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Tell Me About It

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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 16, 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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You've got to be kidding: Nice way to end last week (and run away after) about equating a woman changing her name in marriage to slavery.

You've lost the respect of alot of people.

Carolyn Hax: You're kidding, right? I didn't "equat[e] a woman changing her name in marriage to slavery." I used slavery to illustrate that one's family name is not a throwaway; it carries emotional, political, historical significance. As people throughout history have known well, except when it serves them better not to.

Chips in bowls, not on shoulders, please.

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Washington, D.C. - Online only please!: Carolyn,

I just returned to work after being on maternity leave for 9 months. After the first week of leaving my baby in daycare (a nice accredited daycare with lots of centers all over the country), I was told by his teacher "you should wean him from the breast so he isn't so attached to you. It will make the transition easier". Logically, I understand this. Emotionally, I don't feel this is best for my baby. I also feel like the daycare provider shouldn't be putting my parenting choices into question just to make their job easier. I was so taken aback that I didn't know how to react. Now that it's been a week or so (and i'm still breastfeeding on demand), I'm wondering if I should just ignore the comment and go on as I've been doing or if I should bring this up to the teacher. I sorta feel like I should explain to her that I have no intention whatsoever of weaning my baby at this time. On the other hand, I think I should just ignore her advice unless she brings it up again. I'm also feeling that because of this comment, maybe this isn't the best environment for him to be in. What do you think? Ignore it and stick it out or find alternate care?

Carolyn Hax: By all means, bring it up with the teacher. Make your beliefs clear. That way you'll either flush out any differences that would move you to seek another provider, or you'll better equip this teacher to care for your baby.

FWIW, I would frame it as a request for clarity--e.g., you'd like her to elaborate on something she said--so you don't put her on the defensive.

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New York, N.Y.: I have no patience for my sister and I don't know what to do about it. She's my older sister and she drives me crazy. I have patience for most other people in my life, but not her. How do I fix this?

Carolyn Hax: Realistic (i.e., low) expectations, small doses, big slack. Also do a little introspection to see if the "differences" that make you impatient aren't in fact some uncomfortable similarities. I think that's why no one can drive you nuts like family.

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New York: Carolyn,

I thought you'd like to know, in case hundreds of people haven't told you already, that washingtonpost.com is atrocious about posting your columns on time and consistently at the same places on the Web site. I'm sure most big fans of your column, like myself, don't miss a beat because they seek it out specifically on the days it's due out. If I were you, however, I'd be pretty disappointed at their lack of consistency.

In the last two weeks (was there even a chat last week?), this problem has spread from your columns to your chats as well. I had to click around the Web site for about 10 minutes to find a place to submit this comment, for instance.

You keep up the great work though!

washingtonpost.com: I can't speak for the columns, though I usually don't have a problem locating them at the link in the chat intro. As for the chat archive, you're right. We're having much trouble getting Carolyn's page to update and I'm assured the tech folks are looking into it right now. But in the meantime, you can always find Carolyn's upcoming chats (and many others) in the weekly Live Online schedule.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. post.com has in fact been on the case, first with the AWOl columns and now with the AWOL transcripts. I do appreciate the extra effort you;re putting in to find everything, and I'm sorry you have to.

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Kudos ...: on your advice in today's column. I'd make faces at that girl, too. I wonder though, when you get stuff like that, do you ever think it's fake??

Carolyn Hax: The more out there it is (or the less self-aware the writer) the more I wonder, yes. All I can do is ask myself, do I know someone who could have written that? And when the answer is yes, I go for it.

It's funny, I happened to read your post just after I read one that made me ask the can-this-be-real? question. I'll post it:

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Washinton, D.C.: Last night at a St. Patrick's Day party I saw my girlfreind for the first time drunk -- very drunk. She was quite flirty with other guys and I found out later that she had a sexual relationship in the past with two of the guys at the party. Obviously, I broke up with her. It had been four months since we were dating exclusively. she seemed so innocent and sweet when we met. How can I tell if a girl is dirty, when she puts up a good front -- preppy, conservative attire, intelligent, and not a party girl at all?

Carolyn Hax: Well?

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Providence, R.I.: Six months ago I met a woman online. We went out twice but she wasn't interested -- she stopped returning my calls, to be honest. But I really liked her and called her again recently for the heck of it, suggesting that maybe we could be friendly, rather than worry about dating. Well, we had lunch, and I still think she's great. I guess you can't make someone like you, or even be friends with you, but I really want to spend more time with this gal. There's a question in here somewhere - what do you think?

