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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 3, 2006; 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 offers 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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Re-gifting Engagement Ring: Is it wrong for a guy to propose to his girlfriend with a ring that he had given to an ex-fiancee (he and the ex broke up six months after the engagement and she gave him back the ring)?

Carolyn Hax: Would she be upset if she knew?

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Anonymous: Hey Carolyn... how old is too old to get involved with someone who has different life goals than you? I've been seeing someone casually for a while, and we're very different, but we respect, learn from, and enjoy those differences. We have fun together, have great chemistry, conversation, etc. I am starting to see it get more serious. The only factor in the back of my mind that nags me is that I definitely want kids, he definitely doesn't. Should I avoid the inevitable heartbreak and end it now? Or enjoy the ride until my biological clock gets loud? (if it matters, I'm mid-20s)

Carolyn Hax: Bleah. There's no good way to make this decision. On the one hand, there's something icky about making your relationships so plainly goal-driven as to end anything that doesn't promise X by the age of Y--and your observations about chemistry, conversation and learning support the idea of a relationship just for the sakes of quality and the moment.

At the same time, you're probably actively not meeting people who would be more compatible long-term, and it's not like you have unlimited time.

Then again, the best way to meet the best people for you, and the best way to recognize them when you see them, is to just live your life and see where it takes you--which is exactly what you're doing.

So, who knows. Someday, you're probably going to wake up thinking, "I can't do this anymore knowing it's going to end," and that's the day you should end it. How's that.

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ER: Did you see ER last night? It was all about a patient with ALS. Very interesting to someone on the outside, but I was curious if you thought things were acurately portrayed.

Carolyn Hax: I watched the first couple of minutes and it felt so unbearable I stopped watching. So I can say the first couple of minutes were as accurate as they could have been with a healthy actor in the role. (Though my mom didn't have equipment anywhere near as sophisticated as that.) Thank you for watching it.

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Potomac, Md.: Married HS sweetheart 12 years ago, we have satisifying careers and two wonderful children. Our time as a couple has dwindled to near-nothing. He works late, I end up picking up the household slack, and weekends are a rush of child-centered activity. How do we re-connect as a couple? Do we just put our marriage on hold with the idea that we will have more time later (and cherish the memories of long walks and Sunday mornings in bed that were common in the pre-kid years)? I think we are both unhappy, but too tired to do anything about it.

Carolyn Hax: Do something about it anyway--something other than putting your marriage on hold. Some of them keep, but a lot of them don't, since all those things you're doing in all that time apart is shaping you, in all kinds of ways--and one day you risk realizing you don't feel close anymore. And worse, that you don't really want to correct the problem.

Pick a night, hire someone who can come babysit every week on that night, and go out to dinner. Two, three, four times a year, go away for a weekend. If your kids are old enough, they can stay with friends, and if they're not, have a family member or great nanny or one of their day care teachers or some combination of the above come stay at your house while you're gone.

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Laurel, Md.: My boyfriend listened to my private voicemail, and then called an old friend of mine in a rage asking why he was leaving me messages.

I want to break up with my boyfriend, but we live together and it's a touchy situation, what should I do?

Carolyn Hax: Break up anyway. Protect yourself as you need to if you have even a remote fear he could become abusive (1-800-799-SAFE; The Women's Center, 703-281-2657), and get out. You should also figure out what your options are beforehand re lease, financial obligations, etc., to protect your credit, but that's obviously a second consideration to your safety.

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Kids/no kids: For the woman with a partner who doesn't want kids, I think it might be fair to let him know a bit of what she's thinking. ie "You know that someday I'll want children and that's very important to me?" It would give him a chance to consider his stand on kids without an ultimatum.

I know it's rude to second guess someone's stated preference, but seeing several people saying "I don't want kids" and then cheerfully planning a family a few years down the road, I don't actually trust the statements by 25 year old guys. Sometimes "I don't want kids" actually means "I don't want kids now"

Carolyn Hax: Good stuff, thanks.

