Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 12, 2007; 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.


Carolyn Hax: Hey everybody. I've fallen down on the advocacy job lately; the DC/MD/VA chapter of the ALS Association is holding a fundraising gala next Saturday, Jan. 20, at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel. Tickets are $150 and up, and you can get more information at If you can't make it but would like to give, the RSVP link provides for that option. Volunteers, too, are always appreciated. Thank you for any attention you can give to this worthy and difficult cause.


Columbia, Md.: I'm in my mid-40s, married over 20 years, with two children, one in high school and one in college. I'm in love with my husband and he is in love with me. He is also my best friend. I've been faithful since we were married and I believe he has, too.

Here's my problem. While we were engaged, I slept with another man several times over the course of a couple of months. It was not just a casual affair, I was very emotionally involved. My husband (then my fiance) was suspicious at the time and asked me about it and I lied and said that the other man was just a good friend. It is the only time I have ever lied to him or not told him something important. I considered calling off the wedding (I'm sure you would have advised me to at the time), but I ended the affair and got married and it turned out to be the right decision. I've never told my husband the truth about this. It's not something I think about all the time or dwell on, but I know what I did was wrong and hurtful and I do think about it sometimes.

Part of me wants to tell my husband, both because he deserves to know the truth and because I want to unburden myself, but part of me thinks that I should not tell him because it would just hurt him and at this point it doesn't matter. I think my husband would be upset and hurt if I told him, but I don't think he would leave me or do anything drastic. Any advice as to what I should do?

Carolyn Hax: If you took a long walk last night, and then you slept really well, you wouldn't have enough information to make a definitive connection between your long walk and your good sleep. But you can probably feel confident saying that if you hadn't walked you probably would have slept differently, and since it was a good sleep, the walk had something to do with it.

Now that you're all reasonably confident I've lost my mind:

You were unfaithful during your engagement, and you've since enjoyed a good marriage. While I'm not going anywhere near declaring a cause-and-effect relationship, that infidelity was one ingredient of many that created the you that has since been part of this good marriage. Please use this to put the affair in its proper historical place.

Then, leave it there. I really really don't like to come out on one side or the other in these decisions that are so clearly not mine to make, but I can't see setting in motion all the things you;d set in motion with a confession--not when even you don't have a sense of clarity and purpose. If someday those things come to you, then you can revisit your decision and chance your mind. You can't change your mind about blurting.


Portland, Ore.: Carolyn,

What does it mean to be "ex-repatriated"?

Carolyn Hax: It means all my bio do-overs have made us a little punchy. I grew up in New England, left, went back, left again.


Anonymous: So are you going to answer any questions today?

Carolyn Hax: No.


San Diego, Calif.: Re: Cheated on fiance: I don't understand the repeated admissions from people who cheat on spouses/lovers/fiances to whom they have made a commitment. Yes, passion is great, but aren't we all senscient beings with brains?

Carolyn Hax: Yes, but we're also emotional, impulsive, stupid, and occasionally beyond our own comprehension.


Massachussetts: Dear Carolyn,

I have been married for a couple of years. There's something in the back of my mind that nags me -- my husband never really believed in marriage (just not part of his culture) and I'm worried that he married me only because it was important to me... are we doomed?


Carolyn Hax: Idunno. Maybe it's a good sign that he's willing to adopt things he knows are important to you, just because they're important to you. As long as it doesn't force him to abandon a belief of his own, I wouldn't overthink it.


New Year, new me?: Hi Carolyn,

Curious for your insight: I recently lost a little weight (time for those yearly resolutions, right?) and I like the way I look and feel much better. My boyfriend loves it too, which is great but also my potential problem... now I'm nervous about sliding back. If I gain some weight back on, I'm worried about what it will do to my confidence and worse -- his attraction to me. Any thoughts for how to curb my anxiety?

Carolyn Hax:1. He may like you lighter, but he still liked you when you were heavier, too, so his affections aren't in fact pegged to your weight.

2. If you put it back on, then take it back off. You already know you can do it. You also, I presume, had a fine life while heavier? So no need to peg your confidence to your weight.

On a more technical note--body maintenance isn't onetime-this or onetime-that, be it a diet or binge or whatever. It's decision by decision, meal by meal, day bay day. If you make a bad decision, then say oh well and make your next decision a good one. If you have a bad day, say oh well and make your next decision a good one. If you have a bad year, say oh well and make your next decision a good one. And so on.

