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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 4, 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.

Mail can be directed to Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

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Carolyn Hax: Hi guys. I have to share this one from my inbox today:

"I guess when it's not your place to judge, you just have to settle for name calling.

"Or is that just something dried-up old hags do when they can't bring themselves to use a current picture.

"If you thought you sounded playful; then you should be chuckling right now."

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Tortu, RE: Long story short. Let a friend move in with me temporarily. It was a disaster--she had no respect for my personal space or my stuff. No boundaries and no shame--lots of excuses and denial about her behavior. I have finally managed to get her out of my home, but now my problem is this. We move in the same social circles and so have the opportunity to see each other often. She wants to know why our friendship is "strained" and why I seem mad at her; I want nothing more to do with this person. Do I go all out and detail my every frustration with her, or let sleeping dogs lie and pretend everything is hunky dory for the sake of no-conflict socially? I know she will never accept responsibility or own up to her behavior so part of me wonders what's the point of further argument, denial, and excuses. Another part of me thinks it's not fair to just say nothing. Your thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Have you considered the offical get-it-out-in-the-open lunch. I know, I know. But she's asking, so, maybe you can respond by explaining as much as you need to stop carrying this anger around.

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San Francisco, Calif.: When should you move on? I just recently completed a year long, relationship with someone on the East Coast, where we were both talking about marriage. Thing is, we are in sporadic communication and I will be moving to the same city as her b/c of work. A lot of friends think we will get back together but I'm wondering whether its healthy to remain in touch or whether I should keep her at a distance.

Carolyn Hax: You;ve left out the key information: Who broke up with whom, and why?

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Boston, Mass.: Hi Carolyn-

I'm having a little bit of trouble with my mother. She is really a great woman -- smart, funny, warm. She and I have always had a terrific relationship and I count her as one of my closest friends.

We've started to drift apart over the last few months, however, largely because of my recent engagement to "Mark." Although Mark and I have been dating for two years and have known each other since college, my parents don't know him very well (they live overseas and have only had the chance to meet him a few times).

Since my engagement, my mother's conversations with me have mostly consisted of her questioning my decision or nitpicking small faults that she has gleaned from either things that I told her (that I obviously didn't believe were faults) or from her two interactions with Mark. I try to avoid the subject-but that has practically become impossible as I occasionally need her input to plan the wedding. She has been extremely difficult about this as well-not from a financial perspective, but just from an attitude perspective. In one of our recent conversations she told me, for example, that we should just elope because it would be a lot less effort.

Carolyn, how can I rebuild my relationship with my mother? I am finding it hard to see her side of things, and thought you might be able to help with that too. Thanks so much.

Carolyn Hax: Have you asked her plainly if there's something bothering you? When someone starts pelting you with a million little emotional pebbles, and has no history of doing that, then there's a big ol rock somewhere back there. Maybe she's afraid of losing you. Maybe she feels out of it/outof control since she doesn't really know the guy. Maybe she had a bad first impression of Mark and had assumed she would have time to find out more before you got serious. Invite her to unburden--and whatever she says, do not, do not punish her for saying it. The only bad outcome here is that she doesn't open up. (Which is, of course, possible.)

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Washington, DC: Within a couple of months into dating, my boyfriend told me that he had cheated in a recent previous relationship. I lost my trust in him from that moment on, and had become a jealous person, frequently questioning him. We have broken up, and I worry now that maybe it didn't work out because I'm too jealous. Is this something I should fix in myself, or is this just something brought about by him?

Carolyn Hax: Um. The first sign that you have work to do is a willingness to blame someone else for everything. So, yes, this is something you should fix in yourself.

When he had this little spasm of honesty with you, was he--defending his infidelity? Regretting it? Deploring it? Dislpaying it for onlookers to admire? Surely there was some context to the conversation. Whatever it was, it probably contained everything you needed to judge whether his cheating was a terrible slip he's unlikely to repeat, or a sign that he shouldn't be trusted.

