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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 24, 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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Carolyn Hax: Hi guys. A few of you wrote in to correct last week's poster who spoke about mental illness and security clearances. Here's the most thorough response. The unaffected and/or uninterested can skip it, but the last paragraph is pretty universal.

Thanks to everyone who wrote.

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Re last week: Your last poster was in error. The SF-86 asks, "In the last 7 years, have you consulted a mental health professional (psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, etc.) or have you consulted with another health care provider about a mental health related condition?" If the answer is yes, you will be requested to put the doctor's name and address and the dates of treatment, unless the treatment was specifically marital, family or grief counseling.

In the clearance process for top secret or DOE Q clearances (my specialty), the investigation begins with a nice long interview that covers all the questions on the SF-86 as well as some supplementary questions. Uncle Sam would like to know the dates of treatment, the reason you sought treatment, the identity and amount of any medications you received, the nature of any additional treatment recommended or received, whether you've followed the treatment your doctor recommended, any diagnosis made, how serious the condition is or was, who referred you to the doctor, your prognosis, your ability to safeguard sensitive or classified information, the potential of your condition or treatment to affect your judgment or reliability, and whether you are likely to engage in violent, reckless, or aberrent behavior as a result of either the condition or the treatment. Oh, and who else knows about it. Also asked: do you engage in addictive or compulsive behavior of any kind, and have you engaged in any conduct or behavior showing a lack of judgment or discretion.

I'm afraid that the above questions reduce us all to quivering wrecks; they did me. If any medication has been prescribed for you, or if the counseling isn't family/marital/grief, or if it relates to violent acts on your part, we'll also consult with your doctor--asking basically the same questions.

Despite all this, very few clearances are revoked or denied based on mental health issues (around 98% of the time, this has no effect on clearances, according to one study. Unfortunately, I can't remember which one, so take that number with a grain of salt.) I can't say for sure what constitutes a problem and what doesn't. It varies from agency to agency, and it sometimes depends on the organization's need for your expertise. But the big concerns are that your mental health treatment is for a condition that makes you unreliable (schizophrenia = bad, unmanaged bipolar = bad, sometimes, depending on the effects of the manic phase), or that you're treatable but not complying with your treatment. The other big problem is if you're so ashamed of your problem that you could be blackmailed about it--so it's vital that you actually report any mental health treatment on your forms. Concealing it is almost always disqualifying, while the treatment itself almost never is.

The adjudication guidelines are particularly difficult to pin down, since they really do take the whole person into account--that's not just lip service, and it means that the rules aren't hard and fast unless they're required to be by statute.

There are general adjudicative guidelines available for the curious or really bored at http://www.dss.mil/nf/adr/adjguid/adjguidF.htm. The supplemental information is particularly interesting, although wading through it all is not for the faint of heart.

It's a shame that concern about this keeps people from getting help. Really, it's only a job. It's not worth anyone's happiness.

Carolyn Hax: Again, thanks.

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Huh?: What is window cellophane? I know what cellophane is, but why would you put it on the windows?

Carolyn Hax: To reduce heat loss. At least I think that's what she meant. People keep asking me this, and it turns out they're all from Texas, Arizona, So Cal, where such a need doesn't even cross their minds. Depressing.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn, I wrote you 3-4 weeks back that a I was going through some rough times in my life (i.e. splitting with someone who I still consider my best friend, and dealing with some parent issues with their health) You suggested to me to start off with by exercising, and trying to keep busy with some hobbies. Well, I have to say I took your advice and did all of the above. Since then, I have been exercising like crazy, and physically I feel great. Makes me wish that when I don't exercise I think of how good I feel when I do. Both mentally and physically. Also, I started doing activities for me, including volunteering, which has been awesome. I just wanted to say thanks, because it has made a world of difference.

Carolyn Hax: Great to hear, thanks. And congratulations--even knowing this about exercise firsthand, I still can't get myself back into the exercise routine I dropped this summer. So, it's hard to do what you've just done.

Maybe in 3-4 weeks I'll be writing to thank you.

