washingtonpost.com
Carolyn Hax Live

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 2, 2007 11:30 AM

Special Time! 11:30 a.m. ET!

Carolyn took 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, Carolyn Hax offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there -- really recently. 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.

The transcript follows.

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

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Re: Seven Friends for Dinner (your Oct. 31 column): Wow! I was amazed by the attitude of the single friend in this group of seven (who, by the way, did not appear to be the letter-writer). As I started to read the question, I thought how nice it was that these coupled friends did not automatically exclude a single friend from their social events, or see him as having less to contribute to the occasion. To me, it seems really petty for the single person to parse the bill. The writer equates "elegant" with "costly" but that doesn't have to be the case. With some candlelight and some smoky jazz in the background, anything on the plate can seem elegant. If this is about friendship -- who cares? If this is about "elegance" and "costliness" -- who wants it?

washingtonpost.com: Wednesday Column (Post, Oct. 31)

Carolyn Hax: Funny that you say this. I got a few complaints from single people that it wasn't an obvious one-dinner-per-person rotation, instead of a one dinner per household. Some were even offended that the single person was expected to give exactly as much as each couple was.

If anything mystified me about it, it was the strong feelings in either direction. If the single person voiced a concern about the cost/workload, why didn't couples simply work together to find some way to accommodate him? I came up with one in about two seconds, and Nick threw in another when he read the column (actually, two or three others, but list-making seemed beside the point).

I get this same mystified feeling when questions come up about splitting checks. If all parties are as concerned with others' circumstances as they are with their own, then these issues just don't become issues--because either everyone's happy or because people's concerns are ungrudgingly addressed.

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Steaming: Hi. Any recommendations about cooling off while waiting for my recent ex-boyfriend to ship my ring (no monetary value, just sentimental)? When I get it back, in my head, we're really, really over. I can truly cry and be sad. He's the one who called it off. So, everyday for the past week, I go to my mailbox expecting to be very sad. I broke down and called him, got voicemail, asked if he sent it. No answer and I'm steaming beyond belief. This seems trivial, but I'm trying to move on now. Thanks, and happy Friday.

Carolyn Hax: Send him a postage-paid self-addressed padded envelope so he can just drop the ring in the nearest mailbox.

You're really, really over even without the symbol. I'm sorry. At least by sending him the mailer, you'll be out of suspense as to whether he's spiteful or just busy.

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First-birthday celebrations: Hi Carolyn -- fluffy question for you. Tomorrow is the celebration of my son's first birthday. His godmother is of the opinion that he really should get dirty eating cake, and therefore it should be a chocolate cake. I really don't want him eating all that sugar, so I want to give him pumpkin spice cake. Do I put my foot down and insist that she not give him any of the chocolate cake (which I'm making for adults/because it's my birthday too)?

Carolyn Hax: I'm going to put my face in a cake just to escape this question.

1. One bad sugar day is not going to map out a future of certain obesity for him, and 2. Why does the godmother care? 3. ... Never mind. Face-in-cake was a better idea.

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Anywhere, USA: Carolyn: So I figured out that I can sum up my life thusly: I'm in a job I don't like but which I can't afford to quit because it pays the mortgage on a house I am not sure I really like but which I bought with my husband who I'm not sure I really love. On bad days, even the dog annoys me. Are some people just destined to be grumpy, cranky old people who complain about everything? I'm only 33, but I think that's where I'm headed and don't really see a way out; I'm not even sure I want out because sometimes I do like all of these things.

Carolyn Hax: Okay, so, three things that sometimes kinda drag you down -- job, mortgage, marriage. I could sound like a true burnout case and point out that if you're unsure about these things only sometimes, you're at the lucky end of the curve.

But in addition to being too cynical even for me, being told you "should" be okay with something is singularly unhelpful when you're feeling like things aren't okay.

So the issue is, where to start. Fortunately with the three things you listed, the starting place is easy. Your job doesn't have to know (yet) and your house won't care if you start looking for another one, while your husband probably will, so pick one of the unfeeling two--job or house. And the way to choose between them is by degree of difficulty: Which is more realistic, finding a better job, or lowering your housing expenses?