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Kansas City, Mo.: Dear Carolyn:How much stock should a person put in a physical connection in your opinion? Where does it fall on the list of things that will sustain a relationship? I've had a strong one, and a mediocre one -- the strong one was a jerk, but I can't help wishing for it back, despite the jerk.

Carolyn Hax: Some people's physical needs are around zero, and some are an essential part of their being. I would no more tell the latter group to get used to a sexless existence than I would the former to shut their eyes and take it.

Find what works for you. You've found two people, neither of whom was quite right. That's hardly grounds for drawing dramatic and binding conclusions (or for rationalizing going back to a jerk).

Though if your overpowering attractions continue to be to overpowering jerks, then I think it's work some thought about what qualities and emotions you find attractive.

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Kids/No Kids: But "I don't want kids" can also mean... I don't want kids. I get tired of people telling me I'll change my mind. I leave the door open (a crack), but I don't have a yearning desire for a baby every time I see one. I see them and think, "Wow, that looks like a lot of work," and then I go on and do whatever I want. Oh, and I'm a 37 year old woman.

Carolyn Hax: I think the person who posted that comment about revisiting the issue was very judicious about the potential offense in questioning someone's decison not to have kids.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Hi Carolyn, Please help, I feel like I'm about to lose it.

I've got a husband and two kids -- one still a baby -- and am completely overwhelmed and exhausted. I work two jobs to make ends meet and so my son can attend a private school to meet his educational needs, I bear the majority of the daily responsibility for picking up/caring for the kids, running the errands, cooking, taking care of the house (and failing miserably at that one, the place is a wreck!), organizing our lives, etc.

Although my husband does help when he's around, the key is that he's not around much during the week and I feel like I'm starting to resent him for the choices he makes that takes him away from us and leaves me to handle most things. If he had no choice but to put in long hours in the office, that would be one thing. But, for example, nearly every night after the kids are in bed he chooses to stay up late watching TV or surfing the Web and then sleeps in the next morning and goes into work late (he has that flexibility in his job). But that means he has to stay at work late, so he is NEVER at home to have dinner with his family during the week or help much with the kids or house.

I know that overall we're his first priority, but it's hard to see that on a daily, weekly, monthly, etc. basis absent some emergency. He'll be the first to admit that he has to be better (and wants to be better) about things -- especially his self-made schedule - but nothing ever really changes and I know the change has to come from within him. Perhaps I could tolerate the schedule more if he used at least SOME of his time in the evenings more productively.

But at this point I'm just so stressed and unhappy, my libido is non-existent, I feel taken for granted and feel like I'm on the precipice of a major depression. Or maybe my exhaustion is just exacerbating my feelings and I'm being completely unreasonable and unappreciative for what he DOES contribute.

Talking about this has brought about little more than some defensive feelings. Please, what can I do to get out of this rut and turn things around? I am in awe of how single parents can do what they do...

Maybe a George Costanza-like nap under my desk would help.

Thanks so much!

Manic Mom in Philly

Carolyn Hax: Print your question out and hand it to him. Sorry to get all Ann Landers on you, but the guy needs to see, as plainly as you've stated it, how bad things have gotten and how fundamentally responsible he is for the problem.

I also think something else has to give--either you talk to the school about financial help and you quit a job, or you talk to a counselor for marital help, or you talk to your own counselor for depression help, or you talk to other moms about sharing the load, or you talk to any and all family members on both sides about getting some relief here and there, or all of the above.

In the meantime, you tell him his alarm goes off at six, and you drag him out of bed, and he helps with breakfast and then goes to work. I know you don't need another chore on your list, but the BS has to stop.

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Neptune, N.J.: I don't think you got enough info from Laurel, Md. Her boyfriend checked her voicemail but WHY was it this old friend was calling? From the tone of her question, sounds like she was up to no good and wanted to leave him before any of this happened. Although I agree he was wrong to check her private voicemail, I smell a rat on her end too...