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Alexandria, Va.: I'm just a great big ball of stress. My job is sucking the life force out of me, but I cannot find the time to look for another job until I finish grad school in May, when I will be qualified for another field. I'm also getting married right afterwards, although that's not causing much stress at this point. I'd like nothing better than to just quit and just work at a store until graduation. But my fiance is worried about how it will look on my resume, and about the loss in income. So how can I suck it up for the next couple of months without a total meltdown?

Thank you!

Carolyn Hax: If taking 2.5 months off to dedicate yourself to finishing up your studies "looks bad on your resume," then non-humans must have seized control of all HR departments. (Insert snorts here.)

Figure out your finances, line up an interim income source and quit. With your fiance aboard, obviously, but if he refuses, hmm.

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Arlington, Va.: hi Carolyn,My sister is going thru a really hard time right now and CLEARY needs counseling/antidepressents. My mom and I as well as her boyfriend have brought the issue up to her at various times, but she always dismisses it as "work stress." How do I go about helping her if she doesn't want to try these options?

Carolyn Hax: Sometimes people just don't want help, no matter how badly they need it. You can, however, answer her "work stress" with, "Stress is stress, and there's no shame/harm in learning new ways to manage it."

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Arlington, Va.: I'm going to skip the chat today and go work out on my treadmill, okay?

Carolyn Hax: Okay.

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Carolyn Hax: But I thought treadmills were just drying racks for fine washables.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn!

You normally give advice to singles on how to enjoy their singles lives more fully. My problem is the complete opposite -- I think I enjoy my single life too much! To the point that it is becoming increasingly more difficult for me to let potential mates in -- to make time for them, to share my life with them. What advice to you have for singles on the opposite side of the spectrum?

Carolyn Hax: Seems to me this is a self-correcting problem--that when you really want to make more time for someone else, you will, and until then--i.e., while you're still hap hap happy single--there's no sense in forcing it.

But if I've read this wrong, and you want to let people in but feel you cant' somehow, please write back.

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Re: Alexandria: And she's(?) I'm assuming -- not even talking about taking 2.5 months off entirely, just taking a retail job in the meantime. I can't imagine this looking bad to an employer in her (again, assuming) new field.

Carolyn Hax: Zackly. I'd even think choosing to dedicate herself to a strong academic finish would be in her favor. I don't hire people, but I am a person, most days, and I'd respect someone who made that choice.

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Re: Window cellophane: I'm from Colorado, and I still don't know what window cellophane is. Perhaps it's a midwest phenomenon?

washingtonpost.com: Window Cellophane

Carolyn Hax: Liz is my hero.

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Re: Arlington, Va.: I'm sticking with the chat and eating chocolate.

Carolyn Hax: Liz, you're out.

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Discipli, NE: Hi Car,

Need some help determining how best to dicipline the 18-month-old. My wife has turned into more of a disciplinarian than I am, which is probably pretty natural since she's a stay-at-home mom, so she has more opportunities to discipline him + is more easily aggravated by things he does. Lately he's been copping a real attitude with her -- not wanting to hug her, grunts and walks away if she tries to give affection. He doesn't do that with me. She thinks I need to step up and become more of a disciplinarian, to balance things out. I think she needs to cool down and not yell at him every time he decides to throw some cheerios on the floor. Who's right?

Carolyn Hax: Both of you should talk to a pro, informally is fine (pediatrician, day care workers, veteran parents are all good for this). But here's the short answer in the meantime. A kid that age is starting to assert himself, establish some independence and find his own identity, and the person who bears the brunt of that is the closest adult to him--ie, in this case, his mommy. That's the person from whom he needs to wrest some control; he's resisting her rules and affection because he has to, in a developmental sense. So, she needs to stop yelling (best she can, at least) and just set calm limits where it's important to limit him, and ease off on things that don't matter. Shrug off the "attitude," for example, and just let him not hug when he doesn't want to. When he throws Cheerios, just say no once, and if he ignores it, say you're taking them away and then take them away. Then move on to something else. (Set limit without yelling, enforce limit without yelling, divert attention to something else, inahle, exhale.)

