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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 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 ex-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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Virginia: Am I really being selfish? I am in a wedding in February and have been in quite a few recently. This one is financially killing me -- between the dress, costs of traveling to the shower and the actual wedding, gifts for the shower, costs of hair and make-up, etc - I made a comment that I really couldn't afford a gift for the actual wedding. I did look at their registry list but there is nothing on there for under $100 and frankly, the bride has told me that she doesn't actually need any of this stuff. So... I made this comment and was lectured by a group of friends that I was being utterly selfish for not buying a present for the wedding. Which just made me grumpy because I have already put at least a $700 into this wedding, if not more, plus the time I took off from work to help her with dress fittings and all that stuff. So -- am I really being selfish because quite frankly, I have lost perspective. (ps - the bride has actually been great. No bridezilla here)

Carolyn Hax: You are not being selfish, your friends are being needlessly difficult, and in fact etiquette isn't on their side. You are present and that can indeed be your present.

I'm not sure I can let the no-bridezilla-here pass, however, after reading about makeup expenses, days off for fittings and $100-plus gifts she doesn't even need. She may be gracious, but over-the-top nonetheless.

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Cancelled Wedding Expenses?: Long story short: My ex cancelled the wedding just before it was to take place -- turns out, he had started cheating on me the month before this. Can I recover the expenses incurred from him?

Carolyn Hax: I'm not a lawyer so I can't help you with certain definitions of "can." You certainly can ask him to cover the money you lost, and he certainly should agree to it, assuming your expenses were reasonable and incurred with his consent. I'm not sure I'd make a protracted deal of it if he fights you, though; churning up new bitterness might be more costly than any financial loss.

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Sacramento, Calif.: Is there anything that can be done about social anxiety? I'm almost 40 and I still get so nervous before I go to parties or large social events, and afterword, I spend a lot of time thinking about things I said, how I acted, etc. I am so tired of this! The ironic thing is that over the years I've gotten quite good at small talk, and I can introduce myself to strangers, and I usually end up having a really good time at parties. But the before/after anxiety has just gotten worse. Do I just accept that I'm an introvert, that I'll always be anxious in these situations, or is there something I can do about it?

Carolyn Hax: This is actually a hot point in mental health care right now. Are you feeling normal discomfort, or suffering from a treatable illness? And if it's discomfort, is the fact that you may not have to feel it sufficient grounds for treating it?

I think the best answer is the one you come to with the help of a psychiatrist/therapist whose opinion you respect, and the way to establish respect is to gather a few opinions on the subject (in direct response to the feelings you describe).

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Bridesmaid: Not that I disagree with your answer Carolyn (because, I don't, not really), but it could also be argued that proper etiquette is that you give a wedding gift. It doesn't have to be something off the registry or something expensive- it can be something as simple (and homemade) as a collection of recipes that mean something to the giver or a donation made to a charity in the couple's name (it can be something small and you don't have to tell the couple how much the donation was). It may have been selfish- ok that's entirely the wrong word- maybe imprudent is better- to agree to be a bridesmaid in a wedding when you couldn't afford to be.

But that said, I agree with you that her friends should butt out and stop making her feel bad for whatever choice she makes.

Carolyn Hax: I don't think that's fair--people are invited to be in wedding parties long before there's any final tally of expenses. And there's no real amount anyone can anticipate, since some couples generate minimal expenses, some maximal, and some absorb some or all of them themselves.

As for the etiquette of gift-giving, it is clear: not necessary. I wouldn't show up at a shower empty-handed (though I could choose not to go), but, otherwise, it's a lovely thing to do when one is moved to do it--and if one is moved to give the gift of her $700 service as a bridesmaid, that is certainly a special not-off-the-registry gift. Anyone worried about appearing thoughtless can send a card or congratulatory note.

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Boston, Mass: Warning: Another wedding question.

My two best friends are both getting married on the same weekend, one in Idaho and the other in New York. One, how do I decide which one to go to? and two, how do I tell the other one I'm not going. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: You attend the one that was scheduled first. fair enough?

