Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 2, 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.


Beaverton, Ore.: How important is honesty? Not just with others but with yourself? My mom lives in a self created world spun with lies about the way she lives and faces her life. This includes justifying gross over spending and having an affair with her "best friend." I don't need her to fess up to the affair. My concern is if it is ultimately unhealthy for her to go around believing the stories she tells others. Sometimes she is not even trying to lie, but as my uncle put it, "She would lie even when the truth was easier." My main concern is the carefully stacked house of cards is going to come tumbling down someday.

Carolyn Hax: I think it's pretty clear that if her fantasy world doesn't collapse someday, it'll just be a matter of luck.

I also think it's pretty clear that it'll take more than a concerned child to get her on an honesty track. If this has been going on as long as anyone has known her, chances are she's someone with deep, longstanding emotional and/or psychiatric issues. Your choices might be limited to nudging her toward care, or being there to catch her when she falls.

I would suggest setting up a consultation with a reputable psychiatrist, who of course couldn't diagnose your mom but could give you ideas how to deal with a compulsive liar in a way that allows you to be helpful without getting sucked into the vortex.


Chicago, Ill.: I am freaking out. I took a pregnancy test this morning and it's positive. Happy news for my husband and me, but I am scared to death because I've been to many parties over the past few weekends, and have had plenty to drink. I am so terrified that I have done damage that I am afraid to be happy. I have a Dr. appointment, but I a freaking myself out by looking on the Web at sites about fetal alcohol syndrome.

Carolyn Hax: get off the Web and talk to your OB/midwife. You can even call to find out if you can talk by phone before your official appointment. I think a lot of people take/do/drink all kinds of forbidden things before they learn they're pregnant, and so this issue is almost a staple of the first appointment. Spare yourself the anxiety and give the complete facts to someone who is trained to interpret them.

And, congratulations!


End of My Rope: Hi Carolyn,

Is it totally irresponsible to quit your job without having a new one lined up? The job market is killer, but personal integrity won't let me stay here anymore... I have some savings, and I'd quit right now if I weren't worried that it was a terribly immature thing to do, and that the six-month employment and the subsequent gap would look terrible on my resume. I'm not even sure I want another job -- I might want to go back to school. Do I have to stay here until I decide?

Carolyn Hax: No, but you do need to be absolutely brutally realistic about how long your savings will carry you and how willing you'll be to take whatever you get if/when you're still unemployed when your savings run out. As for the resume blip, I wouldn't blow it out of proportion. Employers are human (mostly) and probably have a blip or two to explain themselves, so what matters more is that you turn it to your advantage, and/or explain it plausibly and well.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that, sure, there are disadvantages to dumping a job, but they aren't so absolute and extreme that they override all other concerns, such as assaults on your integrity, stress so severe it's affecting your health, etc. It's really a case-by-case thing.


Richmond, Va.: Hi Carolyn,

About five years ago my best friend was in dire straights, filing for bankruptcy, getting divorced and trying to start her life over. Since money was tight I gave her some money to help pay for some things to help her get back on her feet. This money was given knowing that it might not ever be paid back. Now, she is back on her feet, making more money than she ever dreamed of and is remarried. Shes doing very well. She paid me back part of the money I gave her. Now, here is the sticky part. I truly think the amount she gave me is what she honestly remembers me giving her. Its about $500 short. I am a stay at home mom and needless to say, could really use the money as things are very tight. (I wasn't in this situation when I gave her the money). Is there any tactful way to tell her what the true amount was or should I just forget it and hope she remembers the true amount at some point? Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: A true friend would want to know she had shorted you and be given the chance to apologize and make you whole.

That is, assuming you don't go after with a tone that suggests she shorted you on purpose, which is the kind of mealy accusation that can get you a check and a seeya. But this is a nod to thoroughness more than anything else; it doesn't sound like you think this of her at all, so there's little risk you'd accuse.

The greater risk, obviously, is that she's less of a friend than you'd hoped and will take your news badly. But, back to the top--it's still worth bringing it up because a good friend wouldn't want you to leave this lurking between you. That, to my mind, has to trump other concerns.


Quitting without a job lined up:: PLEASE think of health insurance. Nothing bad ever happens, sure, but I just broke my arm, which without insurance would cost five figures! a freind just told me his daughter's appendecitis surgery cost $28,000 before insurance. I think it's best to find another job before quitting, but at least make sure you have proper health insurance for the inbetween time!

