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Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 20, 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.

This Week's Columns: Sun.| Wed.| Fri.

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Bethesda, Md.: I told a white lie to my husband and he busted me for it. Now he's really upset and wondering if I'm lying about other things (I'm not.) I can't remember another time I've lied to him, and I'm terrified that this will drive a wedge between us. How can I help him understand that this really was just a one-time thing?

Carolyn Hax: Don't try. Just live honestly and let him figure out that you're genuine. It might not seem like much of a strategy, but since he isn't going to believe what you tell him, you don't really have much of a choice.

If months go by and he never lets go of his suspicion, you may need to give him a clear status report: "I lied to you once, and I regret it. I understand your suspicions. But I can't do anything more than assure you that you can in fact trust me. If you're never going to believe those assurances and trust me again, then please let me know that so we can deal with it."

Another option is to run this by a marriage counselor, if time doesn't ease his mind.

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Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Carolyn, My husband left me a month ago. He's been dating someone else for some time. How do I know when I'm ready to date? How soon is too soon?

Carolyn Hax: You're ready to date when you meet someone who makes you think, I'd like to date him. It really does take care of itself.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Hi! How important do you think it is for you and your partner to have similar social personalities? I keep getting into serious relationships with guys who are complete opposites of me, as in I'm the social butterfly, always wanting to meet new people, very warm and outgoing. The guys I end up with are quiet, not too friendly, homebodies. At first I think I am attracted to them because I don't want someone who easily enjoys mingling with those of the opposite sex often, but it ends up biting me in the butt when I have to go out with my friends all the time because my guy prefers to stay at home or if he does come stands alone not saying anything, not seeming to enjoy himself which ends up bringing me down.

Carolyn Hax: So it's okay for you to mingle, but your boyfriends aren't allowed to? I don't think any relationship is going to work out for you until you deal with your trust hangups.

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Arlington, Va.: This may have been a better question for the career advice column, but I'm hoping you can help. I have a job offer for the job I've always seen as the "next step" in my career. I'm quite excited about it and think it fits me well. However, that means I have to quit my current job and the thought of telling my boss has me quaking. She's been my mentor for seven years (I was the first person she ever hired), she's tough as nails and she takes anyone leaving very personally. Words of encouragement to get me through? I know it's sort of like ripping off a band-aid, but I'm terrified. And, of course, it's not helping that the news will come out of left field. She thinks I'm perfectly content where I am.

Carolyn Hax: She's your mentor, you say. If that's true, she'll see your career advancement as validation of her own skill in that area. And if she doesn't see it that way, it's unfortunate, but really not your problem. Be generous with your praise for her stewardship of your career, and rip the Band-aid.

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Seeking "widely acclaimed": How does one find such a person? Should one want to?

I'm generally pleased if everyone kinda-sorta gets along. It sounds like both sides in her case feel the need to take the extreme ends on this issue.

As a girlfriend -- I hear my bfriends friends/family like me and generally think that we are a good match. I'm not sure that I could live up to being widely acclaimed!

Carolyn Hax: I agree. The paparazzi at Thanksgiving dinner would really get on your nerves.

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Oklahoma: I'm 25 and live with my grandma and uncle. My uncle is an alcoholic and my grandma is in semi-denial about it. She knows that it occurs, but doesn't want to believe it. I am tired of putting up with this denial that she has. I want to move out, but she wants me to stay so I will be close to my cousins who I never see. How do I get out from under her thumb?

Carolyn Hax: Find an apartment, pack your things and move out. You are 25.

You might consider counseling, too, or just Al-anon, to help you understand the dynamic in your grandparents' home. That way you can help them as needed without the risk of getting sucked (back) in. It does sound like your grandmother is using her "thumb" to hang on to her de facto support system.

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Firing Your Mentor: As a former headhunter, I can assure the poster that it's always hard to fire your boss. If this is better for your career, you have nothing for which to apologize.

That said, you may want to make copies of all of your positive feedback, employee reviews, and anything else you may need down the road. If your current mentor goes nuts and is not a reliable reference for your future job searches, you'll want contemporaneous documents available.

Carolyn Hax: Many thanks.

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Anonymous: The earlier post, minus her trust issues, had an interesting question, how do you balance very different personalities in a serious realtionship? I have that same issue, except I am the introvert, and I become very uncomfortable/anxious when we are in social settings with his friend, which I feel is not fair to him.