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Chandler, Ariz.: I am so tired of East coast readers seeking advice and then getting posted LIVE all the time! Drives me crazy... don't people in other parts of this country read The Washington Post? Here I am in little Chandler, Ariz., and none of my problems ever get posted.

Carolyn Hax: I'm bitter about the heat-loss thing.

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Re: Alexandria: The only way an HR person might question the desire for a strong academic finish would be if the company is one of those places that demands its employees to burn the midnight oil AND be perfect little robots. And who'd want to work for one of those?

Carolyn Hax: Do they have free donuts in the coffee room?

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Happy single?: I have never known anyone who is happy being single for long stretches of time. We're human and we like being with others. The huge vast majority of people get married or coupled at some point. It's great to accept that you're not in a relationship and try to be happy, but I think it's not natural to enjoy long periods of singleness. With a 96 percent marriage rate and 40 million subscribers to online dating sites, I think if being single was supposed to make you happy, more people would try it...

Carolyn Hax: See, there are some truths in there, and there are some insidious applications of that truth in there. To say we're human and therefore social, that's true and therefore appropriate. But to move that along a notch and apply it to every individual is wrong and unfair. There are dramatic differences within the "humans are social" range, including people who can't enjoy any time spent alone, and people who need very little contact with others, if any. So to call enjoying long periods of singleness "unnatural" is to abuse the truth for a point. Just one example: 96 percent marry, but not all stay married or live a full lifespan, and not all divorce/es or and widow/ers remarry, and not all remain single because they can't find mates. Many don't want them.

I think it's fine to acknowledge, again, that people are social, but I don't think it's right to trot out marriage rates and online dating numbers as proof that humans need mates. It could just as easily prove there's tremendous societal pressure to mate.

So I keep ending up where I started: Make the best of whatever situation you've got.

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Copping an attitude?: I'll say they need to talk to someone! Yikes, an 18-month-old doesn't "cop an attitude," he just acts like a normal toddler.

Carolyn Hax: Sending in the reinforcements ...

Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: I know this is going to make me sound bratty, but my parents buy me really crappy gifts, and I'm upset about the birthday present my parents sent me last week (I'm fairly certain it was a re-gift of what I sent my dad a few months ago). It's not that I think they are cheap, I know money is tight and they are being frugal in all aspects of their spending. But my feelings are hurt that they didn't appear to put much thought or care into the gift. How can I address this with my mom without hurting her feelings?

Carolyn Hax: Depends. How old are you?

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,I've been dating a great guy for a little over a month now and might finally have found a guy I like. The problem is that I can feel myself getting caught up in the emotional whirlwind and I really want to keep a grip on reality! For example, if I don't hear from him for a day I start to freak out that he's going to dump me the next time we talk. Crazy, I know. I don't have much dating or relationship experience and am in my late 20s. Any advice for keeping a level head (and heart?) while falling someone? Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

Carolyn Hax: To some extent, it's just going to be one of those things--mastery of adrenaline is not a mere mantra away. But you can make a conscious effort to remind yourself, when you're losing your mind, that there are always 20 possible explanations for behavior you assume is anti-you. E.g., he could be busy. He could be trying not to look eager. He could just not be the type to little I'm-here messages.

He could also be lukewarm about you, which is also fine--whether it means that he needs more time to fall for you or that he'll never fall for you. You don't need this one person to stay for the rest of your life. It'll hurt if he doesn't, true, but a lot of things hurt. And almost everyone feels it's rare to meet good people, and almost everyone loses a few good people along the way.

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Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics: Re: the person quoting marriage statistics -might also want to factor in divorce statistics, plus the fact that the number of people who fall in the "never married category" is rising every year - and, in addition, may want to read some histories of marriage, which make it clear that it may decrease further, now that it is not the sole vehicle for economic survival.

And may also may want to question the assumption that "single" = alone or lonely or lacking in social companionship. Talk about bringing a whole bundle of preconceptions and trying to wrap it up with one statistic - which falls very short of conveying the whole complex picture of human interaction and the ways in which we satisfy our needs (or lack thereof) for companionship, love, romance, sex, friendship. In the same way that people assume that "everyone" should want to have children, be heterosexual, have a high-paying career, etc., etc.- look around you, see the whole world.

