Carolyn Hax Live: Pre-Thanksgiving Special

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 19, 2007; 12:00 PM

Special Pre-Thanksgiving Chat!

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 day in The Washington Post Style section and in the Sunday Source, Carolyn Hax offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there. 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.

Carolyn's Recent Columns

Working vs. Staying Home?: Hi Carolyn, found out my sitter may be leaving the area. I adore her and my daughter is very happy with her. How to decide if I should find another sitter or stay home? Don't like my job, but do enjoy working outside the home. Thoughts from you or the peanuts?

Carolyn Hax: How old is your daughter? Maybe you can switch to a part-time job and find a part-time program for your daughter.


Alexandria, Va.: Hello, I am posting in advance. How would you respond to nosey coworkers? I have been out on medical leave for two months and will return next week. I have told no one about my medical condition that involved surgery. It is inevitable that someone will ask me for specific information. What should I say?

Carolyn Hax: Here are two, so you can mix it up based on your mood: "That's awfully private," or "Why do you ask?"


Centreville, Va.: Hi Carolyn,

Happy Thanksgiving! Do you think it's possible to change the way you think about something? For instance, if you have an unhealthy outlook towards something (food, your body, squirrels, whatever), can you change it?

Maybe it's more about feelings than thoughts, but I think the two go together.


Carolyn Hax: Thanks! You too.

Absolutely I think it's possible to change your outlook on something. It can be difficult, and I think also you have to be realistic about the extent to which you can change--for example, for someone with steep boy hangups, a conversion to complete insouciance isn't going to happen. But it is possible for that person to identify the origin of the issues, address that origin, learn ways to anticipate and work around the most common triggers, and incorporate these ways into habit.

How one gets there varies by person, but I think the big three are willingness to accept blame/responsibility instead of pointing fingers at everyone and everything else; eagerness to do what it takes to change, no matter how hard the work of it gets; and the ability to take the long view, and get right back to it after a slip, instead of getting frustrated and derailed.

Almost making that list, by the way, is a supportive environment. If you can't jettison underminers from your life completely, you at least need to see them coming early enough to keep them at arm's length. Good luck.


Holidays: I don't want to appear ungrateful but my mother-in-law always gets me gifts that really don't fit my personality at all. Either clothes I would never wear and always in sizes way too big, or jewelry I would never consider. Should I say something, politely of course, or should I just continue to accept these as if they were thoughtful gifts.

Carolyn Hax: They are thoughtful gifts; you just don't know what she's thinking. Since you and she are related to each other in a way that is classicly fraught, I think it's probably a good idea to see these as diplomatic exchanges, where it's the relationship that counts.

In the meantime, you can take this as a sign that you and your MIL could use a few more opportunities to know each other better. A well-meant overture from you couldn't hurt.


New Brunswick, N.J.: Today's my birthday, but I'm not really planning on celebrating. I just started the job I have now about three weeks ago, so I haven't said anything about my birthday today (though I did mention it in passing over the past couple of weeks) because it's still a new environment. I moved to this area three months ago, so outside of my new coworkers, I don't know anyone. I'm actually sorta looking forward to spending the evening by myself, with laundry and perhaps a cupcake from the grocery store bakery. But I know when I go home for Thanksgiving and everyone asks "So what did you do for your birthday?" and I say "nothing really," I'll get those looks of pity that I hate. Is there a better way to deal with this?

Carolyn Hax: This came up last week--just say you took the opportunity to pamper yourself.

When you're ready to take it to a higher plane, the best way to rid your life of the pitying looks is to rid your mind of the idea that what you did was grounds for pity, even you dion't think so, you just think other people think so.

It's brutal, really, the way any little hairline crack of vulnerability translates to bystanders as GET HER ON SOCIAL LIFE-SUPPORT, STAT. But it's true. Love your laundry night and people will envy you your laundry night, because they'll see it for what it is--freedom from giving two [suds] what anyone thinks of your plans. Happy birthday.


