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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 19, 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.

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I HAVE to know!!!: So you truly wouldn't mind if your husband spent a lot of time with an ex who was still in love with him?! I am DYING to know if such a sentiment can truly exist in reality, or only on paper.

To me, it's about respect. Spending time with an ex who is still pining for you is disrespectful to his/her feelings (um, hello false hopes?) and to your new significant other's right to be the only person who loves you openly and from up close. I think it also smacks of wanting to enjoy as much attention as possible with zero consequences.

Carolyn Hax:"Such a sentiment" exists in reality, to the point where people barely recognize it for what it is.

Say a couple divorces, even though one of them doesn't want the divorce and in fact still loves the other. Say that person admitted openly that s/he's still in love--normal procedure in a breakup like this.

Throw in joint custody of children, and you have two people interacting with each other frequently, even though one is in love while the other has moved on.

Obviously, this can and does go horribly wrong--when either party tries to use the situation to manipulate/punish/take advantage of the other. But it can also go hearteningly right, if all parties know and accept the terms and conduct themselves like adults.

I use this specific example because it's common, but children are hardly the only reason for exes to remain in touch, so I offer it also as a general rebuttal to your there's-no-way-this-is-ever-right implication. The only way to go at this is to take each situation on its individual merits.

Which is what I was advising that writer (was it Wednesday?) to do. I wasn't advising a blind eye, or a jealous fit, or anything absolute. I was advising her to look at the situation for what it was, and to make a decision accordingly. Hardly seems controversial.

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Baltimore, Md.: Carolyn - how do you set limits on unacceptable behavior without resorting to an ultimatum?

My husband does/says stuff that crosses the line. If I were willing to leave him, I'd say that and either it would stop or I'd leave.

But I'm not willing to leave him over it. So what recourse do I have? I've asked him not to do it, and most of the time he has agreed and apologized. He'll even acknowledge on his own that he should stop. And on some things I've seen improvement. But it doesn't ever stop completely.

(To be clear, I'm not talking about abuse or anything that I would leave my marriage over. But it's stuff that certainly makes life less pleasant, like his cursing at me, blaming me automatically for random stuff, not calling when he's going to be home late, etc. Unpleasant, unacceptable, but not break-up worthy.)

Carolyn Hax: If it's "not break-up worthy" then you are declaring it acceptable. What you're doing is no different from saying aloud, "If the choice is between accepting this or ending the relationship, I choose to accept it."

And, his cursing at you is abusing you. Emotional blows count, too, not just physical ones.

I urge you to get counseling by someone trained to help people in verbally abusive relationships. 1-800-799-SAFE and RAINN (1 800 656-HOPE) both can steer you to local counseling resources.

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Maryland: I thought the first question in today's column was written by my boyfriend!! It describes my situation exactly, only I have never asked him if I look fat. I know I do, and I've just recently started dieting and exercising. Problem is, I'm having a seriously hard time talking with my boyfriend about my issues with food. I don't want him to nag me to lose weight, or order me to the gym, but I do want him to be supportive during the process. How do I do this?

Carolyn Hax: Tell him you're having a hard time talking to him about this, and tell him why. Find out if you have real cause for concern, or if your dread comes from a different source and you;re just projecting it onto him. It's worth having out no matter how uncomfortable it makes you. If you and he clash on this subject, then your "issues with food" will remain at the forefront.

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Guiltville: Carolyn, I made a blunder over the weekend and have alienated a good friend. A friend of mine met a guy through the Internet. They fell in love and became engaged. All good stuff. They had an engagement party last weekend. A work acquaintance of the couple were making small talk. She asked me how the couple met and I told them. It turns out that my friend had been telling people other than her non-close friends a made-up story about how they met because she's ashamed that they met online. She's really upset because not only did I spill their secret, I exposed that she lied. I apologized profusely, but there's this tension that lingers. I honestly didn't know she felt this way. If I had known, I wouldn't have said anything or gone along with the story. I didn't think there was still a stigma to online dating -- I actually have done it in the past, quite openly. I don't know how to make the situation better. The whole situation has reveal a side of my friend that I never noticed. I always assumed she was as open about this stuff as I was. She was always so open to me, anyway.

