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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 13, 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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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn, thanks for writing about a more-common-than-you-think family drama. I'm 21. Three months ago, my mother told me that I have a younger half brother and sister because my dad had started a second family while my parents were in the middle of a nasty divorce. Everyone in my dad's family knew about this second family but I had to learn about them when I met them at my grandfather's funeral. The mother who wrote the letter should respect her daughter and tell her the truth. Also, respect your daughter's decision if she wants to meet her half sister. Nothing makes a bad family situation even worse than having to lie to your parent about your desire to come to terms with one of the family skeletons.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for weighing in, and I'm sorry about your epic blindsiding.

The mother should also be prepared to help her daughter if the half-sister doesn't share the desire to make contact--one of many possible outcomes.

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Washington, D.C.: The question from the mother who wasn't sure how to tell her daughter about her half-sister really resonated with me. My mom had a child by a previous marriage and I found out when I was in my twenties accidentally through another relative. I would strongly encourage the mom to break the news, without finger-pointing, to her daughter herself so she can tell it in her own way and so that the daughter doesn't have the added question of "why didn't you tell me?" She might be surprised at how understanding her daughter might be. I think that the experience of 'fessing up was more traumatic for my mom than it was for me.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the alternate viewpoint. I'm not sure yet whether I agree but it's definitely worth considering. If the mother does forge ahead with the disclosure, though, she should keep to herself the part about the father's wanting to break the news himself.

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Too much work? : How much work is too much work in a relationship? We were friends before we started dating. It's been six months dating with of "I feel, you feel" conversations, issues, and some good times. One of my friends commented that I just seem to get more stubborn rather than the relationship bringing out the best in me. When is it time to say when?

Carolyn Hax: When it brings out a side of you that you don't like, that's usually your cue. But to make sure you aren't tossing out a potentially good relationship lightly, you could try consciously being less stubborn, just to see what happens--in other words, don't try to win or be right all the time, just try shrugging instead. Maybe you'll find you like both of you better that way. Since the alternative is probably breaking up with him anyway, you really have nothing to lose.

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Dating: I believe that the beginnings of dating should be fun and that marriage should not be at the forefront of your mind. You should be discovering if you enjoy spending time with the person. I don't like to bring up serious lifelong issues at this stage of dating. However, at some point though, I think that more serious issues need to be discussed (ex. religion, children, etc.). At what point do you think these subjects should be brought up? At what point in a relationship do you think you should evaluate whether someone is marriage material and decide whether to get more serious. (I am in my late 20s). Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: What kind of sicko does it make me that the discussion of more serious issues (religion, children, etc.) IS fun?

Sure, that at the exclusion of other topics can be exhausting and dreary, but mix it in with sports, movies, gossip and news, and that sounds like a great conversation. So I guess that's why I don't think there's such a thing as a "point" where you talk about these things. You just talk, and you see how well you talk, and if you always talk without getting to any of the things essential to who you are, then that in itself is probably telling you this doesn't have marriage potential.

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Re: "half" siblings: Am I missing something..why would it matter? Sure I would want to know if my parents had other children running around out there, but as far as having a relationship with them after 20 odd years. Does the fact that you share DNA really make that necessary? For me my sister is my sister. If I found out tomorrow that she were not biologically my sister that would not change a thing. To me family is who you grow up with and have in your life, not just DNA.

Carolyn Hax: Almost persuasive, but then I think--what if this sibling you learned about shared both parents? What if this sibling were your twin? Identical twin? That's still nothin' but DNA, right? But you can't tell me then you'd pass on a chance to connect.

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Denver, Colo.: After a 10-year marriage that blossomed into a dysfunctional one over time, how does one recognize a good relationship? I have met someone who has all the qualities I loved in my ex, but who also posseses the qualities he lacked. He brings out the best in me, has made me a priority in his life and treats me like a queen without resenting me for it. Granted, the relationship is still very young (1 month) but other than just trusting my instincts how can I know that this is a good relationship for me? I'm introducing him to a couple of friends this weekend (I've already met a few of his) and look forward to their responses.

Carolyn Hax: No! Don't!