Here's a site with some more complete statistical information: http://www.divorcemag.com/statistics/statsUS.shtml

Carolyn Hax: Thank you SO much for the part about other sources of companionship. I had it in my mind as I started my answer and lost it along the way.

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St. Paul, Minn.: Dear Carolyn,

Why is it I'm too young to be sterilized, but never too young to have an abortion? I'm 24 and newly married, and my husband and I both know that we don't want kids. I've felt this way since I was young, and stayed a virgin (as did my husband) so I'd never have to worry about pregnancy. So why can't I just get a tubal ligation so I'll NEVER have a pregnancy scare if my birth control fails or resent a life growing inside me? Abortion is not for us, and I'm not interested in other BC methods.

I'm so angry that these doctors refuse to help me, a grown and self-aware married woman, but if I was a promiscuous and irresponsible teenager there wouldn't be any problem just giving me an abortion.

Carolyn Hax: This is a very controversial topic. I think if you look around--I'd start with women's organizations, particularly advocates for reproductive rights--you'll find someone who will do the procedure.

Also, I realize you're doing it to make your point, but your associating abortion-on-demand with youth, promiscuity and irresponsibility actually hurts your cause. The cause being that the place for reproductive control is not with Big Brother, but with the woman herself, regardless of the woman's "value" in society.

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Arlington, Va.: Good afternoon. I have been sick for over two weeks, there was a huge snowstorm on my birthday that ruined party plans, and I went on a trip to Sunny California where it rained until the day I left. At least I don't need cellophane on my windows or extra plastic on the outside like when I was growing up. Thank god February is almost over. With this run of luck, would you advise waiting a few days until March to ask out my cute neighbor?

Carolyn Hax: No no, do it now so you can still blame February when he accepts but then spontaneously combusts.

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Washington, D.C. metro area: Carolyn, I have a good friend. There is a guy she "likes" right now. She tells me about it in long conversations that detail every word exchanged, every intonation and every possible hidden meaning in their conversations. She wants to date him but is too afraid to make a move.

It's hard to commiserate and have girl-talk about it when every cell in my body wants to scream, "JUST ASK HIM OUT ALREADY." This repeats itself whenever she meets someone she's interested in. She dates rarely, if at all. I've said that she should take some initiative, but I sometimes I feel impatient to the point that I want to make the topic off-limits until she can take action.

We're both 30 and I can no longer relate to her when it comes to stuff like this. I also feel bad about feeling that way. Should I say something? Or just shut up and accept that this is where she is right now?

Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: "It's hard to commiserate and have girl-talk about this when every cell in my body wants to scream, 'JUST ASK HIM OUT ALREADY.' I know I've said that you should take some initiative, and I sometimes I feel impatient to the point that I want to make the topic off-limits until you can take action. But since that's not your nature, maybe we can figure out something you can do that -isn't- against your nature, so we can both feel better about this."

Blah blah blah (rub face). But some people need the kid-glove version.

Or, you can try: "Wait wait wait, stop. What are you going to DO?" And keep steering it that way, toward DO.

Or you can shut up and accept her this way, but it does sound as if you're liking her progressively less because of this--and if that's the case I could argue that you owe it to her to try to reverse the slide by speaking your mind (gently) on the frustration you feel.

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Carolyn Hax: Oh, I forgot the third choice: Scream, "JUST ASK HIM OUT ALREADY." She's 30. Cheez.

Then go to choice 4, shut up and accept her that way.

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Re: Washington, D.C.: There may be a very nice explanation for the apparent re-gift. Once I got two copies of the same book from my father and my grandfather. I offered the book to my brother, who laughed at me and pointed out that I had already given him that book as a gift two years before. I then offered the book to my dad, competely forgetting that he'd given it to me in the first place. He sheepishly admitted that he'd since discovered I'd given him a copy of the book one year earlier. We're a family in serious need of ginko biloba.

Plus stress of any kind, including financial, can make people more forgetful.