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the reminder. COBRA research and arrangements should top the list of pre-quitting rituals.


Stessed out Bride: Carolyn,

I am recently engaged to a wonderful Jewish man. The problem is that I am not Jewish. His family said they will not support our interfaith marriage. That was a month ago. We have decided that our future comes first, and began planning our wedding. I know he wants his parents involvement, and is confused as to whether going forward with planning is the right thing to do. I am torn. Are we doing the right thing by going forward, or should we have given them more time to come around? Our wedding isn't until next December.

Carolyn Hax: I think it would be a sensitive gesture to offer to stop planning while he gives the matter more thought. I also think you guys should get into pre-marital counseling, indiv. or group, asap. It's one of those things I think people kind of wave off, like anything else with the word "counseling" in it, but the good programs are useful, practical, underused, and perfect for situations like yours. Start with the officiant(s) you plan to have perform the ceremony, and work your way from there.


Re: Beaverton: I also have a chronically lying mother; her issues stem from extreme shame and concern that whatever she does or says will be met with anger. This stems from her relationship with her parents - she could never be "good enough" for her father and her mother would get angry for an unknown reason and not speak to her for days. This behavior led to a series of abusive relationships with controlling men. Not a happy story, I'm afraid. I have been through so many ups and downs with it that I don't even have good advice! Take care of yourself, get yourself to therapy when you need to, and have a strong support network. And thanks for writing your message! I am not the only one out there and neither are you.

Carolyn Hax: I dunno, sounds like good advice to me. Thank you.


New York, N.Y.: re: End of My Rope

I used to practice employment law and dealt with clients with similar problems. I suggest approaching your employer with a middle-ground approach to quitting such as remaining technically employed but drawing no salary. An arrangement such as that negates any concern regarding resume' blips, and would allow you to look forward a job from a job.

One more thing, the emotional and physical costs of staying in an unhealthy employment relationship should not be underestimated.

Carolyn Hax: Interesting, thank you.


Fairfax, Va.: I loathe one of my coworkers with the heat of a thousand suns. He undermines me, lies, spreads lies about me, consistently refuses to follow policy in regards to my department, and has tried to hire away half my department. He is the slimiest slime that ever slimed.

He's also here in my office right now begging to "clear the air" because he just realized his new boss is my best friend.

After the bendy monkey chat I went and got some. How childish would it be for me to bend one of the monkeys into the "right fist in crook of left elbow, back of left fist facing target" gesture and stick it facing forward?

Carolyn Hax: It would be terribly terribly childish. As penance, you would have to take a picture of it for us to post.


Arlington, Va.: I dated this guy very briefly last summer. It was short, because he was moving across the country, but it was very intense. I wouldn't say it was love at any point, but I fell hard. I wasn't surprised when I didn't hear from him. I'd get forwarded news articles he thought I'd find interesting, but that was about it. Time passed, and I thought I was over him.

But he recently called to let me know that he still thinks about me and fantasizes about me, and in the same conversation said he's been sleeping with other women. He confirmed my worst fears and greatest hopes.

I want more than ever to get over him, because I know that's what's good for me, but it's just not happening. What are your thoughts.

Carolyn Hax: Get involved with him, intensely, so you can burn off any interest in him as soon as possible and keep him from messing with your head 10 years from now when you're perfectly happy and with someone nice and you have the bad fortune of running into him at the mall some Christmas and getting knocked off your feet.

This is a story that's arrived in my inbox almost daily for 10 years, almost verbatim except for a few tweaks in the details, and the start of it is always just like the story you're telling--these intense feelings for people who are intensely unable to deliver actual happiness. If you have the fortitude to drop it now, do it, and don't look back.


Insurance: Actually, if I quit I would probably just get quietly married for cheap interim insurance. That's not creepy, is it? We would probably not tell our parents because they want a big wedding, but given that my fiance's workplace does not offer domestic partner benefits (BOO), it seems sensible to just do the paperwork so we can have the economic benefits of something we're going to do anyway.

Carolyn Hax: The quietly married isn't creepy at all, but the not telling parents b/c "they want a big wedding" is. Why not just own your decisions, instead of lying to people whose opinions of you are obviously important?