Carolyn Hax: There's no one way to balance different personalities, because it has to be very personal and very mutual. For example, in your case, if your introversion meant you were both grateful for your wonderful times together one-on-one--and both also grateful for the the variety of his socializing solo while you recharged with a book--then unfairness wouldn't be an issue.

If, on the other hand, one of you is resentful of being home/out alone on such a regular basis, then you'd need to figure out how far each of you would be willing (and able) to go to meet the other halfway. If you both can/will go far enough to meet in the middle, then, great. If not then it's time to move on.

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Re: Atlanta: She wants a boyfriend who enjoys going out and mingling with other people, but isn't very good at it so she doesn't have to worry about him hooking up with another woman.

Carolyn Hax: I'd urge her to start conjuring one in her basement. Or, if she's good with the needles, she can knit one.

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Baltimore, Md.: For Bethesda,

You might want to put a gauge on the husband's reaction. How white was the white lie? Is he reacting to a serious transgression of trust or is he flipping out over something really minor? For me, just the fact that now he's questioning everything is sending some very serious signals about their relationship.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, you made me realize there's something there I missed the first time, and it's an extension of your very good point: That her referring to it as a "white" lie could be in itself a significant part of the problem. A big lie would be a big issue to begin with, but if it's big and she's trying to spin it as "just a white lie," that would add insult to the injury and certainly delay (if not kill) any return to business as usual. Thanks muchly.

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Re firing boss: I find it also helps to treat someone as if they are going to react the way that you want them to react.

e.g. Don't be timid and act scared and hunch your shoulders and act as if your boss will be mad. If instead, you go into your boss and brightly say how wonderful she's been at mentoring you and how much her training has helped you reach the next level in your career and how you KNOW she'll be proud of you and happy for you, it will be much harder for your boss to respond with anger.

Carolyn Hax: Well said, thanks.

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Savannah, Ga.: I feel terrible for saying this, but I'm getting married next month and I'm starting to have awful fears that my fiance is too crude for me. He uses vulgar language, most of his jokes are sexual in nature (he shows no homophobic tendencies in any other way, but for some reason he thinks homosexuality is the most hilarious thing in the world). I know that where he comes from, this is just how people are, but I'm really tiring of pretending that it's funny or that it doesn't irritate me. He already knows I don't like the language he uses, although I don't think he knows exactly how much it bothers me.

He's warm, generous, compassionate, patient, affectionate, trustworthy, thoughtful, gets along with my family wonderfully (he's able to leave the vulgar jokes behind with them), and is a perfect gentleman in every other way. Is this a really petty and stupid thing to be worried about?

I love him and think he's wonderful in a million ways, but I have this awful vision of my kids growing up to talk like sailors!

Carolyn Hax: Deal with this, deal with this, deal with this. I'm not sure I really know how you're supposed to do that, whether it's just saying to him what you said to us, or going so far as to call off the marriage--or, hell, just looking at him in a different and maybe more charitable light (as long as its genuine and therefore sustainable).

But you have to stop pretending. That is such a disservice to you both. It guarantees you one of two things: either that you go through life pretending, or you enter a marriage on X terms, and then, when you decide you won't pretend any more, you suddenly change the terms to Y. Both are so unfair to your fiance. He at least deserves to know whom he's marrying, and I could argue he deserves a wife who thinks he's riotously funny (though clearly he knows he doesn't have that and is marrying you anyway). You deserve and honest relationship, too. So start being honest, please.

Oh, and I think the citizens of wherever-your-husband-comes -from deserve an apology for the generalization.

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Also re: Bethesda: What also caught my eye was the use of the word "terrified." If it really was a minor transgression, then the reaction seems out of whack; if it wasn't, then the attempt to minimize it might be the problem. I guess the question is, how harmless, really, was the lie? My definition of a harmless lie would be a social lie, frequently used to spare someone else's feelings - yeah, you look great in that. But why would that be viewed as such a huge transgression, and why would she be "terrified" it was going to drive a wedge between them? Someone's reaction is out of whack.

Carolyn Hax: Would be really great to see. I don't suppose we could persuade Mr. Bethesda to weigh in?

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Ithaca, N.Y.: How can I stop comparing myself to my fiance's ex-wife? She's still a big part of his life, as they were together for 14 years. They talk every day, he sees her whenever he goes to her town (about every other month).