And even if you think that's giving everyone's deductive powers a bit too much credit, I have no doubt he supplied you enough info for you to decide, "I don't trust him" vs. "That's a red flag, but I need more time to be sure."

And if you chose the latter, what was the point of staying with him if you realized, shortly after choosing to keep him around, that you were as sure as you needed to be and couldn't trust him at all anymore?

No cheating is good, but some is more understandable and/or forgivable than others. Some unforgivable cheaters turn themselves around. People choose every day to trust mates who have slipped in the past. Correction--mates who are honest about having slipped in the past. This guy could have hidden his past, but he didn't.

All of which brings me to one point: These things often aren't black-and-white. If you're going to see them as black-and-white, then your actions have to match your beliefs: You should have broken up with the guy on the spot. But if you;re going to believe there's gray, your actions again need to match your beliefs--you need to pay attention to the details and make a conscious, reasoned decision whether the guy is trustworthy or not.

That, I think, is the way you need to get at your jealousy. If your sense of security is based on a black-and-white sensibility, and if you need pure whiteness to be able to sleep at night, the you;re either going to end up with a good liar or a bad case of insomnia. Please find a way to make some peace with grayness--to regard carefully the facts of a situation, to trust the decision those facts support, to accept that you still might be wrong sometimes, and to trust yourself to handle that.

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Fairfax, Va.: For Torture, why not a somewhat sanitized version of the truth? "While you were living with me, I learned that we don't have as much in common as I once thought." No need to mention that Common Human Decency is what you found you don't have in common.

Carolyn Hax: Good start, but I think the anger might be past the point of ignoring. Maybe add, "And I was frustrated that you wouldn't take responsibility for breaking my toothpick sculpture"--as long as it's a fact not in dispute.

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Freaked out!: I am going for my first (routine) mammogram today and I'm totally freaked out. Not only is there a (I know, minuscule) chance to learn some really bad news, I'm also suddenly feeling old! Even my 35th birthday didn't do that to me!

Any advice from you or the peanuts? To get through the waiting, and the smash test itself?

Carolyn Hax: What can I say. It's just the first few steps of the famous falling-apart cha-cha. The faster you get used to it, the funnier it gets.

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Dating a former cheater: I am the good liar that someone who won't countenance cheating could end up with. My gf made it very clear from the beginning that this was not something she could deal with. Well, okay, but I had cheated in a previous relationship (years before I met her), I worked out why, and I won't do it again. But if I'd told her, that would have been it.

I still did it, though, and my girlfriend doesn't know. I'm okay with this -- I have to be. But the point is that not admitting to having cheated in the past is not the same thing as never having done it.

Carolyn Hax: Excellent, thank you.

Now can we talk about why you're still with someone who can't handle honesty? When I'm guessing that's something you'd appreciate?

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Re: Boston, Mass.: If the mother is deliberately being vague about her "big ol rock," shouldn't it be the mother's responsibility to unburden herself, instead of the daughter inviting her to unburden? Unless the daughter has a record for punishing her mother for voicing her opinions.

In my family, the members who have big ol rocks chip off pieces and throw them at others as passive-aggressive maneuvers, such as indirect insults, embarrassing stories, and surly attitudes.

Carolyn Hax: If it gets the mom talking, who cares whose responsibility it is? The daughter gains nothing by folding her arms and insisting it's not her job.

... Unless of course they're on the nth time around with this stuff, and the daughter has decided she's no longer going to be the one to grovel every time her mother points to the floor. But that doesn't sound at all like the dynamic between this mom and kid.