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W. Layfayette, Ind.: Some time ago a close friend confided that her marriage was ending, but asked me to keep this secret, which I did. Now that it is common knowledge, other friends are chiding me for not having shared this information. To me, a secret is a secret, unless someone might be hurt (e.g., domestic violence). Am I missing something?

Carolyn Hax: Friends with brains. Connect the dots for them, and explain that if they ever choose to confide in you, they'll enjoy the same fierce protection of their privacy. And if that's not good enough for them, just wait it out till something else distracts them, like something shiny on the ground.

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Left at the Altar: He should offer, but if he doesn't, she should leave well enough alone, and not only for the mental benefit. Think about how much money she saved by not marrying this guy, then having and lengthy and costly divorce. I am sure her wedding expenses were less than a typical divorce.

BUT, she also has to send back the wedding presents, and the ex has an obligation to help with that.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for weighing in.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Carolyn,

My sister got married in August and we haven't spoken since then. It's not like there's anything wrong between us -- we didn't fight or have a falling out. We just haven't talked and I'm feeling really guilty about it. Granted, a lot has been going on both of our lives -- she's working and going to school full time, I'm writing my dissertation and I just ran a half marathon. We've each left one voicemail for the other, but we're both notoriously bad about returning calls. Now, the longer we go without talking, the worse I feel and the more I dread that first call. What should I do?

Carolyn Hax: Um. call her?

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Two-fer weddings: Carolyn, you forget to tell Boston to look at the expense of getting to one of the weddings. A trip to Idaho may take more time and money than a wedding in New York. Send a personalized note and a nice present from the heart and make plans to see the Idaho couple after the wedding (when they can breathe and acknowledge that you're there)

Carolyn Hax: True, thanks. Now that you mention it, the size of each wedding could be a deciding factor, too--if one is 30 nearests and dearests and the other is worthy of its own Zip code, I could see choosing the small one, and being honest about the reason.

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Fairfax, Va.: Carolyn, this is a funny situation but I need help! I'm a newlywed (one year last month). My husband and I have no plans to start a family for a few years. Everyone in the family has been told of this decision. However, my mother-in-law has started sending me oversized clothing which can only be described as maternity clothing. I have been exchanging the clothing without her knowledge, but I'm afraid that she's going to start asking about the clothing. My husband has decided that this issue is between myself and his mother. Can I keep up the subtrefuge or should I come clean and deal with her nasty temper?

Carolyn Hax: Your husband is virually indistinguishable from a package of boneless chicken.

If she asks about the clothing, thank her for her generosity. You don't need to say, and she doesn't need to know, the exact fate of these or any other gifts.

You could, just to make yourself feel better, set a few nicer pieces aside for if/when you do get pregnant.

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For the bridesmaid: How about a nice Lenox (or whomever) bowl or a frame? They don't all add up to $100. You can find nice vases, too. Everyone can use a picture frame for all those wedding pictures!

Carolyn Hax: NO! I mean, it's a nice thought. But more stuff, to some people, is just more stuff. Sometimes the most thoughtful thing you can do, especially for someone who's already saying she doesn't need the stuff on her own registry, is refrain from giving more stuff. Card, note, photo, wine, recipes, nothing, whatever--know your friends, give accordingly.

And if you don't know the couple well and can't afford the registry, give a gift card to one of the registry stores.

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Anonymous Mother-In-Law Problem: My husband was out of town on business this week and I was sick with a cold. His mother called on Tuesday and did not leave a message (I wasn't answering the phone because I was sick). On Wednesday, she left a message that sounded distraught, but I didn't get the message until after 10 so I didn't call her back. Thursday morning, I emailed her first thing to ask if everything was okay and told her to call my office if she needed to get in touch. She called and said she was so worried that something had happened to me or that I was mad at her because she called two days in a row and I didn't call her back.

