption instead of a well-respected choice. And when it's assumed one will stay home because one is the mother and that's what mothers do, that's easily a proper piece of a bigger chauvinist puzzle.

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Santa Fe, N.M.: Carolyn, I'm on the verge of quitting my job today and I'm terrified. It's not one of these quit-and-walk-out-the-door things; I'll be giving six weeks' notice. I just have no idea what to do now. Find a new job, yeah, but AUGGGHHHH.

FYI, not just a "hell why not" moment; I've been working towards it for six months and am finally doing it because my doctor looked at me yesterday and said, "How many medications do I have to put you on before you leave that hellhole?"

So, uh, say something nice, okay? I'm freaked out.

Carolyn Hax: When you leave that hellhole, you will wonder what took you so long and why you were so terrified of leaving. Better?

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After Hours Counseling: Hope I'm not to late, but the Women's Center in Vienna is a GREAT resource for counseling. They have appointments as late as 9 PM and are open on Saturdays. They also have licensed counselors that are usually covered by health insurance so the patient need only cover the co-pay. They are doing great things.

Carolyn Hax: Always happy to plug them, thanks.

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Center-of-Universeville: To the two people who posted they take everything personally: I had a similar problem for years. Broken date plans equals I'm rotten, boring, etc. and they know it. It's an attitude I picked up from my family. I went to counseling and it did help, but here's the thing -- after a few trials and errors I found I had more luck with a behaviorist and not "analytic" psychologist. Sitting around talking about myself only made things worse. It was when I started working with someone who made me keep a journal charting my assumptions and countering them logically that I really improved. Not all "shrinks" are created (or trained) equal. Just a thought.

Carolyn Hax: Another un-plug worth repeating, thanks. Counselors and your interactions with them are as varied as friends and friendships--or, maybe even better, teachers and classes: some produce inspiring connections, some produce notebook doodles and eye glaze. Don't be afraid to ask for things, question the experience, tinker with the process.

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Carolyn Hax: I'd best be off. That is, in addition to being a little off to begin with. Thanks everyone for dropping in, and see you in the queue next Friday ... AND (almost forgot, one more plug) maybe see you next Saturday? Gala to benefit ALS research and patient support, great cause, and Nick and I will be for sale at the silent auction. Details plus auction and general ALS info at http://www.alsinfo.org.

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Lost Archives, Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn and Liz! I am deeply depressed at the loss of your archived chats! Where are they? The ones from the 90's and early 2000's used to be easily available but now I can't find them. Am considering going to grief therapy to cope with this loss. Please help!

Thanks! A Dedicated Hax Fan

washingtonpost.com: Hax Archives: 1998 - June 2003 (and I'm adding them as a standard link to all C's discussions.

Carolyn Hax: Almost forgot this too--thanks Liz.

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Bethesda, Md.: To the people who said they take everything personally, I know they were trying to send me a message, and I resent it. Mind your own business and stay out of my life.

Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Sold.

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Washington, D.C.: For the woman seeking volunteer time with kids, try Volunteer Advocates for Abused and Neglected children (www.voladv.org). I've been working with the same three orphaned children for eight years. It's a great experience for me, as a child-free woman, to interact with kids who really need help.

Carolyn Hax: Oh, and forgot there were a bunch of these, too. More to come. Thanks all.

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for woman who wants kids: www.in2books.com

you can hold babies at the hospital for volunteer work too. i forget why... maybe the premature babies need extra holding or something?

Carolyn Hax: The NICU at our local hospital doesn't allow any non-family, but it's worth asking, since I think abandoned babies, sick kids, etc. need all the attention people have to give. Thanks.

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For Child Desire: Quick thought/suggestion re:volunteer activities. Maybe an option for pre-judged, gay man too: google AUTISM and find the closest institute to you. These kids need anyone they can get, and their families need a moment to themselves they can get. You do go through an intensive screening process, but if u get through it, that means you can handle it, and it is so worth it. Please, at least consider it

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the suggestion.

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Bethesda, MD: For the woman who wants to be around children: volunteer to be a Girl Scout leader!;

Carolyn Hax: Thanks!

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New York, NY: Do you think you could remove that little sentence about "this train we call life" in the intro?

Carolyn Hax: No no! Goofiness intended and, by me at least, appreciated. It's a relic from the very beginning, 1998.

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Volunteering with children: One thing to consider is volunteering with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). Volunteers have a one-on-one relationship with a child, but there is a natural breaking point once the advocate reports back to the court. Many stay in touch with their kids afterward, but if it is too painful, that natural breaking point provides an exit that won't hurt the child's feelings.

Carolyn Hax: Last one, thanks.

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