And if you're constantly making bad decisions and having bad days, ask yourself whether your methods are realistic. If you're a chocolate freak, don't set yourself up to fail by forcing yourself not to eat chocolate. Just eat a little bit when you want it.


Smug Older Couples: I've been stewing since the chat last week and I've been waiting to get this off my chest. Re: the "older" poster who said young people nowadays rush into marriage thinking divorce is no big deal. I hear this all the time, especially from smug older couples, and I don't believe it for a second. I'm 38 and never married, but of the many friends, family members, co-workers, acquaintances, etc. I've observed going into marriage, I've never met a single couple who thought this going in. Ever. Even the most ill-advised, jumped-into, mismatched, just-plain-bad-idea marriages are done with hope and confidence theirs will last. Ask any divorcee and I bet they once said "I believe marriage is forever," and I bet when they finally had to say "divorce" they didn't think it was no big deal. Sure, divorce is more prevalent nowadays and there are a ton of reasons why it's happening more than it did back in the day. But I promise you it's NOT because young people enter marriages thinking it's no big deal to end it.

Carolyn Hax: I feel better already. Thanks.


Oxford, Miss.: Man, you started today off with a bomb. I'm sure you're going to get a million conflicting bits of advice for Columbia. Here's mine:

If she wants to tell her husband only in order to make herself feel better, she shouldn't do it. That's selfish and will likely just cause him pain. Forget it. It's in the way past.

On the other hand, if she feels like the dishonesty has been an impediment to the development of their relationship (doesn't sound like the case), and she thinks they will grow closer with the admission, then she should sleep on it.

Carolyn Hax: That's pretty much what I'm hearing, actually. Less conflict than I would have thought.


Oakland, Calif.: I never really believed in marriage, either, until my longtime boyfriend pointed out all the legal reasons that it made it important for us to tie the knot. We got married but honestly, that status still isn't that important to me, aside from the legal protections it brings. I DO, however, believe in committment and monogamy. As long as the writer's husband believes in these things, I don't really think it matters what his take on marriage is.

Carolyn Hax: Well said, thanks.


Faking It: How do I fake that nothing is going on with me and get through the workday?

I really don't want to share my situation with anyone at work. But we just found out our adoption will likely not happen (but we won't know for over a year) and decided to try to get pregnant. I'm so emotional I keep almost bursting into tears. Should I just say it's something personal if anyone asks?

I really need someone to talk to about all of this and I am so afraid I might blurt it all out when someone asks me a casual "How're you today?"

Carolyn Hax: If you have a lunch break, take it and call somebody. Otherwise I'd try the opposite tack--immersion in work for sole purpose of submersion of feelings. Push till closing time; you're almost there. Then go home and freak out.


Re: Affair: What's the difference between not telling a child they are adopted and that you had an affair? Both relationships are then built on a lie even if the relationship is otherwise sound. Isn't it completely unreasonable to ask someone to build their life around you if you can't/won't be honest? It's the penultimate of being selfish. I learned the golden rule a long time ago and I sincerely think it applies here.

Carolyn Hax: The Golden Rule has a lot more gray than you may think. What if the husband would rather not know, but you would? Does that demand that you tell him, or not tell him? I think the Rule here demands that she show the same care for his life, feelings, circumstances, sense of well-being, etc., as she would for her own. She also has to apply the Rule to the kids, which could dictate a different course of action--and if it's contrdcitory to what she thinks would be best for her husband, what then?

Not that any of this points to any one course of action or another, just that it points away, strongly, I think, from pat absolutes.

Not telling someone who her parents are, and not telling someone about a two-decades-old, never-repeated mistake, may both be lies, but they're an apple lie and an orange lie.


New York, N.Y.: Fluffy-ish question. Just found out I'm pregnant and, being cautious, want to wait to the three-month mark before officially telling anyone.

However, we often go out to dinner with friends and enjoy a bottle or two of wine. So, they're going to notice when I suddenly stop drinking.

Say something, say nothing, offer a cautious statement, or just make funny faces at them when they ask?

Carolyn Hax: If they're friends you'd tell any bad news, don't be afraid to tell good news. There's no rule that You Must Not Tell Anyone Before 12 Weeks. The point is just to take care not to get so caught up in your good news that you forget that you're only at the beginning of a long process. Actually, that could apply to a lot of things, since, you know, life is, like, a journey.


Santa Barbara, Calif.: Good friend has a 19-year-old son who has a blog. Recently he has started talking about guns and the fact that he hasn't killed anyone... yet. Should I mention this to my friend? She refuses to look at his blog "to respect his privacy." I know on the surface it sounds scary, but I really believe he's just showing off to a couple of his friends.

