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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 11, 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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Bethesda, Md.: I dated a co-worker for about six months. We broke up and have since continued to work together perfectly fine. He is leaving soon and a farewell party is planned. I want to go to be polite and b/c our coworkers assume we are good pals. But I also don't want to go because it will be painful to see him step out of my life, permanently. Is pursuing a friendship with someone who was a only so-so boyfriend even worth it? I really respect and admire him at work, but am not sure if a friendship is a good idea. I don't think I want to lose out on knowing someone who is a great person, just a crappy boyfriend, but I keep going around in circles!

Carolyn Hax: Maybe on one of those circular trips, you'll walk into a pole.

Plan to go. If at any point you change your mind, don't go.

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C'Ville, Va.: Hi Carolyn,

I'm hot for somebody I cannot, should not, under many circumstances, have, yet I cannot control myself! I'm already arranging a few friendly get-togethers and really need for you to tell me how to throw cold water on myself... because this should not happen!! I know I shouldn't, and I know I will regret it later. But damn, I cannot control myself. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Hi. Yes you can. Call/email and undo the friendly arrangements. Write back.

BTW, what's the obstacle? Are we talking married to other people? Cat person/dog person?

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Anywhere and Everywhere: Hey Carolyn - hope you have a lovely weekend.

I am a year past a serious, long term relationship. Just starting think, okay, going out would be nice. But I wonder how to not fall too quickly for someone, because of the issues in the last relationship. I need to be hesitant and take my time, but can you fight your feelings? Can you 'not' fall in love?

Carolyn Hax: Not sure about that one, but I am sure that if your whole strategy is to contain your feelings, then you want some other strategies. It's like with food. If you're weak in the presence of chocolate, which would you expect to succeed: fighting the urge all day to raid your cabinet full of chocolate, or just not having any chocolate in your cabinet?

I'm not suggesting the relationship translation shouldbe as strict. If you have to limit yourself up front to seeing someone new, say, two times a week, then you're probably not ready to date yet.

But you can plant the, "Am I moving too fast?" question in your head so that it's there when you make new decisions, and you can also resolve right now, before there's anyone tempting you, what you think is healthy and unhealthy so you can keep your balance better.

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Online Dating, Washington, D.C>: I have discovered a disturbing facet of online dating. A woman's objective physical attractiveness is inversely proportional to the humor and quality of writing in her profile. I know there are attractive AND smart women out there -- but put them online and the profile of choice appears to be a pic and a few lines of drivel.

Is the strain of having an attractive physique just too much for their poor little typing fingers?

On the plus side, I suppose it allows me to weed out those women who view their intelligence is a draw back, which probably saves me a lot of dinner checks.

Carolyn Hax: Make that two disturbing facets of online dating.

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Re: can't control self: Shouldn't they also be asking themself why they are so desperate for the attention of someone they already know is wrong for them? An answer to that question might help, or the problem will be repeated. I used to get involved with guys I knew were totally wrong for me, and I would often put myself in situations that led to bad choices. Since it kept happening I did a little soul searching. Once I figured out why I was doing it, I addressed that need with better resources.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm in the process of getting rid of a toxic friend -- unfortunately my very young (under 4) daughter loves her daughter of the same age. I honestly don't want to spend time with the mother as she makes horrid comments about my weight, my choice to be a working mom, etc. -- pretty much any opening she sees. If I see her, it's volunteering to be her punching bag. But... my daughter REALLY likes hers. Do I suck it up?

Carolyn Hax: Maybe a for a little while, with longer and longer gaps between visits. Your daughter is tiny; she'll adjust.

Have you said anything to the mom, by the way?

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Minneapolis, Minn.: I know we are supposed to not judge each other, or be judgmental, but isn't that what everyone does?

I'm not saying I walk around and nit-pick everyone, but I talk to a person and decide if I like them, I see an outfit that is in poor taste... What is the difference between calling it like you see it and being judgmental?

