Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 9, 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, 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.
Fairfax, Va.: Hi Carolyn, in relation to today's column, what do you think about doubt more generally? Like how do you separate normal nervousness about a big decision (i.e. marriage, having kids, whether to take a new job, etc.) and the kind of doubt that you have when you know a decision isn't the right one for you, but are maybe just having a tough time accepting it like the woman asking the question? Because I don't think there's any major decision in my life where I've been 100% certain and didn't keep questioning. But decisions have to get made and even if we aren't sure about something, sometimes we gotta be willing to take the risk, right?
Carolyn Hax: The question really is, how can we know when we aren't telling ourselves the truth? It's always so obvious after the fact when we've gone out of our way to talk ourselves into something, when we should have just aired the doubts and dealt with the consequences.
I think the fact that we do recognize rationalizations in hindsight means it's possible to catch them early. As an exercise during any big decision, I would suggest, ridiculous as it sounds, saying out loud whatever doubts you're having--particularly something you're trying to tell yourself isn't that big a deal. Then at least if you decide to rationalize your way around it, it'll be not just a conscious move, but a wide-awake one.
I think your history, too, can help you here, too. Most people staring down a marriage, kid, or job-change decision have a few big decisions behind them. How did those go? Were there doubts comparable to these? Were they proven out as jitters, or as real problems?
Finally, making a bad decision may have bad consequences, but sometimes the consequences of those consequences are good. We have to learn somehow, and it's not going to be by getting everything right the first time. Obviously you want to keep your bad choices to a minimum (pain not being a party for most of us) but we're all going to blow a couple of calls.
Instead of beating ourselves up about them--either after the fact, or before the fact by freaking out through the entire process--it seems more productive just to accept that we're going to see the truth when we see it, and not necessarily on a schedule that aligns with our deadline for making a big decision. That's the smiley face you can draw on taking a risk.
Silver Spring, Md.: Submitting early:
What do you do when you realize that you've become the "toxic friend?" I had noticed that over the past couple of years, I would make friends, hang out for a few months and then they would stop calling or beg off from hanging out. I found a video from a party and in the background, I could see myself acting like a jerk. I called someone I knew a few years ago and asked them if I just got to be too much to hang out with. There was an uncomfortable silence and then a quick "yes, I gotta go."
So how do I figure out what my toxic behaviors are? Do I apologize to people from the past or just let it go and try to make new friends?
Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry. That sounds nightmarish.
If you felt you had a grasp of what made you act like a jerk, then I'd suggest using your insight to start over with new friends. But you don't seem to have a feel for why there's such a gap between the person you think you are in public, and what the public sees. For that I would advise the trained and unbiased eye of a good therapist. It may be a challenge to fix the problem of being an unreliable narrator of your own life when you'll have to narrate everything for the therapist, but I think the more honesty you bring to the process, the better you'll work around that. And you do seem ready to do the hard work, since the hardest work is behind you with that video epiphany. Hang in there.
Virginia: My father just informed me (via e-mail) that he does not support my (very serious) relationship, and does not think it will work and does not think we are good for each other. Fine, he is entitled to his opinion and I'm fine with the fact that he came out and said it. The main thing is that now he is boycotting my birthday because this guy will be there.
He claims he both supports all my decisions but doesn't support this relationship, and so he won't come. That seems like a huge contradiction to me. I'm really upset over this, but I don't even know what to do with this, or how to (and if I should even) respond. I've always been close with my family, this might strain my relationship with them greatly. I don't want to have to choose boyfriend or dad, but he seems to be pushing me towards choosing.
Carolyn Hax: Did he say why? This is huge. Thanks.
Alexandria, Va.: Carolyn, A question about boundaries with my in-laws. Recently, my wife and I were throwing a party for our son's first birthday. That morning had been going badly and we were scrambling, trying to get things ready. I had not yet gotten into the shower when my sister-in-law decided to show up almost an hour earlier than the time the party was supposed to begin (which she knew). When I saw her, I told her and her husband what a tough time we were having and asked that in the future, she arrive at the time. She was deeply offended, as was my wife. My wife thinks family should be welcomed whatever time they arrive, with no restrictions. I disagree and think that arriving early (just like arriving late) is wrong and, more importantly, puts us as hosts at a disadvantage. Do you think I was right to say something or should I have let this one go by? Thanks
Carolyn Hax: This is a tough one, because I sympathize with you; drop-ins are aggravating. I also think it's hard to keep aggravation to yourself when you're stressed and scrambling and your defenses are deployed elsewhere.