Carolyn Hax: Doesn't matter. Snooping plus rage plus CALLING the person = get out. Even if there's a rat--I totally disagree about the tone, btw; I went back and looked and I see nothing to suggest innocence or guilt--it's bad news to offer that as justification for his bad behavior ("She asked for it" sound familiar?). The relationship is over, rat or no rat.

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Washington, D.C.: My dad had a stroke last month. He will never be quite the same person that he was. How do we, as his family members who've known him as a vibrant person all of our lives, come to terms with that?

Carolyn Hax: You get to know who is now. He's still the same, I'm sure, in more ways than he's different. Certainly you'll notice changes and miss some of the things that are gone, but, cheez, that's something you've done routinely with the passage of time, without giving it a second thought--just by, say, graduating from a school, or having a friend move away, or changing jobs. You let old things go and take new things on.

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Harried Mom: My husband and I made a schedule and it has really helped. We agreed to have dinner together weeknights and planned for time off for him and me during the week. We also planned for his weekend work time. It really works well.

Also, I would think about the private school. Does your son need these education or is it a personal preference? If it is a need, there should be public school options that could meet his needs. (I believe they are requred to meet all children's needs) If it is a preference, you might want to weigh the benefits of his education against the cost to the family.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the suggestions. She should underline the part about planning some time of for herself. A standing date every week, where she goes off on her own for four hours.

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Washington, D.C.: Philly Mom -- I HEAR YOU -- don't second guess yourself. You need him to help. My husband was not helping at all. We have two little kids (two years apart) and I was losing my mind. I got creative. One night, I put the kids to bed and opened a bottle of wine and sat down with him and said "we need to talk." That got his attention. I told him I needed help and that without his help, I would end up in a funny farm. He gave me some excuses but said he wanted to help but did not know how. I asked if he would like a chore that he could do while watching [insert favorite sporting event]? He said sure. I explained laundry to him. He said sure he could handle that... the bottom line was that I told him I needed help and then tried to make suggestions that were a cross between funny and serious. That approach worked for us. My problem was that I wanted to be super woman and pushed his help away for so long that when I really needed it, he assumed I didn't. So, when I ask for help now, I get it. Good luck!

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

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Carolyn Hax: I just had to type and backspace that 4 times before I got it right. Switching to decaf tomorrow.

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RE: Manic Mom: Whoa, whoa, whoa...did you ever think her husband could be depressed? He sounds just like my brother was before he got treatment (meds). His previously stressed to the breaking point wife feels much better now, btw.

Carolyn Hax: It's possible. I actually was thinking ADD myself. Didn't throw it in there b/c I had so little to go on, obviously, but if two of us saw a flag maybe there's enough there for a flag.

So, she can add to the desperate-measures list, "How are you?" conversation with husband, with possible screening appointment.

Thanks much.

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Springfield, Va.: Hi Carolyn, How come every time you give a piece of advice to someone in these chats, there is an outpouring of unsolicited opionions from people who advise that person differently. Tell them to get their own advice column!

Carolyn Hax: Remember, I don't have to post them. The beauty of a chat vs. a column is that there's room for other perspectives.

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Private school: If the child needs to go to the private school because the public schools cannot meet his need, the school district is required to pay for the private school. So if sending her son to that school really is a matter of need and not just a preference, they should be able to get money from their local school district for it.

Carolyn Hax: True, but often the problem is that the school district technically -does- offer something, but it's not a quality program, which means the parents get stuck with the tab. Which I suppose is a "preference," but when it's your kid, it's hard to distinguish that from a need.

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Re: Voicemail: You are always pretty fair, so I guess I know your answer to this, but would you say the same thing if it was a girl doing the voicemail checking/calling? The real reason I ask is though I've never had a boyfriend (I'm 25) my friends who are around the same age constantly tell me that they check their boyfriend's phones, call their exes and start fights over it. I've never thought it was right, but I've also never heard someone tell the guys they need to get out of the relationship.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you.