Don't give me the reasons you can't do either. Nothing--in these realms, at least--is impossible. You just have to be willing to consider that you might lose money, lose a rung or two on the career ladder, compromise your standard of living, lose time on nights and weekends while you job/house hunt, whatever. Not one of these is a "can't." There is only "don't want to," and that's something you have to hold up against your ennui so you can be honest about what you choose. Job hunt or ennui? Sell house for a loss, or ennui?

Another thing that should probably have come first on this list is medical. Get a depression screening, please, starting with a consultation your regular doctor. (more)

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Carolyn Hax: Depression is slippery. It can come from brain chemicals that tell you a perfectly good life is dreary--or it can come from a dreary life that starts to affect your brain chemicals. It can also tell you that it's your fault you have a dreary life and so distract you from the fact that you might have a treatable illness.

So really the best assault on ennui is multi-faceted. Cover the health-care angle; start a job hunt in earnest; sit down with some budgeting software and take a hard look at your money situation; get out and get some exercise/air if you aren't getting any regularly (and it's medically sound to do so); and last but chronologically first, talk to your husband about your blahs. Getting his cooperation here could bring some badly needed emotional confidence to the marriage while you work on the logistical stuff.

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Old Town Alexandria, Va.: Love. Your. Chat. This is a joint question from my sister and I as we are both in the same predicament. We have both been invited (as guests of guests) to out of town weddings this month. Mine in Connecticut, hers in Texas. We're both of the opinion that our dates should pay at least airfare, if not hotel and all other expenses involved. What is your opinion? Is there a proper protocol? (keeping in mind that neither date is planning to pay)

Carolyn Hax: If the weddings are this month, then you've already been included in the caterer's head count, which means you're going and presumably paying. I think you have a reasonable argument for having the principal guest cover your expenses, but the time to get that resolved was when you were accepting (or not) the invitation.

That's when you say--assuming you wouldn't go on your own dime--you would love to go but you don't have an extra trip in your budget. Then your date has a choice of offering to cover your expenses or going without you.

If going is important enough for you that you would pay your expenses to be there, if you had to, then you just accept on the assumption that you're paying your own way unless the other person offers. You are a guest of a guest, but it's not business travel, it's still about personal choice.

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Austin, Texas: I dated a guy a few times and he showed strong interest at the beginning. However, eventually, he told me he didn't want to start anything with me after all, yet continued to call me daily. Eventually, I called him on the contradicting behavior, and I backed off and we became friends. He's started flirting with me again this past week and now I'm really confused! Is this even worth the heartache, or should I just back away and move on? A relationship shouldn't be complicated should it? I feel like a yo-yo.

Carolyn Hax: I don't even know you and I know you don't need this crap. Tell him it was fun trying, but, no thanks.

By the way, the first time I typed it I wrote, "You don't need this carp." I liked that, too.

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Re: Kid/cake: I just went through this with a friend's child's first birthday. Mom was so concerned about sugar she suggested instead of choc cake, something kid-friendly, like a pumpkin or banana bread. My friend finally decided it didn't matter; there's sugar in all of the alternate choices. Hopefully this will help: The kid ate about three bites, so try to chill out.

Carolyn Hax: Whatever it is, put whipped cream all over it and that's what the kid will eat. No-sugar Mama can even make her own and control the sugar content.

Not that this is why we're here.

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Wedding Head Count...: Hey Carolyn -- professional event planner here. Just as an FYI -- final catering head counts aren't typically due until three to five days prior to an event, so an adjustment of one or two people won't keep the bride/groom liable for paying for the additional guests, as long as they don't lose say 20 percent of the diners. If this is an end-of-the-month wedding, the guests probably are okay to bail as long as they do it tactfully.

Carolyn Hax: How do we really know you're a professional event planner, hmmmm?

(Thank you.)

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Richmond, Va.:"I thought how nice it was that these coupled friends did not automatically exclude a single friend from their social events, or see him as having less to contribute to the occasion." Uhhh, so just because they've deigned to include him, he should suck up any imbalances in the arrangement?

Carolyn Hax: That comment hit me the same way. Like, how good of them to treat the five-headed freak like one of their own. Speaking of attitudes I find completely mystifying ... "Must have even number of guests at dinner party." Discuss.

