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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 8, 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 an 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.

Note: Save your holiday questions for the Dec. 15th Holiday Extravaganza!

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Washington DC: Hi Carolyn,

Concerning our man, Troy (from Sunday's column), I think we should add, "And if you DO meet him, be sure it's in a public place."

Yay or nay?

Carolyn Hax: Absolutely--public, busy, daylight, after telling a couple of people where you'll be with whom. Obviously with most people this will turn out to have been a ridiculous excess of precautions, but it's the one person who pays for not being careful who makes this into standard and necessary advice.

Glad you brought up Troy, by the way. I got some thoughtful emails in response to that column about what does and doesn't make sense about online dating--mostly picking up that the writer was making things weird and difficult by stalling so long on meeting the guy. My main concern was that the writer didn't feel comfortable with this guy, and that trumped what might be standard operating procedure in another situation. But I'm going to dig up one or two of those responses, just to throw them out there.

Oh, and hi everybody.

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Carolyn Hax: Hi Carolyn:

I almost always agree with your advice, and almost never strongly disagree. But, in the case of your first letter in Sunday's paper (in response to the girl who had been talking with a guy she met online for two months), I found myself saying aloud, "No!" to your response.

Here's the thing. I have done my fair share of internet dating (on and off of a couple of different sites over a number of years). Waiting two months to meet someone is a LONG time no matter which way you slice it. For the guy to start asking to meet this girl is hardly unreasonable. The main thing I have found in my internet dating is that you can get along with someone great over email and phone, but nothing replaces in-person chemistry, and that can be assessed in a number of minutes over coffee or a quick lunch. When the in-person chemistry is not there, and I have invested a lot of time in lengthy emails and phone conversations, I always feel like a doofus for having wasted so much time. It's just the cold, hard truth: you don't know until you meet the person. In this girl's case, I understand that the guy would start pressing to meet her at this point; I would probably have given up long ago if I were in his position!

As to her fear that some online meetings go very badly, horror stories, etc., my response is simply that either he will be a psycho now, or he will be a psycho in 4 months when she actually meets him. She decided to take that risk when she entered the online dating world--how would you ever meet someone if you were always afraid of that? And if she suspects he might be an oddball, why spend 2 months online and via phone figuring that out? In any event, I have never heard of anyone being accosted from a coffee shop in mid-day.

My advice to her would be to tell her to buck up, bite the bullet, and meet the guy, or else cut proverbial bait. They have both invested a lot of time at this point--how long does she intend to drag this out? He's not proposing marriage--he just wants to meet her. I just don't think that is too much to ask.

Well, there's my unsolicited two cents for you.

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San Francisco, Calif.: I'm thinking about quitting my $80,000-a-year job, which I don't particularly like, to take a $30,000-a-year job that I think I would really, really love. My wife thinks it would be a mistake, but she would support my decision if that's the decision I make. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: Why does your wife think it's a mistake? This is so important I'm not sure I can answer you without knowing. E.g., if she thinks you're unhappy about something else and changing jobs won't fix the underlying problem, then I think you need to at least thoughtfully rule out her concerns before you do anything. Or, if the $50,000 pay cut would introduce significant money stress, then I think you need to take mutually agreed-upon steps to head off that stress before you leave your money job. This can be a lot more complicated than, yahoo, go find your bliss (although that may in fact be the answer).

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Fairfax, Va.: I recently broke up with my boyfriend of a year-and-a-half. Long story short, I broke up with him because I didn't feel that he loved me anymore. I was kind of hoping that, in the aftermath of the breakup, he'd somehow prove to me that he did still love me. He didn't. Now what?

Carolyn Hax: Celebrate your excellent decision to break up with him. You won't feel up to it for a while, but eventually you'll come around. Not everyone we love turns out to be good for us.

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Online Dating: I know a couple that met online and actually married. It is very obvious to everyone who meets the wife WHY she chose that method to find someone.

Meet people the old fashioned way. You wont have to lie and make up a response to the number one questions couples get. Of course that question is: how did you guys meet?