If you've been reading me for a while, you've heard me tell guys this. Maybe the details have been different so you didn't make the connection, but any time people describe jealous and/or controlling behavior like that, my advice is to run.

Even if the guys are in fact maneuvering behind these girls' backs.

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Washington, D.C.: I think my wife is depressed. I don't really have a question. I'm just sad for her.

Carolyn Hax: Do you know where to go for information? The more you know, the more you can help (though there are limits, which is part of what makes it so sad). www.nimh.nih.gov

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Seattle, Wash.: That's so depressing that in the year 2006 women still consider men's efforts toward the home and kids "help." Why don't women DEMAND more from their husbands? Before my (now) husband and I moved in together six years ago, I definitely saw the potential for me doing most of the housework, so I let him know that he could either: do 50 percent, hire a maid at his expense to do his share, or die alone. It worked.

Carolyn Hax: I know, I sometimes catch myself using that terminology--that "he should help out around the house" and etc.--and it makes me realize how insidious it is, the notion that it's a wife's place and a husband's concession. Every couple (of every gender combo) should not only have this out before forming a household, but also have eyes on each other's habits and unbringing and philosophies on this early on. It's a relationship pillar, equal to common interests, common values, communication and physical compatibility.

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Tennessee: Hi Carolyn,

After a long time trying, my husband and I are 11 weeks pregnant. We're waiting to tell everyone.

I feel like I'm not "bonding" to the idea of being pregnant or even enjoying it at all because in some ways I'm expecting it to turn out badly! It's as if every day I'm waiting to miscarry.

I know I'm protecting myself, but any practical ideas about how to get over this? I want to celebrate with my husband.

Carolyn Hax: I sympathize with your wanting to feel as happy as your husband (or as you probably feel you "should"), but I think what you're feeling is natural and will take care of itself as your pregnancy progresses. If you're at all worried, though, take it up with your midwife/OB. This is something these people see all the time and are (or should be) trained to help you address.

Little kicks can do a lot for this, too, and I think they're coming soon.

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Carolyn Hax: Back in 2.

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Washington, D.C.: All of these people who married with kids and depressed helped me today, thanks.

Because I was feeling all overwhelmed by Valentine's Day and being single and all... and I realized that having another person (or a bunch of them) doesn't take away fundamental problems. Sometimes, it just adds to them. So, all of my friends who think that getting married will magically make their issues go away, I hope they're reading.

Carolyn Hax: Nothing will magically help anything. Getting rich, getting thin, getting married, getting divorced, getting promoted. I think they're all imbued with too much power over our imaginations.

Getting a job, though, might actually deliver what it promises.

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Harried mom: Don't forget, too, that your children can help out around the house, more than you may realize. They can load the dishwasher, gather the trash, etc. Even the youngest children can appreciate how hard it is to run a household when they are expected to do some work.

Carolyn Hax: If the baby's crawling, you can stitch some terrycloth on pajama knees and put the little freeloader to work.

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Alexandria, Va.: Regarding this whole voicemail drama, I am flabbergasted that people thing its okay to check their SO's box without permission (I've checked mine but I had his permission because he was out of the country on vacation). And then to CALL the people to yell at them. How do they not think this whole thing through... I have a great group of male friends and female and I am pretty sure if I got one such phonecall from a current SO, I'd let them know and I can't see current SO hanging around long. Not that I'd say its them or me - but just that I know my friends and they wouldn't stand for something so...childish. Luckily they know themselves and don't date girls or boys who react like kindergartners fighting for a toy in the sandbox.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, kindergarteners are pretty civilized compared to this.

Since the answer to everything is that there are two kinds of people, I'll point out that there are two kinds of people: Those who feel grateful, and those who feel entitled. Helping oneself to someone else's voice mail (when not in immediate danger--I'll qualify it) is the mark of the entitled. And the entitled, frankly, are just work.