Thanks Carolyn. Love your chats!

Carolyn Hax: Please mention it to your friend. 1. Blogs are public. 2. Parents with bags on their heads tend to hit by buses.


Poster who's adoption isn't working out --: Just a thought -- could you maybe share with someone at the office? Perhaps a trusted coworker who's also considered a friend?

I know that work and personal lives are supposed to be separate, but we're not robots, and I don't think anyone would expect smiles and cheers at such a disappointing time.

Using my own experience here -- I had a miscarriage last summer, and ended up being out for an extended period of time. I was far enough along to be showing, and people only knew that I was out. And they walked on egg shells when I got back. Finally, someone came up to me and said -- "Look, I don't know what happened, and I don't want to be nosey, but people care about you and want to make sure you're okay". And it was much easier after that.

My point is, you never know when, or where you're going to find the support you're going to need to get through the day. And what I've found from subsequent experiences, people root for you more than you may think.

I'm sorry for your trouble, and good luck with everything!

Carolyn Hax: So true, thanks.


For Faking It: Maybe this idea will help.

When I went through an unpleasant breakup, and was on the verge of tears far more of the time than I wanted to talk about at work, I discovered that I could go cry at a neighborhood church on my lunch hour, and come back much better able to get through the rest of the day. And, -no one- ever asked me if I was ok at the church, they just let me sit in the back and cry. I was so grateful. (And I was not a member of that church or that denomination.)

So I could cry in the shower getting dressed, cry at the church over lunch, and get through the rest of the workday in much better shape because of it.

Carolyn Hax: Amazing. Thank you.


Washington, D.C.: Not telling someone about their adoption -- leads an innocent child to think that the circumstances of their birth and upbringing are worth lying about and something to be ashamed of.

Not telling someone about a decades old affair -- putting your life and your actions in its proper perspective and continuing to grow from there.

COME ON!! It's not like she cheated last week. Or even last year! That whole scene sounds like the poster wants to purge herself of her own guilt. Telling, at this point in her life, could almost be as viewed as the selfish act.

Must be the lack of caffeine, but that post ticked me off.

Carolyn Hax: Hasn't affected your logic, though. Thanks.


Journey: Woah, that was deep.

Carolyn Hax: Totally.


Arlington, Va.: I'm starting a new job next week and I'm a little nervous. Not only is it only my second real job since I left college, which is a big change, but I'm going from the government to the private sector, which makes the change even bigger. What I need advice for is how to handle my inevitable and expected mistakes. Yes, I know that that is the best way to learn, but what do I tell myself at that first moment of panic when my brains screams "You idiot! You're going to get yourself fired!"

Carolyn Hax: That a lot of idiots are at this very moment gainfully employed in the private sector? You are human. You will make mistakes like everyone else. Like almost everyone else, you will probably not get fired for them, and if you do get fired, you will pick yourself up and find another job.

As someone once very helpfully reminded me, even life and death stuff eventually winds up in the past.


Baltimore, Md.: My husband wants to name the baby the same thing as the cat. Seriously.

I have had this cat for 13 years (the husband has known her only four) and my first thought is, that name is hers. Then again, it IS a great name, and the cat will die eventually. Okay, am I bat-poop crazy for even considering this?

Carolyn Hax: I think it's a lovely tribute to a (presumably) fine and soon to be somewhat confused cat. Great story for your kid, too, someday.


Brooklyn, N.Y.: What's your opinion on moving in together?

My boyfriend of 15 months has a strict two-year minimum on moving in with a girlfriend (any girlfriend... he's never lived with one; I have). I actually love this idea, and think it's a great way for the two of us to make sure we're really committed before taking this next step. Also, in NYC, so many couples move in together so quickly (for the rent advantage), and I just think that's the worst way to rush a relationship.

He and I are fine with our little minimum (we talk about moving in together all the time: neighborhood, chores, decor, etc.). But I've noticed that the usual response when I mention this to other people is weirdness. Like, if we are so in love, why are we waiting?

Are we being abnormal?

Carolyn Hax: Maybe just in mentioning the specifics to people who don't really need the specifics. "We're taking things slowly." Enuf.

But if you're getting this from people with whom you'd like to discuss the specifics, then it seems like there wouldn't be anything wrong with answering their question, and giving them the good reasons you just explained here.