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Washington: Carolyn, I'm getting ready for Thanksgiving and Christmas and wanted to thank you and the chatters in advance for your ideas for dealing with "challenging" people. I have some in-laws who are, let's say, a tad more conservative than I am. Love to comment on my profession -- "my tax dollars going to those people..." I really like the idea of saying "wow" and just nodding my head. Any other good approaches for not responding/going for the bait? Will you be hosting a special holiday chat?

Carolyn Hax: Yes, I'll be hosting the annual holiday collective meltdown, probably the first or second Friday in December. In the meantime, if anyone wants to send me stories of effective uses of "wow," I'm collecting them--tellme@washpost.com.

If you don't trust yourself to remember the holiday fest or if your anecdote is banging on the door so hard you have to let it out NOW, tellme@washpost.com

If you're outraged that your tax dollars are being spent to the advantage of anyone but you, tellsomeoneelse@washpost.com

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Custodial Finances?: Hi Carolyn. Last week you had a column that answered a question from a "spoiled daughter" that addressed the issue of parents who continually give money to their children. In your response you said that "custodial finances produce grateful, thriving children roughly 0 percent of the time, and ingrates with ill-tended stockpiles of seething resentment about 100 percent." Could you explain a little why this happens? This is a situation that exists in our family and I'm trying to gain a little insight. Thank you.

washingtonpost.com: Answer to 'Spoiled Daughter?' (Post, Oct. 26)

Carolyn Hax: I tried to get into it a little in the column, but it was hard to get it all in.

First of all, my choice of the phrase "custodial finances" was careful and deliberate. Custodial implies guardianship--meaning, ongoing parental say in the child's life. I have no quibble with parents who occasionally throw a check their adult kids' way, who help out with expenses early on when the rents are steep, the paychecks small and the loans still unpaid. If parents let their kids know they will be a financial safety net if anything goes terribly wrong, I think that's not only fine, but also part of what it is to be and have a family. Kids are often that net for their parents, too. It should be that way.

So, beck to the situations that create a problem. When a parent remains in the parent role too firmly and too long, a few things happen. 1. The kid begins to expect Parent to make big decisions and underwrite them. 2. Parent gets used to this and becomes personally invested in kids decisions, both financially and emotionally, where there should start to be some detachment. 3. Kid develops sense of entitlement to money and life shortcuts, just in having an evidence-based expectation that everything will be tended to. 4. Kid gets to make decisions while insulated from consequences, and therefore doesn't learn how to behave as an independent adult.

E.g., kid quits "boring" job but goes on beach vacation anyway. Well, how many self-supporting adults do that? None. They learn to suck it up at the lousy job, realizing the lousy job is better than no job.

Then there's the extension of this process, which I think is where the resentment comes in. (more)

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Carolyn Hax: So, self-supporting kid is in blah job because it's necessary to make ends meet. Built into this is motivation to work really hard and get a better job--it's a direct sense of responsibility, A to B: I work harder, my quality of life improves.

In the kid who has everything covered by parents, that connection is broken. My quality of life needs improvement? Someone else must be doing me wrong. And that's the breakdown that I think spreads beyond the daddy-writes-my-checks issue. It becomes "my boss is a jerk" (at five consecutive jobs, hmmm); it becomes "you never call me" (when they haven't called, either); it becomes "everyone else has [fill in the blank]." It's a broken connection between what you do and what you get, and the blame nexus is the force that always loomed too large to begin with--so the spoiled kid turns on the parents. And to a lesser extent any siblings, especially those who do take responsibility for their own lives.

I hope that covers it. I sometimes lose the trail of popcorn in these multi-part answers.

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Wedding Head Count, au contraire: My wedding is in ten days and my final head count was due yesterday, so we are on the hook for whoever has said they are coming. The original poster didn't sound like she was going to bail, but this is the kind of crap (or carp, if you prefer) a bride wishes people figured out early! Just sayin'. But that could be the stress talking. Love the chats, by the way.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, and thanks!

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Challenging relatives: I wonder what they do for work, but anyway ... I would probably have a drink handy so I could sip from it instead of taking the bait from them. The poster also could say something like "well my profession/work that I do gives me peace/contentedness/whatever good feeling." Hopefully this will make them feel bad for basically badmouthing what she does.

Carolyn Hax:"... but you drive me to drink."

Better just to resist the bait altogether.

