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Carolyn Hax Live: Pre-Holiday Edition; Annual Poem

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 7, 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 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

Arlington, Va.: To SO with Dying Mom -- GO. NOW. My sister recently died of ALS. She was hospitalized with the word being "any time now". I had just begun a new job. Me frantic. Guess what, my brand new employer gave me leave - paid. I drove down, spent time with her making her light up with laughter, stroked her face and told her I loved her. Next morning she died peacefully with family around her. There is no substitute for that -- none. Point being employers are human beings with moms, dads, sisters and brothers and they get it. A job is just that, a job. Not life, and certainly not family. I understand job, money worries and being overwhelmed (been there and only a few months back). Please go, and my deepest condolences to you and your family.

Carolyn Hax: Well said, thanks. I'm sorry about your sister.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Carolyn:

Just a quick question: If a man cheats on you, can he really be in love with you?

Carolyn Hax: Quick question, but not a quick answer. You will hear a lot (and probably soon, from people who hate this answer) that the answer is no, but people are complicated, and relationships are complicated.

So here's my answer: If someone cheats on you, that person is 1. not getting something from the relationship; 2. choosing to get it outside the relationship, instead of either breaking up with you or just making do without whatever it is.

By playing with the details in these two statements, you can basically build someone who is a monster, or someone with whom you sympathize completely. The movies do it all the time, in fact. So, it's your details that you have to examine closely here for your answer.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

I feel like a jerk. I am going on a date with a great guy who thinks I'm beautiful and wonderful and is sweet and engaging. Thing is, I'm a lawyer, he's an auto mechanic. And this gives me pause. Not because it's a problem now, but because it may be down the road. And I feel like I am being a judgy snob by being worried. Which is not how I see myself at all. My gut is telling me to keep going and see how we do together -- if it becomes a problem, it becomes a problem. If it doesn't, either I'll reveal myself to be a snob who ends things with an otherwise great guy because I want to be with someone who has a status job, or someone those things don't matter to.

What does your uninvolved gut tell you?

Carolyn Hax: It tells me you need to answer this question. True or false: There is no such thing as an auto mechanic who is brighter than a lawyer.

If you say True, then cancel the date. Not because you're right, but because you'll never get over your bias and he doesn't need that.

If you say False, then go on the date and find out who you and he really are.

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Saginaw, Mich.: Carolyn,

I've been seeing a woman exclusively for nine months. We're both divorced, with kids, and in our 40's. Back in June, I told her about an ex-girlfriend who had been calling. We almost broke up over it at the time. I agreed to cut off communication with this person.

This week, after 6 months of silence, the ex-gf called again. Since I promised to tell my SO if there was contact, I did. We argued about it on the phone for about 10 minutes, then she hung up. She kept saying that I didn't know how to end a relationship.

Yesterday she broke up with me by email, saying essentially that we were incompatible due to the "issue of my women 'friends'." (There was also an online-only friendship that I ended in May.)

I concede that maybe I didn't slam the door hard enough 6 months ago, but how was I to know that until the ex called? For the life of me, I can't imagine what I could have done differently this week.

Help?

Carolyn Hax: Before I say terrible things about the woman who just dumped you, a couple of questions: When the old ex-GF called again, what did she say? How long did you stay on? What did you tell your then-GF about the call? And finally, what was going on with this "online only" relationship, and what was the status of your relationship with the recent chick during the overlap (about 2 months, I think)?

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Bowie, Md.: Carolyn,

Some cheaters have emotional baggage such as extreme insecurity which in terms of your answer means that perhaps they never are satisfied in any relationship. True? Or they could be a psycopath or misogynist which is a whole 'nother issue.

Just axin'

Carolyn Hax: Those are certainly details you can plug in, yes, which would create a cheater who is unsympathetic or verging on evil, respectively. On the other end of the spectrum is the cheater who has been denied any sort of warmth or affection or validation or even physical contact from a spouse, and who suddenly finds it in a forbidden place. That's the cheater you find sympathetic, often in spite of yourself. Both ends of the spectrum are familiar movie characters.

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Washington, D.C.: I want my boyfriend to hate someone who invited him and all mutual friends, but specifically NOT me (she wrote him to say his invite wasn't "and guest" -- I never knew she didn't like me. And I don't know why). But he doesn't. And now I hate him for it. Do I need a grownup pill? Or can I just kill her?

Carolyn Hax: I'd need more information. Why did your boyfriend tell you this, anyway? What good has it done you to know this friend doesn't like you?

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The Michigan Guy: To your list of questions, may I also add: What were the reasons that led to your respective divorces? Ordinarily, I would not be so prying, but I have a feeling that the behavior of both parties is not new.

P.S. I thought breaking up by email was just an urban legend. Do people really do that?

Carolyn Hax: Oh yes, all the time.

It is a good question, too. Original Poster Guy, pls add this one to your list. Thanks.

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Richmond, Va.: It's so surprising to me that you explain that people are complicated and someone who cheats on you can still love you, but you have 100 percent no tolerance for "snooping." Is "snooping" REALLY a deal breaker that's worse than actual cheating? I really don't understand and I'd be OK if my husband poked around my drawers (they are his drawers too), but NOT if he cheated. What am I missing?

Carolyn Hax: Actually, it's not 100 percent intolerance. I'm glad you asked this.

