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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 18, 2007; 12:30 PM

Programming Note: Carolyn's show will be starting at 12:30 p.m. ET today.

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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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn: How do you handle a situation in which my boyfriend's family does not invite me to family functions? I live with my boyfriend, so we are not recently together, however his family only invites him out to dinner for special family occasions. I don't think this is right, and I've told him so, but it doesn't seem to change things.

Carolyn Hax: What does he say--both to them when they extend these exclusive invitations, and to you when he goes? (I'm assuming he does go without you.)

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Not to Side with the Uneducated and Unrefined, but: It struck me that the impetus for the writer's letter to you was not all the preceding objectionable behavior, but the familial question - not even suggestion, just a question - about whether there was going to be a prenup as well as a wedding. And I was struck, as well, by the way the writer describes not only herself (which you discuss), but her fiancee - and wonder if maybe the family isn't concerned that she's a little too focused on the externalities of her fiance - I might, given the way he's described, and especially given her closing phrase - "even owns his own successful business." I mean, what does that have to do with anything she's discussing?

In other words, there are all sorts of reasons to want prenups, or to oppose them -but I'm not sure it's entirely unreasonable for his family members to ask the question, which may just be their way of expressing concern for their family member. By all means, be honest about your feelings about your family, and even discuss why the suggestion of a prenup is hurtful; but, looking at it from the family's perspective, I don't think that's such a horrible question, in and of itself, and it might be worthwhile to spend some time thinking about why it is so upsetting to her.

Carolyn Hax: I took a sentence or two out of the paragraph where she mentioned the pre-nup--they didn't add much and I didn't have room--so I could argue that I inadvertently drew more attention to that comment than I should have.

But I'm tossing it around, and I think I just missed a really good possibility. Thank you for floating it.

Oh, and pls do side with the uneducated and unrefined. Obviously the racism would be a big deal, if true, but it sure did sound like there was another side of this story aching to be told.

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Carolyn Hax: And speaking of--please keep those he said/she said questions coming. In case you missed it: If you're writing a question to me, and if there's another person involved who would also be willing to submit a question with his/her side of the same story, I'd appreciate getting both. A bunch of you have and I'm grateful. Please, keep them coming. Obviously it won't work if your question is, "I don't think I love my wife, what do I do?"--unless you're a stunningly honest couple, I guess--but if you and someone else have an open, recurring argument that you both agree is a problem, then, both of you, I'd love to hear about it. Thanks.

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RE: Last weeks manipulating moms...: I'm refering mostly to this post:

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.

Isn't it possible that this is where the Mom had to draw the line? I may be personalizing this too much but I know that for some people it hurts too much to have part of a relationship, even if it's a Mother/child relationship. Why is the Mother the bad one here? Her child said that she was asking too much, Mom evaluated that she couldn't call some of the time without it always being on her mind that she "wasn't supposed to call yet" so she decided not to call at all. I dunno, I see how this could be being manipulative but I also see that she could just be protecting herself.

Carolyn Hax: It is possible, but then the onus would be on Mom to say, "I would but it's too hard for me to keep getting blown off," or, "You say than, then you're rude when I finally call," or something like that. Even, "Hey, you;re busy, I get it--why don't you just call me when you know you have time to talk." It's the, "I don't want to bother you" that set off the wailing-violins meter. If it hurts too much to call, don't use an explanation that shifts the blame to someone else.

Of course, crying and wishing for bygone days is pretty orchestral itself. If anything, it's co-manipulation, not non-manipulation.

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Brussels, Belgium: How do you know if it's a good idea to be friends with an ex? The relationship was horrible, he didn't love me and broke my heart. Util he called me out of the blue, I diligently struck out every reminder of him from my life. But having heard his voice on the phone, I miss him.

Carolyn Hax: I'm not sure there's any one thing that tells you it's a good idea, but pretty much everything that makes it a bad idea appears in your four-sentence question.

So, my question: What would you hope to gain from this friendship? I'd love to see your answer, but it's more an exercise for you than anything else.