Carolyn Hax: Hm. I'm thinking two things keep judging from becoming judgmental:

1. Keeping these thoughts to yourself.

2. Never losing sight of your own unlikable moments and fashion don'ts.

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For Bethesda: I think Bethesda should go to the farewell party but stay just long enough not to look like she's blowing it off and not drink any alcohol there.

Carolyn Hax: Good point--nothing says bad career move like drunken emoting at an office party.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm lonely. There I said it. Most of my friends are suddenly married or engaged (I'm only 24!), but I can't seem to meet someone that I even want to bother to flirt with. I know I tend to close myself off, but I can't help it. I'm a single girl surrounded by happy couples. I love them, but they are killing me. How do I hang out with my couple friends and not cry a little for myself that I don't have that?

Carolyn Hax: Write down five things you want most to accomplish in your lifetime that don't involve other people. Take the week if you need it. We'll be here again next Friday.

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Toxic Friend: The mom of the four-year-old shouldn't feel bad about dumping the toxic friend. I'm betting that woman isn't a great person for her four-year-old to be around.

Carolyn Hax: Probably not, but not so much because of the kid's direct exposure, but instead because of the number it does on her mommy.

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New York, N.Y.: Is online dating legitimate yet?

Carolyn Hax: Of course it can be perfectly legit--like anything else, it's as good as the people who use it.

What it isn't is an easy shortcut. You can't treat it as picking people off a menu and ordering them, and sending them back if the spinach is bland, and then expect this process to yield love, respect and happiness ever after.

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For Lonely Washington, D.C.:"I know I tend to close myself off, but I can't help it." This is the part you need to work on.

Carolyn Hax: Right. It can be helped. Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: A friend who moved to a new city has asked me several times (via e-mail) to come over for a weekend to visit her new apartment. Each time I respond positively and suggest a particular weekend, she goes silent and doesn't mention visiting for another couple months. Then she emails again with an invitation, which a accept, then she ignores, lather, rinse, repeat.

It's about time for her to issue another invitation, and I don't want to go through this again. How should I respond? I'm a little hurt, though I don't to just pony up with "Would you stop doing this? It hurts my feelings." How should I respond, apart from doing the same old kabuki dance.

Carolyn Hax: Call? Or, if you don't have too close a history and it isn't worth putting her on the spot, just accept as noncommittally as she invites you: "That sounds great. Name the weekend."

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

Love the chats. I hope you can help me get some perspective. I feel like my career is stalled--am actively looking for new directions as I hate the job I'm in. Feel like I'm kind of in a black hole and it's hard to keep positive as I look for a way out.

My husband, who is in basically the same field, really likes his job. Also, he keeps getting unsolicited offers for even better jobs that he'd love even more. I feel like a horrible person because it's hard for me to really be just truly happy for him without comparing how well everything is going for him with how awful my options seem right now. (Also, his job offers are in locations where I don't see job prospects that would be right for me...) Any advice on how to cope without taking it out on him?

Carolyn Hax: It's not about him. It's not necessarily even about you. He is in a job that suits him; you are not. So, his best professional features are on display for all to see; yours are not. The resulting disparity in your professional achievments makes perfect sense in that light, and it's just not personal. It's about how well your jobs fit you.

So, your search for a "way out" should focus on your particular skills and temperament first. Figure out what those are, then summon all your imagination (and contacts) to come up with the best venue for them.

If you;re stuck, this is where career offices/personality tests/coaches/headhunters/professional associations and all related else can come in handy.

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Freaking Out: Carolyn,

I've recently started dating a really nice guy. I like him and he likes me. We've been on, oh, 6 dates, I think. The problem is that we're both kind of gun shy about relationships. I know the right thing to do is to go with the flow, but...um...I have no idea how to do that. I overthink and overanalyze everything and, unfortunately at times, over say things to him about what I'm thinking. How do I just relax and let things happen how they should happen?

Carolyn Hax: When you catch yourself oversaying things, just say, "I'm sorry, I say too much sometimes." You are who you are--getting used to yourself will be a lot more effective than trying to change.