FWIW, I think any time you make a decision based on a philosophy of restraint, you're going to trigger the I'm-being-judged alarms on people who didn't choose the same restraint--even if there's no judgment intended, implied, anywhere in the deepest recesses of your mind. Could be about shacking up, food, alcohol, spending--that's just the way people react.


Speak for yourself : I think we are sentient human beings, not sure what "senscient" beings are -but all that means is that we are feeling, perceiving beings - not that we'll never make a mistake, or, not even a mistake, but that we'll misunderstand ourselves or others, and take actions which can harm ourselves or others - but which may turn out to be the right actions in the end.

I'm not condoning hurtful actions, but starting from a perspective that we can all avoid any missteps because we are sentient human beings overlooks the fact that we are, well, human beings, with imperfect knowledge and imperfect behavior.

Carolyn Hax: Clap clap clap clap.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn! Thanks for your chats!!

I'm overweight (and am trying to do something about it), I hate my job (and have sent resumes) and I think I'm moving out of D.C. (resumes have gone to other cities). I feel like I'm not ready to be dating right now because of all of the changes... but well, I miss the benefits of dating (no, not just those!). I'm not sure what to do about dating...

And related to that -- I'm about 100 pounds overweight. I'm worried that if I date people now, I'll date people who like fat women. If I only date people if and when I'm thinner, they won't understand that I was overweight. Any thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Sometimes the best approach to being on the fence is just to sit there unless and until something pushes you off. Don't seek dates, but don't refuse any that seem appealing. Good luck with the renovations.


Abnormality: And a related point -- if you're happy with the decision to wait, what do you care about what anyone else thinks? It's your life, not theirs. And hey, take a look around -- if waiting a while before you move in together is deemed "abnormal," well, jeez, that's really lowering the bar for those of us who are truly abnormal.

Carolyn Hax: Good point.


Curiousity killed the cat: So what's the cat's name that is so great????

Carolyn Hax: I thought we'd all seen the Seven Seinfeld.


Washington, D.C.: Affair Attempt: Brother-in-law tried to kiss me and offered proposition. Told him in no uncertain terms NO and if he attempted anything again I would go to his wife and my husband. However, I didn't say anything after the event -- since I rebuffed him and put him in his place and figured the disclosue/confession was his -- not mine -- to make. Should I have said something?

Carolyn Hax: No. For all you know it was a onetime, incredibly stupid impulse that shouldn't supersede everything else in his life prior to this. But he did just use his Get out of Jail Free card.


Arlington, Va.: My husband persists in calling me several times a day at work to chat or tell me "I love you." Maybe this doesn't sound like much of a problem, but when I'm at work, I hate to get personal calls. Not only do they interrupt my train of thought but I get so irritated that I can't concentrate even after I hang up! I don't mind if it's something important, but these calls are just because he has a few minutes and feels like calling me. I'm beginning to get very resentful and my husband just doesn't understand why I wouldn't want to hear from him. I've asked him nicely (and not so nicely, recently) to stop calling me at work. When I ask, he stops for a day or two, then calls me once a day for awhile, and then starts the several times a day routine again until I blow up at him. How can I make him understand that even though "most women would love their husbands to call them during the day", I don't?

Carolyn Hax: Actually, it does sound like a problem--what you describe is some really controlling behavior. I'd be surprised if there weren't other signs of it in your relationship.

Stop picking up/taking his calls when he calls at inconvenient times. Pick up when it is okay, or call back at a time convenient to you. Don't put your productivity in his hands.


Re: overweight: I was totally that overweight kid in the back of the class growing up, and went totally anorexic (bad news) and then got back into healthy eating with a nutritionist. Gotta say--for a long time I associated love with thinness. Currently found true love: a guy who loves who I am, thinks that the body is a bonus but his love would not waver if the scale did. It's super impt to be able to talk about your own self-image and concerns early on. If the guy freaks out and can't handle that you might have body concerns (everyone does) or need support, than he is not for you!

P.S. What about you? aren't you dating a guy because he's a certain height, age, weight, etc? if you really liked him, would that change?

Carolyn Hax: More clapping, thanks.


No sex since Haloween: Mother In Law lives in Texas.

Mother In Law came for Thanksgiving.

Mother In Law came for Christmas.

Mother In Law came for New Year.

Mother In Law wants to come for Easter.

Hubby doesn't understand queen of castle concept.


Carolyn Hax: At least it's Easter, not President's Day. Tell your husband you will be happy to host your MIL four times a year, and pick the times beforehand. If he refuses to say no to her, then choose the excess weekends to make solo out-of-town visits to people you've been wanting to see.