Carolyn Hax: Eh, just say you met online, if that's what you're going to do. In fact, that should be the height requirement for this ride--no online dating unless you're confortable saying you met your partner online.

Furthermore ... I've known plenty of people who got together the old fashioned way who still leave me mystified as to how they caught someone's eye.

Check me out, defending online dating!

As much as it bugs me, though, denouncing it as shameful and slamming the people who use it bug me more.

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Trust, USA: My boyfriend severely broke my trust and we broke up. He is volunitarily in counseling working on the issues that were behind some of his bad decisions and hopes to regain my trust.

But how do you do that? It seems like a catch-22. I don't think he can really regain my trust until we are back in a committed relationship; but I'm not going to get back together with him until I trust him (because we ultimately have nothing without trust). I see no apparent solution but other couples rebuild trust all the time.....

Carolyn Hax: You can be friends. Get to know him all over again, patiently, to see if he's someone you like, trust, want.

You can also choose not to try. If there wasn't enough there in the first place to justify a huge effort, then there's nothing wrong with saying the breakup was for the best and (genuinely) wishing him well.

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Maryland: Not saying the precautions mentioned for someone you meet over the Internet are bad, but I'm curious why people appear to have different standards for people met that way via in a bar. Like why would you let someone you met in a bar pick you up for a date, but have someone you met online meet your somewhere? Personally, I think until you have met with someone several times and have a little knowledge, you should not let them know where you live, if possible.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I think dating someone whom you met in a bar and who was alone at the time makes you almost as vulnerable. ("The Last Seduction" just popped into my mind ... a bit extreme, but, on point.) Sure, you have physical cues to work from, but that can also give a false sense of trust; handsome people make effective psychos, because they look so darn nice.

Anyway, my point is, random "people in bars" often travel in groups, and just the fact of a group--friends, colleagues, siblings--can vouch for a person. Again, they can also provide false trust, but the likelihood of that diminishes as the volume of ... um ... vouchers? goes up.

Does this make any sense at all?

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Ol' Virginnie: Hi Carolyn,

I just found out that a guy I went on one date with (and might see again) has a bit of a spotty questionable past. Do I nip it in the bud right now or give him the benefit of the doubt? I'm not looking for anything serious but at the same time I don't want to get into a situation that could have been avoided.

Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Define "spotty questionable."

In case you write back and I don't see it--if the spotty questionable thing is bad enough that you wouldn't get serious with him under any circumstances, then bail now. If it's something that could have another explanation, then the decent thing to do would be not to prejudge.

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For Fairfax, Va.: Either she did the right thing by dumping her non-loving boyfriend, or she pulled one of those dumb moves where you force someone to choose, and they never choose what you want.

I once got a phone call from an ex-gf a few months after she dumped me, and it turned into a tearful (on her part) phone call when I told her I didn't want to meet her for drinks because I had moved on. according to her, her plan had been to dump me to show me how much I actually appreciated her.

Maybe Fairfax dumping her non-loving boyfriend was the best thing to happen to HIM.

Carolyn Hax: Either way it was the right thing for her, though, because having a stunt like that blow up on her was a needed slap in the face. A third way to look at it.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

Now might be a good time to put in a plug for Gavin deBecker's "The Gift of Fear."

Haven't seen you note that one in a while. People, it's worth reading!

Carolyn Hax: Sold. Thanks.

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Peaceathome.org - NO MORE: Hi, Carolyn Went to peaceathome.org to check out something and the website pops up with a message that says "

Peace at Home is no longer in operation. Please contact the following organizations for the following information and support:

For information about or to order Domestic Violence: The Facts handbook, please contact the Boston Public Health Commission at (617) 534-2687.

For information about the Silent Witness exhibit, please contact Heather Latham at REACH at (781) 891-0724 ext. 102 or heather@reachma.org

For information about victims of publicly-reported intimate homicide in Massachusetts, please contact Jane Doe at (617) 248-0922 or www.janedoe.org"

If you covered this in your column, I missed it, but wanted to be sure you knew. THanks for all you do in trying to get people to deal with reality.

Carolyn Hax: Since we're on the subject of good resources: I did know this, thanks, but forgot to share. Thanks for making it easy for me.