Carolyn Hax: I think if she's amenable to seeing you as a friend, you jump on the chance to get each other slowly and see where it takes you. Remember, her falling for you or not falling for you aren't the only two possible outcomes. You could also lose interest in her yourself, or be grateful to have her as a friend, or fall hard for her roommate. Life makes stuff up as it goes along, so you should feel free to as well.

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washingtonpost.com: For those who are asking: Last week's chat transcript

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Washington, D.C.: Here's an akward one for you... I'm in the last month of cohabitating with a relationship gone wrong. It disintegrated several months ago, and I'm ready to move on. It's just taken a while to save up the money to move out. But the thing is, I have a date this weekend with a girl I'm getting along very well with. How would you suggest I approach the fact that my new date won't ever be coming to my place until I move? It seems like a simple enough conversation, but it's still early enough in the relationship that she could easily be turned off seeing someone who's living with thier ex.

Carolyn Hax: What can I tell you. If you and your circumstances are strange but make sense, that will show. If you and your circumstances are messed up, that will show, too. Don't try to sell or spin anything or cover it up or apologize for it. Just lay it out there when the right moment presents itself, and let her--and your suitability for each other--speak for themselves.

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"Washinton": For some reason, I believe that question coming from someone in DC. And I say that as someone who was actually born here and has a grudging love for the city, but has seen some of what the Hill has to offer.

Carolyn Hax: Got it--

Real 1, fake 0

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Real or not?: I loved the "Obviously, I broke up with her."

I'll bet it's real, though.

Carolyn Hax: real 2, fake 0

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I know that girl!: I think it's real. I have a friend just like that. You would never know. ugh.

Carolyn Hax: Real 3, fake 0

I guess it wasn't as close a call as Pollyanna here thought.

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Is-it-real-or-not: LOL. The correct answer to that post is, of course, to take her out early in the relationship and do your best to get her hammered. Then judge her on that one incident.

Just like trying to get your best friend to seduce your husband, in order to make sure that he's really faithful to you.

Carolyn Hax: And, the perfect answer. Thanks guys.

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Indecision City: Carolyn,

In your opinion, when is the best time to embark on couples counseling? My boyfriend and I are starting to have the big marriage talks, and think counseling might be a good idea (especially since this is my first serious relationship, and he's survived an abusive marriage -- we both could use help finding the right perspective on marriage, I think). Is it better to do this before we are engaged, or after? In other words, is talking with the counselor more helpful in determining whether two people ought to be considering marriage at all, or in giving an already committed couple ways to manage their differences and succeed as a pair?

Carolyn Hax: I don't think it matters, except if you're not getting along--then I'd definitely not add the pressure of an engagement (and in fact I'd think hard about why you're with each other when you struggle to get along).

If you're interested in exploring your own views of marriage and each other's; if you suspect you both have something to learn about communicating; if you;re not sure what questions you should be asking of yourselves and of each other, then those are all great reasons to talk to a qualified pro, who could act as a teacher for you. And in that case, too, I think the important commitment is to your understanding of relationships and intimacy and, ultimately, yourselves, and not necessarily your commitment to each other.

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Portland, Maine: What would your advice have been to the writer in today's column if it turned out that the reason the two women didn't like her was for no other reason than she was pretty and a doctor? Hypothetical, I guess, since I also detected a pretty judging personality, but what if she'd been pretty, a doctor, and genuinely nice? Same advice, just different packaging?

Carolyn Hax: I'm not sure it could have been the same, since the element of her snapping at her boyfriend was such a huge part of the problem and the advice. I suppose, though, had the question just been about ways she could deal with women who were mean to her, then I would have come to the same sit-up-straight-and-be-nice advice--but in this case I'd skip the look-in-mirror element of it, and instead probably encourage her to make other plans when "Jeremy" sees these friends ... and now that I'm thinking of it, there'd also be a part were I question Jeremy's continuing to subject her to these people ...

So I guess, no, it would overlap but wouldn't be the same.

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Doesn't it drive you nuts?: When people misunderstand you so completely that it HAS to be them slicing and dicing what you've said to fit their prejudices rather than you not having communicated clearly? I think we all deal with this funhouse-mirror reflection of ideas from time to time, but for you, Carolyn, it's so much more public. What's the best way to cope with this and not beat yourself up over the people who will never, ever "get" you?

Carolyn Hax: I'm not trying to be a martyr here, I swear--but I do think these misunderstandings are extremely useful and illuminating. If you think about what I do (or, depending on your camp, what I presume to do) for a living, seeing live examples of how people get caught up in their own prejudices has helped me spot other examples in people's letters.