She:

- has a great career (in a field commonly described as "heroic")

-makes three times as much money as I do

- ran marathons with him (I can barely make it up a flight of stairs, thanks to lifetime of inactivity + medical condition)

-is a perfect housekeeper (I can hardly load the dishwasher right)

-a perfect stepmom to his son from previous marriage (he adores her)

- still is the primary caretaker of his elderly mother (whom I still haven't even met)

I feel really inadequate sometimes, and the usual "well he's with you not her now" just doesn't seem to help. His reasons that they divorced are basically that he was too immature to be married to anyone and now he's a different person. Which basically makes me think that if he'd met her today as Mature Guy, he'd be with her instead.

Any advice? I'm feeling pretty low.

Carolyn Hax: You know what? None of the things you list means a damn thing in a marriage if the two people don't click. A happy couple will talk, laugh and understand each other easily; will make each other feel loved and supported and good about themselves; will have similar notions of the perfect weekend, the best uses for their money, the ideal retirement plans. She might be a wonderful person, too, on top of everything else you mention, but even then, for it to count it has to be the kind of wonderful that brings out his kind of wonderful. Trust the intangibles and give yourself a break.

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Anonymous: What do you think about friendships or other relationships where one person needs the other more, hence has to make more of the effort? My husband and I were discussing this last night in the context of somebody I consider a professional mentor. While he enjoys knowing me and has been glad to help, he'll always mean more to mean than I do to him -- and I'm OK with that. By the same token, I have some friends who probably rely on me more than I rely on them. And I'm OK with that too, as long as the neediness isn't unehealthy or over-the-top. But some people would probably disagree with me. Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: I think a relationship of any kind is, by definition, a perfect balance. You get a lot from your mentor so you give a lot to the relationship; your mentor gets enough from guiding you--even if it's just a sense of purpose--to make the time he gives you worthwhile. If at any time one of you feels you're giving more than you're getting, then the relationship falls apart/drifts/ends. This happens between friends, couples and family members all the time. You give as much as you need to get out of it what you want, and when the balance is screwed up, you try harder or withdraw or whatever you need to do to restore balance.

As it happens, I think this is why people who have a friend in a "bad" relationship are in such a frustrating position--obviously the friend is getting what s/he wants, messed up tho it may be, or else s/he'd get out. Right?

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Midwest: Help!! Carolyn, I've been a devoted reader for many years and am now facing a real conundrum. I'm meeting my boyfriend's family for the first time next weekend and am consumed with anxiety at the prospect. I know the conventional advice is just to be yourself, but I feel like the stakes are high here and I'm having a lot of trouble not psyching myself out about this. Add to this that I am a naturally shy person and have had to do a lot of work to overcome my fear of talking to people. Any advice from you or the readers would be appreciated!!

Carolyn Hax: The stakes are not high. If your relationship collapses over a bad first encounter with the parents, then it was destined to collapse on its own, for one reason or another. Trust yourself, trust fate, trust him.

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Re: Ithaca, N.Y: You don't think it's a bit much that her husband and his ex talk every day?

Carolyn Hax: I talk to my ex nearly every day. It's not the fact of it that matters, it's the reasoning behind it. She cares for his elderly mother and is a stepmother to his son. Maybe they're good friends, too. Or, maybe it's a terrible sign. We need more context, more details to judge.

I was more alarmed by their being engaged without her having met the mom. That still needs context, too, but it struck me as potentially more significant.

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Regarding the "white lie.": Sometimes white lies can be disturbing. Once my husband, over the course of a very stressful day, ate an entire package of Oreos and threw the empty package out in the dumpster where I wouldn't find it. I coincidentally discovered the dastardly deed. It was really a one-time thing and on one level, no big deal. But on another,it was a blow to realize that he would and could hide bad choices from me. We talked about it briefly, and it took a week or so for my sense of surpise and hurt to go away. I had to start thinking about my husband as a regular human in a way I hadn't before.

Carolyn Hax: In the end, an extremely healthy bag of Oreos. Thanks.

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Confus, ED: Dear Carolyn,

I'm currently weighing a major life change with my career that directly affects my relationship, and it is a bit overwhelming. I'm contemplating a job offer that would greatly enhance my career, but I would have to travel every week. Because of this, I would need someone to care for my dog when I'm out of town and can't take her. Should I ask my SO if he would be willing to care for my dog when I am gone through the week? If he doesn't, I don't want to resent him for his choice since I'd be asking for something that is a huge responsibility, and I fully recognize that. We don't technically live together now but stay together every evening, and have a strong relationship. Any advice as to how to bring up any of this?