Carolyn Hax: Unless your friend made it clear she expected you to help her keep up her act, you didn't make a blunder at all. That she's punishing you as if you did make a blunder is revealing, I agree. Of her severe limits.

You've already apologized, so I won't get into that part, but what you do now is ... nothing! This is for her to get over. If she can't, then I'm afraid I'll have to trot out the With Friends Like These I'd Rather Be Alone dancers to perform the closing number.

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Not a right where I'm from...:"your new significant other's right to be the only person who loves you openly and from up close"

What? How come nobody ever told me that?

Carolyn Hax: You slept through Insecurities and False Entitlements, affectionately known as Hissies 101.

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I don't want to be mom anymore..: So about a year ago, I decided that it would be nice if a group of us got together fairly regularly, and since my place is best setup for entertaining, it seemed logical to get together here. And since I like to cook, I would almost always cook for everyone. My boyfriend LOVES this (we live together, its his place too). He helps a fair amount with having people over, but he's not programmed to be a hostess-- it doesn't wear him out.

Now people feel like they can invite themselves (and everyone else) over whenever there's a birthday, holiday, sporting event, and I do all the heavy lifting. Even when I don't cook, we still have to pick up before people come over, clean up afterwards, and entertain while they're here.

Here's the thing: I do like having people over. I like our place being where people like to hang out, but I'm tired, and it gets expensive, and I would really like if there was a little more appreciation, and little less acting like our place is actually OUR PLACE, not some communal gathering area.

Is there any friendly way to assert some boundaries here?

Carolyn Hax:"Let's have the birthday/holiday/sporting event somewhere else this time; I need a breather."

I.e., don't treat "no" as shocking or mean, because it's neither. It's just "no."

Though if you keep saying yes when you'd rather say no, the anger you pile up will make the eventual "no" sound mean, so it's important not to let it come to that--with your friends or your apparently-not-as-helpful-as-you'd-like boyfriend (something else not to postpone articulating).

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Unrequited love: Carolyn, the woman who wrote about her S.O. and his Ex did not say they had kids, which certainly is a situation where adults have to work hard to stay in contact. As someone who is crazy in love with a man committed to someone else, I have to say it would be easier for me and my bruised feelings if he would really cut me off. Although I try not to interpret it this way, his warm welcome, friendship and concern when I do see him feels like encouragement and hope. I have had to put myself on a phased withdrawal program on my own but it is really difficult.

Carolyn Hax: It's really difficult, and I am sorry life dealt you this, but it is your responsibility to cut yourself off.

If he wrote in to me and described your exact situation and it sounded to me like he was stringing you along, then I would tell him that the compassionate thing would be to stop encouraging you. But I'm not going to issue a blanket all-those-attempting-friendship with-pining-exes-need-to-cut-off-all-contact order. As long as they take others' feelings carefully into account, individual adults can make individual decisions that suit their circumstances and suit each other. As I said, the kids example was intended as a general example.

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Hissie 101:"your new significant other's right to be the only person who loves you openly and from up close"

Depends how "openly" and how "close," no? So it could be true under some circumstances without a hissie fit or insecurity.

Carolyn Hax: If I don't take a break soon to gather up all the clumps of hair I've pulled out, my cubemate will flee in disgust.

If someone is breathing heavily on your partner, then, of course, that's not good. So what do you do? You change what you can. Whether that's your perspective, your relationship or your area code depends on you and on the situation. Usually, though, that means you discuss it with your partner, and your partner either helps you deal with it or refuses to help you deal with it, and then you retain or lose said partner accordingly. Like the original answer sez.

Nothing here that could be described as a hissy.

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Wondering: Is it a verbally abusive relationship if the offender only says awful things when drunk (and not drunk too often) and apologizes later even when he doesn't remember saying anything?

Carolyn Hax: It's an alcohol problem if nothing else (even if it doesn't happen often).

But it's not a long walk to the definition of abuse. Someone who knows he gets that ugly when drunk needs also to know not to drink. Otherwise, he's telling you that your dignity, feelings and sense of well-being are the price he's willing to pay for a little fun. Nice.

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Fairfax, Va.: Carolyn, please help. My 51-year-old husband is addicted to X-box. He plays from the minute he comes home from work until usually around midnight, every night. We don't ever go to bed at the same time and sex is becoming rare. What can I do? I am completely serious! I'm thinking of separating over this.