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Washington, D.C.: Although I love my sister dearly, we simply cannot travel or live together. We are both in our 30s. She has a tendency to fly off the handle in an unpredictable manner and say horrible, awful things either to my parents or me or both. We never know what will set her off. I can count on this happening whenever we travel together, usually to Europe, making it difficult to just up and leave when I want to. (She does all the driving.) Although she apologizes profusely and sincerely later on, these incidents are extremely draining on me. I come back to work feeling as though I've had no vacation at all, and my self-esteem is gone. Despite all of this, she insists on doing it again year after year. I'm not sure why because it's clear she's so unhappy during these trips, and although she acknowledges she needs help she has never taken steps to remedy this problem, i.e. therapy. This year, I'm trying to avoid going altogether. But she brings up an excellent point: our parents are getting older, and our time with them is limited. However, my vacation time and money ($1400 for a ticket!) are precious to me too, in addition to my own happiness and sanity. Just like the previous years, this will be the only vacation I take all year, and I'd like to make the most of it. I don't want to spend it being yelled at and being told how unhappy I make her but I do want to spend time with my parents. How should I approach this?

Carolyn Hax: Stick to your no, but say that if it's important to her to get the family together, you'll gladly join them for part of a week in X, X being someplace in the US where you can come and go more freely.

You;re in your 30s. I.e., about 10 years into being fully equipped to stand up to this bully.

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Chinatown: Re: Getting through your first mammogram - Give yourself a treat to look forward to on the FAR side... a glass of wine in a swanky spot on the way home, a stop at the bookstore, an ice cream. Don't make the test the only thing looming for you today - and I always like to reward myself for just getting things like that DONE rather than putting in off.

Good for you!!

Carolyn Hax: Great point, thanks. I want a Margaritas for Mammograms T-shirt. Or Mules for Mammograms. Platforms for Pancakes ... this could get difficult.

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Maplewood, N.J.: Hi Carolyn,

Love your advice, but last week you gave an answer that's continued to trouble me. You're take that the parent who hadn't read his daughter/son's book was playing a cruel mind game. I've been there (in the author's place) and really don't know. Like the poster, I wrote a popularly received book that my mom took over a year to read and my dad still hasn't, though both are big readers. I don't know what it is, but I'm sure it didn't have anything to do with cruelty. They're clearly proud. Maybe there's something too weird about reading your kid's book, especially if you sense you aren't really crazy about it and don't want to say. Whatever the reason, it's enough that they're proud. I'd hate to see the poster end up hating his/her dad for deliberate cruelty when something else is going on.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, I agree--my job is to identify poison, not introduce it. I hope that wasn't the case here. Thanks.

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Ann Arbor, Mich.: Is it bad to write a letter to my father explaining things that I could never talk about in person? There's no big scandal involved, but these would be things a lot of sons and daughters never bother to talk about with a parent or close relative. Am I taking the easy road out?

Carolyn Hax: Write the letter and then ask yourself the same question. Some people see letters as the coward's way out, some see them as the perfect tool for accomplishing what you describe--saying things that, if spoken, would get muddied by the emotions of the moment. I find a good way to navigate between the two camps (since one of you might be on one side, the other on the other) is to deliver the letter in person. Where feasible, obviously.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn -- I accepted an offer for a new job and I need to give my notice today at my current job (I have three weeks left to go). I love my job and am only leaving because I can't deal with the commute any more, and my new job is a 15 minute walk from home. What's the best way to break this to my boss? He's lost a number of employees lately (retirement, death, etc) and I know he doesn't want to lose any more. And he's such a nice guy -- I dread the look I know he's going to give me when I tell him.

Carolyn Hax: Bosses expect this. It's part of the territory. Think of your telling him today as the kindest thing you can do, since the sooner he knows the better he can prepare. And be sure to share all the nice stuff.

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New York, N.Y.: Is "self-pollution" a bad sign in a marriage? If my drive is higher than my wife's and I work around it in a solitary manner, does that bode poorly for the relationship?

Carolyn Hax: I think calling it "self-pollution" is the only scary sign here. Otherwise, you;re describing the oldest coping method in the book for unequal sex drives in a marriage. Well, maybe second oldest.