I haven't actually done this, but I bet if I were to go through columns from my first year or two, I'd see dramatically fewer instances where my advice includes weighing other possible interpretations of events. For example, if I get a letter now like the one published today where the writer speculates as to others' motives, I think immediately that the way she sees it might be far from the way it really is. I was much more trusting of people's judgment before I got so many examples, many of them directly contradicting each other, of how people responded to my writing. It's one thing to be told that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it's one thing to watch "Rashoman"--it's quite another to have it play out in your work every day.

So, I really really get it now, we all see stuff through the filters of our own experience, and some of those filters are a lot more clogged than others.

Yes it drives me nuts, and sometimes upsets me, depending on my mood.

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Alexandria, Va.: I dislike my job and commute and have for long time. My husband loves his job, drives maybe 15 minutes to work, has a two-hour long lunch and gets home two hours before I do most every night. I find myself just so irritated when I come home and find him playing video games or watching dumb videos on the computer. I get so jealous of his day that sometimes I snap and am (admittedly) a little mean (and I'm generally in a good mood previously). I'm not sure what I can do to fix this? It's not like I can ask him to work more when he just doesn't have to!

Carolyn Hax:1. What are you doing toward changing your job situation?

2. What is he doing to make his free time a benefit for both of you, and not just for him?

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Silver Spring, Md.: How's your bracket?

Carolyn Hax: I'm ashamed. I didn't finish it on time.

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New York, NY's complaint could've been my sister: And seriously, if it was written by her, I think I might have to cry. As if it wasn't already hard enough that she was the one who was taller, had more money, and had the hot boyfriend.

Carolyn Hax: Height and hotness are overrated. I guess cash is, too, but only if you have some. If you have 0, it is paramount.

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Colesville, Md.: Carolyn,

I'm kinda glum about my birthday coming up next week. I'm only going to be 31 which is young, but I can't help but feel like I wasted my 20s. All that time should have been so carefree and now I'm married, homeowner, in debt and overweight. How do I get out of this pity party and become fabulous for my 30s?

Thanks

Carolyn Hax: There's no "should have," there's no wasting. You needed your 20s to teach you not to take your 30s for granted. So, don't.

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Re: husband with sweet job: Since she didn't mention it (and I'm presuming that given her attitude she would have if applicable) the husband is taking care of all his domestic responsibilities? I'm just guessing, because the list was "playing video games and watching stupid movies" rather than "playing video games, watching stupid movies, and the laundry is never folded, yada yada yada." In that case, she needs to, er, take a look in the mirror (it's a theme today!) Is she really mad at the hubby because he gets lots of leisure time, or does she just hate her job and take it out on him?

Carolyn Hax: I'm not sure I'd distinguish the two. She needs to start behaving like an adult, that's on her--but they both need to work together on the issue of their marriage. If one is thriving while the other founders--even if that's more perception than truth--then it's not his or her problem, it's both of theirs.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

What kinds of things could the husband do, to make his free time work for both of them? Besides maybe doing some extra housework or cook dinner? I'm in his position, sort of, so just wondering.

Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Those two you mentioned aren't throwaways, they're huge. Coming home to an organized house, a cooked dinner and a relaxed and attentive partner are three things I hope no one ever takes for granted. A spouse with more free time can also take the lead socially, making calls or plans or buying tickets; can do leg work on sending out resumes and cover letters; whatever the stressed-out spouse happens to need.

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Colesville: Being married is a cause for self-pity?

If things aren't going well with your spouse, maybe your 30s are a golden opportunity to fix that, one way or another.

Carolyn Hax: Check. Thanks.

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Sisterville: I irritate the heck out of my younger sister and I have no idea why. I could speculate, but as we have learned today it would only be an interpretation that would be to my benefit. I get no answer when I try to address it so I stopped and just try to live my life and let it go.

Please cut her a break and see her for the flawed human being we all are, and don't expect her to match your vision of what a sister should be. It makes me very sad that my own sister can't do this.

Carolyn Hax: Wait a sec--your speculation would only be as accurate as your filter, which means it could still be dead-on. please don't misread that, aaaaaah!

I'm sorry you and your sister aren't close. It may well be that she can't or won't cut you a break. It could also be, for lack of a better word, chemical--some people just don't do well in the same room together. I guess I'm trying to say, sometimes it really isn't personal. (Little comfort when you've effectively lost a sister, but it's something.)

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Reston, Va.: What's the best way to get your mojo back after having a kid?

Mine is over a year and a half, we're talking about another, but I'm having trouble being interested in sex for any purpose. I want to be interested, but most nights I feel all touched out and just want to be left alone.

Carolyn Hax: Any way you can get some alone time during the day, so you;'re not starved for it at night?