Carolyn Hax: Tell him that, please. Start asking around for referrals to a good marriage counselor, too, and go alone if he wont' come with you.

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Maryland: My brain is exploding just thinking about this? How can someone feel guilty about telling the truth while the friend who lies gets to be a drama queen?

Don't even get me started on the fact that the woman is ENGAGED and ASHAMED of how she met they guy.

(Forehead, meet desk. Desk, meet forehead. BANGBANGBANGBANGBANG)

Carolyn Hax: Watch the knick-knacks!

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Annapolis, Md.: No way, absent kids, would I EVER let my wife hang out with an old boyfriend who loved her and wanted her back nor would she let me hang with an old girlfriend that was after me. NO ONE with any sense would do so. What possible good could come from it?

Carolyn Hax: It works for you, you stick with it. That's all I'm saying.

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On the Fence, USA: Dear Carolyn,

What are your thoughts on the importance of living alone at some point in your life, sans roommate, parents, or even a goldfish? Do you think it's a vital step in the "finding yourself" part of life? Or is it just a personal choice some make, and some don't?

Carolyn Hax: I think it's an invaluable choice, and I recommend it so often I'm afraid I'm starting to make it sound bad, but I'm not going to say it's impossible to be happy/independent/whatever without it.

Here's what it does that's so useful: By finding a way to be happy that relies only on you, you give yourself a point of comparison to help you judge whether someone or something is good for you. You also give yourself one less obstacle to getting out of an uhnappy situation, since you won't be worried that your life will fall to pieces when you;re alone.

I don't think + or - goldfish affects the outcome.

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At a loss for words: What's a way to become less shy and awkward at social functions where I know few if any of the attendees? I have a job that requires a lot of client interaction and I DREAD office parties, receptions and cocktail parties because I never know what to say. I try to refrain from attending these functions but my boss has commented on it and it could eventually negatively impact my job (I won't be fired but I could less assignments, etc). Any thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: The DIY method: 1. Realize no one really knows what to say to total strangers in a business context. It's all smalltalk that every single person in the room could do without--at least to start with.

2. Now that you know the words themselves are secondary--to the business, to the face time, whatever--think of a larger purpose in the smalltalk. Keeping your job is a good one, but a bit stressful--i.e., conversation-killing. So how about making someone comfortable who's as starved for words/familiar faces as you are? You can look good while doing something good.

3. Now you need words. So, talk to a friend who knows you well and who is comfortable at parties, and figure out a few generic, lively but non-provocative topics you can have in mind when you walk into a party. Include some questions to keep things going.

The non-DIY method: Either 1. Ask your boss to recommend a public-speaking seminar or workshop to help you perform better in these situations. Or,

2. Talk to a well-regarded therapist who treats social anxieties.

Wow that took a long time. Sorry.

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Fat City: Hi Carolyn,

About today's first letter... my boyfriend and I are both fat, we both eat healthy, and we both get exercise (though he doesn't get as much as he likes). But when there is food at a party or gathering, he will stand near the snack table and eat constantly, or constantly get up for more food when everyone else has moved on to games or conversations. It clearly bothers him when I point this out, since it's the only time he EVER gets even a little snippy. I don't need him to lose weight, as he's very healthy and very sexy, but I want him to enjoy what he's eating, not eat thoughtlessly. Anything I can say?

Carolyn Hax: No. Drop it. He knows, he knows, he knows.

What he may not know (or just may not have connected) is the possibility that he's socially anxious and using food to stay occupied, and that getting glasses of water instead would be a better fix. But now that you've got him on the defensive about it I think you need to see it as a non-emergency and let the issue rest until he's more ready to take it up again.

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Living Alone: I think everyone should live alone for as long as it takes to learn this lesson: no one else will wash the dirty dishes or pick up your wet towels where you dropped them on the floor. They will patiently wait there forever.

Carolyn Hax: I love it, thank you.

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Alexandria, Va.: Dear Carolyn,

Just got out of a long-term relationship after finding out that my ex was cheating on me. Haven't been on a date for quite some time (and feel wounded from her betrayal -- though I'm glad to know the truth). Any advice for moving on?