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Baby Body Clock, Pa.: Carolyn,

Does the Baby Body Clock really exist? I've been married for four years and we've talked about wanting kids someday, not any time soon. Over the last couple of months, I find myself admiring babies in the grocery store, going to pregnancy websites, flipping through baby books. I thought this feeling would go away, but it hasn't. How do I turn off these impulses and get my brain back to the task at hand, namely two more years of a PhD program.

Carolyn Hax: Why not try plotting out a different course for yourself? Either you'll find that you have priorities other than a PhD now, which is okay, or that you can spread your work out over more time to accommodate a family, or that it's so undesirable to change course that you dampen the impulses a little.

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Washington, D.C.: Okay, I can't resist any longer....

The private school may also be a situation where the family simply cannot move (think fianances, where work is, etc.) and the schools in the area are truly terrible. Parents are willing to do whatever it takes to overcome that and as an educator in DC Public Schools and parents, I can understand that. I work very hard against long odds, love my job and am lucky in my school placement, however there is at least one school if not more in every district that people will fight tooth and nail to get out of. Just because the school gets labled to the point where transfers are allowable under NCLB, does not mean that the district will allow them.

Also to the proposal with an old ring: trade it in for a ring just right for her (pay whatever the difference is) and THEN propose. Many jewelery stores will work with that. If you're too cheap to do even that... then I hope she is, too.

Carolyn Hax: I like the points, thanks, but I like the impression even more that you were in fact about to bust.

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Chicago, Ill.: Carolyn,

Regarding the importance of the physical in a relationship: I'm struggling with that as well. I've come to realize I'm one of those people who needs it. It's important to me. But I'm married to the man with whom (1) it doesn't exist between us so much and (2) his needs don't equate to mine. We get along very well as companions. No kids. So my struggle is that I'm 34 and reading all about how of course the physical stuff dies down in every relationship, it's a given. So how can I think of leaving my marriage because of this, when apparently any relationship I have will eventually dwindle to good companionship status anyway? Sigh.

Carolyn Hax: Please don't mistake this for advice on a course of action, but not all relationships dwindle physically into the same Platonic friendship. Some couples lose interest in each other, some maintain it but at a reduced level, some--well, I wouldn't wish these on you, but I do get letters from people asserting exactly how wrong this assumption is and providing detailed examples to the contrary.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn!How do you know whether someone is interested in you? Do you follow the school of thought of, "if he likes you he'll let you know" and if he doesn't make a move then he's just not into you? A lot of my guy friends tell me that if someone likes me, I'll know and if a guy's behavior is confusing, then he must not like me. Is it that simple?

Carolyn Hax: Nothing is ever that simple, because people aren't that simple. Guys who are comfortable approaching will approach, guys who are not comfortable approaching can send confusing signals. And, guys who send confusing signals can also be enjoying the attention from you more than they enjoy you. It's a crap shoot. Usually, though, if you know what the guy's like, you can make a pretty good guess. Whenever you aren't sure, you can wait to see if things become more clear with time, or you can also just ask, if you can deal with the awkwardness risk.

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Food for thought: I hate to say this but ... as someone who is staring down age 38 and trying very hard to get pregnant, I feel I have something to say: don't wait too long for the bio clock to grab you by the ears and shake a baby out of you! Really, if I knew at age 30 what I know at age 37-ish, I would have started much sooner! The clock is real.

Carolyn Hax: Don't hate to say it. It's an important thing to know. It's not a marching order, and knowing it doesn't mean you should build your whole life around it. It's just a bit of information you should at least have; what you do with it is up to you.

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A Dead Ringer: Love the column and chats -- thanks for entertaining me on my Friday lunch hours at work.

I have an unusual problem. I just began dating this wonderful girl, but when my friend met her, he pointed out that she looked and sounded almost exactly like my ex, with whom I had a bad falling- out. Ever since then, I can't help but make the connection. Granted, they're very different people, but telling myself that hasn't helped. Any suggestions for getting over this silly hangup?

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, Friend.

Seems to me all you can do is give it time.