Carolyn Hax: Very nice, and very funny. Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: I wonder if you have any suggestions on how to deal with grief. In the past month, I have experienced a miscarriage, the death of close family friend, and the death of an old friend that I lost contact with some years ago. Each by itself should not be devastating, but right now, I feel weepy and like life is very fragile and short. I'm dreaming about lost babies and last night I woke up sobbing after one of those dreams. Will time by itself fix this? It has only been a couple of weeks since all the tragedy hit.

Carolyn Hax: Time will do most of the heavy lifting, because--since we're on the subject of human nature today--we are wired to endure through extraordinary emotional pain. Not that we forget bad things, and not that everyone heals, especially without help (PTSD being one good example of that)--but that most are able to recall most bad experiences with less and less pain over time.

There a lot of things people do to give time an assist. While different things work for different people, I think most tend to be some sort of affirmation of life. Making yourself remember happy times with the people you lost, for example. Crying for your lost baby. Holding another baby you love, like a friend's child or a niece or a nephew. Devoting special attention to the people you love who are still with you. Taking care of yourself in ways you feel you can't justify under normal circumstances, like hourlong walks in the most scenic place you can think of, or a bath every day after work. Immersing yourself in things that have simple, sensory rewards, like gardening or cooking or going to a museum.

Last thing, be weepy without fighting it. It helps.

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Boston, Mass.: Can I admit to feeling some sympathy for the bratty sister-in-law in your current column? I just had my second child, a beautiful baby girl, but my sister-in-law just had twins and I felt pretty grumpy sometimes about being not just upstaged, but pushed off the stage entirely. She had a miserable time (bed rest, fear of losing the babies, preemies, family illness) and I was completely unable to complain about my trivial pregnancy problems when everyone was focused on sil. Actually, I was focused on her too, but still grumpy about it sometimes. BTW -- don't blame her -- SHE encouraged me to share problems.

I suspect that this sil is not worth the trouble, but the writer should not give up so soon. Give her a few more chances -- maybe it's some thing serious for her -- maybe she had a few miscarrages and is in deathly fear of losing her pregancy and can't bring herself to share that info and can't de-stress to be excited about the writer's.

Carolyn Hax: Nothing wrong with feeling sympathy for the SIL--I don't doubt her feelings are natural, or at least rooted in something natural. One thing almost every parent wants to give a child is a world that's gushing with love and (undivided) attention. Plus, she has a perfect formula for resentment: watching someone get easily what took her years of pain.

However. It's that she's indulging these feelings that's so awful.

I don't think I necessarily advised giving up on her, though; they're not severing the relationship after all, nor should they. I just meant that she should stop looking for any warmth from the SIL. If she ever does start to warm up, or if the writer sees an opening to reach out, then she should reach out (but, again, with the lowest expectations she can manage).

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Slap?: I'm pregnant. A friend asked me if one of the tests I just had was to test for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. At the time, I just answered "no, all the testing was for genetic/chromosomal stuff." Later, I started thinking... WHY would she wonder if I was getting tested for FAS? I haven't been drinking during my pregnancy. Was she slapping me somehow or just being dumb? Should I say something to her?

Carolyn Hax: If it's bugging you, sure. "I'm curious. Is there any reason you asked about FAS?" I.e., don't put your dukes up or imbed your assumed answer in the question.

But in case this helps: there could be other good reasons she asked that have nothing to do with you. She could be worried about someone else she knows who is drinking while pregnant, and she might be hoping it's part of routine testing so that person gets "caught." She could be worried about herself. Just two ideas.

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Rockville, Md.: My husband married outside his faith and his family pretty much disowned him. We have been married four years now, and there has been no communication between them since the marriage. Right before the marriage, they literally stalked him begging him to reconsider. I know this hurts him greatly. We have a baby and are otherwise happy, but I see the wistful look in his eyes when we get together with my family, who by the way, have been as supportive and embracing as possible to him and our child. Our son's birthday is in a month, and I was thinking it might be nice to try again to reconcile with his folks, but my husband does not want to anymore. I think he fears more rejection. I was thinking of taking our baby to his parent's house unexpected one day to see if we can pull at my MIL's heartstrings a little. If it works, I'll let my husband in on it. If not, I can take the rejection, and my son is too young to really understand. Is this a really bad idea?