Medical Leave - just got back myself: Remember, though, that your co-workers are also going to ask things like "I heard you've been out. You OK?"

Now, yes, one one level, they're hoping you'll dish. But on another, they're really just saying exactly what they're saying. So if you don't want to confide, just answer kindly but firmly, "Yes, I have been out, but I'm better now. Thanks for asking. What's new with ____?"

Carolyn Hax: Great point, thanks. There's nothing to be accomplished by going into it on the defensive.


Chicago, Ill.: How do you deal with a friend who never asks you how you are when you talk, but always just launches into a series of complaints? When he does occasionally ask me how I am, he doesn't do a lot of listening, just quickly turns the subject back to himself, especially if I am not doing "fine" This is someone who I have supported through many difficult times, including a serious illness, but if often feels as though our friendship is one-sided, and it's hard to not feel resentment toward him.

Carolyn Hax: Then resent him. Sounds like you've earned it. Then, when you feel confident you've identified the right emotion for the right reason, decide how you want to deal with this friend. Tell him how you feel? Write him off as not worth it? Pull back to a distance where you can still enjoy what he offers but he won't annoy you so much (because you're no longer giving so much)?

In other words, the trick isn't so much in what you do about him, it's in making sure you know what to think about him. Know what he can and can't give, will and won't do. Once your friendship (or non-)is based on realistic expectations, that should take care of the resentment.


So what did you do for your birthday?" and I say "nothing really." : If you put it THAT way, they WILL feel sorry for you. How about, "I had a great time pampering myself at home, with some take-out, a cupcake, manicure and movie I've been wanting to watch." Or something along those lines. I mean, you're not actually going to just stay at home and stare at the wall.

Carolyn Hax: Unless that's what you were waiting all year for a chance to do, right?

Here's the thing. The list you proposed sounds great, but out of the mouth of someone who believes it was a pathetic birthday, it will sound like a pathetic person trying to be brave. There are people living solitary lives that we would all kill for, and people living solitary lives who induce an ache of sympathy wherever they go. The only difference is the messenger.

I do appreciate, by the way, what hideous advice this is: "Love your life." But until one of the easier answers proves itself to be true, it's all there is.


Medical leave questions: Thanks for expanding on this. I have co-workers for whom I feel real compassion, connection, etc...just not personal friendship.

I want to give them the chance to talk if they want. so is "Glad you're back. Hope you're feeling okay." enough of an opening in that circumstance?

I just can't see it as offensive if I back off when I get a no-info response.

Carolyn Hax: I don't think it's offensive at all, especially since it's not even a question. "Hope you're feeling okay" works as a closed-ended expression of concern for those who don't want to share, and an open-ended expression of concern for those who do.


New York, N.Y.: Hi Carolyn,

I just started reading you recently... and it seems like you usually advise people to look for the silver lining. I wonder where you draw the line of psych/emotional abuse?

Maybe I'm just more of a direct communicator... why not advise people to set boundaries and say what they want? For MIL gifts, for example, why not say "MIL dear, I love that you are always so thoughtful and generous with gifts. I love X catalog and would be thrilled to receive anything from them." or just tell MIL what you would like -- "Oh, I can always use a gift certificate from X"

Carolyn Hax: A direct communicator is someone who says, "I love that you got me a gift, but this isn't a sweater I'd ever wear." Your, "MIL dear, I love that you are always so thoughtful and generous with gifts. I love X catalog and would be thrilled to receive anything from them," is a very broad hint.

There's a huge difference. Some people who recognize broad hints for what they are will be garteful for them, and start ordering gifts for you from your catalogue. Others who recognize broad hints for what they are will go home afterward and say to the nearest sympathetic confidant, "Did you catch that 'dear' [bleep]?"

You have to know your audience. And, since I'm answering people without knowing their audience--and since, by the fact of their asking me, I also have to assume they don't know their audience well, either--all I can do is propose the highest-percentage behavior. See the silver lining, say thanks, try to improve the relationship. I see it as a win in the form of an ugl;y sweater.