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Washington, D.C.: What do you do when you feel like you're putting too much pressure on yourself to live up to your own expectations of the kind of person you want to be?

Carolyn Hax: See answer above. If that's not enough, write back and I'll keep going.

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Virginia is not always for lovers: Hi Carolyn,

I was speaking with a girlfriend recently about our mutual friend, a guy, who finally got over his one-sided attraction to a woman, Ms. X. How did he do it? He now thinks (or realizes) that she's a "total man-hating B." She was cold, etc., and played with him, enjoying stringing him along.

Aside from the fact that I don't believe she was first-seat in the love orchestra, it caused me to wonder: what are someone's responsibilities when someone is the target of unrequited love? Are there any responsibilities, beyond deflecting advances, not agreeing to go out on dates, to actively do something about it, even when the person pursuing you hasn't come outright and said, "I'd really like to date you" but hasn't come to terms with the fact that friendship isn't enough for them?

Carolyn Hax: First seat in the love orchestra. Not sure what to say, but have to say something.

I think if someone is smitten with you and you're solidly not smitten back, then your responibility is not to enjoy the fruits of the attention. At all. It's really hard, and I think virtually everybody is going to slip at some point if the smitten person is also your friend. But there are two things a smitten person will do: devote extra attention to you, and look hard for signs of hope. And so enjoying the attention (such a tempting thing) is going to generate fuel for hope. And the effect is cruel, whether or not intended.

FWIW, blaming the heartbreak on the person who wasn't smitten is the standby response of the immature--lay the blame on anyone but oneself. Which is to say it can be hard to avoid, even if the object of affection tries really hard not to feed any false hopes.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Carolyn. This is (in)appropriate for Mother's Day ...

My mom calls me a lot and expects me to respond in kind. I know it's rude to not call back in a timely manner, but I'm really busy and also introverted (people stress me out) and don't like to talk on the phone. I've explained this to her many times over the years, and while she'll say she understands, we keep bumping up against this problem anyway. I think the crux of it is, she wants to have a certain kind of relationship with me, and I don't want that same relationship. But that's not the kind of thing you want to say to your mom!

Right now I think she's mad at me because she's called several times over a period of two weeks and I only called her back once. I don't even listen to her messages, they're all the same. Sometimes I think I need to go to a therapist to try to figure out how to deal with her.

Carolyn Hax: Why not? If nothing else you can get new ideas on how to maintain a relationship without having to get on the phone. But I do think there's probably stuff worth exploring in the way she pushes your buttons.

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Seattle, Wash.: What can I do if my live-in girlfriend is a secretive overeater? She's overweight (probably medically obese), has health issues, and is depressed (which she's seeing a psychiatrist and taking drugs for). I've stopped buying junk food and I cook relatively healthy (not vegan, but not mac & cheese either).

She talks about, and every once in a while gets, exercise but it usually lasts only a couple of days. And anytime I mention taking the dog out for a walk or doing something, she finds excuses not to (not feeling well, too busy).

I'm in good shape and she'll make comments like "wouldn't I rather have a tall and thin girlfriend." I've mentioned getting into better shape and eating less junk on a couple of occasions over the past year, but when I have, she started sulking and shutting me out.

She's definitely using food as a coping mechanism, but what can I do to help her feel better (physically and mentally)?

Carolyn Hax: Drop the physical issue. Until she gets her emotional health in order, the physical problem will remain, and so any mention of it will set her up for feelings of failure/frustration--which of course will set back the emotional effort.

This is someone who is severely down on herself and is seeking pain relief where it's easiest to find--food. I can't promise you'll be able to help her locate and cure her pain, but any help you're able to provide should be directed at supporting her treatment. If you;re not sure how to do that, talk to a psychiatrist yourself--maybe just one appointment--to get an idea of what's realistic to expect of this process and of yourself in a supporting role.

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Change of Plans...: The person I'm seeing recently cancelled plans with me. For totally legit, trustworthy reasons. However, I'm having this weird attack of insecurity and nuttiness. I don't do well with changes in plans, I tend to be very structured. And maybe a little bit rigid.