I mean, okay, what they say might be interesting, and if they all notice he speaks in tongues and carries an ax with him wherever he goes, then you would be wise to heed their warnings. But you've been with the guy one (1) month and you're an inventory of self-doubt. More than anything, you need time to get to know this guy, lots of it, enough to give you and your instincts a chance to get on a much friendlier basis.

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And babies make fights: Big sis and I have competed all our lives for our parents' attention. Weddings two months apart, etc.

I was secretly thrilled when I got pregnant first, less thrilled when she announced her pregnancy less than a month later.

That was five months ago. We just found out she's having twins.

Whimper.

Carolyn Hax: Sympathy: 0

Please grow up before you start acting out this nightmare through your kid. Babies are people, not revenge props.

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Bethesda, Md.: Do you think it's ever OK for a couple that parted as friends (i.e. no lying, cheating, abuse, or nastiness) to have a second go at things? Or does the very fact that you broke up once mean you really shouldn't be together?

Carolyn Hax: Of course it's okay sometimes. If the fact that brought about the breakup is unchanged, though, the prognosis doesn't look good.

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Richmond, Va.: I have to say, hearing from others that I'm not the only person out there with wayward "half" (or whole, or quarter...) siblings/family members is therapeutic in itself. Brings a whole new light to "normal."

Carolyn Hax: Happy to help. The whole "normal" thing strikes me as the love child of denial and wishful thinking anyway.

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Roseville, Minn.: A comment -- I generally enjoy greatly your responses, and I realize they are composed on the spot, but please do not label "speaking in tongues" as something weird, like, carrying around an axe. Just a thought, from a "tongues speaker" who does not even own an axe. There are something like 500 million Pentecostal "tongues speakers" in the world today. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: And there are woodcutters who carry around axes and are perfectly excellent folks. But when the two are combined, aren't we allowed to be concerned?

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Queen Schmeen: Maybe it's just a figure of speech, but "treats me like a queen" gives me the heebie jeebies. If you're being treated like a royal, you're not being treated as a real person OR an equal.

Carolyn Hax: Clap clap clap clap

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Carolyn Hax: Though it could be "treats me with care and respect," and she just reached for the closest cliche.

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Re: Denver, Colo: "...treats me like a queen without resenting me for it."

That sentence alone spoke volumes. I think she might be more damaged than she thinks she is. I agree that she needs a lot of time with this new person, but maybe some of that time should be spent alone, getting to know herself again. I get the feeling that she's waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Carolyn Hax: Excellent point, thanks--one I should have picked up on myself.

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"Not manly enough": What's UP with that? An ex-friend took a shot at my boyfriend once, telling me he wasn't "macho enough to be interesting." I tried to get her to explain what exactly she meant, and it came down to the fact that he's polite, he reads books, and he doesn't fart audibly in public. Apparently these "feminine" traits outweigh the football obsession, the black belt in karate, the car lust, the weakness for burgers and fries, and his other stereotypically manly traits, and therefore he's really secretly, you know...a girl. Why can't we all just be the hell who we are?

Carolyn Hax: Rarin. Just stay out of your local library when the Audible Public Farters meet.

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No way, no how: Speaking of things you need to tell your kids ... at what point do I 'fess up to my (now teenage) children that I once appeared in a highly publicized magazine half-nekkid? Eesh.

Carolyn Hax: How'd you look?

There's a chance they'll think it's cool, but if you wait till they're late 20s, that chance will have grown significantly.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn, I am in the midst of post break up depression -- among other reasons for depression. I know I made the right decision, but I miss him. And, I know it will get better with time, but how do I get through this period when it's not better, when I am constantly crying, when the loneliness is palpable. I need to bridge the gap -- any advice?

Thanks. And, for what it's worth, I've got a half brother and he's a real stinker... but I love him anyway.

Carolyn Hax: You're getting the depression treated, I hope ...

And while you wait for time and treatment to show results, you make a concerted effort to do things that make you feel good in uncomplicated ways. I.e., you take meticulous care of yourself (no down side to that); you do nice things for other people (negligible down side); you take intellectual refuge in books, movies, art, music (no down side); you see friends to whom you don't have to apologize or explain yourself. And, you avoid things that give you a quick high followed by a downer--binge eating, drinking or spending; seeing high-maintenance people; calling exes; getting a drastic haircut.