My problem with snooping is not the act per se. It's the justification of the act that drives me bat----. So many people do it with the sense that they're entitled to because the Truth justifies it. Snooping is a bad thing, period.

Cheating, too, is a bad thing, period. You just don't run across a near if not actual majority that emphatically believes it's a person's right to do it.

The nuance in both is that good people can find themselves, at some point, snooping or cheating--but not defending it, and ideally not doing it twice. Like I said last week, if you snoop and realize it's the act of someone who has hot bottom, and then use that epiphany to start making better decisions, then I'm not going to pull a 100-percent-intolerance fit on you.

Also in last week's thread, remember, the issue I took was that the snooping GF never once took responsibility for snooping. That's not right. And as far as deal-breakers go, it wouldn't be just the mistake itself that I'd be weighing, but the response to the mistake. That says -so- much.

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"If it doesn't, either I'll reveal myself to be a snob who ends things with an otherwise great guy": Um, you just revealed yourself to be a snob now. With the statement "otherwise" great guy.

Carolyn Hax: Owch.

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Washington, D.C.: Last week you said you were going to follow up on Twin Cities . . .

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. I've got it in the works.

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Carolyn Hax: Twin City suburb, Minn.: Hey Carolyn, missed you live last week but caught up afterwards and was a little disturbed by the thread about the man who's wife couldn't seem to appreciate the "new" him. Specifically the poster who mentioned that some people look for reasons to be upset, I'm wondering if I might be one of those people. Could it possibly be an insecurity thing? My boyfriend of 3 1/2 years is wonderful but I feel like I am constantly picking at him for some reason or another. He has pointed this out to me too so obviously it's a problem. We recently got through a patch where we just seemed to be butting heads constantly and it seems I still have my dukes up and am looking for reasons to be annoyed. I feel like if I stop he'll slip right back into the habits that caused the head-butting in the first place but I know if I don't stop I'm just making us both crazy. This is a 2-way thing, we've both agreed that we have faults that we'd like to change that will benefit the relationship, but the difference is he's giving me the space and confidence, and I'm being doubtful and insecure. He's been very patient with me so far, but I know I've got to relax, it sounds so simple but this is something I've struggled with a lot and it's stressful for both of us. How do I get and keep control over this?

Carolyn Hax: What were "the habits that caused the head-butting in the first place"?

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Twin Cities again: He'd be happy to go out and do fun things with his buddies but always seemed content to spend his time with me sitting on the couch watching tv which had me feeling pretty boring, some selfishness, and being quick to get irritable and defensive, and a decline in affection for awhile. Most of this was while he was putting in lots of extra hours at work and running the shop while his boss was in and out of town for much of last month so like I said, it shouldn't be an issue but here I am ready and waiting for it to start up again.

Carolyn Hax: Okay. I posted the original to save people some skimming.

There are some punctuation issues here but if I'm reading it correctly, the "ready and waiting for it to start up again" is on you. You cannot control how he is going to behave. (In mantra form: "I cannot control how he is going to behave. I cannot control how he is going to behave.") You need to back off and let him be his natural self.

The way you do this is by learning to trust that even the worst case is a better result than the one you have now. If he (and this is where the funky comma issues come in): saves his energy for his friends; acts selfish; is quick to get irritable and defensive; and withholds affection, then you'll know that this is who he is, and that you can't change him into the guy you want him to be. Again, that's the worst case you envision, but that is still better than your constantly being on guard, the way you are now. At least with the worst case you'll have the truth and you'll knwo to stop forcing this relationship.

If on the other hand you leave him alone and he's fine, then obviously that;s your best case.

There is an intermediate case, too--that's if he's not really bad, but still not everything you want him to be. (Ugh, I think, while typing this.) IN that case, you back off him, and scrutinize yourself instead. Why do you need him to be super-attentive to you even when he's in a difficult work situation? Isn't it possible that he's not being oinattentive, but instead you're being needy?

I';m not suggesting that you talk yourself into a position of inferiority to his friends, or accept less than kind and respectful treatment.

I'm merely advising a mental exercise to see if maybe you are setting impossible standards so that he'll "prove" how important you are--the theory being, that anything less means you're being played for a fool (which would be insecurity talking), when in fact the "anything less" is just what a real relationship is like. E.g., maybe he's a homebody. Make sure of your perspective before you draw your conclusions, and do that by backing off far enough to see how he really is with you.

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Carolyn Hax: Went down the rabbit hole on that one, guys, sorry. It seemed like a straightforward answer until i started getting into it.

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"If you snoop and realize it's the act of someone who has hot bottom": This is my favorite chat typo to date.

I think someone who has hot bottom might face certain additional challenges but still shouldn't cheat OR snoop.

Carolyn Hax: But it would be a mitigating factor.

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Arlington, Va.: I recently heard on a radio program that it is common for women whose fathers have left to end up attracted to "unavailable" men. My dad left when I was in college (about 10 years ago) and now I see that I fit the pattern of being attracted to men with whom there is not long-term potential. Is this a common phenomena? If so, how do I break the cycle?

Carolyn Hax: It is hugely common, I think. Put it into a larger (and less personal) context and maybe it'll click for you: Instead of a woman whose father has left, think of a child of a demanding parent. That child often grows into a perfectionist type who seeks out mates who are hard to please. Cast that way, does it sound familiar?