At the same time, I don't want to be that clingy, insecure girl who freaks out. So, do I tell him cancelling our date made me nervous, or do I let it slide?

Carolyn Hax: Make other plans (even if it's just a bath and a book). Get something good out of this--flip your rigidity the bird. Do it enough and maybe you'll find flexibility you never knew you had.

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Washington, D.C.: You say you are who you are and getting used to it is easier than trying to change. But surely this has limits. I have strong views (or perhaps more accurately, when I have strong views, I express them--not on the street but while working on a project with a team, for example). I'm happy to have people disagree with me (and don't view my opinions as better than theirs), but realize that I can come off as intimidating if their personalities are more meek than mine. I sort of think of this as a NYC personality versus a Midwest one--not one is better than the other, but just different. And there are aspects of my personality (and the stereotypical New Yorker) related to this stong opinion part that I like very much. So, should I just stop fighting these or being worried about how others interpret it? It does get tiring to feel like you are constantly battling yourself, even while recognizing you are not perfect.

Carolyn Hax: My guess is that we all have at least one lifelong battle built into us, either physically, emotionally, intellectually. Most I'd guess have multiple ongoing battles. A battle with sloth, a battle with nerves, a battle with jumping to conclusions, a battle with food, a battle staying focused. Life is complicated and, as machines go, people are twitchy on their best days.

So when I suggest that getting used to ourselves is easier than changing, I do have battles like these (and yours) in mind. You are, for example, probably never going to develop a perfect touch at expression opinions at work. But you can be aware of your tendencies--enough, ideally, to make an effort to listen to the people around you (instant bully-B-gone), and not-as-ideally to make amends when you realize you've just steamrolled a debate. Does it suck to have to be attentive? Sure. But it's better than lacking all self awareness and wondering why no one will work with you. At least this way you have the power to take the issue further and ask yourself, "Should I even be working in a team environment, or would I be better on a more solitary path?" This too is a practical application of getting used to yourself.

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Alexandria, Va.: Why do women have a monopoly on being Advice Columnists. Yourself, Ask Amy, Dear Prudence, Miss Manners, etc. Is it some kind of maternal instinct thing? Shouldn't there be some kind of male voice to balance out the equation?

Carolyn Hax: There's no monopoly--Dan Savage and Dr. Phil say otherwise, plus a bunch of guys advising on specific things like cars, pets, real estate, gardening ... and of course Garrison Keillor was Mr. Blue for a while for Slate. There certainly are a lot more women doing general relationship advice, but I can speak only for myself--it wasn't a plan, I just fell into it. Nothing keeping some kind of male voice from falling into it, too. Plenty have given it a shot.

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Re: Seattle, Washington: Just wanted to mention regarding the guy with the obese girlfriend: I hope she's gone in for a thyroid function check?

I was two years into treatment with antidepressants, was so tired and draggy that all I wanted to do was sleep, felt awful about myself and so forth when an alert doctor at my HMO ordered thyroid function tests. Glory be! My main problem was low thyroid.

In retrospect it sounds so obvious, but we all missed the obvious for two years.

Just a thought.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. Another thought, the depression medication could be contributing, too. Another thought, we don't know it was a guy who wrote in. Not that it matters.

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Chicago, Ill.: I've always been bothered by your comments about online dating and thought I'd say something this time. I was never a huge believer in it myself and didn't go into it with great expectations, but a year and a half ago (while living in DC) I met a wonderful guy through an online dating site. I have never been with someone who I am so compatible with and we make each other happier than we ever have been - and I know that we never would have met in the "real world". We exchanged just a few emails before deciding to meet a couple of days later, since I would much rather get to know someone in person than through electronic communication. So in this way, I don't see it as all that different from going out with someone you initially through a friend or activity. The magic happens (or, usually, doesn't happen) when you spend time with each other. It's hard to make friends in a big city when you're starting out alone, and I don't think there's anything wrong with using the internet as a way to come into contact with people who otherwise might remain just one in a sea of anonymous faces.