Hang in there.

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For Bethesda: For the poster thinking about getting back together, I would share my sister's advice to me when I was in the same situation: "Only if you really love him." Unfortunately, I didn't listen!

I got back together w/ex because I thought, "I can try HARDER this time! Being with someone I already know I don't love is better than being alone! Maybe he won't be so annoying this time around! And maybe I'll fall in love with him THIS time."

Though we were friends after the first breakup, I REALLY hurt him the second time, something it's been very hard to forgive myself for doing. Because I should have known better.

Carolyn Hax: My thanks to both of you.

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Re: no way, no how: Google yourself if you haven't already! You don't want to make a decision to tell them when they're older, only to have them accidentally stumble upon your pictures on the internet.

Carolyn Hax: Oh duh. Thanks.

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Texas: My wife and I are going to her 20-year high school reunion in two weeks. I hate small talk, but I adore my wife. Even more so now that she's given me permission to lie about my job -- with increasing gusto -- to every new person I meet.

Carolyn Hax: You do sound like a fun pair, but why are you even going?

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Therapy again: From the person who asked about therapy last week... what do you do when your parents both have mental health related degrees and therefore think that 1. If there was anything wrong with you, they'd see it. 2. They can do any therapy you need. 3. You feel like you'd be letting them down by actually having a problem. 4. You live at home, despite being in your early 20s, and are therefore stuck with them knowing what goes on in your life.

Carolyn Hax: Get out! Get out!

Sorry, that was involuntary. 3. You wouldn't be letting ANYONE down if you had a problem, because EVERYONE HAS PROBLEMS. Usually the people with the most spectacular problems are the ones who think they don't have any and/or think they can handle them all just fine by themselves, thanks. 4. Whatever you can do to nudge yourself toward independence, start doing it. That'll be therapeutic unto itself. 1. This isn't about them, it's about you. Repeat as needed. 2. If you don't want to talk about your parents TO your parents, then you're probably healthier than you give yourself credit for being.

If you have access to a professional opinion that you could seek discreetly, affordably and extrafamilially, please, do help yourself.

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From another post break-up depressed person: How do you know when you need treatment for the depression? I am sad about the break up and I sort of got back together with the ex for a physical thing for a while this summer before he moved away. Now I miss him. We still talk. We still flirt. But there is no relationship there. I'm very sad about this. But I don't think treatment would help. don't you just have to feel sad about some things?

Carolyn Hax: Of course. It crosses a line into an illness only when it starts to interfere with your basic functioning--sleeping, eating, working, concentrating--for more than a short period of time.

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Excuse Me: Did I miss the memo announcing that it's rude to say "excuse me"? This morning a woman was blocking my way, and I said "excuse me" as I squeezed past her. As I walked by, she called ahead, "Oh, you're in such a big hurry, you're so important." What was I supposed to do? Not go to work today because a person was standing in the path to my building? (Not that I'm working very hard.)

Carolyn Hax: I think you're supposed to wait till the person moves--but most people won't heckle you if you don't. Some people are just angry.

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On pettiness and pregnancy : My wife did something terrible (not cheating-terrible, but terrible nonetheless), then by her own admission waited till we were pregnant to tell me about it, so I "couldn't get too mad" at her. I'm by no means abusive, but it was bad, what she did, so she's right to think I wouldn't be an especially pleasant person to deal with were i not afraid of how my anger would affect the baby.

I'm sorely, sorely tempted to use your "Grow up, please," but I know even that'll send her into hysterics.

Carolyn Hax: Picture one of those Anne Geddes photographs with babies as flowers or bees or something (since real men know who Anne Geddes is), except in this one it's 10 babies and they're spelling out C-O-U-N-S-E-L-I-N-G. Please. We're begging.