You would think it was counterintuitive--why would we seek out the thing that made us miserable in youth, instead of running the other way?--but it makes sense. People re-create unhappy circumstances in a lifelong effort to get it "right" this time, to master whatever it is that left them feeling so helpless or out-of-control as a kid.

The best way to break that cycle is to recognize it, to see that you're trying to use your present to write a happy ending for your past, and to consciously stop doing it. It takes a while to form new patterns, but it can be done, at least to the extent that you feel more functional and content.

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Twin Cities: Isn't control the issue?

Let it go or break up with the poor guy.

Carolyn Hax: That's the short form. But what I keep hearing is how that's easier said than done--people just don't trust their judgment when it comes to recognizing whether they're being treated just fine and asking too much, or being mistreated and letting too much go. Obviously the healthy middle is to stop placing values on things, be yourself and simply say, "Is this person doing it for me, Yes/No?" But for someone trapped in a second-guessing rut that can be really hard to do. So, I tried to dissect the process. At least now I can get a second pass at it in the column ...

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Hot Bottom: There are so many ways that a bottom can be hot. Not all are related to snooping and cheating. My young son announced in the bat last night that "his bottom felt like it wants to fart." I imagine that might have felt kind of hot.

Carolyn Hax: Apparently so does being in the bat.

Typo MANIA!

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If a man cheats on you, can he really be in love with you?: I would say, yes, but that's not really an important question. Important questions are "Was it one time mistake or is this is serial cheater?" "Can you trust the cheater again?" "Can you (the cheat-ee, if you will) forgive the cheater and live with the fact that the person cheated?"

Carolyn Hax: Great questions, thanks--they all hinge on the "why," and the "why" is what is going to tell you whether it's a relationship-ender, a relationship hurdle, a relationship-saver, or an epiphany. All of which are possible outcomes.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: Carolyn: I recently discovered that two of my (married) male friends have "nicknames" for me in their cell phones. Basically they've hidden my number behind a guy's name or something that wouldn't identify me as who I am: a woman who has never met their wives.

This infuriates me and makes me feel small. I have not cheated with these men nor do I plan to. They think their wives would not understand our friendships. Does that mean our friendships are inappropriate? Should I give these guys up or what?

Carolyn Hax: Would you want a spouse who hid his friends from you under cell-phone pseudonyms? If you wouldn't want it, you can't be it.

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Suburbs: What to do if he saves his energy for his recreational sports teams; is quick to get irritable and defensive; and withholds affection; but we have been married 10 years and have two kids? There is still love between us, but I am doing all of the work on keeping our relationship alive, and he is just along for the ride. I am so low on his priority list...am I even on there at all?

Carolyn Hax: You know what? All the "work" isn't working. I know I don't have much to go on, but it sounds like it's time to try something else. I don't necessarily mean the boilerplate "counseling" or "separation" here, though it may come to those. I just think you need to (metaphorically speaking) get off the ride yourself, climb up to a ledge somewhere and see how things look from a different angle. Try, too, to see what he sees.

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Saginaw, MI again:

The online friendship got started on a divorce forum. We were a bit flirty at first, but I toned it down when I got involved with SO. In May the online contact spiked because friend's divorce was in court. "I've been there and you'll get through this" kind of support.

When ex-GF called, her excuse was wanting help to clear ice off her driveway. She also told be about her medical diagnosis (lupus) in August, a follow up on her symptoms in June. This was work phone to work phone, and I stayed on for maybe 20 minutes.

I told SO mainly about the medical stuff (she's in a medical field) and she said something like, "So what, it's not terminal. She'll have to take steroids. She didn't need to bother you about it."

Carolyn Hax: Oh my. Part 3 coming:

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Saginaw part 3: She divorced her husband due to his affair. And yes, I was the first person she dated afterward, a year after divorce.

I divorced due to long term incompatibility, (including no sex) which ultimately led to a brief emotional affair.

She insisted on complete disclosure and feels that any omission of fact is the same as a lie. Otherwise I wouldn't have mentioned the phone call.

Carolyn Hax: Okay. I will not beat her up. But only because that would take a long time, when it's a lot easier just to say that she was dating prematurely. (That will be my understatement of the day.) I;m surprised it took nine months for the implosion to occur. Grown people do not exert that level of control over the behavior of other grown people, especially of those with whom whom they have no sketchy history to whom they aren't even married (not that it makes it okay in those cases, either, just that it's a little easier to scrape up some sympathy before beating up on them).

And so when they do try to exercise that kind of control, it screams unresolved hangups about trust. Hers were glaring. Sorry. No need to look back on this one.

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Another Minnesotan: All of these heavy Minnesota topics today. I have a lighter one (pardon the pun). I'm a 28-year old woman whose brown hair is rapidly graying. I haven't dyed it yet because, well, mostly I think I'm too lazy to keep it up and I don't have the amount of money it would require to keep the roots brown. The vast majority of graying women I know under 50 dye their hair. Is it ok to just leave it? I get sort of embarassed when people point it out (happened this week and is sure to over and over at Christmas).

Carolyn Hax: Leave it! And thanks for letting me have a vote. I think gray hair looks so much better than people think, and prematurely gray hair just looks cool.

Can we dye the people who pointed it out, to cover them up?