Carolyn Hax: I'm not sure there's a general answer for a situation that's so dependent upon the specifics. A cheating partner can be something you: never could have seen coming, should have seen coming, knew about all along but dodged; something you did nothing to trigger, or unwittingly helped set in motion; blame yourself for, blame your mate for, blame the other man/woman for, accept some blame for as well as assigning some, or blame the world for; shake off as bad luck or dwell on for the rest of your life; understand or at least explain to yourself, or can't get your mind around no matter how hard you try. It's a list with a life of its own.

But I guess if you pick it apart there are a few general things you can do. You can try to make sense of what happened--i.e., pick out the stuff that applies to you and see if it adds up to an explanation you're able to digest--and then use that reconciliation of the facts to help guide you in the future.

An example: You had some nagging doubts but ignored them and tried to hang on to the relationship for the sake of the relationship until the evidence of her betrayal was too abundant to ignore. So, you pack that up for next time as a resolution not to ignore your instincts or to put the relationship above your own needs. (And you wait to seek out new relationships till you feel healed and confident enough to try again.)

Again, it's an example--what you need to make peace with what happened could be completely different. The only common element in making peace, in fact, is to get past the victim stage. What you make of it all is in your hands; none of your sentences can start with, "I just wish she ..."

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For the shy party-goer: I really liked the book "Never Eat Alone" (too lazy to look up author). One of the things that stuck with me was that he advocates being a bit more open and vulnerable as that is a good way to make a connection with people. I am not talking about "I am in therapy, have $30K in credit card debt and my cat hates me" but something along the lines of opening up about how you feel bad about your cat hating you and if you wonder if it is you or the cat. This can generate a discussion as most of us have similar problems. Being very closed off about your problems and issues is somewhat isolating.

Carolyn Hax: I don't know the book but I love the idea, thanks.

And I'm really sorry about the cat thing.

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Re: Social Anxiety: I worked for an organization that held an annual conference with receptions where staff were expected to schmooze. We had a pre-conference workshop one year to help us be more comfortable, and the best tip I remember for shaking that awkward feeling is to go talk to someone else standing/sitting alone. That person is likely feeling just as out-of-it as you are and will welcome the overture.

Carolyn Hax: Ya. And if not, if it's just a surly person who wants no part of a party, then you've really lost nothing by trying.

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Richmond, Va.: RE: I HAVE to know! I agree with her. Her comment is in reply to one of your columns this week, of course. Once again, you demand too much perfection of your readers and do not take into account fully natural human emotions, just as jealousy, insecurity (which almost everyone has to some extent), risk aversion, etc. I just grind my teeth at some of your "little Miss Perfect" analysis.

Carolyn Hax: You;re right. There is little more obnoxious than thinking before you act.

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Living Alone: Except some people just live with mountains of wet towels on the floor when there's no one else around to complain. Like my husband. When he was single.

Carolyn Hax: Right. I guess there is a hitch.

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Fairfax, Va.: To, At at Loss For Words -- try the book "The Art of Mingling" which was featured on Morning Edition last month. Very Helpful.

Carolyn Hax: Another new one for me, but here it is. Thanks.

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I'm at a loss for words too: Ugh, I dread these kind of functions too. They wouldn't be so bad if it didn't seem like I was the only one who doesn't know everyone.

People, please if someone new tries to talk to you don't give them the "why are you talking to me look?" And maybe don't stand in tight little clusters.

Don't you remember what it was like to not know anyone?

Carolyn Hax: Eh--some people do remember and enjoy the power trip of being on the other side. It's unfortunate that exclusivity is often associated with social stardom, when in fact the ability to be inclusive has a lot higher wattage.

FWIW, I don't think you can avoid the tight little clusters--it's natural, except on live-audience sitcoms, and sometimes it;s the only way to hear--but people in the clusters can be quick to open the circle to others.