By the way--you may be too new to have seen this, but my answer was very different to someone asking about gifts from a romantic partner. That's not a diplomatic situation, that's a let's-trust-each-other-enough-to-speak-openly-without-being-hurtful situation.

As for psych/emotional abuse, I don't see where that factors in here, unless it's someone messing with your head by buying you stuff you expressly don't want. If you know it's a problem--a gift of Omaha Steaks to a vegan--then you state your limit clearly. If it's at all fuzzy, you decline to enagge.

But that's hardly a fitting answer to such a nuanced situation. How to hold a boundary against an intimate who doesn't respect them is an answer that requires attention to the detail of a particular situation. If you're trying to read my slant there, I don't think you'll raelly see it except over time.


Please help... situation worsening: I have a nephew (age 9) who is exhibiting some serious psychological problems. Specifically, he talks about killing people and blowing up the world and drawing violent pictures. The other day, I found out that he held a knife to his chest and threatened to 'end it all because he disappoints everyone.'

My brother thinks he's 'just being a boy' and refuses to acknowledge that the kid needs psychiatric help. He won't listen to anyone, including his wife or our mom. Wife won't 'disobey' husband; and mom/grandma doesn't want to tell her son how to parent (though she has been pushing wife to get the kid to a psychologist).

Unfortunately, I'm all the way across the country and can't do anything (at least not physically) either. But I do know that the kid needs help... and sooner rather than later.

Carolyn Hax: Do you know where he goes to school? You can contact the head of the school to pass this along.


Riverdale, Md.: I have the opposite problem from Holidays -- my mother-in-law-to-be gets AWESOME gifts, and tons of them. Despite being a good liberal, I don't freak out too much about the consumerism; I donate her very few bobbles, and the rest of it is stuff I use year-round. But I always feel like I come up short in trying to give her something equally good. Any ideas from the peanuts on what a 60-year-old progressive Catholic schoolteacher with limited mobility would like? Besides books, I did that the last two years.

Carolyn Hax: I can't think of anything better than showing her that you appreciate her, and inviting her to join you for [something that you can share, like theater, here] would say that well in gift form.

I also think this is where it's important to remember that the joy of giving is its own reward. If she's as good at giving as you suggest, then she would probably be bothered by the idea that she was inadvertently making your life more difficult by creating pressure for you to keep up. be good to her in as many ways as you can. That matters so much more.


Re: Please help: If, you do not get the school to intervene, maybe try the local child services. If, the child is talking like that there maybe a mental or physical abuse situation that you are unaware of especially since you are across the country.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.



My partner and I always go to our respective parents' houses for holidays. Everyone except us (but including the parents) think this is bizarre and that we should travel as a pair. But we see each other all the time and our families notsomuch. Do you see a downside?

Carolyn Hax: Not until you do.


Olney, Md.: My in-laws had a recent very serious health issue and have gone low-sodium, low-fat, etc. We are having thanksgiving with them and I am wondering if it would be entirely crass to bring a small dessert. I know that my FIL is not supposed to have dessert anymore, although I can say his compliance is far from sure. But, Thanksgiving without pie? Whimper.

Carolyn Hax: Oh come on, you can find a dessert that conforms to their diet. The Internet: It isn't just for porn any more. You can also have your pie the other 364 days of the year, or you can have it T-day furtively in your car like everyone else without serious health issues who can't lay off butter for 24 hours.


Richmond, Va.: Hi Carolyn! So excited to chat on a Monday! I'm there a polite way to refuse a friend's request that I invite a friend of hers to join in on an event that I'm planning? This person is trouble with a capital "T" and someone always has to end up babysitting them. Any suggestions for how to tell my friend that I just don't want to include this person -- without destroying my relationship with my friend?

Carolyn Hax: If declining to invite a known problem person would create a problem in your friendship, then your friend is a problem, too. (You got a problem with that?)