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Hot Bottom, Calif.: Dear Carolyn,

I hope you can help. I have hot bottom. I realized this last night, when my boyfriend grabbed me (in)appropriately while we were on our way out. Granted, I was wearing form-fitting pants, but I'm not sure what to do. I don't think I've ever felt I had hot bottom before. I have to admit, I kind of liked it. Is having hot bottom dirty? Even if it is, should I just go with it, since we both seem to like it so much? Or should I wear frumpy pants? I'm so confused. Please advise.

Thank you,

Should-I-wear-hotpants-tonight?

washingtonpost.com: Or just have a Hot Pocket?

Carolyn Hax: Be careful with bacon pants--you'll cook the raw ones.

Wait. Does this mean ... ?

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Carolyn Hax: And now, from his workshop up north, it's Pops's ...



Night Before Christmas 2007


Twas the night before Christmas.
It was quiet all day.
Like anything ever happens here.
Anyway?

My stocking got hung
By the chimney with hope
For a new MP3,
And not bars of soap.

My sister was nestled
All snug in her bed
With some dirty stuffed creature
Next to her head.

When out on the lawn
I hear some yelling creep.
Like, dude, tone it down!
I'm trying to sleep!

But I'm awake now, and
To the window I go
I un-stick my eyes,
And have a look below.

There's a moon on the breast
Of the new-fallen snow
Where had I heard that?
I'm dying to know.

When what to my half-open
Eyes should appear,
But a fat guy, a sled'
A bag, and some deer.

The little old driver,
Had issues with belly.
I peek in the bag,
We're getting a telly!

He's yelling himself red-faced,
Unbelievable sight--
Like there's some place to go,
And gotta be tonight.

On Dasher, on Dancer,
On Prancer and Vixen.
On Comet and Cupid,
On Donder and Blitzen.

He zooms up the porch,
Then over the wall
Just like I'd seen once,
Down at the mall.

The dry leaves before
The wild hurricane scatter.
Like, Santa, Jeez!
Could you be any fatter?

On up to our housetop
The reindeer they flew
Pulling sled, the fat guy,
and all his stuff too.

And then in a twinkling
I heard up above--
The whole deal is landing,
And the hoofbeats thereof.

As I took a step back
And was turning my head
Down the flue came the fat guy
"Home invasion!" I said.

He was dressed all in fur
From his boots to his head.
"Real fur! That's sick!
Try fake fur!" I said.

A bundle of toys
He'd pulled off the sled
Because of his girth,
His face had turned red.


His eyes how they twinkled
His dimples how merry
His BP must have been
Like - really scary!

His droll little mouth
Was scrunched up like a bow
"Like, Santa, You could try
Some salads, you know?.

He puffed on his pipe
I watched the smoke grow.
Fine. You smoke, too.
Just great! Way to go!

He had a broad face
And a round little belly.
His daily nutrition?
Like, straight from the deli!

He laughed and he laughed,
A right jolly old guy.
He just kept on laughing,
Could it be he was high?

With a wink of his eye
And a twist of his head.
He said, "Hi, I'm Santa!"
Me? I'm back to bed.

He spoke not a word
But went straight to his task
Stopping just twice
To sip from a flask

He then lay his finger
aside of his nose.
What was that for?
Some signal? Who knows.

He sprang to his sleigh,
To his team gave a shout.
"Like whoa, Santa!.
Your shirttail is out!"


But he heard me exclaim
As he drove out of sight,
"Cut down, you old tub!
Your pants are too tight!"


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To Saginaw: Your SO said, about someone with a serious illness, "so what, it's not terminal" and dismissed the complications of being on steriods as treatment? Oh, honey, I don't care what reason your ex had to call you, run from this toxic current girlfriend as fast as you can. Woman is COLD.

Carolyn Hax: I would say, so intensely self-interested that others don't properly register. Same end result, though, I'd imagine.

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Not invited...: My boyfriend told me because he wants to go to the wedding, because he hasn't seen these friends in a while. We all attended the same grad school program together. He was popular. I was not.

Carolyn Hax: Well, then. I guess that makes the non-invitation a little cold and possibly a little childish, but not surprising. If you could find a way to say, "eh, go, have a great time," it might be liberating for all involved, you in particular.

I realize these aren't melee-fodder, but I'm just seeing them now and they're threads I wanted to tie up.

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Who is donder?: I have always thought it was Donner. I'm crushed.

Carolyn Hax: Yep. Donder. Another childhood vision crushed. Next!

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Reston, Va.: My family finally got to a point where we simply cannot afford to exchange presents with everyone. Actually, we hit that point five YEARS ago, but an attempt to draw names ended badly when two of the relatives came to the celebration with gifts for everyone because they "just kept seeing stuff that would be perfect for X." Everyone who stuck to the name thing felt like hell.

So this year we said "no presents at all, just warmth and love and letters." The two miscreants from the last debacle were the ones who suggested it, so we thought we were safe.

Unfortunately, the matriarch, age 75, announced at Thanksgiving that we were a bunch of Scrooges, ruining Christmas, and she was buying presents for everyone anyway.

There are twenty eight of us, now. Her presents are legendarily awful. Now the ones who broke the embargo last time are talking about buying a few small things to compensate.

The question is... can I come to your house this year, Carolyn?

Carolyn Hax: Sure! I will guarantee presents awfuler. Piles of them, all of them hard to carry and harmful to landfills.