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Carolyn Hax: This is really sad news, by the way. The handbook was an excellent primer on controlling behavior--it accounted for the little things that people accept as normal but are precursors to serious trouble.

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Springfield, Va.: Is it too early to bring up "bacon pants?"

Carolyn Hax: If they're fleece-lined, you might want to wear them this afternoon, but otherwise you need to wait till next Friday.

I have Pops's NBC 2006 manuscript, by the way--early indications are that it is especially awful this year.

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Re: Ol Virginnie: Hi Carolyn,

What to do when you do have a questionnable past -- like a previous felony 20+ years ago ? Should you jsut give up on finding a decent mate ?

Carolyn Hax: You should just give up on finding a mate who would never consider dating a felon, even a long-ago one. But that leaves a lot of other people to choose from.

Tons of people have things about them that make it harder to find romance--everything from chronic illnesses to burdensome jobs to piles of kids to rocky pasts. But, then, a huge amount of the complaints I get in my in-box arise from these instant, person-of-my-dreams!!!! romantic chemistry experiments, and the resulting explosions. So maybe it isn't the worst thing, having to be a little more patient for people to see what you might have to offer.

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Arlington, Va.: Speaking of resources -- would it be possible to have a standing link with this chat that leads to a list of resources like The Gift of Fear and that 800 number (1-800-safe-something)? Something along the lines of Weingarten's FAQs, only useful. Thanks!

p.s. If you really want a movie that shows the dark side of picking up people in bars, you want "Looking for Mr. Goodbar."

Carolyn Hax: Riiiight, also covers the handsome guy as the one you don't expect to be psycho.

Re FAQ, it's possible, I just haven't had time to do it. I suck.

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Anywhere USA: Do you think it is wrong to be a part of the porn industry? Not as a performer or as a model, but to open a Web site that would show porn images. There is a lot of money to be gained in the porn industry online and part of me thinks -- why shouldn't I get a part of that? It isn't illegal. It's just naked bodies. But, it also isn't anything I would tell my friends or family about or would be proud of being a part of. I have friends who are considering starting a porn Web site and want me to be a part of the venture, but I am having some trouble reconciling the thought of being a good person but also being involved in the smut industry. I would love to have the extra cash though too and am afraid I will regret it later if my friends end up rich I am still struggling to make it. How do I resolve this conflict?

Carolyn Hax: If you think it would be wrong to be part of the porn industry "as a performer or a model," then it would be wrong to profit from the efforts of these performers and models.

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Generic Friday question: Hi Carolyn-

Why do guys stay with girls who are mean, manipulative and chasing their money - even though they are in relationships where they are obviously "settling?" The girls are fine, not striking. Do guys just suck it up or are the girls really good at deceiving/manipulating?

Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Why does anyone stay with a jerk? I'm sure there are as many variations on the answer as there are people settling for jerks, but the base answer seems to be in what a person is accustomed to emotionally.

In other words, what is the guy's idea of a happy marriage? Chances are it bears some resemblance to the snakepit he has chosen to call home. People know what they know, and either can't see or refuse to see that there might be another way.

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San Francisco job hater:80K to 30K in San Francisco? Yeah, if I were the wife I'd be upset, too. 80K isn't enough to live on in San Francisco -- it's worse than D.C. Unless wife loves her highly-paid career enough to support him for the rest of his 30K job-life, I'd say that is not a great idea.

Carolyn Hax: The city is actually what got my attention. But, who knows how much money they have, or where it's stashed.

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And the check's in the mail...:"There is a lot of money to be gained in the porn industry online..."

Not by you.

The big money's been made, and as with so many other irresistible offers, what's left is a Ponzi scheme, or stuffing envelopes at home for $100,000 a year.

If you friends get rich hosting a porn site, make sure in the meantime you've done something you value. The envy will flow in both directions, but you'll be a much better person to hang out with.

Carolyn Hax: Can't vouch for this, but I hope you're right.

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Africa: What's the difference between a serial monogomist and a commitment-phobe? Do they have a remote chance in hell of ending up together?