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Northern Virginia: Hi Carolyn,

I am having trouble focusing at work. I like my job -- most days -- but would really rather be any place else lately. Does this mean I need a vacation?

Have a great weekend!

Carolyn Hax: Maybe. Or just a weekend. Or someone switched the pots and you got accidental decaf.

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Anywhere USA: I'm a control freak and get frustrated when people (especially my SO) don't operate at my pace. I get irritated when he says he'll do something and forgets. Or if it takes three weeks to accomplish what could take 5 minutes. These activities are mostly related to his work and don't impact me directly, but his constant dallying gives me pause. Do I need to get over myself?

Carolyn Hax: Yes. And, no. This is an extension of last week's topic of which traits to "fix" and which to plan your life around. If you're hard on everybody and spend a fair amount of time either frustrated or irritated, then you've got a good argument for fixing the problem internally. Two places to start are an unflinching look at your own frailties, which in theory will make you more open to adapting to others'; and an effort to take a less judgmental look at others. By that I mean, instead of seeing your SO in terms of what he does and doesn't accomplish to you rliking, just look at -him-. See who he is. See if what you dislike is in fact an extension of something you like. Most important, see if your expectations of him have any basis in fact--and fact being HIS fact, not yours. Just because you would do X in Y time, that doesn't mean everyone can or should also do X in Y time.

Nor do I think that's something you even want, which is the next step in the process--if everyone did things your way to your liking, then everyone would be you. Is that what you want? Isn't it more likely you were drawn to your SO for some refreshing differences mixed in with the commonality?

This is all along the fix-it lines. Along the work-around-it lines, there's the possibility that no matter how well you come to see the advantages of different types of people, you still would benefit from choosing people who are less likely to frustrate you. In other words, date a fellow T-crosser, as opposed to dating absent-minded people and expecting them to start behaving like you.

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Falls Church, Va.: What are the guidelines for contacting an ex-girlfriend/boyfriend out of the blue? We are both in relationships, but this is someone I almost married and I really do miss her friendship. I'd like to at least let her know what I am doing with my life and maybe her more than the little bit of news that I hear from mutual friends.

Carolyn Hax: I think the only guideline is to think carefully first about the impact your contact might have on the other person. For example, here's a classic case of when not to call: Let's say she had the stronger feelings between you and that's why you called it off--but you liked and now really miss the way she made you feel. That's a no because it would be reaching out for attention, not reaching out for friendship.

if you pass that test, then go ahead--if she's not interested in renewing any kind of friendship, then that's her call.

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Rockville, Md.: Fluff alert:

I have, at the age of 46, just discovered nail polish -- for my toes, not my fingers. I am going to visit my family in a few weeks.

How do I keep my sanity when my 75-year-old mother harps about how trashy it looks?

Carolyn Hax:"Thanks!" Repeat as needed.

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Ex-boyfriend questions: thanks for taking my question, Carolyn! To answer yours, if the ex and I were to strike up a friendship, I would hope to discover that our failure as a couple was a disappointment but not a defining, life alteting even which turned me into a cold and emotionally stunted spinster. Maybe a way to forgive is to try to discover what drew me to him in the first place. Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Thoughts: You;re pulling the patient out of the morgue and seeing if you can get the surgery to go better this time. Don't. Please.

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Carolyn Hax: Sorry, I even grossed myself out on that one.

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Control freak: Maybe being a control freak is a coping mechanism for not being happy or content with yourself. When I'm feeling low on self esteem is when I tend to be judgmental of others. It's easier than dealing with yourself.

Carolyn Hax: I think that's part of it. Well, most of it--I'd just extend it to include insecurity, because a lot of a need to control is fear of what would happen if you let go.

There is another argument, which could represent either a difference in perspective or the presence of another type of controlling person--and that's that some people really seem to believe they do things better than everyone else. (Luckily for their employees.)

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Baltimore, Md.: I just started seeing someone a month or so ago and he works very long hours 6-7 days per week. This leaves maybe one night to see me. One night per week is fine with me, but less than that and I start to wonder where I fit into his life. Is this a sign that this might not be the best match?