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Pop's Christmas "poetry": Dude! I had no idea, like, your dad was, like, a Valley Girl. Whoa. Heavy.

Carolyn Hax: He was like, so scared you wouldn't like it?

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Bacon Bikini Bottoms: This summer on the way back from a beach camping trip, the bacon grease in the trash bag somehow leaked into my dufflebag. The bottom to my bikini ended up covered in bacon grease, and even after repeated washings, still smell like bacon.

I don't know the origin of bacon pants, but I thought you might appreciate knowing that I now have their summer counterpart, a pair of bacon bikini bottoms.

Carolyn Hax: Does the bacon smell get stronger when you sunbathe? Or is that too much to ask.

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Thanks from Saginaw: Thanks, Carolyn.

I resisted the temptation to respond to her email by saying that the problem was her trust issues, not my past girlfriends. She acknowledged as much last summer, and if we got as far as premarital counseling, we both knew that her trust issues would be a large topic.

I didn't even mention her problem with my ex-WIFE. She thought I was too willing to adjust the parenting schedule, despite the fact she did the same with her ex. And I was way too generous in the settlement.

The sad part is that, if it was just us, we'd be great. But it's never just two people, is it?

Carolyn Hax: Wrong "never." It's never great when it's not actually great.

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Holiday Letters 2007: So, last night I opened a holiday card from a friend -- not my bestest bestest friend, but someone I care about and whose company I really like sharing -- that had one of those "2007 recap" kinda letters in it. And it was clever and kind of cute, but it also kind of read to me like this: 2007 sucked, was totally boring, I didn't do anything good, and no I'm still not married, so don't ask. (She led with that one, actually.) She is one of those people with a witty/sardonic sense of humor, so maybe she really was trying to be funny, (and, hopefully, finds the whole bit funny) but it left me a bit "cold" and wanting to call and ask if she was all right. However, the tone also made me feel like that might be the last thing she wants (an outpouring of sympathy for a life she thinks is just fine, but other people don't and are driving her nuts?) I'm not sure. It was weird. Should I say anything? Or just call to say "hi" and not say anything?

Carolyn Hax: I'm going with the last one. Call to say hi.

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Even more on Donder... and Blitzen: Donner - The seventh reindeer and on the right-hand side in the fourth row. His original name was Dunder, a variant of donder, meaning "thunder" in Dutch.

Blitzen - The eighth reindeer and on the left-hand side in the fourth row. Though female, she is frequently portrayed as a male in American pop culture. Her original name is Blixem. She is known as the lightning reindeer because the word 'Blitz' is German for lightning, as is 'Bliksem', her original name, in Dutch.

I had a hand towel years ago that showed Blitzen with a champagne bottle. Though I am delighted to say my tastes have... matured... it did crack me up at the time. Definitely funnier than a towel with a lightning rod.

Carolyn Hax: So I guess my reindeer-with-a-champagne-bottle ornament needs to go to the back of the tree, instead of front and center. Check.

The good news being, I can now take "dunderhead" as a compliment.

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Christmas-ville: So I'm bringing my BF of one-and-a-half years to the family Christmas shindig this year (in Trumbull, believe it or not). 30 people. All related to me by blood or marriage, including my mom's 3 sisters (aka "The Aunts"). This will be the first SO I've ever brought home. It will be a big hairy deal. The BF will be great, and actually, so will the fam, but I'm starting to freak out a little just because at 26, this is a ginormously huge step for me. Any tips on remaining calm and cool (and not causing the BF to think I've suddenly lost my mind)?

Carolyn Hax: If you're not naturally inclined to be calm and cool, and you try to be calm and cool, you'll end up calling attention to the big hairy deal (and it will be clinging to a champagne bottle). Just surrender to it. Cheers.

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Let the holiday fun begin!: I'll try to keep this short.

My husband and I are traveling home for the holiday -- about an eight-hour trip driving or flying (no direct flights). We have to travel back on Christmas because he is no one in his company is allowed to take the day after as vacation.

After some discussion with two of my aunts, my father moved the extended family Christmas celebration to Sunday. It worked well for everyone. We just needed to hear from one more uncle -- Uncle Gene.

Uncle Gene immediately flips out because one of his sons, Mitch, might not be able to make it on Sunday and Gene thinks we changed this celebration so that we wouldn't have to include Mitch and his boyfriend. Mitch just came out to the family last month. And no one cared -- we had all known about it for years (if your myspace page is public, people, one of your 20+ cousins is going to run across it).

So, my question is -- do I contact Mitch and say "Hey, we've known about this for years and no one has any problems with it. That's not why we're changing the celebration to Sunday. We're changing it because my husband works at an evil company. Do you think you and Christian could leave earlier so that you could make it on time?"

By the way, the celebration is at my parents' house, if that makes any difference.

(And yes, I think Gene is having major issues with Mitch being gay -- he just found out over the summer.)

Carolyn Hax: Call Mitch directly to see if you can figure out a way that he can make it, explaining that your husband's work sked means you can't change it back. Covers it all without making a big hairy deal of anything. If it comes out in the course of conversation that you all knew years ago and it was never a big deal, then, fine, but it seems to me that a call to say X isn't about Y isn't as effective as simply calling about X.

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Anonymous: Am I slow? I still don't get what "hot bottom" was SUPPOSED to say.