Carolyn Hax: Glad you wrote in. But how does this not square with what I've been saying? It hasn't replaced in-person judgment; it's not a magic bypass of a difficult process; it's best to go in with caution and low expectations because you're meeting strangers and a lot of people misrepresent themselves.

I was definitely slow to be even this accepting, but I don't regret that at all--time had to have its say.

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Male columnists: Not to mention Cary Tennis at salon.com; he posts very wordy advice pretty much every weekday.

Carolyn Hax: Right. And now I'm thinking Mr. Blue was salon.com, too.

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Overweight in D.C.: For the guy whose girlfriend is obese and eating secretively, I am obese and my husband is fairly active. I am dealing with health issues that I am addressing currently related to the weight so that we can have a baby and yes there are things you can do, some of which you are already doing. Eat healthy and keep healthy food in the house and don't bring in things that will throw the two of you off healthy eating. Suggest activities that have a physical component to them AND that she is actually able to do like light walking or swimming (great for big people and perfect since summer is around). Make sure that you don't press her about the weight or the exercise, lead by example not words and try your hardest not to judge (shouldn't be hard if you love her). Please remember that her unhealthy habits are likely learned over a lifetime (mine were since I was overweight from 5 and had sedentary parents who drank a lot of soda and ate a lot of sugar) and will always be a struggle that feels overwhelming. Try going to counseling as a couple, even though she has things she has to deal with alone, knowing your partner is there supporting you helps. Lastly, know that this is, in the end, a problem she has to deal with alone, with help to be sure but in the end alone. There is NOTHING that my husband, my friends, my family, my doctors, or strangers making comments on the street (you know who you are) can say or do to MAKE me exercise or eat healthy, NOTHING. While it is the responsibility of my partner and friends to not hinder me and be helpful where they can be, in the end, the responsibility for my health, physical and mental, is mine.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, this is great.

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Carolyn, I think you missed the question:"Change of Plans" didn't just ask what to do about her rigidity - the question was whether she should tell her date about her nervousness. I think the usual question applies here - what would you hope to gain by telling him? If he had a legitimate excuse for canceling, he shouldn't be made to further explain or feel guilty.

Carolyn Hax: I didn't miss it. My advice was to make other plans, lemonade out of lemons, margaritas out of limes ... what were we talking about. Oh--meaning, alternatives to complaining about the broken date. If his reasons hadn't been legit, then I would have advised saying something, and if it's a Larger Issue, then it should come up in a Larger Conversation, when appropriate. But I think in this case the first line of attack should be a solo adult effort at coping with disappointment. Like, making other plans.

You want wordy, I got wordy.

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What to do?: I recently moved to a new city. The same city, it so happens that a friend of mine just moved out of for another place. Thing is, he was friends with a girl that he almost dated, but things didn't work out and now they both hate each other. I had met her before when I visited him on a couple of occasions. I recently ran into said girl in town, and she re-introduced herself. We had a really good conversation and she followed up with e-mail and get-together requests. I was a bit hesitant to respond because I didn't know how to react. All of my friend's friends in town don't like this girl and they all hate her for what they say she did to their friend. I am also friends with them. And since this girl has been asking me to hang-out with her, I almost feel guilty accepting to. But then, I don't share the same history with her as they all do. It all seems so juvenile. I'm not even trying to date her or anything. It's just that i'm new in town and would like to expand my social circle beyond a certain group. Is that so wrong?