Carolyn Hax: If I'm reading this correctly, all you have to do is, before you ask, remind yourself until you believe it that he's under no obligation to say yes.

He is under no obligation, and in fact the size of the responsibility you're asking him to take on could arguably make -him- resentful that you're putting him in this position. Think about it--he either shoulders a huge burden or lets you down, not exactly a choice between winning Lotto or winning Powerball.

These are worst case, of course. He might be happy to do this for you. But the only way to ask is with the clear disclaimer that you know it's a huge request and you hope he'll say no if he has any doubts. In other words, preempt both his potential resentment and your own.

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Help me stop interfering!: I am an interfere-aholic. When my friends and family members have problems, I jump right into the shark tank with them. Sometimes I help pull them out. Sometimes I get seriously bitten. Sometimes I might annoy my friend who was swimming out just fine util I made waves. But I've realized my instinct is always to jump in without thinking too much. How do you know when you should interfere? What questions can I ask myself to check this instinct? I don't have kids yet, but hope to soon, and I think this trait could be detrimental to them if I don't have it in check.

Carolyn Hax: I think you can start by asking a question of friends and family: "Is there anything I can do to help?" That at least will put the control where it belongs, in the hands of the person in the shark tank.

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Boston, Mass.: My best friend doesn't like my boyfriend. This has led to me being excluded from my friend's life. I'm no longer invited to his house, as he doesn't want my bf there. My bf intuitively picked up on this and has no interest in being friends with someone who doesn't like him. Every time I spend time with one of them, I feel like I'm betraying the other one. Plus I just want to yell at both of them "Grow up!" Any advice?

Carolyn Hax: How about yelling at yourself, "I'm spending a lot of time with people who need to grow up!" If this is true, then it's worth some bigger thought than about which house to go to, with whom.

By the way, does either of them have a good point?

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Stressville, Washington, D.C.: I'm in the beginning of a two or three year graduate degree (I work full time also), just moved to a new apartment, and am very single. My problem? I feel like not going out every weekend is deprving me of opportunities to bond with my girlfriends and meet men. Despite feeling guilty when I say no, I often don't feel like going anywhere anyway! I'd rather stay in lately and watch a movie and be alone, but I am afraid of losing my friends and not making new ones by being anti-social. In trying to balance all these things I am stressing out and my stomach is always a ball of knots. What should my priorities be as a 25 y/o female?

Carolyn Hax: Your priority should be figuring out your priorities. It's okay not to know what you want, it's okay to feel conflicted, to want something even though you know you may come to regret it later. Life is long. Pace yourself. Be creative. There's no reason you can't, for example, pick one or two social things that don't sound draining, and schedule them once a week or twice a month. You can decide to take a month off, and give yourself a chance to settle in. You can invite friends over to help sustain the friendships while you get your energy back. Whatever. Most important, you can remind yourself that nothing is permanent. If whatever you're doing is stressing you out, you can do something else.

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Re: Interfering: I think it's also helpful to ask yourself if you'd be interfering

out of concern and worry or out of thinking you know best.

Or out of some need you have to be a martyr. If it's the first,

try expressing care in other ways. If it's either of the other

two, deal accordingly.

Carolyn Hax: Nice, thank you. I could argue that even the first warrants a "deal accordingly," if other people's shark encounters regularly become so worrisome that it feels necessary to act.

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friend,SHIP: So, I recently had to pull out of a trip with a friend (tickets hadn't been bought, but dates has definitely been identified). I had just gotten a new job and with the projects I was given, couldn't take the vacation time during the period we were talking about.

I've explained this and apologized more than once. I've also offered to go at any other time, to our original destination or anywhere else....but she has apparently decided that this ends our friendship. I'm at a loss and feeling like a horrible friend. Is what I did so horrible?

Carolyn Hax: No. If you haven't left anything out, then your friend is being irrational.

And now the disclaimer that belongs in the answer to any was-I-wrong? question: If you have left something out, then it's probably something you already know was wrong, and no validation from under-informed third parties will change that.

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Calgary, Canada: I don't think I would be particularly disturbed if I found an empty Oreos bag in a dumpster. I would be deeply unhappy, though, if my husband thought I was so judgmental about a simple indulgence that he'd rather hide the evidence than tell me about it (at which point, in real life, I would commiserate with his stressful day but laugh about his having eaten so many cookies).