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Martinsburg, W. Va.: Hi Carolyn,

I hope the mother can find a way to tell her daughter the truth. In my case, my mother had a child "out of wedlock" as they called it in those days and put the baby up for adoption. My mom died when I was nineteen, so she never told me. My sibs and I found out after our Dad died, and now there is no one to ask. I know it must have torn her up, because she saved the hospital record, a note with the babys name, and an old advice column about how hurtful it could be for an adopted child to find their birth parents. I can only look at it in the context of the times (early 50's) and know that's the way it was done then. I would like to find a website where adoptees are looking for their birth parents -- maybe by some wild cooincidence she's looking for us too. Do you know of any? thanks, love your column

Carolyn Hax: Thank you. I'm all choked up over here. I'm sure I will hear from a bunch of people who know the protocol and/or Web sites, but I think the fact that you have the hospital record is huge. If the hospital is still around, call the records office; if not, try the city hall where it was located. Dig, and I think you'll eventually find. Good luck.

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Columbia and Depression: It is a classic sign of depressed people to think that others might benefit from help but their depression is just beyond help.

Go talk to someone. What can it hurt? Seriously, what can it possibly hurt to go talk to someone who might be able to help you.

Carolyn Hax: Just an ego and a preconception or two, assuming the therapist is qualified. It is important to choose carefully.

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Portland, Ore.: I am so upset and could really use some input.

My fiance and I have been "experiencing" home construction for the last four months straight. The home is mine, I bought it last year as a fixer-upper (before we were engaged, but we had dated for a good while). The home's theoretical value skyrocketed in one year, but it was really considered unresellable until some major issues were addressed (and they needed to be addressed relatively soon). I took advantage of the theoretical equity gain and refinanced to do the repairs, but since I was still on a budget, I knew I'd have to do a lot myself. I should note that buying a fixer wasn't really a choice -- this was the best home I could buy for the buck in this market, as I don't have a ton of money.

Anyway, I did not involve my fiance in much of the construction planning, in part because he wasn't my fiance at the time, but mostly because he's not an involved kind of guy. He's really laid back, often expresses that he has no opinion, so I just proceed...

The construction has gone well this summer, the relationship has not. I have done the bulk of the work, which is what I had basically planned on since I knew this was sort of my deal, and because my fiance has a very difficult job that precludes him from being home a lot. He has helped out about 10 days since we started. Each time, I TOTALLY appreciated it, because I bit off more than I could chew and really needed his help in each of those instances, and I knew it was a major time and energy sacrifice for him.

What frustrates me, though, is that he has spent almost the entire summer complaining -- complaining every time he has helped me, complaining about the mess, complaining that his summer has been ruined, complaining that he just wants to relax, and so on. On one hand, I completely empathize, because my summer, too, has been "ruined" by all this work. On the other hand, I feel like this house is a real financial opportunity for us -- one that he not only doesn't seem to "get" and doesn't seem to value, but has the gall to complain about!

I also feel that in the few times he's helped out, he's managed to be pretty damn rude -- once he left me hammering on the roof because he needed to "do a few errands" -- he came back six hours later after spending the afternoon at the bar. His parents are now in town for his birthday and for our open house, which is supposed to be on Saturday. I spent an entire day cleaning in anticipation of these events; last night I came home from work and he had decided to throw himself a birthday party. All of his friends, which were supposed to come on Saturday, were partying in our yard and my house was trashed -- beer bottles everywhere, a kitchen FULL of dishes. His mom freaked that I was upset, and cleaned up for him.

I love the guy and appreciate so many things about him. But I feel like he's got a strong immature streak -- that he's ungrateful for a lot of what he's been given by others. He thinks that I excel at ruining his good times and special moments. I'm strongly reconsidering this marriage after last night -- this broke my spirit totally. Am I out of line, or missing something?

Carolyn Hax: You're missing that at his birthday party, you're the one who got the gift: crystalline insight into his (complete absence of) character. All that, and equity too.

I realize it's hard to recognize a throat-punch as a gift, but you will, when it stops hurting. Love is a precious commodity only when it doesn't make your life worse. Just don't dump him when you're both on the roof.