She went on and on about how she never gets to talk to me and how the weekly calls my husband makes just aren't enough. Now I just feel manipulated and cornered. I don't like talking on the phone--I call my own mom less than once a month to chat. I've tried to explain this to her and suggest that the best way to get in touch with me is via email.

Now she wants the two of us to do things together. Carolyn, this sounds aweful! Everything about my relationship with her is awkward and the idea of spending a whole night together alone is positively frightening! I don't want to have to call her and I don't want to have "girl" dates, but I sort of agreed to it under pressure.

I guess I'm hoping that someone out there will tell me that this is normal. My husband and I have been together for seven years, married for nearly five, and things still feel fake. Is there any hope for things to get better?

Carolyn Hax: Probably not, but if you can suck it up every once in a while, it would be a real valentine to your husband.

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Baby Shower Question: Hi - I am in my mid-30's and adopting a baby. (I'll be a single mom, but am financially and emotionally ready to take this on alone and have an unblelievable support network of friends and family. Still hope to be married someday, just haven't found the right guy yet.) A couple of my friends have generously offered to host a shower. My vision of the perfect shower is having all my friends there (guys and girls) and NOT sitting around opening the presents. My friends, who are usually totally informal and cool, have a more traditional shower in mind (just women, we sit around and open presents). Should I defer to their plan, since they're hosting it? I would be very bummed to not have any of my very good guy friends there (one was a reference for the adoption, others helped get me through my dad's death recently) or even my three brothers. And the concept of having everyone watch me open presents...ugh. I don't want to be selfish...but am I really stomping that badly on etiquette here? Would love your advice. Thanks. (online only, please)

Carolyn Hax: You're the guest of honor, you can certainly say you'd like it to be co-ed so you won;t be exluding your close friends. As for the gift opening, I suppose you could insist, but you could also just make it quick.

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Fairfax's Mother-in-Law: Fairfax could always donate the clothes to one of those get-women-back-on-their-feet programs.

Her MiL doesn't have anything on my friend's MiL -- when they were having fertility issues, she offered to carry her own son's baby!

Carolyn Hax: Great idea, enough that I'll forgive what will be this evening's vivid nightmare.

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Maternity clothes: Or you could just tell her they were unfortunately the wrong size so you exchanged them for something that fit. Failure to get the hint is sometimes an effective way to deal with manipulation.

Carolyn Hax: Right you are, thanks.

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But:: If you don't know the couple well, why did they invite you to their wedding.

I'm just sayin'.

Carolyn Hax: Because you're the date of someone they do know well; because you're a relative who lives far away and isn't privy to day-to-day things like taste in housewares; because you're a co-worker who knows only the cubicle version of the bride or groom--there can be lots of reasons.

I was going to quit answering wedding stuff, but it won't let me. Chatzilla.

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Oh, help, ME: Hi Carolyn,

I really, really need an outside opinion and thanks in advance if you take this question. My boyfriend did some really shady, not-OK things at the beginning of our relationship. No cheating or anything, he just wasn't being completely honest about some semi-serious things. I forgave him (or at least I thought I did) and since then we've both grown considerably. Our relationship is full of respect, support, love, laughter... with time, we've both grown to love each more than we ever thought possible.

But here's the issue -- for whatever reason, his past screw-ups keep surfacing in my mind. I don't think I ever fully let myself get angry, or feel hurt, over what he did, and now it's haunting me.

I've basically decided that I need time. Time to figure out if I can truly forgive him, and love him from here on out as the man he's grown into. Or, on the contrary, to decide that I'll never fully be able to get over what happened when we first started dating.

My close friends and family are completely divided on this issue. Some say that if this is still bothering me, after 3 years, then that's never going to change and I should cut my losses. Others say they see the way we look at each other, how perfectly we go together, and that his past indiscretions are just that -- in the past. He's admitted his faults, apologized profusely, and has been nothing but an amazing boyfriend ever since.

I think I know where my heart wants to go, but I just wanted an outsider's point of view. Sorry this was so long.