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Northern Virginia: Hi Carolyn,

Here's a strange one. A friend of mine of 25 years got secretly engaged to his girlfriend last year. I never really got along with the girlfriend and was shocked that he was engaged (this probably showed though I didn't say anything). He then invited me to the wedding and I told him (honestly) that I was happy for him and would attend. As the wedding date approached I heard from his family about a bachelor party, etc. But no invitation. So I finally asked him outright when he was planning on sending them. He told me that "He'd been meaning to talk with me about this" but that he wasn't going to invite me to the wedding. He also didn't invite other longstanding friends. And now (a year after the wedding) he's disappeared -- no calls returned, not in touch with others, etc. Do you bring out the "end of friendship dancers" for this one? Any idea of what might have caused this behavior? His wife, perhaps?

Carolyn Hax: Probably, though I don't like encouraging the blame-it-all-on-her view when, if she is the one isolating him, she's doing it with his permission.

And while the dancers are doing their warm-up stretches, it's not quite the same as with the control-freak girl who lied about dating online. In this case, he's the one essentially ending the friendship, and you're the one who gets to agonize over whether you've just abandoned an old friend to a controlling, possibly abusive, relationship.

I wish I had a good way to shake off that feeling. You can keep trying to keep a line of communication open, even if it's just to keep sending his family an annual card, so at least someone knows where to find you. But ultimately the choice lies with him.

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Help out a confused regular.....: What does FWIW Mean?

Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: For what it's worth.

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Re- loss of words: I'm shy too and would rather play in traffic than walk into a room of strangers. The best advice I ever got was to ask questions! That way you learn about the person you are talking to, the conversation will direct itself, and you don't have to do much of the actual talking. I usually prepare a couple before I arrive, so I dont choke up. And, have something in your hand, a drink, a folder, a purse, a program. I dont remember the reasoning but it works.

Carolyn Hax: Specifically, it can help to ask people non-intrusive questions about themselves, since people generally like to talk about themselves.

Except the people who generally hate it, and you'll know them when they deflect even your non-invasive question about them.

As for the thing in your hands, I think it's just that people standing with their empty hands at their sides feel open and vulnerable. Confident people can pull it off (something we know subconsciously, since we read people who stand comfortably this way as confident), but most people feel better with a prop to hold up in front of them.

Previous-answer-tie-in-alert: Just make sure that if you do need a prop, you don't put away the entire bar or buffet over the course of an evening. Water is good.

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Alexandria, Va.: Re your response to the full-time mother who is being questioned about her choice by her neighbors, I would change your suggested answer from "No, I'm not looking for a job" to "No, I'm not looking for ANOTHER job" or perhaps even "No, I'm not looking for another, much less important, job."

Carolyn Hax: See, I just read that as defensive and self-righteous, feeling the need to point out that you do in fact work hard, since certainly anyone who'd have the nerve to ask you that question that way couldn't possibly understand how hard you work!!! It's a rift-widener.

Stay-at-home parents work hard, you know it, the other person probably knows it, but if not, who cares? And, you also know what people mean when they ask if you're working yet. For most people it's shorthand for paid work, not an invitation to a duel. For the doinks who are baiting you, what more satisfying response than a refusal to take the bait?

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New York, N.Y.: My ex is engaged. The other night he told me that he can't let go of me. How do I let go of someone who won't let go of me?

Carolyn Hax: Tell him you can't be part of his hanging on, and won't be taking his calls, at least for a while?

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Re: ashamed of how they met: Speaking as someone who met my partner online, it's not really that you're ashamed of how you met, it's more that some people make a lot of negative assumptions about people who meet online, and sometimes it's just better to save yourself the drama of having people assuming your fiance is really some psycho or sex offender who has you brainwashed or whatever just because of how you met.

It's like how you might not mention to your grandmother that you sometimes spend the night with your boyfriend. You're not ashamed of it, but gramma doesn't need to know.

Carolyn Hax: But then do you rip a friend a new one for including this information when you innocently answer gramma's innocent question? To extrapolate your answer into an explanation of how you met, you;d say something like "blind date"--true but not complete--and if someone else said mentioned the online aspect, so be it.

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Santa Fe, N.M.: Hi Carolyn,

How can you tell when you are really over someone? I'm going through a break-up of a relationship that lasted three years. I can see symptoms of emotional improvement (I cry less frequently, didn't think of her on my birthday, etc) but don't "feel" much different. When will I know this process is over?

Carolyn Hax: When you can fit a happy/fulfilling life between the times you think about getting over her. That a really opaque answer, I'm sorry. It's just hard to quantify a negative, the not-thinking about somebody.