Carolyn Hax: Lessee. Serial monogamist thinks everyone s/he meets is The One, and commitmentphobe thinks no one is (because what if the next one is, but you married this one?).

Their chances, as good as anyone else's.

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St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Carolyn,

How does a couple know when they should go to marriage counseling? My spouse and I have this one issue we keep sticking on, and it's gotten so bad that every time we try to discuss it, things get heated. We both agree that maybe seeing a counselor would help us find a solution, but the idea of sharing our problem(s) with a complete stranger makes me really uncomfortable and embarrassed. We've not been married for very long, so I feel like sharing this means admitting to some type of failure, or that we're going to be judged. Do we wait until I feel ready for it, or just jump right in?

Carolyn Hax: Obviously you need to feel ready, but please feel ready now. Do you refuse physical exams because you'd never drop your pants for a "complete stranger"? This isn't a shaming, it's health care. Drop em.

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Online only please: If it's two women dating, do you think there's something inherently screwed up about a 50+ year old dating someone who's in their mid to late 20s?

Carolyn Hax: I don't know. Do you like each other?

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Alexandria, Va.: So, according to your logic, if I go to a bar by myself to watch the game, I'm automatically suspect as a potential romantic interest?! That hardly seems fair. BTW, i'm 36. priorities for most of my friends, like watching the kids, going to Home Depot, etc., always seem to trump heading out to watch our favorite team.

Carolyn Hax: No, you're automatically suspect because you take personally things that aren't personal.

Alone in a bar, you have no bona fides. You may be wonderful, but someone who meets you will have to take care to verify that you're alone in a bar because your friends are at Home Depot/because you like to be alone/because you're a Raiders fan and not because your friends are buried in your mother's basement.

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Fairfax, Va.: I'm probably getting engaged soon and would like to use my mother's (she died two years ago) engagement ring. My grandmother found out about this and has been giving me a hard time about it. Excuses range from it's being badluck, and improper to depriving my boyfriend the proof that he can provide for me (barf). I'm at a loss for what a real reason could be but I'm wondering if it is somehow gauche.

Carolyn Hax: Can't see anything wrong with it. Maybe your grandmother's upset/grieving and the excuses are her way of (not) dealing with it?

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Took Generic at face value?: I'm surprised that you just took "generic question" at face value instead of questioning why this person feels that they're in a position to judge other people's relationships.

Or can we just take for granted that "guys" DO "stay with girls who are mean, manipulative and chasing their money" and that they're either "suck-ing] it up or ... the girls really good at deceiving/manipulating?"

You just assume that the "guy" "Generic" is talking about comes from a snakepit home, rather than wondering if its not "Generic's" problem (like jealousy, maybe?)

Carolyn Hax: I just saw it as an exasperated friend of someone in a bad relationship, but, sure, could be the questioner's jealous.

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An attractiveness mismatch -- should I work on it?: My partner of 12 years has always been a cutie, but as we age he still looks great (his prematurely salt-and-pepper hair suits him) and I'm feeling frumpy by comparison. He doesn't see it that way, of course, but I'm starting to wonder if people will think I ahem had to turn to online dating because I'm such a toad. What do you do when the outside doesn't match the inside? And when gorgeous woman/average man seems not to bother people, but the opposite draws snide remarks? Thanks for your thoughts.

Carolyn Hax: If you want to work on it, for you, then, sure, why not. Otherwise I think it's time to reorient your thinking so that you have everyone appreciating how great you must be in(side/bed/the kitchen/emergencies/real estate) for this hot dude to be so enamored of you.

Or, you could look in the mirror and cut yourself a break.

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Anywhere: You constantly speek of the benefits of communication. While I agree communication is important, I wonder how far does this go? Must one share everything with your significant other? Or can you strike a reasonable compromise in order to preserve "self"? Must we all become Mr./Ms. significant other?

Carolyn Hax: Wait a minute, who says sharing yourself means losing yourself? And, I guess by extension, who says the only way to preserve self is to hide things from people?