However. A single offense by a sibling did not warrant the you're-not-welcome treatment. If I were in your wife's position, I would be really upset that you did that.
But, then, I have the benefit of knowing 1. my sisters have a long history of considerate behavior; 2. an early arrival would be either a mistake (e.g., miscalculated traffic) or deliberate so they could help; 3. that my sisters know I would love to have them there early.
Even without all the sunshine and flowers, I would (and I think a lot of others would) have a serious problem with your lumping family with guests. A lot of us might feel put out by family drop-ins and still accommodate them ungrudgingly, on principle.
If yours are circumstances other than these--if, for example, there's a power thing going on--then that needs to come out in some other way, in conversation vs. a scolding, and between you and your wife, not between you and your sister.
So, not only should you have let this one go by, you owe wife and sister a big apology.
Re: "I found a video from a party and in the background, I could see myself acting like a jerk.": Sounds like alcohol was involved. Is it time to think about that as a factor?
Carolyn Hax: I certainly don't want to jump to that conclusion, but if it was a factor, then, yes, its time to confront that.
Virginia (again): He didn't quite say why he wasn't coming exactly, except that he can't see that it will work long term and doesn't think we are good for each other.
Carolyn Hax: No, I mean did he say why objected to the boyfriend. Specifics about why you aren't good for each other. Thanks for writing back.
Newark, Del.: I've been married so long, I forget what its like out there. My younger brother recently (8 months ago) ended a four-year miserable marriage to an ice queen. He has been dating an amazing woman for three months. He has been asking my advice, so I look to you for help. How does one know if a relationship is just a rebound or the real deal? If it is the real thing, how soon after a divorce is it OK to get serious/engaged/married? Since they are both in their mid-30's and want children (plural), how much does that factor into it?
Carolyn Hax: Unfortunately, they can't pretend they have all the time in the world if they want to have kids.
Fortunately, there's a pretty good way (I think) to tell the difference between right and rebound. Rebounds are famously emotional, passionate, needy, genie-out-of-ice-queen-bottle things. If they're feeling comfortable with each other, confident, okay when the phone doesn't ring but really happy when it does, then they're probably right to trust what's happening.
I still wouldn't lose sight of the three-month issue. They may not have all the time in the world, but that's not license to be stupid. If after a year or so they're feeling just as right with each other as they do now, then, mazel tov.
Virginia: No specifics about why he didn't like him. Did say that the guy wasn't a bad guy, just seems like he thinks we're incompatible.
Carolyn Hax: He's got to do better than that if he's going to challenge your judgment and boycott your birthday (!). Write back or, better, call--not with your dukes up, but with a "C'mon Dad, you need to do better than that." Let him know you'll hear him out, but only if he gives you something real to listen to.
To the guy with the in-law question: I wonder if he would have been fine with his own family (brother or sister, or ?) dropping by early, just not his in-laws? Is this a problem with the in-laws and not an early arrival problem?
I HATE my in-laws, every last one of them and would not stand for any of them arriving early for a function. However, I would be fine if one of my family arrived early. I wonder if that is going on here.
Carolyn Hax: I hope you're just saying you wouldn't stand for it as an illustration, and aren't in fact kicking them out when they arrive early where you'd welcome your own family in.
I don't believe everyone has to has to have equal treatment, unless everyone is treating you equally well--but I do think the marital obligation is as follows: first, to defer to the spouse, and don't distance yourself from spouse's family unless spouse is asking you to; and second, when the spouse is delusional/willfully blind about boorishness of said family, you break off on your own by keeping a civil distance. Choice 2 should come with mandatory marriage counseling, but I don't get to decide these things.
For Virginia: My husband's mother objected to our relationship. I was hurt at first, until I realized that she objected to every relationship he had ever had because it was something she couldn't control. Is this your first very serious relationship -- does Daddy see his little girl slipping away? (BTW we just celebrated our 25th anniversary and while MIL would never admit she was wrong, she does say what a wonderful "daughter" I am to her.)
Carolyn Hax: This happens a lot. But it also happens a lot that a parent sees a red flag with a child's choice of mate and has great difficulty articulating it, either out of incomplete comprehension, loss of words, or fear of meddling. This is why it's so important to get the dad talking.