(Online only, please)

Carolyn Hax: If you still don't trust him, it's over. Does that help?

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London, U.K.: Carolyn,

I sometimes can't help but get the impression from your responses (as I did today after reading your column) that you think that any person that ever says anything in anger is somehow a crappy individual and usually also a domestic abuser. Sometimes people just say stupid things. If they do it repeatedly, then maybe there is an issue, but you don't ever seem to give anybody a break.

Life is tough. Relationships are even tougher. Maybe the answer isn't always to call a domestic abuse hotline.

Carolyn Hax: 1. I'm giving you one right now.

2. Given what I do, I have to be more careful than, say, your good friend does when you call to talk about this stuff.

3. I've been reading this stuff for almost 10 years now, and it has confirmed two things on the issue of abuse: that there are clear signs, and that people routinely ignore/rationalize/explain away clear signs (at their well-documented peril).

If someone screamed at me and locked me out, I would not be dispensing excuses or second chances, especially not to someone who has already proven to have a mean temper. Putting up with that is not gee-people-make-mistakes charity, that's a failure to take care of yourself.

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Mother-in-law: Doing something with m-in-law might not be so awful if you choose something YOU like to do. "Hey, let's go to that new book store" or "there's this knitting class I want to take." If you can find something you want to do, and she can view it as an opportunity to hang out with you, that's the good ole "two birds with one stone" thing. Plus, if it's a class, there will be other people there for her to talk to while you can just sit and listen -- and maybe learn how other people talk with her. Good luck!

Carolyn Hax: Good stuff, thanks. Maybe she'll make us some mittens.

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Northern Virginia: Carolyn, I just found out my parents are separating after 30+ years of marriage. Complete shock -- I had no clue there was anything wrong. I'm mad, confused, surprised, sad, worried... and I really need someone to talk to who's been though this. Are there any resources out there for adult kids of separated parents? Support groups?

Carolyn Hax: I don't know of any offhand, but a call to the Women's Center (proposed subtitle: That Isn't Just for Women) would be a good start--www.thewomenscenter.org.

If it helps, here's something to roll around in your mind: Marriages are complicated and surprisingly private little organisms, and almost no one can really understand one from the outside. What you've "known" all these years is only your interpretation of what you've seen. It's possible that a slight change in the interpretation, in light of what's happening now, will make the same facts make sense again.

Also, a separation now doesn't necessarily change the fact of love between them back then. This turn of events doesn't mean it was never there. Hang in there.

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Alexandria, Va.: I AM a lawyer and I say let. it. go. You will pay far more to someone like me than you would ever recover from him, plus you would prolong unpleasant contact with him... and please don't let prolonging contact be the reason to do this. I have seen so many people beat each other bloody after the break up and the clear underlying reason was they didn't want to let go, as bad as things were. People paying me my hourly rate to fight over pennies. Please, give yourself a gift and let it go. Your heart will feel a lot lighter and you will find happiness a lot sooner. (trust me, would I, a lawyer, talk myself or some other lawyer out of legal fees if this were not really true?)

Carolyn Hax: I missed this earlier, but it's good, so I'm posting it despite the risk that the Bridal-Industrial Complex will again hijack the chat.

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Long Distance....: So I'm in a relationship with a woman 3,000 miles away and neither of us are going to be moving any closer anytime soon. Should we keep stealing magical weekends away, or do we need to face reality? Moreover, how do we make the decision?

Carolyn Hax: Keep stealing magical weekends till they're no longer magical? Or at least till the magic starts to feel like it's costing too much emotionally? One of the most underrated ways to deal with indecision is just not to decide. It does get old, but, voila--natural incentive to make a decision.

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Falls Church, Va.: Re: the woman with the boyfriend she can't trust, because of past problems.

She says she's been discussing this situation with family and friends, but has she talked about it with the boyfriend? (The lingering anger and mistrust, that is, not the original indscretions.) She says that she doesn't think she let herself feel enough anger about these old problems -- maybe that means that she feels like HE hasn't sufficiently acknowledged her anger? Maybe he's behaving in some way that scratches at an old scar?