Carolyn Hax: Encouraging a friendship with her could be a decisive act of anti-juniorhighism that leads to a valuable friendship, or it could be the beginning of a toxic friendship you could have avoided if you had only listened to your friends. So, ask your friends to spell out what their problem is with her, and if it seems like playground stuff, then trust your judgment and call her.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm the person who wrote in about sometimes coming off as intimidating. I was perhaps inarticulate or perhaps you are using an extreme example to make a point, but I do not think anyone would call me a bully. My use of intimidating was probably a poor choice of words. I state my view and then let others state theirs. I do not keep reiterating my point or try to convince people to accept my viewpoint. I deeply resent the accusation that I am a bully--it's quite a strong charge. If I were a bully, then I think that is something I SHOULD change (I do not see how that can be an acceptable trait) and not accept as just my personality. For what it's worth, the most recent example I was thinking of, several members of the committee came to me privately (and separately) and thanked me for my expressing my views--though I don't think the team leader liked that I disagreed with her viewpoint. I think the bigger issue is just in a group you will have a myriad of personality styles and it sometimes can be difficult (or at least I experience this difficulty) to tailor your approach to match all those types.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, use of bully was (c). Shorthand, for dominating an argument. It wasn't a "charge," even in the remotest definition of such. I accused you of nothing.

Which makes your defensiveness extraordinary, I think.

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Accepting vs. settling?: Hi Carolyn,

How do you know whether you are accepting someone for who they are, flaws and all, or settling for someone, flaws and all.

Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Dunno. How busy is your rationalization factory? When you first see this person, are you happy, or were you wishing s/he'd be late?

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For (in)appropriate for Mother's Day : Be careful about how you handle this with your mom... I used to think that my mom called too much, was too nosy, etc. and I was very stressed out by how much she called and the expectations of returned calls. At some point I told her, saying I appreciated her calls but couldn't answer each one due to my schedule. Now she never calls. Even though I have begged her to call and check in at least a couple times a year. She says "I don't want to bother you."

And I cry and wish for the days when she called me incessantly.

Carolyn Hax: If the other poster's therapist works out, maybe we can get you the name--this is one emotionally manipulative mommy you're dealing with. It's stunning to me how many people pull this control stuff without realizing it, and how many people learn it as the norm and therefore aren't equipped to take it on.

I'm really sorry. You;re obviously hurting. PLease do consider talking to someone about or doing some homework on controlling behavior.

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Fine Example: Well, the not-bully's response is a perfect example of bullying. Taking personal exception to something that wasn't personally aimed at you, and then defending yourself against charges you've come up with. All to make the person take back the things they didn't say in the first place, in order to make yourself feel better.

Carolyn Hax: I'm going to post this to divert the attention to you ...

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Carolyn: Please help me make a decision. I live in another state than I grew up in and since dad died I have had no contact with other family members, not because of me, but because everyone back home has quit keeping in touch. It's been tough but I have a great family with my husband and his parents. And no, my family did not even come to my wedding. So I was wondering how weird it is if I want to go visit my town, but not any family members as they are totally toxic. I feel like I lost my identity when my family ditched me and think that a visit to familiar places would lighten my mood. My husband thinks it would be a good idea and that we should treat it like a vacation. I'm worried I may see people I know and it would be awkward if they ask why I am visiting. Thoughts, please.

Carolyn Hax: I don't think anyone should have to explain a visit to one's hometown, but if you;re worried about being put on the spot, prepare an answer that feels comfortable to you--like, "I was feeling nostalgic," or, "It's been so long I was curious," or, "I wanted to show my husband where I grew up"--and have it handy so the trip doesn't get swallowed up by dread.

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Re accepting vs. settling: My answer was "happy, very happy." My problem is that my SO thinks about things in a completely irrational way. Someone cuts them off and SO says "hope that person dies in a car accident" etc. It's draining, and SO knows how I feel. Am I settling or is this something that could change?

Carolyn Hax: Won't change.

How does that prospect strike you?

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Tulsa?. OK!:"First seat in the love orchestra"

Sounds much better than

"Alone at the self service pump in the gas station of love"

Carolyn Hax: On that note. Bye, everybody, happy weekend and type to you next Friday.

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Carolyn Hax: The resposes to the bully thing are fascinating. Representative pair:

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For Washington DC "not a bully":"I do not keep reiterating my point or try to convince people to accept my viewpoint."

Really?!

Carolyn Hax: and:

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NY, NY: Your comment "and you defensiveness is extraordinary" was quite rude. I've never seen you personally attack a questioner before.

Carolyn Hax: Many more of both extremes.

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