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While we are talking about breaking points....: I am newly married in my early thirties and we have great pets, nice home, selling another home, both of us are healthy and fit. Problem? Both of us have terrible, going nowhere jobs that are a bad fit for us but we make good money. We met on the job several years ago and we are both so unhappy work wise and have been for years. Wednesday nite was terrible--we basically fought because we both want to be in another field and cant seem to find the right way to make a change. I take my anger at myself out on him and he does stuff like play computer games to avoid thinking about his career. We are a mess and I am sick of it and myself. What do we do?

Carolyn Hax: Make an appointment with a headhunter, career coach, alumni job placement office, human resources director at a company you admire, anything. DO something.

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Washington, D.C.: Is it me or is every married person with children who writes in here sexless, and strung out? Good lord. Makes me want to remain single.

Carolyn Hax: That's one way to get around it. Another is to marry older or more carefully or with an eye to the way you both function under stress or all three. Another is to examine v. carefully your assumptions about your course in life, since so many people take the marriage/kids/burbs path without even seriously considering other ones.

Another is to consider that people writing to this chat are the ones having problems, and there are people who aren't having problems who don't need to ask for help. (Though having little kids is just a hard hard stage of life, even if you manage to stay glued through it.)

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Re: Laurel and Snooping: Carolyn, you're silly if you think his snooping is worse than her possible infidelity.

Infidelity exposes innocent people to deadly diseasess.

Not all people fess up when questioned. He could just be protecting himself.

Another thing I notice is that you seem to brush off female snooping way more often than male snooping. You suggest that males who snoop are dangerous and controlling while female snoopers are just curious and owe her partner an apology.

Why is that?

Carolyn Hax: What are you smoking? I just described female snooping as jealous and controlling, as well as a dumping offense.

And I didn't say one was worse than the other, I said one didn't justify the other. Big difference.

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For Philadelphia: My husband is not proactive -- maybe hers isn't either. I stopped being angry at him for not contributing to the running of the household when I realized he just doesn't function that way. But if I say, "Please pick up x,y and z from the grocery store on your way home," or "Could you please vacuum the living room and pay the phone bill tonight?", it gets done. He just needs a little direction. I'm not saying this will solve all of her problems, but like you suggested with his helping her with breakfast, it might be a start.

Carolyn Hax: I'm glad you've found a workable solution and I don't want to do anything to disrupt it, but I do think the not-proactive thing is often BS. Maybe in some areas, okay, because everyone has blind spots and it's one sign of a good couple that they recognize and cheerfully compensate for each other's blind spots. But when Male claims the entire home as a blind spot and Female is tasked with handing Male tasks, that's '50s-hangover BS.

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New York: I have a crush on my coworker. It's dumb I know because he's in a longterm relationship and seems happy, but we hang out a lot and he often talks of how they don't have much in common but we do. I know nothing would change and need to get over this though, because it's not healthy for me. Suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: If you're torturing yourself, stop hanging out with him.

BTW, you don't "know nothing would change." Could be he's testing to see if he should try to jump to a different ship.

Don't let that give you false hope, though--could also be he's just enjoying a good flirting opportunity.

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Snooping rights ... : So someone posted saying that because infidelity puts your health at risk it's justifiable to snoop to 'protect yourself'.

Uh -- the way to protect yourself, if you feel your partner is lying is to say 'I don't belive you, I've lost trust in you and I'm leaving you.'

If you snoop, either you'll end up saying you don't trust your partner or you'll end up destroying the relationship anyway. Snooping isn't justified -- if you have to have proof it's not a workable relationship anyway.

Carolyn Hax: THANK YOU. That rationale has always made me nuts, and I was moving too fast to flag it.

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Anonymous: Carolyn,What's a good response to the "are you pregnant" question when you are but are not ready to tell the whole world? I don't want to say "no" outright (superstitious to some degree and I don't like the outright lie). I'm amazed at how many people ask directly or at least insinuate and expect an honest answer. My thinking is, "if I were ready to tell you, I would have".

BTW, to everyone out there, this is a horrible question to ask to anyone, ever.