Just tell your friend you would like to accommodate, but this person is too disruptive. Disruptive Person has made his/her own bed--a point you can make if asked to elaborate.


Thanksgiving without pie? Whimper.: ...Or have something when you get home as a special "us" time. If you can't get though one family reunion without pie, there IS a problem. Respect Dad's health concerns and save the pie for another time.

Carolyn Hax: Is pie affecting your relationships?
Is pie causing you to miss work, or affecting your performance at work?
Have you told yourself, "I can stop eating pie any time I want"?
Have you vowed to stop eating pie after two pieces, then eaten the whole pie?


Washington, D.C.: My ex and I broke up six months ago, and for the last four months, have been attempting to be friends. I still want to be with him, and over these last few months, he has been very flirtacious with me (we've been intimate multiple times). This all stopped a few weeks ago, when he told me that he started to see someone. Now he wants nothing to do with me - no more phone calls or email. I'm a mess - how do I pick up the pieces? Is this for the best that we do not communicate? I miss him very much and consider him my best friend.

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry. I have no doubt you miss him terribly, but I don't think he's your best friend. To earn that designation, he'd have to prove not only that he knows you well, but also looks out for you. He let you down badly with the flirtation, the sex and the (I'm sorry again) false friendship. They mean he either didn't know you well enough to recognize that you still wanted him back and were staying friends for that reason, or he didn't care enough to guard his actions against raising your hopes falsely.

So, I guess that means it is for the best that you arent' communicating--but it's a moot point. He has taken that choice away from you. The way to start picking up the pieces is to get on with the process that the "friendship" was clearly hindering, of recognizing that it is over, he isn't who you had hoped, and your future is going to look different from the one you have imagined.

As you get more and more used to that idea, you'll start to see that "different" doesn't always mean "worse." If nothing else, this guy is really bad at navigating another person's feelings, and so even if you were still together, that shortcoming of his was going to put you through hell eventually. Small consolation now, but one that I hope will grow with time and awareness. Hang in there.


Just checking in: Heya Carolyn! I'm the proposal-dreader from a few weeks ago. You and the nuts will be pleased (or possibly disappointed, if you were hoping for a scandal) to know that the boyfriend and I have done some thinking/talking/etc about the Rest Of Our Lives, and I am no longer dreading -- I will happily say yes whenever he asks. (And it's a good thing, too, because he's got some kind of "appointment" to "play golf" with his "father" over Thanksgiving week that sounds reeeeeally suspicious to me.)

Now, to start daydreaming about monogrammed tableware.


Carolyn Hax: You're going to think I'm completely nuts. But I happen to have this lying around:

"Re: Bug-eyed about engagement: Me again. Thanks for taking my question. I've been turning it over (and will keep on thinking, per Hax instruction). I think it's partly that the man in question can be really difficult at times -- 98% of the time he's funny, loving, great to be with, but when we do fight, he's a hard arguer and gets super-defensive. Credit to him, he's working on it and we resolve our conflicts well. It's just hard work, and the prospect of a lifetime of that gives me the bug-eye.

"On the other hand, I'm totally in love with him, and all relationships take some sort of work. Maybe I need to think about the positive realities of this, instead of just the problems. If you see anything in here, I'm all ears. If not, I'll be sure to post an update for the voyeurs."

You posted this to the original discussion a few weeks ago, and I saw it after the fact and hung onto it.

First, please accept the voyeurs' thanks for keeping us up to date.

Second, has your job of being his Pooh Bear gotten markedly and sustainably easier?