If he comes up empty even after she's encouraged him to elaborate and assured him she won't hold any grudges, then I think all she can do is carry on as her judgment indicates, tell her dad he'll be missed and hold up her end of the bargain not to hold a grudge, even if he doesn't agree to the bargain.
re: No specifics about why he didn't like him. Did say that the guy wasn't a bad guy, just seems like he thinks we're incompatible: I can't get over how this doesn't seem to surprise LW, she didn't even realize we all wanted to know WHY he doesn't like BF. She's focusing on the not coming to the party instead of the bigger question of why does Dad think he has a say? That makes me think Dad does this a lot. In which case, it's time to admit Dad is manipulative and free yourself of letting it affect you. You can't change Dad, change how you respond to his edicts.
Carolyn Hax: Another way to look at it, thanks.
In-laws: So I have to like my in-laws? I can't set boundaries with them when they show up and immediately demand to be served and entertained?
Carolyn Hax: If you'd like to write my answers for me, have at it.
I never said you had to like them, serve them, entertain them, or leave your boundaries unenforced. I said you had to give equal treatment to in-laws who treat you as well as your family does (equal in spirit; to the exact letter isn't necessary). I said that where unequal treatment is warranted, it has to be shown with the full agreement and cooperation of your spouse, or, if your spouse is unreasonable, by you alone with cool civility. Followed up by some reckoning, please, with the fact that your spouse is irrational.
Showing up early: Hi Carolyn,
I'm afraid that my father and step-mom are going to show up early to T-day in the hopes of having "time to visit." Any way to discourage this?
FWIW, the back-story is that they're coming to our area and staying in a hotel, "so they can do their own thing," which conveniently has them stopping by our place for a free meal. I don't think that they should be coming over before the appointed hour to try to get in some face-time with their grandkids when we'll all be a-twitter trying to get dinner for 16 together.
And, no, they haven't offered to help in any way. Thoughts??
Carolyn Hax: If they ask beforehand if they can come early, either say no or say yes on the condition that they pitch in. If they just show up, tell them you're sorry you can't be a proper host, then go about your cooking and kid-watching while they entertain themselves.
These are their grandkids. I'm also sure they could get a free meal elsewhere, but have chosen this free meal for a reason. Keeping your dukes up will only wear out your arms.
Re: Virginia: The poster never said if they themselves were male or female. When I read the question, I thought the writer could be gay and thought the dad supports his decision (i.e. being gay) just doesn't like this particular guy.
But I do agree that Dad needs to lay out more specifics because otherwise it just looks meddlesome for meddlesome's sake.
Carolyn Hax: Another possibility. Tx.
Help: I just failed the bar exam, do not have a permanent job or place to live, and was recently dumped (three weeks ago) by a long-term boyfriend after he decided he just wasn't in love with me anymore. Other friends have one or more of these problems, but it all seems to be raining down at once on me. How do you keep sane when you know all you have to do is wait it out, but it's so hard in the meantime?
Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry for the pileup. I have two general suggestions. Take really good care of yourself, because you need it now--get some exercise, eat really well, take a little extra time when you're getting dressed, get some sleep.
And, take really good care of someone else, because you need it now--cook for the people you're staying with, offer to watch their pets, volunteer somewhere that will give you direct interaction with people in need, whatever suits your nature and circumstances. It's a quick boost that actually lasts.
New, interesting in-law question: Get this: Husband's parents are coming to visit tonight. Wouldn't be odd except that they've been divorced for more than two decades and recently started dating again. Husband is freaked out but trying to be cool with it. I'm fine. It's weird, but I guess it doesn't affect me that much because they aren't my parents.
So, here's the main question -- we have two rooms made up. Do we point that out, or just let them figure it out. Husband says he'll have a stroke if they share a bed. I say it's none of our business what they do. Friends say it's "our house, our rules." Our 3-year-old is really looking forward to having her grandmother sleep in the room next to her (which wouldn't happen if they shared a bed because it's a twin) -- and she wakes up early and will certainly go to that room before ours. She's certainly aware that it's weird that she'll be seeing the two of them at the same time, but we haven't talked to her at all about them dating, since we have no idea what the future will be with that.
So, how do we handle it?