I was guessing some kind of social work as the profession. Government dollars paying the salary of those who try to help the people whom conservatives think should help themselves. Am I close?

Or maybe I've just seen "St. Elmo's Fire" too many times.

Neatly circling us back around to being driven to drink.

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Washington: I'm getting married in December and the issue is finances. We have talked about it a lot, and have decided to go with the joint account for the bills but to keep separate accounts. For us this seems like a good idea -- we can spend our own money on what we like and not have to be irritated with purchases by the other. Are we crazy? Both our families think this is doomed to failure.

Carolyn Hax: I'm more inclined to think you're doomed because both your families are in on what you do with your checking accounts.

If you trust each other with your own money and if each of you respects the way the other handles money, you're fine.

If there's a breakdown here, then that's a shaky start, but you can still get by if you both agree wholeheartedly with the solution you've found to deal with that breakdown. E.g., A doesn't trust B and B agrees s/he's a money idiot and so happily hands reins over to A, which A happily accepts. That can work fine.

What will also kill you is unexpressed resentment by either A or B. Make SURE your reservations are out there.

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Fort Collins, Colo.: I went to a small party once where I was the only single person. The host warned me in advance and I said "no big deal." But when I got there, the couples were all standing next to each other and talking mostly to each other, which made it really weird and intimidating. And not that fun. I'm all for mixing up parties, but couples need to realize that they will not implode if they step more than five feet away from their partner at a social gathering.

Carolyn Hax: Don't worry, the couples didn't have fun either. The host needs to go to host school.

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Washington: Went to a out-of-town class a week ago. Met a really interesting, entertaining guy -- who, with most of the rest of the class, spent quite a bit of time drinking. (They considered themselves on holiday, so may not be representative of normal behavior.) He spent an evening flirting very heavily with a young lovely; she got sick-drunk and threw up on the way home, so that pretty much ended that. He and I had been talking and such, and I thought we were enjoying each other's company, and we started e-mailing after the class was over.

I sent him one e-mail teasing him about his next destination (dark side of the moon, practically), saying that The Washington Post called it "untrampled and fresh." His response was that that's how he likes his women. Being an adult woman, I was much offended and replied "if you like grape juice, go for it" and signed off. Now I'm all mopey about it. Please, Carolyn, talk sense to me. If he likes swimming in the kiddie pool, why should I take it personally?

Carolyn Hax: Maybe you're feeling deceived/silly for being interested in this guy. Often it isn't the loss or insult that burns, especially so early on--it's that you didn't see either coming.

In that case you can't do much except be glad you found out when your investment can be measured in emails.

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Sugar mamma: So, it sounds like you're saying to suck it up and deal with the cranky meltdown that comes after he eats sugar. Cause even with just half of a very small cookie, he turns into a little crank-monster. I didn't necessarily think it was that unreasonable to avoid things that are known to make us both a little miserable (he doesn't like being cranky any more than I like it, after all).

Carolyn Hax: Well, if someone had mentioned a cranky meltdown that can be induced by half a small cookie, then I would have factored that into my answer.

This is where I'd posit that the need for sugar avoidance is a family trait, but I'm afraid you'll hurt me.

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Bills: Both my husband and I are incredibly bad with our money. It has landed us in serious debt and we're struggling. We have a toddler and a baby on the way. We've gone to counseling twice in the past six years but neither of us seems to be able to get a handle on things. We aren't extravagant -- we have a problem with remembering to pay things on time, losing track of what has been paid, what needs to be paid, etc. We also tend to use our credit cards a lot because we never seem to know how much actual money we have in our checking account from week to week. It's an ugly situation and I really don't know what to do about it. Both of us have very demanding high-stress jobs, and add to that the kids ... it just seems like there isn't a spare minute to deal with finances. I know other people handle this beautifully. Why can't we?

Carolyn Hax: I'm surprised this hasn't come up in counseling, that you can set up online bill-paying with your bank with reminders emailed to you as bills approach. I think you probably also have to assign clear responsibility--if one of you can't do it all, then one gets the job of paying A, B and C and the other pays X, Y and Z. Also, if you have to, set up separate accounts for which each of you alone is responsible, so you have a better fix on the balance (as the only one making withdrawals). You can get the bank to link them so you can transfer between them and get access to each other's.