Carolyn Hax: Probably. It's one of those things that could work and make everyone say, "What a great thing that you took the initiative!" But your husband could also feel angry and deeply betrayed, whether it works or not, and he'd have a decent argument.

The problem I see is that you THINK he fears rejection. You are assuming. It's one thing to assume quietly, but then to build a grand noisy gesture on your assumption is where you invite trouble.

The element that decides whether yours is a loving idea or a wrongheaded mess is your husband. Would he really want this? Do you know? And if you aren't confident one way or the other, doesn't that suggest you need to talk to him about this and replace your assumptions with facts?

Just to give you one idea, his wistful eyes could be saying, "I wish I had a different family," and not, "I wish I could be with my family." It could be he really doesn't want them back in his life.

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Washington, D.C.: For the person asking about the fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) test - I know the point of your question was why would someone rudely ask about that test, but I have to add - no prenatal test for FAS exists and no one knows how much or how little alcohol causes a problem.

For more information - http://www.nofas.org/

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

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Tubal Ligation vs. Vasectomy: For the woman from St. Paul, why doesn't the husband get a vasectomy? From a medical standpoint, it's much easier to recover from as it's much less intrusive.

Also, the perecentage of error is the same as the pill and she won't have to put her body through all that on a monthly basis.

It worked for me and my wife. It's worth investigating as an alternative.

Carolyn Hax: I am having the biggest duh moment of 2006, and it's not like there wasn't any competition. Thank you.

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Pennsylvania: You said: "One thing almost every parent wants to give a child is a world that's gushing with love and (undivided) attention."

What happens when a parent can't understand that you don't always want to spend time with their child? I know someone who gets in a snit when I turn down requests to see their child play at a sports game or something similar. It's not that I'm not interested in going--but it seems I could go every week to see their child in whatever sports they happen to be playing, and it's still not enough . . .

Carolyn Hax: You give your time as you choose, and you let him or her have a snit. I'd love to be able to say that you should talk to the parent and come to some sort of understanding, but anyone who doesn't understand the limits of other people's interests in their precious children is beyond reason.

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Re: Rockville, Md.: Oh I feel for your husband. I am dating someone outside of my faith and my parents will disown me once they find out (I live a lie to them), and it is hell being forced to "choose" between them and my love.

Carolyn, do you know of any support groups/books/anything that addresses this sort of issue?

Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Not offhand. Anyone?

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Winston-Salem, N.C.: You know, it's funny. Great evil is done by reflexively applying general truths, no matter how profound, to individual situations.

Carolyn Hax: I just did the wave at my desk.

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Florida: I have friends who can't commit to plans and leave me hanging a lot of the time. For example, this weekend we were supposed to do something and they're still not sure whether they have time: no concrete commitments, just normal routine stuff they have to do. Should I stop catering to their indecisiveness and make other plans?

Thank you!

Carolyn Hax: That's one approach. Another is to see them as last-minute people and stop trying to plan for them. Make them the people you call when you have some free time.

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Mental health crisis -- Can I help?: My 25-year-old niece was just hospitalized for "causing a commotion" while on vacation 3,000 miles away. She's struggled with emotional issues in the past -- was hospitalized two summers ago and at that time, as her parents have only now admitted, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Her grandfather had it and her father shows signs of it too, although he's never been treated. The details are sketchy, but it appears that the stress of traveling and dealing with the people she was traveling with seems to have triggered a manic episode.

So now she's out there in a big city in which she knows no one. I'm actually glad she's in the hospital and may finally get the treatment she needs -- no significant treatment since the previous hospitalization due to her refusal and inconsistent family support -- even though the circumstances are awful. But my mother (her grandmother) and I are worried sick about her being there on her own. Neither of her parents is planning on flying out there, although they could arrange to do so, and the hospital plans to get her stabilized enough to put on a plane and send home. I want to go out but her parents would react badly to this, and I don't really have any "authority" because they see me as a kid, too -- I'm in my late 30s, which they see as her generation not theirs -- even though I have more experience actually dealing with these issues than the rest of the family. Do I jump in or not? I can't figure out if it's going to help or hurt. At the moment my other priority is trying to keep my mom from falling apart. Please advise or at least say something encouraging if you can! Many thanks. Sam

Carolyn Hax: Define "react badly to this." If your main worry is that the parents will be offended, go. Tough cookies for them.