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Indiana: Please answer today, if at all possible. I am in the throes of a giant funk. Two months ago, I lost my job on the one-year anniversary of the date I lost my job last year--both situations out of my control. Last year, I did some contract work, but it took me four months to find a full-time gig and this time, there are no contracts to work, so I am at home feeling worthless while I search and interview. In my field, jobs are not especially prevalent, so I know the search will take a little time. But I am running out of money and just found out my car needs some expensive work. To top it off, also just got dumped by a new BF, but one I really liked in a most unceremonious way. It was the last straw. I am the cheerleader amongst my friends, and so when I had my spectacular 3-hour crying meltdown to my best friend last weekend, she was a bit shocked. I have since cried A LOT and talked to a couple of other sympathetic friends, but no one can really help me. Can you please tell me what to say to them? I know they love me and they want to help, but hearing "it could be worse" or "you aren't the only one this has ever happened to" is REALLY not helping me feel better. I am scared and insecure right now and I just need a hug, not platitudes.

Carolyn Hax: "I am scared and insecure right now and I just need a hug, not platitudes."

It sucks to have to spell it out, but I think you'll feel better when you do. Remember, too, that the platitude-spewers do care, they're just goofy at it. Most people are. Sorry about your bad run of luck.

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Excuse me?: Wait a minute. I'm just supposed to wait while someone stands in the way with no sign of moving? I don't think so. I think a polite "excuse me" is fine and prefereable to someone just standing there waiting while someone jibber-jabbers or whatever.

Carolyn Hax: Speaking of angry people. Do you realize there was no indication that the person wasn't moving?

Obviously, if a person is growing roots, you squeeze by. But I think "excuse me" followed by a beat to let people move, vs. excuse me as you plow, is the more polite way to go. Except on the Metro, when all beats are off.

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Arlington, Va.: My dad and my mom keep pestering me about not having a boyfriend. I am a happy 26-year-old with several hobbies including piano playing and training for a marathon. Being single never crosses my mind except when my parents bring it up. Should I take my parents advice and try to date people, eventhough I am happy?

Carolyn Hax: (sobbing noises.)

No, you should not succumb to parental pressure to date people you wouldn't otherwise be moved to date. Ask them which they'd prefer, no boyfriend or a boyfriend you don't like?; say okay, thanks, will do, and then do nothing; change the subject, the more absurdly the better.

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RE: Washington, D.C. (again): Not eating and not sleeping is a normal part of bereavement; what is "a short time"; that's a very individual thing...

I went through this, lost about 15 pounds (ever hear of "the break-up diet"?), lasted about six months, got better. Without Prozac.

This society is very quick to label anything but "happiness" as pathological and unbearable (for anything but "a short time"); the mourning period used to be recognized as lasting a full year! We were more fully human then, in my opinion.

Carolyn Hax: I appreciate what you're saying about letting nature run its course, but the whole "We've pathologized unhappiness" arguments are my red flag for people who are opposed to mental-health care. Define "then"--when we locked up people with perfectly treatable brain-chemistry imbalances? You see "more fully human" (whatever that means--I tried an SSRI when I was depressed and I still felt pretty exquisitely human, thanks); I see "bad old days." You got better, that's what matters--not -how- you got better.

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Excuse Me: I think tone of voice can matter a lot here. "Excuse me" can be said cheerfully, implying "just let me squeeze by here", or nastily, implying "why are you taking up space and oxygen and daring to get in MY way"

Carolyn Hax: True, but even "tone of voice" can be affected by the beholder. If it's uttered by someone in a hurry, e.g., it will evoke sympathy in someone predisposed to be sympathetic, and anger in someone predisposed to be snitty. So it seems everyone benefits if we find a way to be predisposed to be sympathetic, don't you think?

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OH MY GOD, I DO KNOW WHO ANN GEDDES IS!: And I'm a man! So I have to kill myself now, right? Or is it OK because I couldn't quite place the name until you described her photographs?

Carolyn Hax: No no--the proper response is, "I'm a man, I know who Anne Geddes is, and I won't apologize for that."

Of course this is just the way a woman thinks a manly man should think, but I'll leave that out because I don't want you hurting yourself.

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For Portland: Yikes, just read what you wrote and translate it into years of marriage: "his mother cleaned up for him." That will be you. He's a big ungrateful kid and you spoil his fun. It's got to be hard, but listen to Carolyn--run, and be grateful you got the kick now.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the his-mother-cleaned-up catch. A couple of you wrote in with it.