Carolyn Hax: "Husband says he'll have a stroke if they share a bed"? I don't doubt their divorce put him through the ringer, but if his parents are coming back around to each other after all these years, he needs to take his being cool with it one step further, to letting them decide the sleeping arrangements for themselves. Say nothing. If they ask, tell them both rooms are made up. You're right--for the purposes of this visit, they are two consenting adults whose sleeping arrangements are no one else's business.
Also for purposes of this visit, remember your daughter is 3. How you react is far more important than what she sees. Your explanation can leave out almost all the speculation, complexities and in fact pertinent information.
Thanksgiving Blues: I told my 20-year-old son that if he wanted to spend Thanksgiving with his girlfriend and her family that would be OK. Last year he ate a hurried lunch with me and then rushed over to her house. It seemed silly to do that again this year so I figured I'd let him off the hook and I'd find something else to do. Now, I'm at loose ends and feeling sorry for myself. I love to cook, but my apartment is really too tiny to invite guests over. I need to find something else to do, but what? The food kitchens are probably overrun with volunteers on that day. Thanksgiving is supposed to be a terrible time to travel. I don't know what to do now.
Carolyn Hax: Your son was on "the hook"? Are you sure that's not the self-pity talking? Maybe he was rushed to get to his girlfriend's, but that may just mean you need to plan better. Talk to him honestly (and un-needily).
If you and he agree that not your not seeing him makes the most sense, then tackle the other whopper in your answer: Unless one of you would have to eat standing up in the bathroom, there is no such thing as an apartment too small to host people. Just do it, and limit the numbers as needed.
And if you don't get anything going either way, tackle the third whopper: that food kitchens are "probably" overrun. Are they, or not? Have you called any?
If they are overrun, what about calling senior centers, churches, children's charities? Admittedly, these will be hard calls to make because you're feeling lonely and unwanted, and it can feel even worse when you're the one who has to remedy that for yourself. But you are the one who has to remedy that for yourself, and no matter how hard it feels it'll be better than the alternative of doing nothing, which will only add to the pile that you feel captive to your fears.
Please be assured you are not even close to the first person who has felt this way. Holidays do this to everybody at least once, often more than; often there's nothing but this. The better the lemonade you make out of it, the better you'll feel--not just on the day, but throughout the rest of the year.
Re: New, interesting in-law question: Put them in separate rooms. Isn't that what they would have done had your husband brought home a girl back when he was dating? :-D
Carolyn Hax: Payback. I likes it.
Another re: Virginia: FWIW, my parents and I had reservations about my brother and his fiancee that we did not feel entitled to voice for fear of interfering. Some of the reservations were due to her very young age and the fact that they hadn't been dating that long (and it was his first girlfriend), but there was also an uneasiness that I couldn't have articulated well, but would in retrospect was probably us picking up on vibes from what we now know is her toxic family background and early signs of future behavioral problems.
If we had said something, and my brother had been open to listening, maybe he wouldn't married quite so quickly, who knows. But after a decade of misery, I now wish we had said something.
Carolyn Hax: That's a big if--your brother's being open to listening. Obviously I don't know the specifics, but the generality is that it is extremely hard to separate someone from a toxic mate. A fundamental part of toxicity is the ability to exploit a mate's weaknesses to keep him or her around. Resistance from family is often twisted into something that increases a toxic person's control, vs. mitigating it. You did what you thought was right, and regrets won't help. Sorry about your brother.
Holiday tension descends...: I know that the holidays are fraught with tension but could it help to look at things from this perspective - your father and step mom are traveling to YOU to see YOU. And they are only 2 of the 16 who are "getting a free meal". Perhaps they are staying in a hotel because they don't want to get in your hair and add to your pressure to host them. If their early presence is a burden - and they are not willing to help - maybe you can suggest that they take the kids to the park or somewhere to allow them to visit while you do whatever it is you have to do.
Carolyn Hax: Thanky.
Hope for bar exam failer...: Don't worry too much about the bar. There's nothing you can do about it until February. Don't even start studying for it until after the holidays.
In the meantime, there are plenty of jobs that like J.D.'s but don't require barred attorneys. Contact your school's legal career services office and ask them. You don't even need to mention that you failed the bar. They get it. In Virginia, for example, it happen to more than one-fourth of applicants every summer.
Carolyn Hax: Good stuff, thanks.