If it's more than that, and you're worried the parents will cut off you and your mom from your niece, that's a much bigger concern, possibly bigger than her flying home alone (assuming she will be accompanied to the plane and etc.). In that case, I'd talk to the hospital people to confirm and/or arrange for proper supervision, and to make sure she's met at the gate.

Another thought--is it possible you could arrange for your mother to go out there? Intervention by Grandma could be less provocative.

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Washington, D.C.: You sit at a desk? I would just wear my PJs and be on the couch with a lap top.

Carolyn Hax: Bad ergonomics. Plus, I like wearing my suit and heels.

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"Outside the Religion" Shunning: I would recommend reading "Toxic People" or "Emotional Blackmail"; for it is...

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. Usual disclaimer: Can't vouch for either.

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Outside of faith: I went through the same thing -- my mother did not speak to me for two years. Luckily, time kind of healed the rift; I know she says a rosary for me every night, though, which I resent.

Carolyn Hax: Look at it this way. If she's right, it'll help you, and if she's wrong, it'll be your little victory.

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Haverford, Pa.: Re: marrying outside faith. Without hurting anyone else, do what makes you happy. Others will never be happy. I married outside my faith; in our generation, we are married the longest (25 years). We chose to raise our daughters in my spouse's faith. Great support from the congregation, even regular inter-faith meetings on various topics. Lots of books in any large bookstore.

Carolyn Hax: I love the idea, but I think you need to define "without hurting somebody else." The club many families use to beat their "wayward" members is, "How could you do this to me!!!!"

How about, "Without malice toward anyone else." Though that seems inadequate too.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

Do you believe that "everything happens for a reason"? I would say, until recently, that I was in that camp. But lately, things have just not been going my way, despite the fact that I have worked ridiculously hard for them, and I am just having a really hard time believing that it's for some reason that will be revealed to me at some point down the road. I'm just so upset, but do not want to continue with this bummed out attitude. Any thoughts/suggestions to get me through this? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: I don't believe everything happens for a reason. I believe there's randomness, senseless suffering (how could you not, with all the cruelty that befalls children), grievous inequality in the distribution of luck.

But I also believe that it's self-defeating to deal with bad things in isolation. By that I mean (in a normal life, barring famine and war and such) that your "things" are not an end in themselves; they're leading you to something else, something that may very well be better than the thing you thought you wanted so badly. I also believe that you have at least some say in how good (or bad) those next things will be. You've got lemons. Start making lemon bars. (Not lemonade kind of weather.)

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Reproductive Rights: I was thinking he should have a vasectomy, too, but then I slapped my own forehead. Why is it OK for men to determine they'll never want kids and have an elective surgery, when no one believes a woman will truly never have kids, and so it's not an easily accessible option? Shouldn't both surgeries be equally elective? I'm livid right now.

Carolyn Hax: Yes, which is why the place people should start is with women's advocacy groups.

But two things I hope will cool your rage some: 1. I'm not sure-sure the two surgeries aren't equally elective. I've merely gotten the impression they aren't--both anecdotally and through cursory reading on the subject. The husband could very well also be turned away based on his age. 2. That a vasectomy is merely less invasive could contribute to the disparity.

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Salem, Ore.: Time to go home!!

Carolyn Hax: Right you are. Thanks everyone, happy weekend, and type to you next Friday. Probably. Since nothing is certain and all.

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Re: Reproductive: Vasectomy is reversible (not sure but I think 95%) and thus a "duh" solution.

Carolyn Hax: I saw a percentage in the high-90s, too, but it's also an expensive procedure and not one necessarily to be treated as an easy solution. (The type of vasectomy matters, for example.) Some tubal ligation can be reversed, too, though I don't believe it has the same success rate. Basically it's a more invasive procedure, potentially doubled, that makes TL a bigger deal than a vasectomy. That's without any accounting for bias.

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