Kensington, Md.: How do I "befriend" the 16-year-old sweet daughter of my fiancee? She is very shy (like me) and we haven't yet told her we are getting married. I think she likes me, but too shy to interact much, and perhaps feels bad about if she likes me it is bad for her mom. I don't want to push or pry but want some tips from your readers out there whose parents were divorced and how another 'woman' reached out successfully to a 16 year old girl.

Carolyn Hax: This is another in-box stalwart, and the consensus seems to be that you just provide a warm, steady, nonjudgmental presence and let the shy bird approach when she's ready. I'm open to other stories, though, plus practical applications to pretty conceptual advice.


Clueless, Washington: Carolyn, please help!

I'm newly married to a wonderful, romantic man who always manages to find the most perfect and extravagent gifts. With Valentine's Day rapidly approaching, I'm feeling the pressure. What the heck can a woman buy a man for cupid-day that doesn't seem cheesy, trite, or ridiculously expensive?

Hopelessly Unromantic, But Trying

Carolyn Hax: Unanswerable question. The best gifts are the ones tailored to him. Just think what he'd really want but never ask for and never buy for himself (are you winking or is there stuff in your eye?). If you still come up empty, think homemade and labor intensive. Something that shows effort.


No name, no place: I am experiencing some health problems - I have some sort of as yet undiagnosed health condition, and the stress of not knowing what's wrong with me is causing a relapse of an eating disorder I had when I was young. This means I am exhausted and unable to focus on my job, and my boss is (rightfully) on my case about it. I've said I'm experiencing a health issue and that I'm doing the best I can, but that's not good enough. The stress of being yelled at all the time means that I get further and further behind.

How do I keep from going crazy and/or getting fired? I've been to a million doctors, but it's going to take time for me to get better. I'm seriously worried about losing my job in the meantime, and I clearly can't be without insurance.

Carolyn Hax: Please get into treatment for the eating disorder relapse. You need to get yourself stabilized first, and the rest will follow. In the meantime, hang on at your job by coming in early, setting out a schedule of your day's responsibilities that includes small breaks, if possible, and then use the schedule (and breaks) to stay focused.

Finally, I also think you should contact an employment attorney re your health benefits. It's always easier to deal with facts than with fears.


Philadelphia, Pa.: I employ 24 people. If one of them came to me and proposed what the former employment lawyer from New York suggested, I would fire them on the spot and have them escorted to the door. New York didn't mention that employer would still be on the hook for workman's compensation should the quasi employee have an unfortunate accident during their non-tenure. This is not such a far-feched idea. I've heard horror stories of employees being fired and "falling" on their way out of the building then collecting WC checks for years.

Furthermore, what employer would want some miserable person around poisoning the culture?

The obvious advantage to the employer would be that the departing employee can train the new employee. However, would the departing employee occupy indefinitly the space intended for the new employee?

Give notice - two weeks is the norm, but additional time, say 3-4 weeks would be considered a generous offer by the employer. Don't quit outright. You'll burn a bridge that you may need to revisit in the future (no matter how far fetched it sounds, it happens).

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the other side. I was wondering why I'd never heard of such a thing, and this could be it. I think, as always, the best approach is the thorough one--do the homework, get the opinions, get the professional guidance and make a decision from there.


For clueless: What Carolyn said, but since he married you, and has presumably always been romantic, maybe he's okay that you aren't. So, while trying to find the right gift for him is wonderful, you probably don't have to worry about being "romantic" in the same way he is. (Unless he's said he wants that)

Carolyn Hax: If she can find her own way to be romantic, that would probably make both of them feel better. Not to add to her pressure, though. Thanks.


For Clueless in D.C.: I think tickets are always a good choice for hard-to-buy for significant others -- to a sporting event he'd like to attend, a concert or performance he'd enjoy, a museum exhibit he wants to see, lift tickets for a skier, etc. It's a gift he'll enjoy and shows a personal touch because you considered his interests in choosing it.

Carolyn Hax: Great, too, if you agree to go along (enthusiastically) where you'd normally take a pass, or encourage him to go with a friend where you'd normally balk at not being included.


Texas: Not an emergency, but could use some "best practices" suggestions from you and/or the 'nuts. Working up to the "don't get too comfortable" conversation with the sib who moved in with me two years ago until he got back on his feet. He's currently getting the satellite installed on his new HDTV. (Not a bad guy really, but.)