The other option, if you can afford it, is to have someone take over--an accountant. Even that will take some monitoring from you, but it'll at least get the bills paid on time.

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Nowhere: How should I handle a child's question about your spouse's relationship with someone else when your child is old enough to have an idea that it's not an appropriate relationship? Do your children at some point figure out that the marriage is only about keeping the family together?

Carolyn Hax: They certainly do. I also think they can handle an answer along the lines of, "Honestly, I'm not sure I can explain it myself," in response to the question about the relationship. Next, you repeat the child's question to the spouse to ask, "What do we do about this?"

I won't reopen the whole topic of marriages that should and shouldn't be left intact "for the sake of the kids," but I do think there are hazards in revealing to little to the kids as well as revealing too much. A fair guideline to me is that it's revealing too little to pretend there aren't any problems; it's just right to reveal that there are problems but that you're doing your best; and it's going too far when you recruit your kids, wittingly or un-, to help you fix the problem.

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Northern Virginia: My 37-year-old sister-in-law is undergoing cardiac bypass surgery later today. She had two silent heart attacks (found out about them earlier this week) which damaged a significant amount of her heart, so the surgery is risky. My wife and daughter have traveled back home (not that far). I am scheduled to leave on a two-week business trip, which would be very difficult to reschedule. If all goes well, I will travel as planned. Am I being cold and heartless?

Carolyn Hax: Has someone suggested you are?

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Fairfax, Va.: I screwed up. I have an ex who's pretty much always been "The One" for me but I had to end things with him a few years back because he just didn't treat me the way I needed to be treated (i.e. respect, caring, communication). I'm sure it was because of his baggage, but I firmly believe that it wasn't my job to fix him. So recently, we started talking again, spent some time together and dangit but all the emotions and pheromones were still there between us, plus he'd become the perfect man and did everything I've always wanted and needed him to do. The problem? After our time together I had a bit of an alcohol-induced meltdown and told him I couldn't handle being with him.

I've since figured out via therapy that I was not dealing with my baggage regarding my new stressful job and the recent death of a close family member, and it was sort of like those two things filled up my baggage glass right up to the rim without my knowledge and the two little drops from him made it all start spilling over. I called to apologize and left a short message, but haven't heard anything back from him. So what do you think of an e-mail to fully explain myself? Not in the "please, please take me back" way as much as the "please, please understand why I did that" way. Yes, I went a little crazy, but I just want him to know it wasn't his fault.

Carolyn Hax: You know what? If there's so little elasticity between you that you and he can't absorb one display of sloppy emotion, he isn't, wasn't and will never be "the one." (Setting aside, for a moment, that I have no belief in such.)

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Cranky boy: That kid gets cranky off a little cookie? Has she had his blood sugar checked? I would be concerned about that. Unless he has a known food allergy, I would think it would be very unusual to have that kind of extreme reaction to a little refined sugar. Or maybe mom thinks it's because of the sugar, but it's really because she hovers over him constantly checking his food until he can't take it anymore...

Carolyn Hax: When she stops hating us, I hope she heeds this. Thanks.

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Washington: Carolyn! I noticed recently that your intro no longer refers to you as "thirtysomething." Did you hit the big 4-0, and if so, happy (I guess belated) birthday and congrats!

Carolyn Hax: I hit it so long ago I'm on my backswing for 41. Thank you, though!

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Washington: So I'm in the opposite position of the column on the spoiled daughter -- I'm the daughter who's trying to scrape along on her own on an admittedly small salary, but my parents are the ones who are insisting that they help out! A couple of months ago -- no joke -- they paid off half of my entire mortgage. Without telling me first. Since then I've been so angry at them that I've refused to speak to them. Rational response, no? I think it's a control issue on their part.

Carolyn Hax: Okay. I will set aside my rational fury that they didn't pay off half of my mortgage, for which I would have hung their portraits over the mantel that was now more than half mine, and I will beg of you two things.

1. Speak to them. The not-speaking will merely extend the power struggle.

2. Reassume command of your finances by setting up a sustainable (on your admittedly small salary) program of regular charitable giving that will redirect every penny of this semi-payoff to the recipient of your choice.

No blood money AND no feud.