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Washington, D.C.: I'm becoming disillusioned with my work life. I've grown tired of working with people who are so competitive that they will put others around them down to elevate themselves. I am an extremely competitive person, but I won't put others down, I will just use others acheivements as motivation. The last two jobs I've had (one in DC, one in the midwest) there has been so much backstabbing I can barely put up with it. I've bought a lottery ticket, but in case that doesn't work out how do I get through the next 40 years of this?

Carolyn Hax: It's kind of a general question, so all I can do is speculate. Maybe it's your competitiveness that makes you internalize others' behavior, where someone else might be able to shake it off? And so maybe anticipating that people are going to do stuff to get ahead, not all of it pretty, can help you put it in perspective and not let it distract you so much?

Or, path 2: Maybe you need a new line of work?

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Just resigned/speak my mind: I just resingned from my comapny and leave at the end of the month. I've started a new job and am much happier. My boss is going to be out the last 2 days of my final goodbye.

One of my current co workers I can't stand. I couldn't stand her from the day she started and she's one of the reason's I left. I really want to say something to her about the fact that she needs to grow up and stop being so immature.

I know I should be the "bigger" person. but want to say something

thoughts

Carolyn Hax: DON'T. You can't guarantee that some bit of randomness won't put you two in the same office again. For the love of sanity, just take your winnings and leave the table.

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Mojo: Ha. I have two kids (who are both sleeping currently) and I can't tear myself away from the chat to shower. Is she taking the pill? Because when I was on the pill I had ZERO interest in sex. We started using other forms and it doesn't matter what my day was like, I can be in the mood. I feel normal again.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for throwing that out there--medications are a possibility that people often don't even consider. Now go--you can probably shower, dry your hair, file your nails and bake a loaf of bread before I post another answer.

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Fairfax, Va.: I'm ready for kids, he's no longer against the idea. He makes googly faces at kids at the grocery store, which is new behavior for him. He talks about names, and is pleased that our new house is in a good school district. He talks about teaching a kid to ride a bike, and periodically raises his eyebrows at me, and says he'll be the one to have certain chats with our offspring given my wilder younger days. But when I ask him, are you 100% sure, he freaks and says no.

All my reading says "don't go ahead until you're BOTH sure." All the people I know say few men are ever that ready or that sure.

Can you break the tie for me? I'm terrified to move forward - the signs say yes, but his lips say no. I usually prefer listening to someone's stated preference, but we probably shouldn't wait much longer if we're going to do it at all.

Carolyn Hax: Run it by him this way: It's not like you flip a switch. If it happens on the first try, he still gets the better part of a year to process the idea. And while it can happen on the first try, it usually doesn't, which means you aren't in fact saying, "Okay, let's have a kid now"--you're saying, "Let's open the door to the possibility of kids and see what happens."

By the way--I wouldn't give an answer even remotely like this if you had described his reluctance in any other way. This is a guy who, by all appearances, plans to have kids but is freaked at the reality, which is not only a common male response, it's a common response. People who -have- kids are freaked by the reality of them. But if he were instead saying things that sounded like, "I may not want kids," then you can't just get started and see what happens. Just to be clear.

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Reston, Va.: Hi Carolyn,

This has been bugging me for a while. The link to your column in the Style section of washingtonpost.com always reads "Tell Me About It?" Isn't the phrase "tell me about it" a command and not a question? Should the question mark be in the link?

I always read it as "Tell Me About It? Maybe this link leads to it. Maybe not." I'm not a grammar junkie, but it just looks wrong to me. Is it?

Carolyn Hax: I think in some parts of the site, the trademark symbol appears as a question mark. I like your interpretation, though.

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RE: speaking her mind: I'm surprised you didn't call her on calling her nemesis "immature." I think it's pretty immature to wait until you're walking out the door to confront someone. (Not to mention quite chickenish).

Carolyn Hax: You're right. Clearly I am undercaffeinated. Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: Can you advise me on how I should respond to people who tell me that I need to quit smoking now that I'm pregnant? The best I've come up with so far is "you nagging me will have no affect on whether or not I quit."

washingtonpost.com: Speaking of unbelievable questions...

Carolyn Hax: One of the hardest lines to discern is the line between invasive meddling and warranted concern. I think we've had examples of both in recent transcripts--the people who judge mothers for feeding their babies formula instead of breast milk need a reminder of their proper place (nose out, mouth shut), while the person whose abusive father is now raising a much-younger half-sibling has a concern that could easily be called an imperative to act. But this one, wow--either it locates the line to within a nanometer, or proves there is no one line for all people.