Germantown, Md.: Spouse and I have been having problems lately. For a few months we dealt with it by ignoring it, not talking much, fighting over little non-issues, etc. I know, great approach. About a month ago we finally got everything out in the open. There is blame on both sides. I have made many changes to myself after listening to her reasons for being upset and agreeing that on several issues I have been selfish and have not changed things she has been requesting for years: from not doing enough of her activities with her or not spending enough time with her friends (or doing it grudgingly when I did), to small annoyances like not slamming the front door. Rather than embracing these changes she is overwhelmed by so many changes all at once. I am frustrated because I am trying very hard and it's as if she's not trusting or not accepting these changes. How can I help her to embrace and enjoy the new me? I understand it is a lot of changes all at once but I value my marriage and want to do everything I can to make it work, so doing a couple of changes here and there doesn't seem like the right approach to me. Thanks for any help, Carolyn.

Carolyn Hax: I agree, a couple of changes here and there doesn't seem like the right approach. It might have been a while back, when each of you was asking for a couple of changes here and there. But when those requests go ignored for a long time, the anger sets in, fueled by (I think you'll agree on this, too) a very real sense that the one person who is supposed to care about you more than anyone else in the world can't even bother to change [small thing here] to make you happy. And wow can that anger eat away at your feelings for someone.

Now, I'll throw in a disclaimer or two: One, this may be working both ways in your marriage, I can't tell from what you wrote, so I'm going to respond as if it's one-way, wife angry at you. Two, these small changes can be justified and indeed small (and therefore the askee is at fault), or they can be the behavioral equivalent of scaling Everest in knee socks (and therefore the asker is at fault). One spouse asks a small thing and should be met with loving accommodation; another sposue asks a "small" thing and it's really one of a thousand "small things," making Spouse needy and impossible to satisfy (verging on abusive), rightly answered with clear and firmly enforced boundaries.

Which are you? I can't say. Many people in these situations can't say. [more]


Carolyn Hax: So here's what you do. You try to get as objective a view as you can about whether your requests of each other in this marriage are reasonable. Talk to people you trust. Run through your mind the behavior of people who seem happy and at peace in their relationships. Take a hard look at your own definition of "normal" in a marriage. Were your parents miserable together, great together, happy but only after they worked at it pretty hard? What's your model? This is informing your judgment, and your judment is informing your behavior. Try to get a handle on these connections so you an trust your judgment more.

Then, assess your behavior in your marriage using this informed judgment. Have you been a jerk? Have you both been jerks? Have you been doing your best, for someone who will never see your best as good enough?

If you have been a jerk or you both have, then keep up the improved version of you, but know it will take months of heartfelt consistency for these improvements to make a difference. That's because the only message that can counteract the anger is, "I care enough about you to think about someone other than myself." And that message just doesn't get persuasive until it gets applied to the front door, the laundry pile, the sinkful of dishes, etc.

If she has been a jerk, too, then you will need to address what you need from her, but only in the framework of your knowing and appreciating how you've let her down. If she's too angry to admit to her share, then, counseling is a swell idea.

If, finally, you conclude through your analysis that you're with someone who makes demands just to keep you off balance (it doesn't sound that way, by the way, but SO many people miss it, especially men with needy women, that it should always be considered), then counseling for you alone would be my suggestion.

As always, with a two-parter, I hope that made at least 50 percent of sense.


Husband who made lots of changes: It could be that once the wife was "allowed" to be mad in the open, she needed/needs some time to be mad for a while, not just immediately be grateful and happy that everything is changed. It makes the angry person feel even more out of control to be told after years of helpless resentment that "Everything is Okay Now!" Allow her to let her feelings naturally subside. Allow her to process, and hopefully accept, the changes that were made.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. This is important, the processing part of it. I cited this once before, about a wife who grew angrier and more resentful over time at her husband's refusal to do his share of the housekeeping, to point where he finally made the bed and announced to her, "I made the bed ..." and her answer was, "Great, like I've done every [bleeping] day until now." His asking for a pat on the back was unwitting proof to her that he just did not get the erosion of goodwill between them that he had caused by mistaking her for his maid.

Moral of the story, you can't just make a little change, you have to get the bigger message.


The Couch: I am good friends with both halves of a couple going through a really rough time. Thing is, I have come to the definite conclusion that he would be happier if he left. They are in counseling, which is good. But it's not going great.