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Engaged Ex: How, precisely, is he holding on? Rope, duct tape?

Carolyn Hax: He's one of those Koalas ... you know, that were on everybody's notebooks in the 80s.

Clearly I've gotten tired, not to mention bald. So this is goodbye. Thanks everyone, and type to you next week. Oh--Liz, can we do this at 12:30?

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Carolyn Hax: Me again--there are a pile of smalltalk strategies in the outtakes, so I'm going to start posting.

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Carolyn Hax: Oh, and I almost forgot to post this, too, from last week. I do this with some trepidation, since borrowing someone's inspiration can be like borrowing someone's underwear. (Same generalized "ick.") But when a reader wanted something inspirational to read, a persuasive number of you were moved to write in. Here, in no deliberate order, are your suggestions, many of which were offered more than once:

"Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn

Gail Godwin's "Father Melancholy's Daughter" and "Evensong"

"A Changed Man" by Francine Prose

"The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho

"The Bean Trees" and/or "Pigs in Heaven" by Barbara Kingsolver

"Life of Pi"

"Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand

"I always think of Richard Bach - any of his - from 'Jonathan Livingston Seagull' to 'Illusions' to 'One.'"

"Dave Eggers's 'What Is the What' was the most inspiring book I've ever read. It's a fictionalized account of the true story of a Sudanese Lost Boy."

Jeanette Wall's "The Glass Castle"

"Gifts from the Sea" by Anne Morrow Lindberg

"Wisdom Distilled from the Daily," by Joan Chittister

"'Tracks,' by Robyn Davidson (the woman who crossed Australia by camel in 1977)"

"For inspiration, I always like to read any non-fiction book about someone who has survived something difficult. Those lost at sea on a life raft type books. They almost always have some interesting insights, and I find the determination to survive against the odds really amazing. I find them in the travel and biography sections of the bookstore.

"The most recent one I read was about a prisoner of war (WWII) who escaped a Siberian labor camp and walked for 3 years to get back home. I can't stop thinking about it."

"How to be a complete and utter failure in life, work and everything: 39 1/2 steps to lasting underachievement" by Steve McDermott

"What should I do with my life" by Po Bronson

"I keep 3 mini-boooks on my desk to pep me up: 'Eat This! 365 reasons to Stop dieting'; 'Believing in Ourselves: The Wisdom of Women'; 'Seuss-isms for Success'"

"I know, I know, he's the hottest thing since sliced bread, but I highly recommend Barack Obama's memoir: 'Dreams From My Father.'"

"This may sound funny, but I found 'Smart Women Finish Rich' by David Bach to be pretty inspirational without being annoying (and if you are not a woman go for one of his other similar books)."

"One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way" by Robert Maurer, PhD

"'So Much for My Happy Ending,' by Kyra Davis. About (I think) her own struggles with a husband with Manic-Depressive Disorder."

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Carolyn Hax: Okay. Social suggestions:

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elmhurst, il: RE Shyness at social functions: There's research to support the idea that acting confident--standing tall, breathing calmly, looking people in the eye, smiling, pretending you really like meeting strangers--actually forces your brain to follow, and by the end of the evening you actually will BE more confident and stimulated by strangers' company. If it sounds too fake, consider: you are striving to put other people at ease, which is a kindness, and to open yourself discovering people you would otherwise not have, which is good, too.

Carolyn Hax: And:

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For the Shy Party-Goer: Re: the "sharing vulnerability" approach - I agree, and what about sharing the anxiety about parties? Since that's a pretty-widely shared anxiety. Two birds with one stone - something to talk about, and you find out you're not alone, all at the same time.

Carolyn Hax: And:

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re Party Small-talk: I overcame my fear of cocktail parties with a room full of strangers, by using these lines: "What your favorite part of your job?"; "How did you and -the guest of honor] meet?"; "I'm looking for advice on good places to vacation." In other words, ask people questions that get them to talk about themselves. The rest will follow. When you start to feel cornered, say "I'd better let you go...I need to find a -glass of water; telephone; etc.] Good luck!

Carolyn Hax:...