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The former cheater: Why am I still with her? Because she can handle honesty about everything else and her zillions of good qualities (we've been together for years) outweigh this particular flaw.

She'd been cheated on, over time, in her previous relationship. She doesn't want to think that I could do that. Since I won't cheat on her (and I can say that with more confidence, I think, because I did to a former partner and I know what leads there) then I would prefer to let the past be the past.

Carolyn Hax: Understandable. Thanks for writing back.

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Washington, D.C.: I think I may be a terrible girlfriend. I have had two serious relationships, and I am in my third, and I seem to make it a point to drive my boyfriends away. I'm not sure why I am so demanding; I find I am a much nicer and forgiving person of my friends. My current boyfriend is a great person and we are mostly very happy. But a constant source of fighting is that he feels as though he "disappoints" me when we have little arguments. Without being too specific, these are things like not calling when he says he will, or being late, things along those lines that I would probably more easily forgive of a friend. What do you think is going on here?

Love the chats, BTW.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you.

Are you scared you'll get hurt in a relationship, where you don't think you will in a friendship? Does this fear emerge in the form of having an idea how a relationship should go, and then freaking out when reality doesn't live up to your idea? Which then turns into "calling your boyfriend on" all these little things you think he should be doing better? And then feeling bad for picking, even though you've rationalized your decision to speak up as a necessary part of sticking up for yourself? I.e., protecting yourself from getting hurt?

If that's not you, then, er, oops. But if it is, then I think the way to approach this is similar to the jealousy approach earlier. It's a matter of paying attention to the facts of people and relationships, and then letting go, trusting things to work out.

That can be in the form of a relationship that maybe isn't your "ideal" but that makes you happy, or in the form of accepting that breakups happen and hurt but are necessary in the process of finding someone with whom you have natural compatibility--meaning, you aren't watching every move just to keep him happy, and he isn't watching every move to keep you happy. Either way, it's still a conscious decision not to micromanage every moment, thought and interaction.

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Carolyn Hax: Sorry, I haven't fallen off my chair--just got into another long one.

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Washington, D.C.: I can't seem to pull it together lately (the idea of work is beyond comprehension, constantly in knots over a guy I may/may not actually be involved with...). I know my personality kind of lends itself to these periods of inner turmoil (for lack of a better phrase), but the constant worrying, overwhelming insecurity, random crying jags...they've got to go. The rational part of me thinks it's time to get thee to some sort of therapist, but I've gone that route before and the whole baring one's soul is not so easy for me. My dad's always reminding me that life's full of peaks and valleys but maybe it's time to ask for some help getting out of this valley?

Carolyn Hax: And maybe seeing a therapist not just as a talk bucket but a diagnostic tool to figure out if your "personality" has any treatable disorder to it.

It will still be your choice whether to treat it, if there is something there.

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Washington, D.C.: My little brother is 17, and he lives with my parents in a teeny town in West Texas. (I am mid-20s female.) He's had the same girlfriend for four years. There's not much to do in the country, and the State of Texas ignores sex ed. Based on statistics, he is having sex or will be soon. My parents never discussed sex with me growing up, so I worry that my brother is getting little or no accurate information to help him make responsible choices. I've thought about sending him links to helpful websites (i.e. planned p-hood), but his internet usage is closely monitored. Also, my help has not been solicited by parents or brother. One more layer -- my parents and I are not close. We're not at war, but we don't talk or visit each other often. Your thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Can your brother visit you? Not that he'll want to hear a sex-ed lesson, not that it's your job to deliver it, and not that he'll meet certain doom without it--but seems to me that you;ve got a sheltered kid who might appreciate a wider view of the world, along with someone willing to listen to him.

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How much honesty: how much honesty is too much in a relationship? I was raised to always be "nice" and if you have something not nice to say -- don't say it. But what if it needs to be said?

And what is appropriate if the other person has NO compunctions about telling you what they don't like or wish you'd change -- is it "fair" then to tell them the same -- I don't know that I could, as much as I'd like to.