I realize this does nothing to fix the real problem here, that your husband sees nothing wrong with making your life more difficult just so he can avoid having difficult conversations with his mother--or he just plain doesn't see you. But you need to be really ready to take on that kind of problem, since it includes being ready to do something, or not, in the event he makes it plain that this is a conscious decision he's unwilling to reconsider. Hard to say which choice is more painful.

When you are ready, though, that is the issue you spell out. Good luck.


Controlling?: I know you often get picked on when you ID something as "controlling" behavior; as a childhood survivor/witness of domestic violence I usually take your side. But if you meant that the husband's calling to say "I love you" because he has a few minutes is controlling, I gotta object on grounds that there's nothing wrong with thinking of your spouse during the long workday apart. On the other hand, if you meant that his calling -despite requests that he stop- is controlling, then maybe there's something there. Please clarify for those of us who are fans of the no-real-reason phone call/email/IM.

Carolyn Hax: I flagged it as controlling because he keeps doing it despite her pleading for him not to do it. He knows where her buttons are, and he pushes them whenever he wants--and then blames her when she protests. Bad news.


Anonymous: Help! I just stopped smoking and now I can't stop eating (and procrastinating). I work from home, no one between me and my fridge. Can't think of options for working outside the house that don't involve consumption (coffeeshops). Can't go running every time I want to eat since I'd never get any work done. What to do?

Thanks, Carolyn and Peanuts, for any suggestions!

Carolyn Hax: What about a library?


Sentient beings: Rosie (Katherine Hepburn) to Mr. Olnutt (Humphrey Bogart) in African Queen: Nature, Mr. Olnutt, is what we were put in this world to rise above. (must be read with inimitable Hepburn cadance)

Carolyn Hax: Great movie. And a great point. There is such a fine line between using humanity as an explanation for a stupid/impulsive/destructive/selfish mistake and using it as an excuse. These things can't just be brushed aside as okay. At the same time, pointing fingers and doing the Invasion of the Body Snatchers scream isn't the answer, either. I think the difference lies in whether you take responsibility, assume the burden of judging yourself, and live more carefully thereafter. I say this because I realize, in that first answer today, that I said nothing about not excusing the long walk or not taking another one ... though I guess it was obvious?


Quit smoking: I quit a year ago. Brush your teeth a lot, drink lots of water (use a straw -- it is like smoking) and, if you like it, grapefruit juice. For some reason that helped. Have baby carrots and celery all cut up and ready to go for a bite. The hard candy stuff didn't cut it for me.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. More coming:


Eating and Smoking: For the person who is eating compulsively, try stocking up on very low calorie, high flavor foods. Bonus if too much of them gives you a stomach ache. I have this problem sometimes when I am stressed out, and I go for olives, pickles, tomato juice, any sort of fruit, or super intense chocolate. There is only so much of that stuff you can eat before you are sated, or your mouth hurts from too much salt, or you just feel sick. Helps to jolt the mind/body back into normal eating parameters, without loading you down with extra pounds.

Carolyn Hax: Can't vouch for this, but, interesting.


Ex-smoker: Congrats!

A friend who quit smoking always kept straws on had to chew on, and stuff at her desk to keep her hands occupied. Rubic's cube, little toys.

Carolyn Hax: Just don't leave the chewed straws out for all to see, please. Thanks.


Wednesday's column: I very much enjoy your chats and usually agree with your advice, but I was surprised at your answer to the grandmother in Wednesday's column. While I do not condone the mother's vile reaction, it did seem a little to me like grandma might be a bit of a martyr - I mean, she's upset because she sent her granddaughter birthday gifts and never got a thank you note? Sure, I'll admit that does seem a bit rude - but I didn't think grandmothers (or anyone who gives gifts) did it so they could get a thank you note. I thought you give the gift because you wanted to make the person happy.

Carolyn Hax: I got a lot of comments along these lines, and they really surprised me. I did not, and still do not, make a connection between noticing the absence of thank-you notes and giving gifts just for the purpose of receiving thanks. Manners matter. A grandmother who notices that her granchild has been raised to be a taker has every reason to be upset. That comes from the same well of love that the gifts themselves do.

Now, were the motives or actions of this particular grandmother so pure? Who knows. I even said so much in my answer. However, no matter what her motives were, she was right about how wrong it is not to thank people for gifts. And so even if the mother had a legit beef with what the grandmother did, the first thing out of her mouth should have been, you're right, she should say thank you for gifts. Then she was free to air any grievances she had against the grandmother and or her methods.