Anywhere: Dear Carolyn,
Please help me cope this week... the other day I learned an old friend committed suicide. That same day ANOTHER old friend called to ask if I would be a witness for them in an ugly custody/divorce battle being waged in two states. I said I would answer any questions (although I really don't have any info that could possibly be helpful to either side) but now I just want to crawl in a hole and not answer the phone. I just feel overwhelmed and have nothing left to give my husband and kids right now-not to mention my job. Thoughts?? My husband is doing his part-he already got me a pint of Phish Food which was consumed in less than a day.
Carolyn Hax: You are grieving. It's okay. Lean a little harder on the people around you, and do it without guilt. If you had the flu you wouldn't apologize for it; now you're just stuffed up and fevery with feelings, which can be just as debilitating.
As for the divorce, don't let that be part of your worries. You can contribute something, which is as much of the truth as you know, which will help move them toward finalizing it and ending the bitterness. Save your energy for the news about your friend, and for doing what absolutely has to get done. I'm sorry.
Re Mom and Son T-Giving: If it is just mom and son, you would think the girlfriend's family could make room for one more. Thanksgiving is a day to include and make space at the table. Have the son and girlfriend really not considered that?
Carolyn Hax: I think we've talked to enough people in this space who are trying to find ways not to invite this mother or that boyfriend/sibling/colleague, that it's hard to be sure what motivates people.
I also think, though, that unless there's a socially untouchable issue here--like substance abuse, other abuse or control, racism or other hate-based intolerance, anything that puts enabling or endangering into play--we're all better in the end for setting the extra place. Thanks.
Minneapolis, Minn.: What the hell is wrong with you people? Don't celebrate if you don't want company.
Carolyn Hax: Maybe I'm sick, but that just made me laugh out loud.
Thanksgiving alone: For years when I was alone and didn't have the money to travel to see family (or didn't want to face the chaos of traveling on the holiday weekend), I would regularly host a get-together on Thanksgiving Friday for friends who visited with family the day before. On Thanksgiving, I would cook myself a nice meal, rent a movie that I really wanted to see, or sit down with a book I had been dying to read and treated myself to a relaxing night...maybe doing a little of the prep for the next night so that I wouldn't be so stressed.
We so often are stressing ourselves with too many things, why not take advantage of that night off to baby yourself?
Carolyn Hax: I think we all need to switch lives. This must sound as awesome to the NOW GET OUT OF MY HOUSE family entertainers as entertaining family sounds to the people who don't want to be alone.
Creative people: Hi, Carolyn.
How do you know when someone is creative? I'm sorry if this sounds like a stupid question because it might be obvious - like people who are artists. But I'm talking about the subtly creative?
Do you think creativity/creative people are misunderstood?
Carolyn Hax: If the behavior shows up on those lists of abusive behavior, it's not creativity, it's abuse that someone is trying to pass off as permissible behavior.
And if I've totally misread it, then here's the straight answer: Creativity is the ability to see things in a new way. This can apply to painting, storytelling, office politics, traffic, pass defense, ballpoint-pen mechanics, anything.
The Ice Queen cometh?: Carolyn,
How do I put aside my concern that one day, if things were to not work out between me and my ridiculously wonderful future husband and I, one of his family members may look back on me as an ice queen / train wreck / (insert mean stereotype here)? I mean, how do I know one of them doesn't think of me that way now, even though they are all smiles when we are together? It breaks my heart to think of his mom or best friend refering to me as "the control freak" or "that wet blanket".
Carolyn Hax: Surely your list of things to worry about is long enough. Do your best and trust that to cover people's impressions of you.
Being gay: Not to put my dukes up or anything, but please. Being gay isn't a decision. It's a fact of some people's lives.
Carolyn Hax: Right, I read right by that--brain processed it as to be openly gay.
Not like that's much of a choice, either, since you don't see a lot of straight people wrestling with the decision to appear in public with an SO, but you know what I mean. Thanks for the catch.
Turkey Day Volunteers: My parents and I have tried to volunteer in the past, when the rest of the family was unavailable, and were consistently told to send money instead.
Carolyn Hax: That doesn't surprise me, but I imagine it's always worth asking because volunteer supply must fluctuate based on a bunch of variables. I seem to recall, too, a newspaper listing of groups who needed volunteers for things. Anyone out there with an institutional memory better than mine?