All of that said, if the bottom line is that there's nothing more to be done, and she can never trust him again, then break up. It's not fair to him to try to hold on to a situation where he can never measure up.

Carolyn Hax: Good ideas, thanks.

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Mediocrity or Hypocrisy?: Hi Carolyn,

Why do people maintain mediocre relationships for the sake of being with someone, even though they are not happy? Maybe this question can also go out to your readers...

Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: When you condense it into a neat hypothetical, it's easy to answer. Because they're all idiots and cowards, of course!

But when you pull back and include other information--for example, what their idea of "happy" is--then it gets a lot harder to answer.

For example, you know a guy who's about to marry a woman you know to be a controlling horse's [buttocks]. You know this because you have spent time with her, witnessed them together, seen the guy grow visibly stressed, heard tell of a few fights she has picked. So you diagnose it as another person who doesn't have the guts to get out of a mediocre relationship.

But then you look at some of his ways of dealing with people, and they aren't exactly evolved. And you realize neither of them has passed significant time alone. And you look around at the examples of marriage they both grew up amid, and you don't see one functioning bond in the lot of them.

And so you change your question to, how does someone rise out of the muck of dysfunction? And the answer is, with hard work and painful reckoning and deliberate awareness and a lot of dumb luck. Not everyone manages to muster all of these forces.

So I type my fingers bloody: Learn to like yourself and your life when you're alone. It's your only reliable baseline to measure a good relationship.

I hope that sounded sympathetic, not depressing.

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Washington, D.C.: I am very overweight, and have recently begun to eat very healthy and workout. I have worked in the same office for six years and no one has ever commented on my weight, which is good. However, I am worried that as my weight loss begins to show people will comment. I don't want any praise or any attention drawn to this. I am doing it for myself. How can I respond nicely so people will know not to comment in the future.

Carolyn Hax: "Thanks." No point in fighting this battle.

Congratulations--what you're doing isn't easy.

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Flint, Mich.: I'm so sad. I think my husband has a problem with alcohol. Well, I actually know he does, but I'm still a bit in denial. He won't admit it, and won't talk about it. There is a history of alcoholism in his family, which I think makes it even harder for him to deal. I know there are resources out there, I'm just a little scared to start looking for them. Creeping out of denial is hard. Can you give a girl a shove?

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry. I'd start reading--www.niaaa.nih.gov--learn whatever you can, and then start following the chain of resources.

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Am I Doing this Right?: I finally went to a therapist to treat my depression. I talk, she listens. That's pretty much it. Should she be offering suggestions, or just posing the leading question or two (which is what she does now)? I can't help but think that I'm wasting my time (and coming across as a self-obsessed whiner, which can't be fun for her.) What's this relationship supposed to be like?

Carolyn Hax: Ask her. Lay it out as you just did here. If nothing else, it'll be a great exercise in speaking on your onw behalf.

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Trying to be supportive: Dear Carolyn,

A close friend of mine is in an unhealthy relationship. His girlfriend has anger management issues and frequently ignores his boundaries. There is no physical abuse involved. I have spoken to him frankly on several occasions about the dysfunction that I see, and he has seemed to listen, but it has not changed his relationship status. I do not agree with his decision to remain in this relationship, but I have decided it's his business.

The problem is that I need help in seeing how I can be supportive to him, especially when I am listening to him describe the same fights over and over. It is hard for me to hold my tongue and not to ask why he continues to allow himself to be treated like this. I have the impulse to distance myself from the two of them, and I really don't want to, because I value our friendship a lot. What do you think? Is my role just to listen? Should I say the things that are on my mind once again? Thanks for your help.

Carolyn Hax: When in doubt (and unready to give up the friendship), go with pointed questions: "What do you think you can do about this?" "How would you like this to be resolved?" "Do you think she'll agree to that?" "What happens if she doesn't agree to that?" I think you can even ask, "Have you thought about why you allow yourself to be treated this way?" Anything that points him away from endless dwelling on the same things, and toward some kind of progress--even if it's just the progress of recognizing the problem.