Carolyn Hax: It could be a sign that on his seventh day, he might also want to see his friends, his mom or his eyelids.

Certainly if it's not making you happy, then stop seeing him, but if you're okay with it now and you're just projecting, then there are other ways to deal with it. For example, date other people, too, while you wait to see where this goes--or take up the solitary/time-consuming hobby you've always resisted because you were reluctant to take yourself out of social circulation like that.

I.e., try looking at his long days with a predisposition to see it as a good thing, and then see what turns up. Again--if there's nothing good about it, you can always stop seeing him. It just might take him 13 days to notice.

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Don't put down the Clampetts: Calling the racist, uneducated family in today's column "the Clampetts" was unnecessary and basically incorrect. Did you ever watch "The Beverly Hillbillies"? Actually, usually the Clampett family turned out to be more sensible and clever than the supposed "sophisticates" in Bev Hills. They were not racist or negative, and Jethro had a 6th grade education! I'm from hillbilly country, so be careful -- you said some fightin' words.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, that was the point--that "the Clampett family turned out to be more sensible and clever than the supposed 'sophisticates.'" It was a reaction to her referring to herself as sophisticated.

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Boston, Mass.: What do you do if at the age of 29, you think you're DONE romantically? I had my heart broken, badly about a year ago. I know it happens all the time but I feel like I am not made of the strong stuff other people are.

I don't want what I had. I just don't believe anymore. I doubt I will meet anyone at this stage in my life. I also just don't want to TRY to meet someone, I feel like it should just happen. But it's been a year and I've not so much as had a crush.

The bar scene, the online scene, and fixups all seem so.. pre-meditated and frenzied. I just can't do it. But it's not like I am going to have single people cross my path very often, and when they do the chances of a spark are so very small.

How do you believe again? Do you.. look for it? And really.. they say don't look and I haven't, but how do you know if you're closing yourself off?

Carolyn Hax: If you are living your life well on your terms--in other words, if you're not waiting around for something to happen--then I wouldn't worry about the romantic stuff. Continue to think as you're thinking, and live as you;re living. Should there come a day when you feel this life isn't satisfying to you anymore, then you can start to think about changes you'd like to make. There's no formula to it. Just listen to(and be honest with) yourself.

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California: Hi Carolyn,

A family member (about my age) is about to spend almost $80,000 to attend a graduate school program that is not well regarded. I am in the same field, and I know the struggles that she will face in finding a job (not to mention paying back that kind of debt). I've tried to let her know that the reputation of the graduate school DOES matter and tried to encourage her to look at more highly-ranked schools. Yet she chose this school, mostly because she wants to continue to live in the same city and this school is convenient. I do not believe she fully understands the consequences of her decision. Any advice? Do I share my concerns with her?

Carolyn Hax: It sounds like you already did. Were you not explicit that people from this program struggle to find work? (Which is correct, right? This strikes me as quantifiable charge.) And if you weren't explicit, why is that? If there's more to say, then say it; if you feel you've been as vocal as your facts could support, then you need to step back and let her make her own choice.

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For the Control Freak: Maybe he doesn't complete things for three weeks because they're not due for three weeks.

When my wife gets a project on a Monday Morning that's due by COB Friday she thinks, "Great. I'll get it done today, turn it in on Tuesday, get feed back and revise on Wednesday, turn it in Thursday Morning and be two days early." If I get the same thing I think, "Great, I've got five days."

We've learned to work it out. She tells me exactly when she wants something done and I do it.

Carolyn Hax: Happy ending. Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.:"I doubt I will meet anyone at this stage in my life" -- at 29? I don't think this person should "continue to think" as he/she is thinking. But I agree with the rest of your answer. They just seem a little more - I don't know, depressed - than you took into account.

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, I went back and forth on that. Almost said, "and as long as you;re not depressed," but then thought, does that imply that being uninterested in/unable to imagine meeting someone automatically means there's something wrong with you? Because that's not right, either--this "stage of her life" could be needed, healthy and temporary--at 22, 29, or 59.