Carolyn Hax: HIT bottom. I believe I even used it last week, without the provocative new twist. If you hit hot bottom, then that's fine, but please keep your gloating to yourselves.

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Dallas, Tex.: I have to see some very conservative, judge-y relatives over the holidays who have just learned that I'm pregnant (not married, and not planning on getting married). Is there a limit to how many times I can use the "wow" response? Should I keep a tally? Maybe we should have some kind of prize for whoever manages to use it most at family gatherings this Christmas...

Carolyn Hax: Who knows, maybe they'll surprise you. I mean, what are they going to suggest, that you have an abortion? Anything else they could be thinking is a ship that has clearly already sailed.

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For Reston: Let the gift givers give! My family did the same-- drew names, had dollar limits, made promises. Every year a couple of people brought presents for everyone anyway. The trick is: don't own it and let it make you feel bad if you're the one following the rules and they're not. Enjoy their generosity, and don't cave! In our case, we just went with it, and eventually the big gift givers (who tended to be older) died out. In the meantime, some of the truly amazingly bad gifts (a concrete Elvis head?) are still celebrated.

Carolyn Hax: Young Elvis or Old?

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Pregnant again: Hey Carolyn,

This is a silly conundrum. When we learned that I was pregnant with our second child, I didn't tell my sister until a few weeks after she had had her first baby. She at first mis-heard me and said, "gosh, that would be foolish of you to have kids so close together," (our kids are 19 months apart), then she accused me of lying to her because in our conversations before her baby was born, I didn't tell her.

Well, I'm in the same predicament now, expecting our third, and she's just had her second (ironically just 20 months after her first, harumph!). I want to tell her and to also let her know that her snarky comments can be kept to herself. I know that I must be feeling some preggy-horomone to be so darned defensive, but I was pretty ticked by her reaction the last time. Will you please tell me to take the high road and to just tell her to get it over with and not to mind her bollocks?

thanks,

Mommy-brain

Carolyn Hax: If she gets snarky, just tell her you'll try to plan the next ones better. Really, there's nothing here that would make anybody but sisters angry at each other.

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New York, N.Y.: Hey, Carolyn,

I just bought a totally superfulous blue pressed glass cow to sit on my desk. She is not a pitcher that vomits gravy, although I got her from a fancy tableware store. I just wanted to share.

Carolyn Hax: "Superfulous"? I think Blitzen's been in the champagne.

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Fairfax, Va.: My husband is not materialistic. At all. Problem? His family is. So every time a gift-centered holiday rolls around, I know that they expect gifts, and he is not very inclined to shop for them or do anything beyond a gift card.

After giving his mother a birthday present of a nice bottle of wine and the promise of taking her out for dinner (remembering your suggestion of the gift of "time"), I swear I saw tears in her eyes. Not so sure they were of joy.

Now that we're on our way to Christmas, should I start picking up gifts for his family, knowing that he'll probably not shop and wait till the last minute to pick up a gift card? I sense that they're continually disappointed. They have different values when it comes to spending money on gifts.

Carolyn Hax: Let him buy them gifts, or not. Seriously. That is, unless (a) you enjoy shopping for them, and/or (b) you enjoy seeing their faces when they open a gift you bought them. But if this is just about your feeling guilt to which your husband is immune, and especially if it has anything to do with your being expected to play the part of family shopper simply because you're female, then let him tend to his family as he sees fit.

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Christmas Letters: I had a friend years ago (no longer friend, she and her husband divorced and we 'chose' the husband to stay friends with) who sent out a christmas letter that was SIX SHEETS OF PAPER -- front and back, typed, single spaced. It was like every tiny thing they had done all year. Please people! One page! One side! If we cared about all the rest, we've probably been in touch with you all year anyway.

I can't ever receive or send one of those letters now without thinking of her novella!

Carolyn Hax: I got one of those! Complete with pictures of ambitious vacations! It was totally worth it, good for big warm fuzzy eye-rolling moments for more than a decade, and counting. I feel nothing but gratitude.

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Not Invited: Eh, I'd be a little harder on the boyfriend for that one. It obviously hurt her feelings to be so obviously not wanted. It would be like dating the football here from high school when you were the math geek, and him not wanting to take you to the reunion.

Yes, it would be liberating to find a way to just let him go to the wedding, but I might so liberated that I wouldn't need him to come back. Why didn't he stand up for his girlfriend, especially since they all attended grad school together? Sure, they're being petty but he seems to be fine with hurting her feelings.

Not saying he shouldn't go, but maybe he could ask why he can't bring a guest . . . unless no one can bring a guest?

Carolyn Hax: I agree with everything here, but there is an exception that kept me from jumping in with it when I posted my original answer(s): Did the excluded person do something to warrant this type of conclusion?

If no, then I not only agree with you, I also am ashamed for not coming out with your answer immediately.

If yes, though, then it gets complicated. Just to illustrate (and, to be clear, NOT accuse, since I am by no means suggesting the girlfriend of the original post did this): Let's say a person is known for uttering racist things, or abusing drugs, or providing other such universally acceptable grounds for distancing yourself from someone. Then the boyfriend wouldn't be considered wrong for going to the party sans "and guest"; instead, we'd be questioning him for staying with said person.