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Seattle, Wash.: I'm stuck feeling sad for the mother-in-law who has been trying for seven years to get to know the person her son married. That she keeps trying, even if it's not succeeding should have counted for something in your response, I think. I am reminded of the woman who wrote you because she said something negative to her son about the woman he brought home, and he married the woman and froze his mother out of his life. I think of all I do for my son now, and I'd hate to think I'd lose contact with him if the person he ends up with doesn't like me.

Carolyn Hax: You're right, it is sad. I guess the reason I didn't flag it is that as long as the DIL isn't standing between MIL and her son, she's entitled not to have a relationship with a MIL she doesn't like. Just as, likewise, a MIL needn't feign affection for a DIL--as long as she doesn't undermine the marriage.

Pushing for a relationship despite years of failing at it could be seen as sweet and heartbreaking, or obnoxious and needy. So much of the answer is in context to which we aren't privy. So I went with throwing the MIL an occasional bone for the greater good of the family.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

I have a friend that I've known for about 30 years. His wife told my wife that they are separating, but not to mention it to anyone. I'm not supposed to know, but I feel really badly for my friend and it's really strange ignoring this elephant on the table. Should I say anything?

Carolyn Hax: No, let the news come out the way he wants it to. You can provide opportunities for him to speak up, though, in case he's looking for one.

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Depression and therapy: As a therapist who also suffers from depression (go figure!) I can offer the following to the person who wonders if therapy is doing anything for their depression.

We know more about depression than we did 25 years ago, and will know more still in 25 years. Now it's considered good to make several changes in ones life as opposed to treating depression with one thing (such as just medication, or just therapy), unless there's reason to think that that one thing will have the desired effect. Your diet, exercise habits, communication habits, sleep habits, employment experience, family experience (both past and present), these things and others can all contribute to keeping you sick, or to making you well. Don't stop with just therapy. Good therapists today will make sure you're eating healthy and exercising. If you're already doing that perhaps a trial of medication would be helpful. There are also alternative therapies (massage, chiropractic) that many people swear by, some of which might resonate with you.

It's natural when depressed to see the walls in front of you. But there are doorways, and windows too. Ask for a little more help. And good luck.

Carolyn Hax: Nicely said, thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: How do you make your heart catch up with your head? I'm in love with someone who broke my heart the first time and is utterly likely to do it again, but at the first sign of progress I melt. I know better than to be that girl who thinks he can change for her-- but I'm totally that girl who thinks he can change for her! Help?

Carolyn Hax: Try this: You aren't in love, you are in need. Discuss with self.

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Seattle, Wash.: Carolyn, I enjoy your columns and live chats so much that I'm reading my way through your archives!

One thing puzzles me: don't lesbians or gay men ever submit questions to you? If not, why not? By the way, I'm a lesbian and find your answers quite translatable to gay relationships.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. I get a lot of them. In fact, it's not unusual for me to cut the line where a questioner identifies him- or herself as gay when it's beside the point. If the homosexuality isn't germane to the issue (and if I need to bring the column down 30 or 40 words before I can file it ...), to me it's like saying, "My boyfriend and I met in Minnesota at a lakefront campground in July." I leave in the stuff that describes the problem, not what describes the scenery.

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Baby Shower Gift Opening: One of my friends did this at her (very big)shower,and I have been speading the good word ever since: Everyone at the shower selects a wrapped gift (not the one they brought) and at the same time, everyone opens said gift. Then you go around the room and everyone says things like "I opened this cute onesie from Beth" or "this adorable stuffed animal is from Steve." Whatever. People think it is weird at first, then totally get into it and think it is lots of fun!

Carolyn Hax: Whatever works, thanks.

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Don't know how to be the best friend here...: While we're talking weddings...