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Re: Shy party-goer: Sorry... but if I was at a work-related or professional function and someone started opening up about how their problems made them feel, I'd think they are socially clueless and inappropriate.

MUCH MUCH MUCH better to be well read, traveled, have developed a hobby. I'd rather chat with someone about an interesting book, film, or their weekend at the coast.

Really folks save the "how I feel because my cat hates me" for the therapist.

Carolyn Hax: True, but mild things I think are fine. A bit of humanity vs. a bucket of it.

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Helena MT: I was also shy and withdrawn, until I figured out that asking people questions about themselves and listening intently to their answers = I was a great communicator. Quite often, one needs ask only one or two nonintrusive questions and then listen for the next 5 or 10 minutes. If you (being shy and withdrawn) wouldn't mind answering the question, it's quite all right to ask it.

Carolyn Hax:...

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for the shy networker: Although I'm usually outgoing, I tend to clam up at networking events. So, I generally come up with a couple of things to talk about ahead of time. It could range from a funny story I read online to somewhere weird that happened to me. Also, one KEY to these situations -- ask questions. People generally LOVE to talk about themselves.

Carolyn Hax:...

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For the shy person: Don't underestimate the power of saying "Hi, I'm _____ ." It works in business situations and in meeting potential dates. Truly.

Carolyn Hax: Revolutionary.

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party mingling: Try this: wander about with a small smile on your face and be willing to make brief eye contact. Other people looking for someone to talk with might well approach you, relieving you of the obligation of starting the conversation.

Carolyn Hax:...

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the mingling story - with tips: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6595823

Carolyn Hax:...

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Dealing with social functions: One easy way to expand conversational possibilities and look good is to pay attention to who's around you. If someone seems to be waiting to get into the conversation, bring 'em in, ask if they know each other, and introduce them.

The new addition to the mix can help keep a conversation moving, and you look good by not ignoring people.

Carolyn Hax:...

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Loss for words: Hang out near the bar and chat with the bartender briefly - they are paid to talk to people. Then you can snag the next person who walks up and stares at the drink selection "The red wine's too warm, so I'm stuck with Coors"...

Carolyn Hax: The red wine would have to be on fire, but okay.

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Social anxiety: You're getting a lot of these but just wanted to give the shy party-goer the age old advice - get someone talking about themselves - throws the attention off of you and gives you a chance to get know someone. Starter questions can be tough but it gets easier w/practice.

Carolyn Hax:...

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If it's a surly person...: who wants nothing to do with the party, then we have something in common to talk about.

Carolyn Hax:...

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re: At a loss for words: Best advice I ever got was to read the paper that morning, at least one article from each section. That way, no matter who you talk to, you have a conversation starter.

Carolyn Hax:...

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for the shy dinner talk: I'm also shy, but I found that I buy and read a few of the full articles in a newspaper, you'll be able to contribute to most conversations -- everybody is interested in current events, and most people just have time to read the headlines and the first few paragraphs. So, you'll have details that others won't know and may be interested in.. and you'll come across as intelligent and well read. Easy.

Carolyn Hax:...

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Social anxiety: Making small talk isn't easy, but if you keep trying it does get easier. Look at your next attempt as practice. Don't obsess later over what you said/didn't say. A lot of other people are nervous too, even if they don't look it, and aren't going to think much about what you said to them. I used to be so shy and socially anxious that when I was younger my teachers would call my parents about it. In college I couldn't stand being so anxious any more, so I went to parties and attended events I didn't want to go to, and made myself get over it. Eventually (it took some time), I got better at the small talk, and now I doubt anyone would believe I used to be so incredibly shy. I can't believe it myself, as now sometimes I have to remind myself to be quiet so others can speak. There is no easy way to get better at this stuff, you just have to get out and try. You might also look into just taking a fun continuing ed class that would require participation. The structure of a class might help you get over speaking in front of others. And you can mention the interesting class you're taking during small talk at parties and events. If you don't know what else to say, ask the person something about themself. Favorites movies, books, what kinds of activities do they do for fun? People love talking about themselves.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

You made me think of something--sometimes people who come on a little strong are in fact shy. Being anxious socially can block or at least hinder some social signals, but I don't think people naturally think of this possibility when someone is taking over a conversation. Just a something.

That's really it. Bye and thanks again.

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