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For Bills: Attach all your bills (cell, etc.) to a high-limit credit card with rewards, then cut up the actual card. Make sure the billing is automatic. Every two weeks, take a firm amount of money out of the ATM for each of you. Otherwise, leave the debit/credit/ATM cards at home. Direct-deposit some retirement and some emergency money in non-accessible accounts. Put the rest in a single account. Do not touch it. You have only the ATM money.

On the first of every month, sit down with your husband and pay the credit card in full, as well as your mortgage or any other bills that cannot be paid automatically by card, then go out to dinner at your favorite restaurant, or go out for ice cream, or do something else ritual and fun together. This way you don't skip. To set this up, you and husband should both take a day off work. Get favorite your takeout, go through the stacks of bills and have a shredder handy. Get it done. The stress of having it hanging over your head is much greater than the cost of a day dealing with it.

Carolyn Hax: I love it, thank you.

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Dover, Del.: How do you go about delivering well-intended criticism to a friend? Some people were talking about a close friend of mine when he was absent. Some helpful suggestions were given, and believe me, none of them were meant to be malicious or hurtful. I really want to tell him this is what other people think because it will help him in his line of work, but I don't know how to approach it without hurting his feelings. I've been in his position and I'm really glad someone clued me in. Suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: How did the person who clued you in clue you in? Accounting for the fact that the way something strikes your temperament will differ from the way it strikes his, you still have at least a real-life model to work from. That's a lot.

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Carolyn Hax: Oh--do leave out that you were all talking about him. That's something people can get so stuck on that it clogs the pipeline for anything else.

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Europe: Love the chats... and now I have a question.

I've finally broken up with my bf of 3.5 years but although he's out of the house he essentially doesn't accept or think that we are broken up, won't come to get his stuff, etc. We've been over and over the reasons why (he can't deal with living in the city where my career requires, no ambition, romantic spark no longer exists, could go on). He simply acts as though nothing has happened and given his pills-and-alcohol reaction when he realized what was happening was real, I'm finding it hard to keep bringing up the subject. How do I get him on the same wavelength without causing another breakdown?

Carolyn Hax: Your job isn't to prevent his breakdowns. Your job is to handle yourself with honesty, civility, decency, clarity and finality. Do it, please. Get a therapist in on the script-writing if you think there's a real possibility he'll hurt himself. Having an expert guide for handling someone self-destructive would have two benefits: 1. It'll help you avoid any mistakes you might not have foreseen; 2. It'll help you prevent crushing guilt if something does go wrong. Good luck with it.

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Washington: Can "wow" only be used on conservative people? Am I allowed to say "wow" when someone says that taxes should be increased so the government can pay for everything? (Meant to be tongue in cheek, please do not let the no-fun police rip into me!)

Carolyn Hax: Your face gets mushed into a sugar-free cake.

"Wow" is for people who use the term, "those people." Conservative or not has nothing to with it.

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Washington, D.C.: My husband is writing his dissertation and is miserable. When I ask him how his day was, he generally responds, "it sucked," "the same as always," or "you better prepare yourself for me not finishing this." From what I understand, this is quite normal in the dissertation process. It is a miserable and painful exercise for most. The question I have is how do I manage for the next 6-12 months around such a miserable human being?

Carolyn Hax: For starters, I think you need a new query to replace, "How was your day?" Try to have some highly sympathetic fun with it--"Misery scale, 1 to 10, with 10 being [in-joke he would get]"? "Was today tolerable, sucky, or mall-on-the-day-after-Thanksgiving unspeakable?" Obviously you can't repeat my lame on-the-fly jokes, they have to be your lame on-the-fly jokes, and you can't push it every day or else it'll become the new "How was your day" (unless you can take it so over-the-top that it becomes it's own kind of bad funny).

If he can't even joke about it, then don't even ask about it--go instead to what you can do about it. Take a walk, favorite takeout, hour of bad TV, leave him alone?

Point being, he's in hell, and the job of the spouse not in hell is to get creative, get useful or get out of the way.