Everyone has private stuff. That's different from keeping secrets. Private stuff could be something from your past (non-major) that just never came up in conversation, or it could be a thought about your mate that doesn't really mean anything but would be cruel to share. It could be that someone hit on you and it made you feel good even though--or because--you'd never actually take it any further, and while you'd have no problem telling what happened, you can help but think, why would you?

Communicating, meanwhile, is about letting a person in on the relevant aspects of what you're doing/thinking/feeling. Defining "relevant" of course is the whole trick to it, but, general rule, if your mate is acting hurt or needy or distant, you might be offering up too little, and if s/he's acting bored or irritated, you might be sharing too much.

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Attractiveness Mismatch: Are you sure anybody is really saying anything, or are you just "feeling" frumpy (your words), and projecting outwards?

If its other people who are talking, their problem; if it's how you feel, do something to feel less frumpy and stop asking your partner for reassurance - one thing I hear a lot from my guy friends, confidence is attractive, or words to that effect. Not that you shouldn't be able to share fears, insecurities, etc., with him, but it sounds as though it's your issue, not his, so work on it from the inside.

Carolyn Hax: Good thought, thanks.

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Confus, ED:"Serial monogamist thinks everyone s/he meets is The One, and commitmentphobe thinks no one is (because what if the next one is, but you married this one?)."

Maybe I'm just figuring out I have an issue, but I thought a serial monogamist was someone who never dated more than one person contemporaneously.

I'd say "dated more than one person at the same time" if it didn't suggest a dating threesome.

Carolyn Hax: I was being facetious. My point was (supposed to be) that the serial monogamist gets out of one relationship, meets someone, and, bam, they're a couple--lather, rinse, repeat. Selectiveness doesn't feature prominently.

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Ann Arbor, Mich.: I have a real horror story. I met a guy in a bar watching a football game on a croweded Saturday night, and WOW we've been happily married for nine years. And WOW now he's a fan of my football team. And WOW he is supergood looking and nice to boot.

Anyhoo. Just wanted to throw in a good story. He was watching the game at the next table, sent over a beer, and asked me out. It was completely normal and nice. Good things do happen!

Carolyn Hax: I am as happy for you as I am frustrated at not getting my point across. I'm not saying everyone out there is psychotic. I'm saying that we all have ways of vetting people, consciously and subconsciously--meeting people's friends, seeing them at their jobs, meeting family members, generally establishing social context--and there are certain situations in which our usual means of vetting someone aren't available. Online dating is one; meeting someone in a public place who is unaccompanied by friends/coworkers/family (like the bar stranger who started this whole thread) is another. That's all I am and was ever saying.

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Washington, D.C.: I can not stand a female friend of my boyfriend. She is one of his better friends and so he interacts with her frequently and I see her often as well when we go out with his group of friends. She is pretentious, thinks she is everyone's intellectual superior and has a tendency to pursue men who are unavailable (read, have girlfriends/wives/etc). She possesses every negative quality you could imagine, yet because I love my boyfriend, I feel like I can not express how much I dislike her, for I do not want to put him a position where he has to choose between us. I like spending time with him with his friends and do not want to remove myself from going to social functions she may be at; however, I rarely can have a good time when she is there because everything about her rubs me the wrong way. What do I do?

(online only please)

Carolyn Hax: She sounds extremely immature. Is it possible you make her as uncomfortable as she does you?

This might be a dead-end--and if it is, write back on some future Friday and we'll revisit--but the place to start would be consciously looking for what your BF and his group of friends like about her.

I also don't think talking about her is off-limits, either. Just don't blurt out that you can't stand her/vow to avoid her/whatever. Make it the conversational version of finding things to like about her; ask what her story is, etc. Admitting she gets on your nerves is a long way from forcing him to choose between the two of you. All you have to do is be an adult about it.

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Springfield, Va.: I'm very lucky... my boyfriend tells me everyday I'm the prettiest girl in the world and that he loves me. he's always saying how special I am and how much I mean to him. sometimes several times a day. There's nothing he wouldn't do for me. So why do I want to rip his head off?

Carolyn Hax: Because it's insincere? Unctuous? Ingratiating? Because it's not the messenger you'd prefer? Because his neck is perforated?