Carolyn Hax: Two years, and you're "working up to" the conversation? It may not be an emergency, but it has sirens, flashing lights and uniformed people talking into radios.

"HDTV plus satellite equals a brother who's back on his feet. It's time we talked about your plans for getting your own place."


Washington, D.C.: For the 16 year old future stepdaughter, I think it's important to include her in events. Her dad should tell her about his impending marriage by himself but in a way that is special -- a really nice dinner or a special afternoon. Future stepmom should just be herself.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.


Valentine's Day---UGH!: For the new wife worrying about VD and her husband - don't get me started. I can't believe the extremes that people will go to, the money they will spend, the emotional turmoil they'll subject themselves and those around them to, the expectations that will be over-inflated (and usually dashed), and general nonsense that is generated over a random day on a calendar that the greeting card companies decided to create to fill late winter gap in their annual sales. People, true romance is not dictated by the calendar. True romance is the every day giving and receiving in a relationship, the remembering of special likes and dislikes, the back rub after a hard day, the surprise dinner out/bouquet of flowers/theater tickets/walk in a park just because it's a Tuesday. If you have to wrap it up in pink and red paper, cardboard cupids, an overly expensive dinner, overpriced flowers, and dip it in a heart shaped box of chocolate to think it's love or romance, then chances are the love and romance is just as artificial. A huh huh huh... you said "VD"

Carolyn Hax: As always, Liz has the spirit of the occasion.

You can show love every day, giving and receiving, and still have fun with the random day on the calendar. I think the point is not to get too caught up (or too cavalier).


Bendy Monkey Chat?: I read your chats every week! I own bendy monkeys! How did I miss the existance of a "Bendy Monkey Chat?"

Sorry for the excessive use of exclamation marks. I'm just that stunned. It was only a few weeks back... let's see: Here it is.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks! Liz!


For Kensington: I have a 17-year-old stepdaughter who was 15 when we got married. My best advice is to approach her as you would any new acquaintance -- ask some questions and try to find some mutual interests to talk about. Don't treat her like the daughter of your boyfriend, but as an individual that you would like to get to know. And keep it low key.

I was lucky because I actually met my husband and his daughter at about the same time and had a chance (through our church) to get to know her separately. That has really helped our relationship.

Fortunately, my husband and his ex-wife have a fairly good relationship, so the other thing that I did was meet and remain on friendly terms with the ex. If there is little or no tension between you and the ex, there is nothing for the daughter to worry about. I know that isn't always possible (since you have no control over the ex's personality), but kids are pretty good at picking up on who the source of tension is in any relationship. Try to make sure that it isn't you.

Carolyn Hax: Another good one, thanks.


Columbus,Ohio: Hi Carolyn,

How do you get over someone who rejected you, considering you have mutual friends with this person and could see them from time to time?

Carolyn Hax: You didn't fit. It happens.

I'm sure this bypasses a lot of emotions and intricacies, but they all feed into that same conclusion, so the faster you let yourself get there, the better you'll feel.


Vienna, Va.: For Clueless,

This might not fit your situation but I always thought it was terribly romantic to cook something for someone. A girlfriend made me a cheesecake once from scratch and it was seriously the nicest thing I've even gotten on Valentine's Day. I also really love cheese cake. It doesn't have to be a dessert either, you could plan a special meal and cook it all yourself. Whats great about cooking is that its something you can share together and that requires personal effort. If they know you really worked on it then they can appreciate how much you care.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. I agree there is something so affectionate and personal about cooking for someone. If she cooks most nights it will have to be a special something, but that's the great part about it--change the food and the lighting and add a few courses (or, change the cook ...) and it's a whole new thing.


For clueless: Maybe I am a total glutton and drunkard, but in my opinion you can't go wrong with decadent food and drink. Either a nicer bottle of wine than you'd ever buy, or a special candy or cake or something (bonus points if it's hard to track down, like Utz chips on the West Coast, or Berger cookies outside of Baltimore). It's sexy and shows some thought, in that you remember his preferences.

Of course, it doesn't work for teetoalers and dieters.

Carolyn Hax: Unless they have hard-to-please gluttons and drunkards on their lists to whom they can regift.