Normally I wouldn't have a mind to "blaming a victim," as I might be doing here, if in fact the excluded person is blameless. However, the explicit exclusion is either an extreme case of high-schooly cliquishness, OR there's a reason for the exclusion to which we haven't been made privy. I tried to walk the middle, just in case.

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Jeez...I do a holiday newsletter...: was just going to talk about job changes and the big Japan vacation, are they that bad? We work hard not to gloat, belittle, whatever...

Carolyn Hax: Don't go on for six pages single-spaced; do keep handy your humility, sense of humor and perspective. I'd say they're listed in order of importance, but really all are essential if you want people to read them without a barf bag handy.

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Snarky comment: Why would "Christmas Letters" feel the need to point out that they are no longer friends with the ex-wife but that they "chose" the husband to stay friends with? It has no bearing on the question. I always wonder what makes people add extraneous facts like that... Is there more to the story? Does she feel defensive about her choice? Or am I just bored and crabby cause it's like minus twelve degrees here in the Northern Tundra?

Carolyn Hax: I'm going with (b) bored and crabby. Maybe declaring her a "friend" felt weird, since she wasn't, but "friend one was saddled with by marriage and therefore is no longer saddled with" did made sense.

Was it gratuitously means sense? maybe, but given that this was a post about how awful her letter was, it seems odd to draw a line there.

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Mother of all Christmas Letters: A few years ago we received a card that was addressed to the previous owner of our house. After a month or so of sitting around our house waiting for us to forward it (although not sure how we'd do that) we finally just opened it. The writer talked about how her two year old son had "stunk" for a few weeks and they finally brought him into the doctor, who found a rotting pea stuck way up in his nose. Just one part of the letter with many other of the same type of things (but not to the same level) and sent with no level of irony or sarcasm whatsoever.

I mean, who would honestly write that in a holiday letter? But, it made our holiday....

Carolyn Hax: And now mine. Thanks.

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Christmas Letter (Oh no, is that me?): My husband and I are the kind of people that it would be east to hate. We're getting PhDs. We travel a decent amount (including to Europe). We run marathons. A cat, no kids.

Nevertheless, I don't want to hide that stuff from people, so I try to make up for it by including embarassing things about us in our Christmas letter. Like how I forgot my running shoes when traveling to an out of state half marathon, or how we had to go to court because we got fined for not mowing our lawn for three weeks last summer.

Now I wonder if my attempts at self-deprecating humor don't prompt even more eye rolling than the straight up facts do on their own. Say it ain't so, please!

Carolyn Hax: Um. When you don't tell us about your trips and your marathons? That doesn't mean you "hide" it from us. It means you made an effort to calculate what your friends and family would find interesting, and you chose to exclude certain things. People want insights, not datebook items. Accomplishments sometimes count as insights, but not all of them. "Attempts" at self-deprecating humor, likewise, have to rise to the insight level if you don't want them to set eyes a -rollin'. The big trip plus non-mowing fine, as a pair, for example, says a lot about your life. Forgetting your running shoes, not so much.

This is supposed to be an attempt to demystify the successful end-of-year letter, but man I just feel mean.

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Cats at Christmas: HI Carolyn,

I am horrifically allergic to cats (the wheezing, turn blue kind of allergic, as well as the sneeze your head off way). As such, we've never visited my husband's brother and wife, because my sister-in-law says that allergies are "all in your head". We've invited them down numerous times (sans the cat), they've come and enjoyed themselves, I think, and I don't mind at all hosting them.

Problem is: they've invited us, and although I'd miss him, I'd rather my husband go without me. Since I am younger than my husband or my in-laws, the in-laws think I am being difficult and should just suck it up, and that I'm being a little princess.

Could I just tell hubby to go and I'll wait for him at home here, and not cause a major family rift?

Carolyn Hax: Stick a pea up your nose this afternoon, and you'll be ready for Christmas with the in-laws.

Speaking of up-sticking, if your husband doesn't stick up for you here and decline to go on account of your cat allergy, I'm going to stick peas up his nose. What is wrong with people.

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I love holiday newsletters: We haven't written any ourselves, because neither my husband nor I has come up with one that we wanted to send out, but I do like getting them. It's much better than "Stu and the boys are fine--Happy Holidays," which tells me only that the sender (and apparently Stu and the boys) are still alive.

But for the love of God, people, please give up the fiction that your pets are writing these letters. We all know they can't type that well.

Carolyn Hax: They were in need of a defense, even if you did needlessly smear all pet typists in the process. Thanks.

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DC, not invited...: Um, I could have offended them without knowing it. But it seemed, in school, more like cliqueishness. A pretty typical scenario would be, a guy I didn't want to go out with would hit on me. I would turn him down, and he would get mad. Then I would find out some girl who wanted to go out with him was now mad at me. That's actually almost what happened here. The girl who's getting married had a crush on my boyfriend and didn't talk to him for months after we got together. And now I'm incredibly hurt that my boyfriend didn't stick up for me.

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, that sounds justified. So, is he a great guy who made a bad call this time, or is this your aha! moment waiting for your aha?

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Wasington, DC: Holiday party question...I live in a smallish house and want to have a cocktail party. Fun, right? However, I have some friends that bring their toddlers EVERYWHERE. I know that unless I put something on the invite, they will bring their son. What is a polite way to say "no kids"..is "adults only" better? Or "I am planning to get drunk and expose myself so don't bring anyone impressionable"?