I know he is going to ask my opinion eventually. I could say "it's not my place" -- but I think that's a total cop out. I know him as well as anyone and I feel like I owe him a straight, honest answer.

Carolyn Hax: Your answer is the series of leading questions:

Do you think X will ever change?

Do you think either of you will be happy if X doesn't change?

And so on. I really would caution against an opinion, unless it's that the other person is abusive.


For Germantown: Is it possible that Germantown's wife enjoys the misery? I have known people who gripe about everything, and constantly change their complaints, even when the subject of the complaint has addressed it appropriately. I sometimes believe those people enjoy having something to be miserable about -- it lets them direct their unhappiness outward and blame someone/something else, rather than looking inward and really having to find out what's bothering them.

Carolyn Hax: It is entirely possible. That's why it's so important to figure out whether the other person is reasonable, fair and (most important) capable of being satisfied. I can't tell you how common it is for people to walk around with a bad case of the if-onlys ("If only I do X for her, she'll ..." relax/trust me/start sleeping with me again/whatever), when everyone else around them sees that the if-only thing never has happened and never will happen. Often it's a control tactic, to keep one's mate attentive to one's every whim. Miserable.


Brother's wedding: I've submitted this a few times before, so I hope you can answer! My brother's wedding is in a few weeks. Problem: my stepdad will be there. He was verbally abusive to me and my brother growing up, but the worst came when I was engaged 2 years ago. He called my now-husband a terrorist and said some awful things, simply because my husband is a foreign-born Muslim. How do I handle him at the wedding? I haven't spoken to him in 2 years.

Carolyn Hax: I don't think you're under any obligation to seek him out (you'd be a much better judge of that, based on your history), but if you're faced with him I think it's acceptable just to greet him civilly, answer a question or two if they aren't inappropriate ("How are you," etc) and then excuse yourself. If he says anything inappropriate, you can point out that you're under no obligation to listen to to this, excuse yourself and walk away.


For "please help": Given the situation, you might consider bypassing the school and going directly to child protective services. The school would first need to address it with the parents or see their own signs of risk before, say, going to child protective services themselves. On the other hand, you have some very clear evidence that the signs of risk your nephew is exhibiting are being ignored. That's neglect, to most child protective services agencies, and your nephew at least deserves to have some adult looking out for him.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. I wouldn't call CPS without a call to the school, though. The people who are in daily contact with the child ought to know what's going down, so they can anticipate/respond/help out accordingly.


Progressive Catholic MIL gift: Somebody may have suggested this already, but how about a donation to a charity?

Carolyn Hax: Or, even better (if it's feasible) her presence. If the MIL has a cause to which she devotes time, energy and money, the DIL might make an even more meaningful gift of her time and talents. Thanks.


A person is more important than a pie: My daughter has severe food allergies and we've given up on trying to convince my family that she is more important than having nuts at Thanksgiving.

It makes me so sad that she is missing out on a chance to bond with her extended family, but the last time we tried she ended up in the hospital, and they STILL won't change.

Yes, I realize I can't force the world to keep her safe, but I would think family would do so without my even asking.

Carolyn Hax: If it makes you feel better, it's not just your family. I have run across an incredibly persistent, incredibly stubborn strain of person/family that thinks serving a vegetarian meal is an insult to guests, an allergy sufferer is just high-maintenance, and flipping everyone else the bird is an entitlement. Bonds with this family would probably have been nice, but also probably never as rewarding as you had hoped when you were making the effort.


Spouses Changing....: Different couple, same problem. We've talked -- with professional help -- about saving our marriage.

Sure, now she is swallowing her complaints, but I -know- this woman and exactly what she's thinking. The years of pressure and resentment are still there, for all that the packaging is a little nicer.

I'm sure she thinks the same thing. Can we move on?

Carolyn Hax: Can she ever love you the way you are? That is the question I hope you have asked, and I hope she has answered honestly. If not, then it's quiet desperation pas de deux.