Gettysburg, Pa.: My girlfriend and I have been going out for a little over a year. We are both in our late 30s, if that is pertinent to the discussion. She's divorced with kids. Me, divorced with no kids. Things have been going very well -- growing close, getting to know the kids, etc. One notable exception -- the fact that I'm good friends with my ex-wife and her husband. My girlfriend feels that I continue the relationship with my ex-wife (on any level) because she provides me something I can't get from anyone else and this really hurts my girlfriend. Since I know it bothers my girlfriend, I have distanced myself my the ex and her husband -- but I am reluctant to cut off contact all together, as I feel like I'm being forced to do so. They have wanted to meet her since we started going out, but she flatly refuses -- saying she couldn't take it. Any suggestions on how to reconcile this situation? I realize that you have to make choices in life, but this seems awfully contrived to me. I want to respect her feelings, but I don't want to be bullied, either.

Carolyn Hax: When I first saw this question I started mentally composing an if/then/but/in that case kind of answer, but now it's: Grow UP.

Your GF, not you, but you're at the end of the license you should be granting her and I;m at the end of the license I'll grant you.

I feel a pop quiz coming on ... When someone declares that your ex-wife "provides you something you can't get from anyone else and this really hurts me," the proper answer is:

1. Fake wretching noises.

2. Grow UP.

3. Some slightly kinder version of: "You're in your late 30s, you're divorced and you have kids. If you really believe you're too weak to withstand my appreciation for someone other than you, and to understand that I can have warm feelings for an ex without wanting her back, then you need to give yourself some more credit (or your kids a more stable home)."

4. "Buh-bye!"

Wrong! It's 5. All of the above. What she handed you is whiny controlling BS, and the best thing you can do for both of you is hand it back to her with an explicit no thanks. To say a normal human being can't have feelings for ...

Never mind. What she said is so ridiculous that it's ridiculous to spell out why it's ridiculous. Stop putting up with it. Please.


West of Eden: Re: Food Gifts for VD (hehehehehe, I laughed, too, Liz):

The other side of the coin is that I once had a woman who I had only been seeing for a few months make a cheesecake and deliver to to me at the office, and, for reasons I can't explain, it just wigged me out, and totally gave me a "stalker" vibe. Not that I'm saying any of the 'nuts are stalkers, just offering it up as something of which they should be aware.

Carolyn Hax: Back to why the original question was unanswerable. Thanks for closing the loop.


For the Jew marrying a nonJew: I'm Jewish and my spouse is not. of course I don't know your future inlaws, but I do know that a lot of the concern from Jewish parents stems from a worry that their grandchildren won't be raised Jewish. You don't say whether that's something you've discussed or not, but if you haven't discussed the religion of your children please do so. For me, the fact that I'm planning on raising my children in a Jewish home alleviated my parents concerns. I'm not telling you that is the path you should take -- just that its probably not so much about you not being Jewish -- its the concern about future generations not being Jewish.

Carolyn Hax: Thanky.


Virginia: I keep submitting this question every week. I know it's annoying, but... I've asked everyone I know, with no one having a good answer... or even perspective.

To boil it down... do I go visit my aging and ailing grandparents, who don't know (at Mom's request) that I'm married to a black guy? If so, do I tell them, or take off my rings and lie? If I tell them and they have a stroke and die, is it my fault? (Mom says it will be!)

For the record, I don't think they'd take it as badly as Mom says, but then... she would know them better.

Carolyn Hax: I'm not sure your mom knows better about anything. She's walked you into a pretty deep (but not very pretty) hole by coercing, blaming and shaming you into silence. And you get to live with the fact that you let her.

As does your husband. That's why your decision about your grandparents needs to be one you make -with him-. And only him. You and he talk about it, and you and he decide what's right.

On the bright side, I think you just made the compulsive liar's kid feel a whole lot better.


Foggy Bottom: I've been with my boyfriend for five years. We're unofficially engaged and living together. We get along really well, everything is great, but sometimes we just don't talk a lot. We communicate really well, and nothing ever really goes unsaid, but there will be quiet times at dinner, and we don't talk about current events a lot, etc. This is my longest relationship, and I don't know if its natural not to talk say, all night like in the beginning of a relationship after dating that long, or if we're not meant for each other. It sounds funny, but I'm really concerned. Do long term couples talk all the time? It could also be that I'm a chatterholic, and hate silence, and he's the tall, dark, handsome, silent type. Thanks so much!