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www.adoption.com: is a really good place to start - good luck! I'm a birth mom recently reunited with my 34-year old daughter who was looking for me; she is also happily acquainted with her half-siblings, all of whom knew she existed most of their lives, since I always hoped she would be part of my life again one day.

Carolyn Hax: Can't vouch for it myself, but I can post it and let anyone interested do the legwork. Thanks.

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Fixer upper: Complete absence of character? I don't understand. Obviously these two are a terrible match, but I don't understand why he is required to support a project that is not his own, and that he did not ask for.

Carolyn Hax: djghkfjg'l kfglqkh dfhakal'jhb'

The office keyboard (vs. home keyboard) feels different against my forehead. Bet the cubicle walls will be a spongy improvement over plaster.

I could argue he did "ask for" the project by getting engaged to her whilst it was already underway--just as you'd probably agree someone "asks for" childrearing responsibilities by getting engaged to someone with kids. This was the bed he was going to lie in, so seems to me anyone of substance would pitch in--even just financially, if the work was such a grim prospect.

But even if we stipulate that he didn't ask for the house mess--he certainly shouldn't spend even a second complaining about it when it's clear his fiancee, the person he supposedly loves, is working like a dog--not to mention, working to make a home--FOR THEM BOTH. And certainly he shouldn't agree to help only to be rude about it and/or abandon the job before it was finished.

And he -threw himself a party- and wrecked this annoying grueling four-month project he didn't agree to take on but was fine with using for his own enjoyment.

!!!

Maybe you just skimmed the question--?

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Bethesda, Md.: So, how much do you think childhood things really affect a person? I was sort of molested by several people when I was younger. There was no intercourse or anything really bad, just some inappropriate touching. I doubt anyone even remembers it excpet me (I'm still pretty close to the perpetrators), and then only very rarely. But I'm rather averse to being touched now, except by certain people who I know and trust. I'm not even sure if what happened to me would qualify as abuse. Maybe it was childhood sex play? Is that just a normal thing little boys do to little girls?

Carolyn Hax: "Childhood things" can be a gnat to one person and an elephant to another. What matters is, you're averse to touch and you're unhappy about that. Please get some solid referrals and talk to someone about this.

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Re: parents and boyfriend...: One day, in my early twenties, my sister said to me: I think you should date more. And I responded: me too. And she was kinda floored - cause, like, what was I supposed to do now? Ask every boy I saw to go for a drink? Take out a billboard at times square? Tell your parents to stuff it - in nicer terms - and do what makes you happy.

Carolyn Hax: If you're smiling when you tell them to stuff it, does that qualify as nicer?

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Bathroom etiquette: Anyone else find this wierd?

In men's bathrooms (from what I understand), there is an unwritten rule that men do not use the stalls/urinals directly next to someone else unless they have to. Why is it that in an otherwise empty women's bathroom with 6 stalls, it is not unusual for a woman to set up camp in the stall next to mine? I find it unnerving especially since the bathroom is the one place I can go for a moment of peace and quiet.

Carolyn Hax: That's what I'd find unnerving.

Since there's a visual barrier that isn't there in men's rooms, I figure women just use the one that's closest, that suits their habit, or that isn't gross. But, then, given how many of our deepest, most private weirdnesses probably go into the decisionmaking process, it's probably best if you just think happy thoughts and/or find another peaceful place that isn't so easily violated.

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MN: Buying the fixer upper was a choice. She could have rented. It's her boyfriend's choice not to be excited about her project. It sounds like hell to me.

Carolyn Hax: Getting engaged to her was a choice, too.

Plus: "Not to be excited" is not the same thing as constant whining, wrecking the place and getting bailed out by Mommy. Meanwhile, on the marriage trajectory, this doink is going to benefit from, possibly profit from, her hard labor. Don't make me test out my cubicle walls.

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Related to today's column: I have a half-sibling that my father told us all about more than 10 years ago, when said sibling was still a baby. My parents' marriage survived my dad's affair; however, my mom was (probably still is) understandably very hurt. I want nothing to do with my dad's former mistress; however, I wouldn't mind reaching out to her child (who's a teenager now; I think). I told myself that I'd contact him when he's an adult, and I wouldn't have to go through his mother -- someone I know my mom can't stand. However, I'm wondering if reaching out to my half-sibling would also hurt my mom. I don't want her to feel more betrayed by my willingness to accept this kid. Should I just give up any idea of reaching out to him for my mom's sake? My loyalty is definitely with her.