Engagement pressure in Virginia: Hi Carolyn,

My boyfriend of two years is starting to receive tons of pressure from his family, friends, and coworkers to propose to me. Indeed, I'm pretty sure that his sister and mine have already planned the wedding; however, he and I have not talked about marriage, and I wonder if I need to let him off the hook, so to speak, by letting him know that I'm not sitting at home wondering why he hasn't proposed yet. I think that we're heading in the wedding/marriage direction, but I'm not in a hurry.

Thoughts? I'm also spending Thanksgiving at his house this week, which I'm sure is going to lead to more wedding suggestions from his folks and family.

Carolyn Hax: Talk to him about it. It's bad enough having an elephant in the room, but when it's wearing tulle and picking out china, it's uniquely distracting.


Washington, D.C.: I have a friend who always makes a big deal out of her birthday (no, she is not 16) by inviting friends to join her in something expensive. Once it was a vacation. Another time we were asked to go to a spa day at a fancy salon. This year it's being held at an expensive restaurant. She expects everyone to attend or have a really good excuse. I can't afford these things, but even if I was rich, I would not spend that much on someone's birthday. I make up a benign excuse, but what I really want to say is "please stop asking people to go broke celebrating your birthday every year". What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: When the invitation is to something you can't afford, say, "I'm sorry, I can't afford that." And when her answer is to put pressure on you, say, "Please stop asking me to go broke celebrating your birthday every year." It sounds as if it would be about time.


Raleigh, N.C.: Regarding nephew with knife... I am a child psychologist. Please, please, please contact the school, or his teacher, or push harder on the parents. While some aggressive play is normal at that age, the level of what you describe is not. He needs to be seen by a professional. What he is doing is a cry for help. Really, he is doing those things because he is practically begging for help. Something is going on with him.

Carolyn Hax: thanks for the push.


Washington, D.C.: How can I make myself 'grow up' and want to adjust to a relationship which involves spending a lot of time with someone instead of spending a lot of time by myself?

Carolyn Hax: Don't. The relationship for you is one that allows for your needs for alone time--sans guilt, pressure, whining, emotional contortionism.

Bringing a baby into that relationship would change the terms somewhat--you just don't get as much say in your time when a little person needs you--but even that is something you can have in mind and discuss openly when you're choosing a mate.


Fairfax, Va.: I think my girlfriend is moving down a different and more serious track than I am. She only just stopped herself from saying "I love you" the other night, and I am not in the same place at all.

I like her very much and do care for her, but I'm not ready. I'm not even sure I'm particularly interested in heading down that road at all -- with anyone.

In years past, I would have just started treating her badly until she left; sadly, I'm too old to take the "easy" way out anymore. Clearly I need to say something. But what? I'm so bad at this stuff. Any thoughts on what I should say?

Carolyn Hax: You were too old to take the "easy" way out (i.e., easy on you) before, but that's beside the point.

First, you might not need to say anything. Maybe she stopped herself becuase she knows you're not there. That in turn could mean she already knows you're not the committing kind, or she at least knows you need more time. Could be she's better for you than you think.

Second, you might need to pay attention to your own behavior. Are you treating her like a potential mate, knowing that's what you need to do to get what you want from her? Then you need to start being more honest in your actions, before you even get to the words.

And if you've weighed both but still feel like she's running away with the wrong idea, then you need to just risk looking like the stereotypical jerk commitmentphobe and say that you feel like the relationship is getting ahead of you. it may sound bad coming out, but it'll sound worse if it doesn't.


Carolyn Hax: To the no-longer-door-slamming husband--I just got your follow-post, but I have to go. Instead of slaming together an answer, I'm going to re-post to the Nov. 30 discussion, and answer you then. Sorry for the cliffhanger, but it just makes more sense this way.

To everyone--this is goodbye, obviously. Thanks for coming, happy Thanksgiving and I'll type to you next Friday.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company