But, I repeat, nothing in the grandmother's behavior changes the fact that the granddaughter 1. is rude and 2. needs to hear that from someone.


About mother-in-law visiting: Another suggestion, instead of going out of town if that is not reasonable, is to make lots of plans, for yourself only, in town so you aren't forced to deal with her and act as hostess. It used to drive me crazy that my husband would not prepare for his family coming to visit like putting out sheets, etc. Now I deal with it by going out during the time that should be done so I don't have to feel guilty about not doing it - if it gets done, great, if not I don't have to worry about it. Really its along the same lines as Carolyn recommended and it has worked very well for us.

Carolyn Hax: I'm all for whatever it takes. Thanks.


Life in the Movies: Yeah, but look at Kate and Bogie in the movie - talk about surprising oneself and others!

It's not a question of excusing everything because we're human beings, just as it's not a question of not excusing anything because we're human beings, and sentient - it's a question of admitting, to ourselves and others, that being human means being imperfect, and avoiding judging either ourselves or others too harshly.

But no one ever said we got to kick other people in the face and escape all consequencees.

Carolyn Hax: Especially unlikely if you do it while in a glass house at night with the shades up and the lights on. That's how it goes, right?


Drumaville: Carolyn -- Any books you can recommend that you feel are particularly inspirational/motivational (with a minimum of buzz-word pop psychology)? I'm a pretty happy individual with a good life but just feeling lately that I'm not making the most of what I have (both internally and externally). Thinking a good read might be a place to start.

Carolyn Hax: Can't think of anything off the top of my head, but I find it helps just to read. Take yourself somewhere else while also stretching your mind. And I avoid the pop-psych by reading mostly fiction.

For motivational fiction, I'd need time think.


Boston, Mass.: Actually, isn't going out to try to make your spouse do something you know they probably won't a little on the passive agressive side?

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I don't think so. If the person who was supposed to do it was going out, specifically to avoid doing it, then it would qualify. But in this case, it's declaring, "I will not get sucked in," and then acting on said declaration.


Intervention Question: Happy Friday Caroline!

My problem is one I've been living with forever -- my mother is an alcoholic. Not your raving, falling down kind of alcoholic, the very highly functioning kind. I'm not a shrink, but my best guess is she self-medicates for depression. It's taken me a long time and lots of therapy to figure out how to have her in my life while avoiding the drama and manipulation of her alcoholism. My long-time boyfriend, however, is intent on pointing out behaviors that he recognizes as being alcoholic and gets on my case for not doing anything about them -- i.e., calling her on them. I've never been someone who can just shut people out of my life, particularly family, so where her behaviors don't immediately impact my life, I don't get involved. Am I obligated to do more? I have certainly discussed her problem with her in the past, but she has refused, sometimes quite angrily, to do anything about it.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I suspect you are obligated to do more: to explain to your boyfriend that this is the way you've chosen to deal with your mother, and while it may not be perfect it is the product, not of denial, but, instead, of an extensive amount of care and introspection. It works for you. For that reason, you are asking him to respect your right to make this decision, even if he wouldn't do the same in your situation.

That is, assuming it does work for you. If it doesn't, then your decision is worth revisiting, even if I'm not sure your BF is the right messenger for skepticism.

But I also suspect that as the child of an alcoholic, you might be open to second-guessing yourself at your boyfriend's prompting, when what you want from him is support. If that's true, please don't be afraid to stand up for your choice and ask plainly for that support.


Joining the club: Hospice is starting for my dad on Tuesday. Two weeks of FMLA leave, being stuck in the old burg, being on deathwatch and the joys of family members await me. And I was already feeling fried from the holidays.

Any survival advice?

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry. Maybe just realize this is a finite set of circumstances, and so you have nothing to lose by committing to being fully ... what's the word ... present. Go, and give your dad what you've got. Hold his hand, tell stories, whatever you need to do to show love. And when you're losing it, know that's natural and okay, and go catch your breath. Long walk, cafeteria break, whatever you need.


Quiting, too: I chew lots of gum and walk and stretch to get my heartrate up and my body thinking about other things. Exercise really helps with cravings!

Carolyn Hax: And, you can't buy shoes when you're on a brisk walk. Actually, you probably can now. So I guess this only works for some cravings. Anyway, thanks.

And bye. Thanks for stopping in, everybody, and type to you next week.


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