Carolyn Hax: Where to start. If someone is regularly telling you how you should change, then you need a new regular companion. I'm not sure why we're all here or what's the point of it all, but I'm confident it's not to contort ourselves to please demanding, difficult people whose senses of entitlement were built without "off" switches.

As for the proper place of honesty, I think it lies in the service of intimacy. An explanation in the form of examples:

If you have an awkward feeling and you withhold it, you keep a partner from understanding and therefore addressing why you're upset. Also, generally, you keep the person from knowing you. So this is where you need to loosen your definition of "nice" and realize that the nicest thing you can do for someone close to you is let the person get close. That involves sharing some bad things with the good. Things like, "When we're out with other people and you interrupt me, it makes me feel irrelevant." Or, "I resent it wehn you pressure me to see your mom, when you know how hostile she is."

If however this thought you'd be expressing didn't serve to bring you closer or define your limits--say it was just, "That story you told at dinner was really stupid," or, "Right, go run off to your mommy," then you'd be using unhelpful honesty.

Ya?

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To "terrible girlfriend": The terrible girlfriend needs to sit back and do a little introspection. Being in a relationship is all about little compromises. You have to be willing to put the well-being of the partner and the partnership at a high level of importance (for some, that's much easier than with others). That means giving them slack for minor things that aren't worth fighting (pick your battles over things that are worth it and let the others slide), noting and appreciating the things that are right and that you enjoy, and finding non-confrontational ways to broach issues that will cause abrasion in the relationship. If you can't do that for whatever reason, you need to decide how healthy the relationship is for both of you.

Two-way communication is a must in a relationship and without it, you're heading for a long life of stress and anxiety. Who needs that?

Carolyn Hax: Right. But I would add to your list of good things to have: confidence in your ability to distinguish when you're putting a high priority on a relationship for your own good, and when you;re doing it at your expense. There is a, for lack of a better cliche, tipping point when you're letting so many little things go that the big thing, your sense of yourself, is going out the door with it. Think of the "work" in a relationship as work to share responsibilities evenly, or work not to inflict every mood on your mate. It should never be work to like someone.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn! First time asker here. I'm a guy in his 30s who has not had contact with his dad for coming up on a decade or so now. Contact didn't end with a blow-up fight or any fight actually, we just stopped talking. Parents are both alive but divorced. Considering this is the "information age" and it is really easy to find almost anyone, exactly how should I be taking this? I am somewhere between offended/sad/ticked off and mystified. How does a Dad simply cease a relationship with their child? Should I attempt contact, or as the parent is that his responsibility (as my Mom thinks). Any insight from you or 'nuts would be greatly appreciated. Thx! P.S.: You rock.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you!

I think you need to figure out what you want out of this, and then take the steps to get it. And be absolutely clear: You can't get anything he isn't giving. You have an example of that right in your letter: You want (or, I guess, your mom wants) him to contact you--but you can't make that happen. So, you need to sort through the choices over which you have full control--deciding to find him, for example, or deciding not to--and then pick one, and follow through on it.

Again--you can't make him be ecstatic to hear from you, you can't make him articulate why you aren't close, you can't stop him from losing touch with you again. But you can seek him out, and you can prepare yourself to flexible enough to deal with whatever you get. Best of luck with it.

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Marriage Advice: I think that my husband and I are sexually incompatible to a large degree. That's not to say it's never good, but it's often a source of tension and disappointment. We've been together for over 10 years, but we're still young (it's never been great though, and in fact, it's better now than it was for several years). We are incompatible, I think, in terms of when in the day we are interested, what we find appealing (he's very passive, and I believe, has a disconnect between kissing and caresses and sexual activity - that is, he's very affectionate, but it is not at all sexual. When he's interested in sex, he is not interested in kissing, etc., which turns me off). This has become a bigger problem lately, as we are trying to have a baby, but seem to have trouble having enough intercourse to make it work. I have already discussed my feelings with him, but it makes no difference - he sees no reason to change, and simply accepts that sex is an infrequent activity for us. Any advice? Thank you.