Carolyn Hax: That's actually how I read it--she was upset at his feeling the need to hide from her. Other interpretations:

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re: Oreo wife: Holy cookie, Batman!

Mrs. Oreo was "surprised and hurt" for a WEEK that her husband consumed an entire package of Oreos and tossed the wrapper in the dumpster. (Which to my mind raises the issue - DOES SHE GO THROUGH HIS TRASH IN THE HOUSE? And also, DID SHE DUST THE COOKIE BAG FOR PRINTS?)

And she called it a "bad choice" to respond to a "one-time" stressful day by eating cookies?

Man, what a charmed life she must lead for this to qualify as a problem. And I am super-glad for him that she now sees him as an actual, flawed human being as a result.

And I also wanted to let her know, on behalf of those of us who are driven to eat by stressful situations, this ain't a one time deal. But you've guaranteed, by making a WEEK deal of it, that he'll throw the next package away in the dumpster down the block.

Carolyn Hax: Probably right about the last part, thanks.

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Cookie Police:"But on another,it was a blow to realize that he would and could hide bad choices from me. We talked about it briefly, and it took a week or so for my sense of surprise and hurt to go away. I had to start thinking about my husband as a regular human in a way I hadn't before."

Gee, and I wonder why he would ever hide a bad choice from someone who wouldn't accept he had human weaknesses. A little more contrition on how awful that must've made things for him might be nice. Can you imagine what it's like to be married to you? I hope you fell over yourself apologizing and just left that part out.

Carolyn Hax: That's it, thanks.

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re: Confus, ED: Interview and hire a professional pet-sitter. It will be best for the dog and best for the relationship. (no, I'm not in the business).

Carolyn Hax: Right right, thanks. If the BF loves the dog, fine, but no fair using the relationship to as a way to avoid a pet-sitting bill.

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Atlanta, Ga.: I met a woman last summer. She is intelligent, funny and very attractive. A few months ago she got my email address and we have been trading emails since then. I am interested in her, but unfortunately she is in an on and off relationship with a good friend of mine.

Any advice?

Carolyn Hax: Until she finds the strength emotionally to extract herself from an unstable relationship, she's not a good bet. Maybe will be someday, but not now. Enjoy the emails, shelve the high hopes. (Shelve the emails, too, if you can't enjoy them without expectations.)

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Another Oreo Interpretation: It could also be that the husband felt he was being controlled by the wife that his rebellion of cookie eating was a way to "get back" at her for being controlling or at least as he perceives her to be. Then the worry would be that he couldn't communicate this to her and thinks it's okay to eat a bag of cookies instead.

Carolyn Hax: Nice, thanks.

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For Stressville: Just a quick reminder... getting out the door is half the battle. Some nights I make plans I end up regretting them b/c I think that going home and putting on my sweatpants sounds so great. But once I get out there, I usually (not always!) end up having a lot of fun.

Pace yourself... you'll figure it out. (oh, and there is nothing wrong with staying home sometimes!!)

Carolyn Hax: good point, thanks.

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I talk to my ex nearly every day. : wow, I'm surprised you're divorced. Don't know why, just am.

You msut have kids with him.

Carolyn Hax: No, no kids. He edits my columns, and I help him write the cartoons (he's the illustrator for TMAI). We're also good friends.

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Ithaca, NY again: To add some context on why I haven't met his mom - for one, she lives far away (1,000 miles). I also think he's afraid she's not going to like me (because I'm not the perfect ex), will disapprove of the fact he's marrying again (she's very religious and warns that he's going to Hell for divorcing multiple times), etc. But mostly it's been a lack of opportunity due to my work schedule, her lack of mobility, and tight finances. It's definitely something we've talked a lot about and is another issue we're dealing with.

Carolyn Hax: Your work schedule, her lack of mobility, and tight finances sound like three blessings worth counting. Though tis about time he learns to stand up to Mummie. Thanks for satisfying the curious.

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Less Confus,ED: Dog owner again: I already have a pet sitter come during the day for her, but I was just referring to evening times when she'd need to be with someone for longer than an hour or so.

Carolyn Hax: Oh, that does change things. That actually sounds like a nice way to have a dog, assuming one likes dogs.

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The Cookie Incident: It's possible that the husband believes that everyone would be judgmental about the indulgence. The attempt to hide it may have nothing to do with the wife.

Carolyn Hax: Excellent point. Now I need a cookie. Bye, thanks, type to you next weekend.

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