Washington, D.C.: My boyfriend and I are serious and talk all the time about marriage. We'll probably be getting engaged soon. The problem - I don't know when soon is and I'm feeling a bit out of control. How do women deal with being totally out of control when it comes to the proposal?? I'm trying to be patient but I'd at last like to know whether it'll happen by the end of this year or next year. It's frustrating and it's even more frustrating when all my friends keep asking me about it. I know I should just chill, but I'm not used to having no control. Any advice?
Carolyn Hax: Ask him? You gotta be you.
Business sympathy etiquette?: Today is a sad day at work. One of my coworkers died in a bizarre manner this past week, in a way that is likely to show up on national news (it's front page news here today, and the full report isn't even in yet).
I didn't actually know him -- he worked in a different division and location from me. But I know a lot of his coworkers, and I know they are grieving for a friend while people outside the company are mostly interested in the unusual nature of his death.
If this was the death of, say, a family member of a friend, I would know what to do (deliver a casserole, write a note, find something useful to do, focus on the loss and not the manner of it). But how do I express sympathy to a whole division of about 40 people? Especially without it being "wow, weird way to go"-ish?
I am saying "I'm so sorry" as I encounter various folks, but that seems lame and not-enough. But what else to do?
Carolyn Hax: Can you and others in your department who are in the same position get together to do something nice? A sympathy card that everyone signs would be the simplest, but you could do more, too, like collect money for his survivors. You could also offer to help with any arrangements they make--for example, if they're going to have a memorial gathering in their office, your department could provide (via caterer) some of the food for a reception afterward.
Honey, you ARE a control freak: If you get that emotionally invested in what people might think of you in the far future if your currently wonderful relationship ends. Let them think what they think--it's their right, just as it's your right to think of them however you'll think of them some day.
Carolyn Hax: S/He said it, don't get mad at me ...
The Couch!: Hi Carolyn!
I'm reading your chat, sitting here and being excited about my new area rug. After this, I'll knit and hang out with my cats. I'm also 28 and single (and successful, employed, blah, blah, blah - some even say attractive) - how do I know when I've reached the end of the "enjoy the little things in life and be happy with oneself" line and walked my way into "oh my goodness, you're the crazy cat lady, get out more?" Am I doomed?
Carolyn Hax: When you knit something for the cats so they match the area rug. Till then, enjoy.
Washington, D.C.: I know it's always best to be honest in a relationship. But is it best to divulge everything about my past? I have cheated on a girlfriend before, came clean immediately, and that one was over. I definitely learned from it and would never do it again. I'm not dating anyone right now, but would like your advice. If someone I was dating asked me if I've ever cheated, I'd feel bad about lying. If I should tell her, how far into the relationship is appropriate? Would she ever trust me after that? Thanks.
Carolyn Hax: If someone asks, don't lie, especially not for the purpose of preserving your image as a trustworthy person. (If I have to explain that reasoning, I'll cry.)
You are human. You did something stupid that you have the sense to regret. If someone can't handle dating a guy who has been stupid in a way he now admits and regrets honestly, then that's someone you don;t want to date. This is true if you tell the truth the first date or fortieth.
I don't think you have to offer it, BTW, not unless you;re really deep into a discussion about cheating and it would be a lie of omission to stay mum.
Carolyn Hax: Gotta fly. Thanks everyone, type to you next week--and also Monday the 19th, as a replacement for the post-TG chat, which won't happen because Live Online is dark that day. Byeeee.
Re: Out of Control on Proposal: What's the rush? I know how it feels to have friends ask about when you will get engaged (and to be VERY excited about it yourself), but there is a problem I see in relationships when you are so focused on the next step and don't examine and think about the present relationship and what needs to be worked on and improved. Hopefully the NOW is joyful and wonderful and you are not just wrapped up in what you envision for the future which may or may not end up as the reality.
If you are stuck on this notion of "being surprised" with the ring then you have to just chill out and enjoy the relationship you have NOW rather than focus on what you hope to be.
Carolyn Hax: Absolutely I agree that friend pressure is lethal as motivation to get engaged, and that people do get caught up in what they want and fail to see what they have.
If she does know what she has, though, then she should propose.
If she does know what she has and feels she can't propose lest she "ruin" something, I question her knowing what they have.
This is plainly a bias, but anecdotally I don't see good couples sweating out the proposal. It's just a foregone conclusion and neither cares who officially asks, if anyone actually does.
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