Carolyn Hax: Sounds like your husband might have unresolved issues about sex, and that any incompatibility you have between you is just a symptom of that. Since you regard your sex life as a problem and he doesn't, it might make more sense for you to get some counseling, first to help you figure out what's going on, and next to figure out how best to approach your husband. Please resolve before babies? Please? Unaddressed tension and disappointment are bad for the nest. Thanks.

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St. Johnsbury, Vt.: To Torture: I am on the other side: a dear friend moved in with me for a few weeks, things did not go well, she moved out and has literally not spoken to me since, except to say "can't talk now" when I at first tried to call her. If we show up at the same event she moves to the other side of the room or leaves.

I am sure that, like Torture, she believes I behaved in ways that remove me from the list of viable humans. I don't know what they were. After almost two years I am reconciled to the loss of a friendship that meant a lot to me.

So, Torture, I don't think you should explain anything to her. She still likes you, even though you had a hard time living together, but you don't still like her. Unless you think she can talk you back into liking her, please don't bother to fill both of your heads with all the hurtful things you could say to her.

She will stop trying to be your friend eventually. And maybe you will at some point begin to remember some of the ways you, too, were not a perfect roommate.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the other side.

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Re: relationships are work: People always say relationships are work, but they never say friendships are work. Should a romantic relationship be more/less/the same work than a friendship? (By which I mean a serious friendship, the kind of person you can call at 3 am with a crisis)

Carolyn Hax: I would say less, or at least the same. If you expect to live with someone, multiply any work you do by 24 x 7 x life. Few people ask this of their friendships, and for a great reason--it is a lot to ask.

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Washington, D.C.: I can't believe that you think Former Cheater's position is "understandable"! In his first post, he stated "My gf made it very clear from the beginning that this -past cheating] was not something she could deal with." So he has been LYING about something he knows is very important to her. He seems to think her stance is unreasonable, but that doesn't mean it's OK for him to lie. I'm sure that if she was hiding something that was a "dealbreaker" for him, he would not appreciate that. If he truly respected her, not just wanted to be with her, he would have told her the truth all along.

Carolyn Hax: I read it differently--that she threw out a don't-ask-don't-tell order. That's very different from an, "If you've cheated then I don't want you." If you're the one who read it correctly, then I disagree with me, too. Former cheater, u still out there?

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Washington, D.C.: Peaks and Valleys here. I know you get this question a lot, but if I do opt to go the therapist route - how do I go about finding one? I don't think I'm bold enough to simply ask someone for a recommendation.

Carolyn Hax: Does your employer have an Employee Assistance Program? You can start there, or you can ask your regular MD for a referral, or you can unleash your dormant inner boldness and ask a trusted friend. It's not a scarlet Crazy, it's just health care.

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Anonymous: Is it really "honesty" to tell a current beau about cheating in a past relationship, when you are totally reformed, not to mention probably older & wiser? Isn't it just opening a can labelled worms, when the can's been empty for years?

If you are CURRENTLY cheating, being called on it, that is when honesty is required.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, the way people deal with this is very useful in determining compatibility. If someone sees it as basic/refreshing/necessary honesty, a mate who thinks it's an empty worm can might not be a great match. I would hate, for example, to be with someone who was holding this info back so as not to upset me. Bleah. But you and that person might do well together. That's why I called out the guy with the don't-tell-me girlfriend. That difference of opinion on honesty could be saying a lot (or, of course, it could say almost nothing). The point is, it's all part of making good and informed choices.

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Being honest: I'm in a relationship right now where there are some things that have been eating at me, but I don't feel like telling the other person will accomplish anything. If I thought it was something he could do anything about, I would say something.

Is that too simplistic? Should I be voicing my frustrations, even though it achieves nothing except to get some frustrations off my chest and make him feel bad for something he can't change?