Carolyn Hax: If that last part were true, would you be happy with it, because "chatterholic" is supposedly bad, and tall-dark-handsome-silent-type is supposedly good?

You take your own relationship on its own merits. Yes, plenty of couples fall into silence--and some of them love the trust and confidence that shows in their relationship, and some of them hate the enduring chill of having not one thing left to say, and no chemistry to reignite conversation, and no desire to try.

Your household is, ONLY, what it is -to you.- If your happy home would be a chatter-filled one, then maybe this isn't the guy for you, love him though you may.


Column advice versus online advice: Why is it that the advice for the guy in today's column, whose girlfriend wants to remain friends with an ex, differs from the advice to "Gettysburg," who wants to remain friends with his ex? I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't you suggest that Column Guy's GF's action -- remaining friends with her ex -- was hurtful to his feelings but that Gettysburg Guy's GF's seemingly same reaction -- she feels hurt by his continuing friendship with his ex -- is immature on her part?

Carolyn Hax: Because one is an apple and one is an orange. The girl in the column just cheated with the guy she insists upon keeping as a friend, and the reason she gave was that she needs more friends. Huh? That's a good enough reason to rub in her BF's face that she cheated on him?

Whereas the chat guy just now is talking about a remarried ex, no improprieties mention or implied, just, from the looks of it, a lot of history turned into a mature friendship.

Which a mature new GF should be able to handle, but this one refused even to try. [lights, sirens, uniforms and radios.]

And, if you look at the column again, I actually didn't even say that friendship with the guy she cheated with was unacceptable across-the-board. I left it open that mature people can make any configuration of friendship and forgiveness possible. My objection in this case was that the GF was take-take-taking without appearing to give much to a BF who was hurt by her and still doing his best to do right by her.

The operative term of this whole post being, "in this case." The only way I think my advice would be inconsistent on these things would be if you tried interpret advice for one as advice for all. Specifics count.


"Unofficially Engaged"?: Um... is that like "sort of pregnant?"

Either you are, or you aren't.

Carolyn Hax: You're right, I meant to flag that, but the people in uniforms and shouting into radios have enough on their hands today.


RE: Job Quitter: Carolyn,

"Job Quitter" is starting to worry me -- hates the job after six months, maybe wants to go to school, engaged to be married but wants a "secret" wedding so her parents will still pay for the big wedding that "they" want... yes, I'm reading a little between the lines here, but I think she's pretty confused about a lot of things. Ask for a half-time position. Don't do anything rash -- sounds like that might be her M.O., though...

Carolyn Hax: Sold. No rashes. Thanks.


Arlington, Va.: All this Valentine's Day talk is reminding me of the best Valentine's Day present I ever got. After showing up to take me to dinner late (I'm talking midnight) without so much as a card (after I'd "hinted" that something, anything would be nice), he took me out to our local, stinky sports bar then thought it was the best idea ever to take me to a strip club. After which, my sweet, thoughtful boyfriend then called a bisexual woman with whom he worked at 3 a.m. to come over to my house in hopes of working a threesome. I dumped him that night. Just thought I'd share...

Carolyn Hax: We're so grateful! Thank you. The next post is for you:


Bendy Monkeys: World Market has the Bendy Monkeys... and frogs and a third animal too. But the Monkeys are definitely the cutest. Perfect office buddy.

Carolyn Hax: Get well soon, Arlington.


Lying to grandparents: When my grandmother was slowly dying, my mom made me promise not to tell her I was pregnant (I was single). My son was born two weeks after my grandma died. In retrospect I think this was about my mom and her feelings about my having a kid while single, more than about preserving my grandma's feelings. I wish I'd gone and seen her, and told her, and asked for her blessing. At worst, it would have given her something besides her own failing health to talk about!

Carolyn Hax: Thank you. While I agree with your viewpoint in retrospect, I think the important thing before anyone tries this at home is for it to sit properly with one's own conscience. After some hard thought--that means you consider all parties and figure out what you can live with, vs. what I think turns out to be sidestepping a difficult decision by letting a stronger-willed third party make the decision for you. Even though it usually happens to people who are genuinely trying to do their best, it's still a popular regret recipe.