So I'll let you say it, how's that.

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Control Freaks: I find that people who procrastinate in getting tasks completed or who dither over making decisions are actually -more- insecure and frightened of failure than those of us who just plunge ahead and get stuff done. Need someone to make dinner reservations, hotel reservations, plan a party, organize a carpool? I'm your gal. My less-organized friends actually APPRECIATE this quality in my personality because it makes their lives easier!

As a matter of kindness and etiquette, however, it's important never to make the other people feel bad or guilty - if you're gonna be a control freak, then you have to accept that after a while, people will just expect you to have a handle on stuff and keep them on the proper path. You don't get to use your control-freakiness as a weapon or as a tool for martyrdom. Enjoy it, embrace it, use your powers for good and not for evil.

Carolyn Hax: All good, but you're describing a take-charge attitude, not control freakiness. A control freak won't let other people drive because their minds might wander; will tell you that you're washing the dishes wrong (which means there'll be spots on them or something); will protest that a mate is showing too much skin in public; will change supermarket lines if the cashier has the sniffles; will delegate a task and then stress out/nag/hover till it's done--and then criticize the result; will hijack the plans of a whole group because they're out of line with the way s/he prefers to socialize, etc. It's a different beast.

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Arlington, Va.: How do you convince someone to go to therapy if they don't think they need to or won't admit that they need to?

My younger sister is going through a painful divorce, they were together 10 yrs, married 2yrs when things went bad and by bad I mean husband cheated and then left her. She puts on a good happy face, I am OK front but then something happens (finding a pic of ex's new girlfriend) and you see just how hurt and damaged she really is. She is only 28 and I want her to be able to move on with her life and truly be happy again.

Carolyn Hax: If she's not hurting herself, just hurting, then step back and let her heal at her own pace. If you're worried she is hurting herself somehow, then you can try to speak up more forcefully, but even then it's still her call whether she seeks help or not.

But, again, if she's just hurting, then that's okay--hard for her, obviously, and hard for you to watch, but pain is a fact of life. The whole point of "moving on" is not to shake off your pain and be happy, it;s to process it--in other words, live it--to the point where you've learned all there is to learn. Sounds like she's still in the process. Therapy can be a helpful part of that, but some people do fine without it.

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Not Google-stalking! I Swear!: A while ago while researching something I came across the name of an old boyfriend. It wasn't serious, no sex, but we were good friends both before and after for a few years. I'll admit I was curious to see what he was up to these days. I found out that he's doing quite well for himself and I just got a warm happy feeling thinking he's done exactly what he'd always wanted to do and was doing it well. I decided to drop him a quick e-mail to say, "hi" and "Congratulations". That's pretty much all the e-mail said. No personal stuff. He wrote back with a quick "thanks" and a "what's up with you?" and I gave him my life in two sentences: Happy, married, children. Doing what I love, too. Good luck in the future. End of discussion. There were no further e-mails, and I never gave it another thought.

Recently I ran into one of the other members of that circle and was accused of "google-stalking" the person and of being pathetic and looking to my past for happiness. I was flabbergasted!

I don't think I did anything incorrect. I didn't go looking for him. It was happenstance. There was no nostalgic reminiscing, no mention of our dating, just truly a heartfelt "I'm glad to see you're doing this and making a good go of it!"

I learned my lesson - no contacting old boyfriends. Sheesh.

Carolyn Hax: Wrong lesson. Lesson is, a certain member of your circle is an idiot.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn --

A friend/former flame is moving back to town soon. The problem is I've already found myself falling back into familiar (and bad) relationship patterns with her, even before geographic proximity hits. The problem will be compounded when she's physically back -- we'll be living in the same neighborhood, going to the same gym, out and about at the same clubs (and honestly, we'd probably end up doing all the above together). I don't want her to come back, but it's not up to me. How do I keep her out of my life, or only let her in to a manageable extent, when she's not 3000 miles away? I don't want to hurt her feelings but I don't want to get submerged in the "we-ness" of it all again.