...I'm the maid of honor for my cousin, who's getting married soon. Oh wait, in a year. Oh wait, maybe two years. They have some stuff to work out. Gosh, they're going to elope! No, wait, it has to be a church wedding...

I'm going with a "I'm happy for you and support whatever you want to do" thing right now, but frankly, I'm strating to have serious doubts over whether she really wants to get married. I've suggested pre-marital counseling a LOT - said I wished my husband and I had done so, that I had friends who did and they were so pleased, blah blah, but so far she hasn't taken my advice.

Is there a point where I, as a friend, (and I guess as maid of honor, although I think friend covors this), say "honestly, sweetie, this is raising a lot of red flags". Or do I have to wait for her to ask me what I think?

Carolyn Hax: A one-time "Honestly, sweetie ..." sounds like just the thing. Just don't go into it with any one outcome in mind--it'll make you a better listener.

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Arlington, Va.: So, my boyfriend and I both have to move out of our current apartments within the next month. I think we should move in together: we could save money, we're planning to get married within the next year, and that way we'd save time driving back and forth for the inevitable sleepovers. He's reluctant because his parents, family, etc. all are from a different part of the world where it is still very, very verboten to live together before marriage: the kind of sexist thing that makes the girl look bad, but not necessarily the guy. So in a way he's protecting me, because neither of us is willing/able to sustain a lie, and this way they won't judge me "that way."

But I still think it's dumb. People change. People can change their minds, no matter what culture they belong to. AND it's economically dumb for us to live apart, given our salaries, and inconvenient, and doesn't make sense to me given MY CULTURE. So there.

Who's right? (me, of course) But what to DO about it? thanks.

Carolyn Hax: He's right. Don't push, get your own apartment, enjoy it, and if you're worried about the drive, live close to each other, and if you're worried about the cost, get a really small place. Whether it's his family's opinion or his own reluctance holding him back, it's reluctance either way--and you want him bursting with enthusiasm for the idea or not at all.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn, do you have any suggestions on how to de-escalate a conflict before it really gets started? My boyfriend and I sometimes get frustrated with each other over little decisions we need to make, particularly when there is time pressure, such as whether to commit to an event that one of us is unsure about. Neither of us wants to fight about these things, but we're having trouble figuring out how to smooth things over quickly. Thanks for any ideas you may have.

Carolyn Hax: Lose. When you get into conflict, try asking yourself, "What if I just lose this one battle." See how it feels. It's a great way to sort what you do and don't care about, your boyfriend included.

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Grenada, Spain: Caroline you are my last chance at help because I am truly at a loss about this very difficult question...

My boyfriend of five years recently enlisted in the military, at the same time that I embarked on a year-long job in Spain. Because he is still in training he is not able to leave the U.S., so I am planning on flying 10 hours to be with him on his one break for the holidays. Problem is, this is the only time we will get to spend together and I want to make the most of it. I am not telling my (somewhat estranged) family I am coming back because I think they will be hurt and not understand my wanting to spend my limited time with him. However, because I have very limited communication with my boyfriend, my only resource are his parents. They are helping me figure out the dates and other details about his holiday break, which I appreciate, but what do I do about telling his (fairly puritanical) parents he and I will be staying together and he won't be staying in their house? It has been a big challenge for us to get through the entire military process, supporting him and being apart. I feel I DESERVE to spend 10 days just me and him. What do I do? What do I tell his parents? I think it is his prerogative to tell them, but he is incommunicado so it is up to me.... Thank you!

Carolyn Hax: They raised him, they DESERVE him, too--if that's what he chooses. Don't apply your estrangement to his family needs.

If he chooses to be with you, that's swell, and I agree he should be the one to deliver that message. You arrange for the place that you (and you hope he) will stay, and when the time comes Son can tell Parents where he plans to be and when.

Unless you are sure of his plans and sure of his request that you break the news, in which case: "[Son] asked me to pass along that he'll be staying [wherever you're staying]."

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Carolyn Hax: Think I'll cut out early. Bye, thanks, happy weekend, type to you next Friday.

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