Carolyn Hax: "If I ever am, I'll tell you when I'm ready."

"I know you mean well, but that's a terrible quesiton to ask somebody."

Of course, as someone who's never able to stop feeling stunned and uncomfortable long enough to form the perfect response, I offer these as a purely hypothetical exercise.

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State of Confusion: Carolyn, would you say its a bad thing to tell someone (who you aren't dating) that you love them when both of you are in other relationships?

Carolyn Hax: What exactly are you trying to accomplish?

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,I know this is not life or death but my girlfriend of a couple of months "snorts" when she laughs and it is embarassing to be around. She is awesome in every other way and I really envision a future with her but this makes me cringe when we are out with other people. In no way do I want to hurt her feelings but what can I do to help her (me) with this? My work involves after hours socializing where spouses are often present and so far I have avoided taking her to these functions but am starting to get questions on it from her. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: I think there's nothing wrong with a good snort--certainly makes the joke-teller feel special--but if YOU have a problem with it, is relationship life-or-death. She deserves someone who isn't ashamed to be out with her. Come on, you know that.

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Anywhere, Any State: Hi, Carolyn. My Mom was diagnosed with ALS several months ago. Right now just her speech and swallowing are affected, but I've read enough to know what will most likely be coming. I live about 600 miles away and I'm terrified that I won't know when to be there, or what to say from far away.

I know it doesn't do any good to get upset about things before they actually happen, but do you have any advice for me?

Carolyn Hax: Oh no. I'm sorry. 1. Get there as often as possible. Don't wait till the have-to-be-there time. Talk to her while she can still talk. You won't regret it. 2. ALS marches at a steady pace--there's no remission, no precipitous declining, etc. So, once the doctors and your family see how things are going, you'll probably be able to make good decisions about what you need to do. 3. If it's starting w/speech and swallowing, it could be a faster-moving form that affects the bulbar region. Ask. That's what my mom had, and she died before she ever needed a wheelchair (15 months from diagnosis). Don;t mean to scare you more, just trying to make the point to get there, get there, get there. That part applies to anyone with a terminally ill loved one.

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Snorting Girlfriend: FINALLY! A question that made me laugh out loud! Happy Friday, everybody!

Carolyn Hax: Did you snort?

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn, how DO you know when you're ready to have kids? My husband and I have always agreed that we'll have kids "one day" -- but he recently told me that he's ready. He doesn't even pick up his dirty socks, how can he be ready for a baby? I don't know if he's saying that, banking on me not being ready, or if he means it, but I don't think I'm ready. I just don't know. Every time I see a baby, I get all mushy. Of course, I also get mushy around baby animals -- kittens, puppies, pandas. But every time I babysit or take care of a friend's kids, I love it. I like kids, and everyone says I'm good with them. It's just huge, and daunting, and scary.

Carolyn Hax: Take this chat as a suggestion that you'll be "ready" once you've got the household weight-pulling thing down. Sounds like you're all set with the rest.

FWIW, there's no big READY moment for most people; I think it's just when you look at the possibility and notice that all the usual obstacles aren't really there any more.

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Wondering, Washington, D.C.: Could I ask a different kind of question, about grief? Do things given to you by family members become more important after they die? I don't mean letters or photos, I mean silly knickknacks that you hate but that they thought were great?

I would hate to throw anything out only later to obsess over not having them when the giver has died. I think your answer might help a lot of 'packrats' that have this urgent feeling that someday they will regret throwing things out.

Carolyn Hax: Chuck em all but one, if it makes you feel better to hang onto something. Things you get from people do become important after they die, but that, at least to me, is because you chose to keep them for your own reasons, and it's that reason plus their contribution that makes the items special. Having their stuff just because it's their stuff doesn't give it a special glow, nor does stuff you gave away acquire some retroactive glow. Again, at least not to me--I'm sure experience varies widely on this.

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Carolyn Hax: Time to go. Thanks everyone, have a great weekend and type to you Friday.

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