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Arlington, Va.: For St. Paul:

"Do you refuse physical exams because you'd never drop your pants for a "complete stranger"? This isn't a shaming, it's health care. Drop em."

Please note that Carolyn's just kidding about the "drop 'em" part. Actual marriage counselers will not, in fact, ask you to get naked during a counseling session. That only happens on late-night movies on Cinemax.

Uh, or so I've heard.

Carolyn Hax: Important to clear that up, thanks.

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Percentages?: Hi, I am wondering if there are any numbers out there (percentages) on the number of people that "settle" in relationships? Is this why the divorce rate is so high?

Thanks,

Carolyn Hax: Some people aim high, date long, marry happy and then divorce. Some people settle, and celebrate their 50th with their bickering buddy. If you can tease a statistic out of that, I'd love to see it.

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To Springfield: Maybe because he's putting you on a pedestal and you're bound to wobble and fall off at some point? You're only human.... you're going to be grouchy and hurt him, simply because of htat fact. Nobody can live up to being perfect all the time. How terribly stressful.

Carolyn Hax: Right, right. Thank you.

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Phone-itis: Hi, Carolyn. A couple of my friends stay on the phone forever -- even if I clearly say that I have to go, I'm on deadline, whatever, they just seem to have no concept of time. Short of hanging up on them, I don't know what to do, and as a result I actually avoid calling them because even a quick inquiry can stretch literally to two hours. This is made worse by their habit of calling from their cell phones as they go about the business of their day, so I get to listen to them have conversations with the bank teller, the guy at Kinko's, the supermarket clerk, etc etc ad nauseam. I end up resenting them rather than enjoying them, and that's not the point of the relationship! Any suggestions, short of writing them off altogether because they can't seem to see that other people have lives, too?

Carolyn Hax: Assertiveness training? After a beat or two, follow up your "I'm on deadline," with, "Seriously, I have to hang up now, call you later (click)." Either they're thin-skinned and they were going to drive you out of the friendship eventually anyway, or they will get used to you as the person who gets off the phone abruptly.

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Re: Springfield: You want to rip his head because you have an undiagnosed illness. Seriously, if he's not insincere, then do you think that way about yourself?

My wife wouldn't hear those things either, even though they were true. Turns out she was losing her battle with being really ugly inside. She finally gave up the fight, showed what terrible things she could do/say, ruined our marriage, and is now in therapy. If she had listened sooner to her inner dialogue, she'd have realized that when your public persona doesn't match your inner persona, you need help.

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry, that sounds horrible. It's an interesting perspective though. On the one hand, maybe I have this problem, too, because if someone went on and on like the woman described in her post, I wouldn't believe it, either. "Prettiest girl in the world"? Um, no, and, gak.

But tame the compliments to the point they achieve credibility, and I think you definitely have something. There are people who can't believe compliments no matter how true, can't believe people love them, can't behave as half of a couple becasue the whole premise to them is false--and that is an invitation to treatment.

Thanks for throwing this in.

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Re Springfield: My husband sounds alot like her boyfriend. Some days I want to rip his head off... because I need space, solid conversation or something else. Basically sometimes sweet-nothings and cuddles aren't what you need.

Next time that happens, think about what it is that you would like at that moment, and tell him. Chances are, his heart is in a good place and you'd both be happier if he found out what would make you happy.

Carolyn Hax: Another good one, thanks.

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In Empathy: What is your keying speed?

Carolyn Hax: Not as slow as you think. It's my thinking speed that's suspect.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

How to deal with a relative who knows we are on the opposite side of the political spectrum and yet more and more frequently makes (stupid) remarks, including racist ones, designed to get a rise out of us? My response has always been to ignore the statements and redirect the conversation, but this year I will have to spend FAR too much time with this person and don't know if I can hold my tongue.

Carolyn Hax: Develop a canned response, and stick to it. I'd be surprised if it didn't get funnier the more times you used it.

And speaking of canned responses. Bye. Thanks for coming, and type to you next week for the holiday free-for-all (second hour). Have a great weekend.

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