Shy Bird:: As a (former?) "shy bird," I'd suggest that she make the first move to the girl, since the girl may think that she's imposing on her.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, I'm so glad someone weighed in from the other side. It occurs to me that teenagers and adults often intimidate each other, and it's the adult who's in the position of strength and maturity.


Online Only Please: My situation: I'm a middle-aged woman, mother died long ago, father re-married for 20+ years to terrific woman with three children from previous marriage, step-mother's relationship with her kids has long been troubled. Two weeks ago step-mother diagnosed with terminal illness. In dealing with aftermath, my brother (executor of parents' will) mentioned that step-mother had recently written my step-siblings completely out of will as result of most recent spat(pre-illness diagnosis), and she has no intention of changing this in light of illness. While I want to respect her wishes, I'm concerned and thinking of telling her that there will be no taking this act back once she is gone and is she sure she wants to do this? I'd welcome your thoughts on this. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Maybe there will be a time you say this, but my reflexive answer is that it's a subject you don't want to lay on her, but instead draw out of her. It sounds like she's dug in, which would suggest her digging in deeper in response to anything that feels like pressure. The response can be the opposite, though, if she's in a warm and trusting conversation that naturally finds its way to this subject.


She won't meet your ex-wife and her husband: Excuse me, but that's insane. Where does she get off dictating to you when it's situation about which she knows nothing about? If she'd met your ex and smelt an unfished business vibe that would be something the two of you could talk about.

She's judging a situation she can't know about and ordering yout to act accordingly. This is about her. But the problem is, she's ordering you to cut off a healthy relationship for no good reason.

Carolyn Hax: Rarin. Better than the explanation I was about to type out when my fingers locked up in protest. Thanks.


Arlington, Va.: Thanks for taking my question! My best friend is dating a guy who treats her like crap, gets angry with us when we try to talk to her when we're out together because he thinks we're leaving him out, calls us names, including various obscenities to our faces, pouts when he doesn't get his way, constantly breaks up with her when he's frustrated, then calls her everyday and sends various gifts to get her back. Needless to say, everyone but her hates this guy, and while we certainly don't expect her to ditch him because we don't like him, it's getting really frustrating hearing about him constantly and having him invited to literally every thing we do. We've confronted her a number of times about this behavior, and nothing seems to get through. We'd at least like to not have him around 100% of the time, and when he is around, it would be nice to not have to constantly worry about him getting his way or him getting mad at us. Are we out of line in expressing our unhappiness with her relationship? Is it unfair to ask that he not be present ALL the time?!

Carolyn Hax: Have you said outright that this guy is abusive and you're worried about her? What you describe is a group case of dislike, but what I see is a dance of the seven red flags. If you are seeing changes in her behavior, point them out. If you are worried about her (and you should be), point that out. If you want to give her the name of someone local she can talk to, call 1-800-799-SAFE and ask for names. If you want to show her literature, scare up Peace at Home's handbook, Domestic Violence: The Facts; it's still out there on the Web.

But please don't see this guy just as the annoyance who's ruining your dinner.


Lying to grandparents and other rotten choices: Carolyn, I think you may want to make it very clear that sometimes there are situations where every single choice you're faced with in a dilemma is rotten and you're faced with chosing the least regretful path rather than the path to peace and happiness. Sometimes the choice is least unhappy rather than happiest choice.

Carolyn Hax: You made it clear, so I'll just post it and run. Thanks.

That's it for today. Bye, thanks, happy weekends, and I'll type to you next week. Same time, same problems, same adviser of dubious worth.


Re: Interfaith Marriage: I took a great multi-week course at the JCC in DC for interfaith couples.

Carolyn Hax: Cool, thanks.


From another former shy bird:: I hesitate to think of either the future stepdaughter or stepmother making a "first" move. It's a series of moves, and if you think of any one as "The First" I find that the pressure and expectations from that once instance can have long-lasting repercussions. Presumeably there's already plenty of history of some kind with the daughter if she's marrying his father anyway. I agree with the no sudden moves plan -- gaining the girl's trust is a slow process, not one started off with a "Honey, let's talk..." type conversation. Generally, teenagers are programmed to flee from these situations. Slow and steady wins the race.

Carolyn Hax: Makes flagrant sense, thanks.


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