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For Bills (continued): I forgot to add: When you have your sit-down to set everything up, don't talk about why this credit card is late or that one is so high. If you have underlying issues, hash them out in therapy. While you're working together to take care of the problem, the past is completely past. Anyone who makes a snarky comment about old purchases, "I told you so" or anything else has to pay a forfeit: a one-minute foot rub, the chicken dance, whatever is light and fun and won't get you mired in an argument. Same is true for your monthly meetings: open the bills and go over them to check for fraudulent charges or serious errors, but leave the commentary be. It's past, the money is spent, and how often you use that stupid bread maker has no place in this discussion.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

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Depression and Meds: My best friend is being prescribed anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication from her general practitioner. She has no inclination to go see a therapist and says her doctor has not suggested or recommended that she should. I find this very strange. Is this a normal thing? I keep after her to please at least try seeing a therapist, but she just keeps blowing me off by saying her doctor would insist if it were necessary.

Carolyn Hax: This is not uncommon. But this is also your friend's care, not yours, so you need to back off on what anyone thinks is "necessary."

If your friend is still struggling, and if she's confiding in you and asking for guidance, then therapy is a natural thing to recommend. And then you can point out that it's not uncommon for general practitioners to prescribe meds without getting involved much in the therapy issue.

Certainly there's no harm in your best friend's setting up a phone call with the prescribing physician, to clarify where therapy factors in? There's absolutely no reason any patient should read tea leaves to divine a provider's intent. That's something you can certainly call her on (with great care not to corner her on it).

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Challenging people for the holidays: How about accepting political differences like other kinds of differences? Accept (and expect) that not everyone agrees with you, and if discussing politics is touchy, talk about something else. There's football, basketball and the weather. And if disagreements about football and basketball are touchy, talk about politics.

Carolyn Hax: And if anyone throws around the phrase "those people," calculate both your obligation to object and the predicted efficacy of your objection, and put your face in a cake accordingly. If you know you're going to be in the presence of those those-people people, then you can prepare ahead of time.

I do, by the way, see that as the real problem--not differing views, but the dehumanizing contempt that the quote about "those people" suggested. It's the same as, "You'll never find a man if you don't lose some weight" and other such stunners that come up every year in this space. That's where it's hard just to stay in the room with someone, even when a conversation switch from politics to basketball might help everyone back into much safer and shallower waters. Do it you can, but just take an unscheduled long walk if you can't.

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From Amy Sedaris's chat: Amy Sedaris: Thanks everyone for writing in, and you should get back to work. And -- drinking kills feelings. That's my holiday advice.

washingtonpost.com: Ask Amy Sedaris (washingtonpost.com, Live NOW)

Carolyn Hax: But whose, though? Wait, don't go!

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Charlotte, NC: You're telling a mother she doesn't get to decide what her son eats on his birthday but the kid's godmother-and apparently all the chatters--do?

Wow.

Carolyn Hax: Wow. That's not even remotely what I said. Going all the way back to the godmother, in fact, who I tweaked for even caring.

It's not sugar that makes people cranky, it's the mention of it in reference to kids.

Parents decide what their kids eat. Period. Others who would butt in need to take up knitting. As do parents who obsess over what their kids eat on the odd occasion where something that doesn't fit the philosophy might sneak in. (Parents of kids with food allergies clearly excepted.)

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Sugar, sure, but not sugar-sugar-sugar: I'm not mad, I'm laughing. The image of my 12-month-old having free range in the kitchen to choose what he wants to eat is pretty hilarious (oh, gee, he's eating kitty kibbles again). (Yes, I took the comment a little further than may have been intended, but it's really funny...) Everyone seems to be taking it as an extreme "no sugar" stance, but he does fine with things that have a little sugar in them (graham crackers, zweiback or arrowroot), just not a lot. But checking the blood sugar is a point that I will follow up on with the doc, just in case.

Carolyn Hax: Cool, thanks.

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Philadelphia: I've just re-established contact with a man who completely broke my heart. I was left really devastated by him, a lot of which was because I was really fragile at the time. I'm more stable now but I feel like he and I need to talk really openly before I can move on, and I don't know how to either bring it up (we've only small-talked so far) or how to do it without expecting him to somehow make up for what happened. Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Wait till you're more sure of what you want to say and, more important, what you want out of it. There's no happy ending here if you've got any expectations at all linked to the outcome. Extreme maybe but I believe it. You still sound if not devastated, then at least in the process of picking yourself up off the ground.

I also have to go. Thanks everybody for stopping in, and I'll type to you next Friday.

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