Carolyn Hax: Have you talked to her about this? By contacting the child, you'd be reaching out to another member of the party of innocents--and so, rationally, there's no betrayal in that.

I say "rationally" knowing full well that not everyone can be rational in a situation like this. But I'd hate to see your carefully reasoned quest derailed be someone's refusal to set old wounds or anger aside.

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Party Dressing: I had this happen and not sure what to make of it. Thought maybe you'd weigh in on this. We were invited to go to a cocktail party at someone's home. My husband asked a woman friend of his who was also going to the same party what she would suggest wearing (on my behalf, since we don't go to many cocktail parties). She said jeans and a nice shirt. I wore black jeans and a nice sweater...I thought I looked appropriate, sort of similar to what the hostess had on. My husband's friend showed up in a beaded, sleeveless top, pencil thin black skirt, hose and beaded slingback pumps. I was a bit floored.

Carolyn Hax: I suppose she could have said, "I plan to overdress but your wife could wear jeans," but that probably would have floored you more than what she did say and do. She gave you accurate advice, so try to resist second-guessing. She could also have had another party after this one.

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Seriously?: What is with all the people defending immature house-wrecking sounds-like-he-might-have-a-drinking-problem dude?

Carolyn Hax: I have no idea. Check this one out:

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Forget the finger pointing!: Clearly these two are not ready to get married to each other. Whether or not either of them is ready to get married period is sort of irrelevant because they're clearly not communicating effectively and they definitely don't have the same values for building (heh) a life together. Doesn't matter whose fault it is, but it's not going to work.

Carolyn Hax: Granted, there will be a point at which blaming will not be productive and she'll need to move on for the sake of living a life that better suits her. But when she's in the process of assessing what she has in order to decide what does suit her, and assessing her own role in that she does and doesn't have, I think it's just fine to identify and call out lousy character. If nothing else, it'll save her from rationalizing, "Well, he didn't want the house, he kind of had it dumped on him ..." only to realize in 10 years that he's still letting her do all the work, while he's the self-appointed VP in charge of complaining, on projects they took on together, like raising kids.

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Washington, D.C.: The DC Rape Crisis Center (www.dcrcc.org) would be a good start for information about childhood sexual abuse. They also offer free counseling.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

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Fixer-upper: She may be a totally obsessive workaholic nag, too; you're only getting her side of the story. Taking an afternoon off (from a project someone else volunteered you for) to enjoy life doesn't seem like a crime to me; she probably drove him to it. As for "complaining," I say he gets points for at least doing it, even if his mouth gives away his true feelings about being drafted.

Carolyn Hax: This is mind-boggling to me. I've had 9.5 years of reminders that I only get half of the story, if that much, but ... HE SAID HE HAD TO RUN SOME ERRANDS! He didn't say, "I'm burned out, I need a break, can I grab anything for you before I go?"

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House-Wrecker:: That woman's fiance didn't even offer to clean up his own mess when he trashed what is soon to be -their- house. Mommy had to step in? I'm floored by that alone. If she wanted to live surrounded by beer bottles she would have bought an old frat house as her fixer-upper.

Carolyn Hax: More ...

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Time for some bacon pants!!: TO the gal with the ruined house. They'd make a nice parting gift for the dumped fiance.

Carolyn Hax: And ...

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Seattle, Wash.: Arrrgh. He said he "had to run some errands" and sat in a bar for six hours. He could have said at any point, "you know, this isn't my thing, I don't want to do this." and they could have used it to discuss what each of them wanted. And then his mother cleaned up after him.

Carolyn Hax: And.

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Anonymous: Is this chat still on?

Carolyn Hax: No. It's over. Fttt. Done. Thanks everybody. Type to you next week.

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Re: Party Dressing: The recommendation of "jeans and a nice shirt" makes me think that the friend misunderstood and told the husband what she thought HE should wear.

Carolyn Hax: Ahhhhh. That makes sense.

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