Carolyn Hax: Seems like the more productive course now would be to address your frustrations. You've ruled out voicing them as unhelpful, which is fine, that happens. But now that you've got em and they're bugging you and the other person can't or shouldn't have to change, what now? Can you make peace with these things, or do you have to make bigger changes?

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Saint Louis, Mo.: Carolyn (Web only),

My wife and I have a 20-year-old son living with us, who, all his life, has shown very little social motivation or drive to achieve anything. We have always had to drag him to social events, and growing up, he was needed repeated reminding to do chores and to put schoolwork before television. Now, he has one friend with whom he socializes in person, and he has begun writing to a long-distance pen-pal. His academic and/or career plans are nebulus at best, and when we attempt to ask him about his specfic plans, we get gruff and curt replys short on details. Meanwhile, he seems quite content to spend most of his time at the house watching television and contributing little while his three teenage siblings begin to pass him. He's doesn't seem intellectually lacking, just sort of walled-off from the world. We're wondering how normal this is, and what approach we should take to help him. Any ideas?

Carolyn Hax: Maybe talk to a child development specialist to feel out what the range of normal is? Whether he's a mainstream but placid kid or one with an undiagnosed condition would affect the approach you use to nudge him along. And, unfortunately, you probably do need to nudge him along, at least far enough to be self-supporting.

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re: Sheltered bro: Do talk to him, if you can, not just about sex but about relationships in general. My husband's brother was really isolated at that age, couldn't talk to his very conservative parents, and disaster ensued. Husband still regrets not having offered the kid at least an opportunity to gain an outside sib-to-sib perspective on his very natural, very strong physical feelings and the emotional buffets that came with them.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

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Round the mulberry bush: I read someplace during my husband's and my pre-marital counseling that most marriages have one or more "unresolvable issues" that may be an ongoing source of disagreement and the way to deal with them is to try and navigate through them as kindly as you can and not place any expectations on them being truly "resolved," but I've got one that's making me nuts: Scenario, I make a comment about some household issue like "I need to do some laundry" or "the living room is a bit out of hand isn't it?" and my husband jumps up and apologizes all over himself like I was accusing him for not doing the whatever. We have TALKED about this many times. I have explained that I am NOT accusing him of being at fault for the whatever, that it's mostly about kicking my own butt into gear, that if I wanted him to do something or felt some resentment for his not doing something I would say so directly, and that it makes me feel like a total harpy when he genuflects for no reason at all. He has reflected and feels that the primary reason he does this is that his mother is a passive aggressive type who issues indirect commands and holds silent grudges for 8 million years over minor stuff. Okay, so we've talked about this, we're both aware of this, and yet we continue to have these ridiculous and frustrating conversations that are wearing me (us, probably) out. How do we stop going in this particular circle? Any hope, or do I just resign myself to this one for the next forty or fifty years?

Carolyn Hax: You could stop yourself from saying, "I need to do some laundry," and just do it.

Or, when he starts apologizing all over himself, you can say, "It's okay, don't worry--she can't hurt you any more." Doesn't need to be said with a straight face, and in fact is better without it. But acknowledging the old wound openly can be magically soothing for the person whose old wound has just been reopened.

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Today's Cartoon: Nick's doodle today is great but the woman giving the disapproving look to the older guy (my age) and the Ashlee, well, she looks like you. In a good way, of course.

Carolyn Hax: It is me. First time he's ever drawn me in his style. Usually he's mimicking the way I draw myself (stick figure). Bonus: The coot is my dad, with extra years and padding.

Nick loves his job.

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Carolyn Hax: That's it for today. Bye, thanks, and type to youse next week.

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reston, va.: Okay, I'll bite. What in the world prompted that e-mail in your inbox that you posted at the beginning of today's chat?

Carolyn Hax: Eek--I forgot to include the subject line. it was in response to my using "old coots" in the column today.

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