It's your body, yes. But you;re lending it to a baby, and you;re risking that baby's health, so stop smoking. Get your doctor to help you get unhooked. Bonus: Not smoking while pregnant is guaranteed to stop people from nagging you to stop smoking while pregnant.

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Carolyn Hax: By the way--maybe through all the nagging, no one has said this, but it's true: You are strong enough to stop. Just start asking the questions about how you can do it (from health professionals, not the naggers), and find a medically supported method, and I think you'll surprise yourself. I've seen someone do it in exactly your position (well, I think--I don't know how far along you are).

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Nagging: It can be argued that formula feeding is more harmful to your baby than cigarette smoking is to the fetus.

Carolyn Hax: AAAAGH. YOU ARE NOT HELPING.

It can be argued that some people can't breastfeed and have to use formula. Adoption? Medication? Inadequate milk supply/support?

And so nagging is incredibly presumptuous, invasive, inappropriate.

It cannot be argued that some people have to smoke.

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The Big Apple: Carolyn, here's a question being debated among friends - singles and marrieds alike: Do you and your readers think wedding rings (on both men and women) are perceived by "others" as stop signs or as invitations to a challenge to pursue someone unavailable-yet-appealing?

Do you think it is questionable if a person doesn't want to wear a wedding ring after s/he is married?

Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: If the "others" have a shred of decency, a wedding ring is a stop sign.

If the "others" lack even a shred of decency, they try to use other people's commitments as a source of amusement.

Some people don't want to wear wedding rings because they are, for whatever reason, less than committed to the marriage. Some people don't wear wedding rings because they hate the feel of jewelry.

A little keyboard to the forehead is looking good right now.

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Carolyn Hax: Sorry, guys, I just finished a whole long answer and lost it. I will try to retype it aqap.

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Re: Nagging: Adoption is really the only reason to not breastfeed. Even in some adoption cases, when the baby is still tiny, there can be some form of breastfeeding. The issues of "inadquate supply" and "medication" are non- issues. Please do your homework on this. It is almost impossible for a mom to not produce enough milk. It's a common misconception. Also, there are VERY FEW medications which enter the breastmilk enough to jeapoardize the baby. You really should not counsel people on this unless you know your facts. These reasons you mention are many excuses people use to stop breastfeeding and it's unfortunate. You aren't a lactation specialist.

Carolyn Hax: No, I'm not. I have done my homework and I do know a fair number of facts (raise your hands if you've read "Mothering Multiples"! And a few other equally gripping reads ...) though I don't pretend to be anything even approaching an expert. I also know that some people don't get the proper support; some people don't give birth in hospitals with active, nurturing, nonjudgmental lactation specialists helping them; some people actually have family in their faces about how they SHOULDN'T nurse, based on stupid wives tales from mid-20th-century; some people do give up when they technically don't "have" to--and I don't believe these mothers deserve to have strangers in their faces about the end result. What good does that do?

And then: Just because adoption is possible, and there is the occasional med that can't go to a baby, or some other detail a stranger can't know, it is presumptuous for a stranger to jump in and nag. Spread this word through the care network so it reaches the people who need it when they can use it, not through public confrontation, which reaches people who are past the point of being able to change back, tired, and trying to do their best.

General validation of parents and their choices--even if you personally may have made a different one--goes a whole lot farther in creating good parents who make good choices, than does criticizing a mother who makes the silly silly mistake of feeding her baby a bottle in public.

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Carolyn Hax: I'm suprised no one has offered me a cigarette.

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Re: sisters: Do you want to have a better relationship with your sister because she's a cool and interesting person whom you'd like to get to know better and spend more time with? Or do you want to have a better relationship with your sister because you think that's what sisters are supposed to do?

If it's the former, tell her so.

If it's the latter, remember that your sister is just some random person you were forced together with, not a friend you chose based on common interests and compatibility. Feeling bad because you're not better friends with her is like feeling bad because you're not best friends with the kid who sat next to you in kindergarten. Add to that years of sharing close quarters with no respite from each other, and it's a miracle that any siblings in the world can get along with each other.

Carolyn Hax: A little dark, but I like it, thanks.

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Real or not: Why would someone submit fake questions, though? Maybe they're perverting details to disguise themselves and they go a little overboard with it, but then again I haven't seen your inbox.

Carolyn Hax: Cheap jollies, would be my guess.

I do have at least one identified serial faker, someone in dire need of a volunteer gig petting shelter dogs or something.

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Carolyn Hax: Time to go. Sorry about the lost question (the mom with napping kids had enough time left over to groom the dog, too); I still can't figure out where it went. Anyway, bye, thanks, and type to you next week.

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