Carolyn Hax: Figure out what you do and, more important, don't want to happen, and then explain that to her. If it hurts her feelings, so be it. "Falling back into familiar (and bad) relationship patterns" is just another way of saying that you put your own best interests too low on your list of priorities, beneath things like "not making ex feel bad." If this is what you need to say, then this is what you say: "I can't fall back into the habit of going everywhere with you." If she cares about you at all, she won't fight you.

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San Francisco, Calif.: Dear Carolyn:

Is is possible to trust a person who has betrayed you and disrespected you before? Are second chances always a good idea? My husband cheated on me a couple of years ago. We got separated and are still separated, not divorced yet. This hurt me really bad -had to go to counseling and everything. For the last 8 months he's been trying his best to somehow be in contact with me again, he'd mentioned already that he wants to work things out but part of me keeps asking myself, Can and Should I trust him this time? Does he really deserve a second chance?

Is a cheater always a cheater?

Carolyn Hax: If the cheater doesn't want to be a cheater anymore, then the cheater won't cheat anymore. The question you have to answer is if his conversion is credible to you--not just intellectually, but emotionally. If it isn't, then pass; if it is, try again; and if you're not sure, then pass (because that'll just torture you both).

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Lesson is, a certain member of your circle is an idiot: yeah, but... it IS kinda weird to get an unsolicited email out of the blue with no reason to know one's email address. How did this person get my email address? Pondering that question makes one nervous if it's an ex from years ago. What are the odds of coincidentially coming across his email? Be honest, you were searching for it, thinking of him; and he knows that cuz that's the only way you'd get his address. And the age-old question, who broke up with whom?

Carolyn Hax: I guess, but that suggests that no one ever Googles people who cross their minds in a what-the-hell moment. I've looked up random co-workers from summer jobs in college. Who cares. Searching may mean obsessing, but you can hardly assume that.

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Vienna, Va.: I thought what you said about pain was interesting. My ex broke my heart about four years ago. We don't speak (by my choice) but I see him and his fiancee around town on occasion. I know we aren't getting back together. but it's still painful to talk about what happened. I feel like I'll actually never get over it. Not that I'm hanging on to it or haven't moved on (I have a new great boyfriend I adore), but I think with some people, you can just never fully heal from what happened. Any thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: I actually think--warning, massive generalization coming--that as a culture we've got unrealistic expectations for/focus on "moving on." Some pain does stay with you. And while people should seek help when they feel too much pain to get any fulfillment from life, I think it's a denial of our humanity to think all pain is a problem we need to fix. A loss is a loss, and it doesn't stop being a loss just because it happened more than a year ago.

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Old boyfriends: Just for the record, I hate it hate it hate it when former boyfriends look me up. There's a reason they are FORMER boyfriends; if we didn't stay friends after the breakup, don't come sniffing around later hoping to start a friendship now!

Carolyn Hax: Ew. So if anyone emails a hello, it's assumed to be an overture toward friendship? Can't a hello just be a hello sometimes?

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For California: This comment may not be totally applicable since I think we are talking about very different fields, but I wish I had made the decision not to go to the prestigious graduate school. In the field I was in (and a number of related fields), most of the students at my school and schools like it hated their experiences. When I met students from schools with less prestigious reputations, they were almost always much happier.

Of course, in the field I was in, the quality of the school turned out to matter less than the quality of the work you did and the influence of the people you knew. When looking for jobs in that field, having a degree from a "top" school wasn't nearly as important as having produced high quality work and having well-respected people put in a good word for you. The first can be done at any school, and the second is achievable, although more difficult, at a "lower-tier" school. So the people who chose lower-tier schools actually lost little in terms of employability but seemed to gain a lot in terms of emotional well-being.

Maybe there's more to it than just wanting to stay close to home. If she's a standout performer at that school, will she still have trouble finding a job?

Carolyn Hax: Just wanted to post a counterweight to the other, since I've gotten a lot of these. Thanks!

Outta here--thanks everybody, and type to you next week. I've got to switch day and time, though, to Thursday at 1. Just for next week. Thanks, too, for your patience.

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