Carolyn Hax: I like option c, but "adults only" is probably less open to willful misinterpretation.

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Kekaha, HI: Aloha Carolyn,

What's with all the holiday angst? So many people stress out about long trips to see annoying family.

How about staying put and enjoying the day? I lived in DC for 18 years, and after I got married we celebrated every Thanksgiving and Christmas in our own home. It was very nice, even neither of us ever had hot bottom.

Carolyn Hax: Two words: Swedish cars. Get your bottom hot in 6.2 seconds.

With care to park said car (and, I guess, said bottom) during the holidays, since you'll be home, something I emphatically, arm-flappingly endorse. It's a limit that may sit well with people only a year or two or three after you start setting it, but it's worth taking the flak.

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Blitzen in the Champagne: "Was it gratuitously means sense?"

Huh?

Carolyn Hax: I meant, "Did it make gratuitously mean sense?" Sorry. Hic.

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The SAME Christmas letter: Have a friend who sends the same letter every year. Very nearly verbatim. Same first sentence with the year changed "200X was a busy year." Paragraphs in the same order with the same comments. Only deviations came one year when she had surgery (minor but of a personal nature) and one year when, to quote, several funerals "interrupted our vacation plans."

Didn't realize they were SO EXACTLY the same until we dug out all the old cards, planning to toss them, and we reread. We are eagerly looking toward this year's.

Carolyn Hax: Brilliant.

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Uh-oh...: Is that us? We have a six month old, but we have to bring her, because like every single person we know we could hire to babysit her is already AT the party! So if she's not wanted, we can't go. But we feel so stupid saying every time, "is it okay if we bring M?" I feel like maybe -they- feel like they have to say yes...

Carolyn Hax: It is you. Branch out and find sitters independent of your social circle. It is hard but thoroughly worth it.

And lose the "if she's not wanted" spin. That attitude is really corrosive to your friendships and, frankly, your image of yourself as an adult independent of your job as parent. Sometimes people want to be able to have an adult conversation with you. This is not about "not wanting" your kid there--although that isn't a negative thing, either. Kids can get annoying sometimes. This is fact, not kidism.

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Chicago, IL: Carolyn -

Your chat is unusually long today. Are you doing this purposely to get additional material for your "live chat rehash" columns?

Carolyn Hax: Yes! Actually, on most Fridays I have to be somewhere, and today I don't. So, I'm having fun trolling for holiday sillies (even though I should have quit at the pea, knowing it couldn't be topped).

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Just wonderin': Carolyn, have you been hanging out with Blitzen and a champagne bottle this afternoon? Your typos are cracking me up.

Carolyn Hax: yeah, I'm out of control today.

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VA: Can my christmas letter be written by the tapeworm in my gut named Fred instead of the cat?

Carolyn Hax: Only if Fred is humble, funny and grounded, or if he makes fun of you mercilessly.

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Let your teenager write the holiday letter: Seriously, My cousin Hannah wrote her family's letter when she was in high school and it was hilarious. She lovingly chastised her parents and put the whole family life in an amusing perspective.

Of course - family should proofread these before copying and sending out.

Carolyn Hax: Perfect, thanks.

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Christmas card tips: We care about...

-the health of your family

-anything interesting you did, especially if something funny happened

-what the kids look like

we do not care about

-promotions of the husband/wife

-your title at work (see above)

-the rbi of your 6year old in Tball.

Oh, but I would want to hear about peas up the nose. But only if it was told in a funny way.

Carolyn Hax: How could that not be funny? Tell it funny, and it's funny. Tell it straight, and it's funnier.

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Cat allergy: So why should the husband decline? Because of the cat (well, no - you think they shouldn't have a cat because SIL is allergic?) or because in-laws are doinks? I have pets, and COMPLETELY understand that some people can't come to my house because of allergies. So be it. Husband should go if he wants to.

Carolyn Hax: He should decline because the SIL is dismissive of the wife's allergies. What a doink. If she were understanding and accommodating, I'd say they both go, on alternate years, and stay in a hotel. Other years the in-laws come see them (or some other such cycle that includes years with everyone at home).

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newlywed, Dc: Uhm, maybe the girlfriend wasn't invited because the couple getting married didn't invite any "and guests." Maybe it had nothing to do with liking or not liking her. Sometimes it's within reason to only invite engaged/life-partner/marrieds when keeping an event small. It's what we did.

Carolyn Hax: Worth considering, thanks, if there are NO and-guests, as a rule.

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xmas cards: And please, for the love of god, include your adult selves in your holiday photo. Every year my mantle is filled with what looks like holiday photos of orphaned children.

Carolyn Hax: Wait! Some of us have tried that, but the adults kept ruining the picture. Really--the results were ghastly.

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Richmond, VA: A dear friend we recently lost did something much better than a newsletter. She included with each Christmas card a list of the best quotes of the year (with context) from her two young kids, herself and her husband. They were so funny they'd make you spew peas from your nose, every time.

Carolyn Hax: Wow, actual advice that could actually work. Seems out of place, but I'll post it anyway. Thanks

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Dayton, OH: Carolyn, the cat allergy post raises a question for me. I have several friends who have me over all the time, but can't come over to my place because of my cats. I feel like a mooch! Not just food-wise, but sharing-myself-wise. I'd love to be able to reciprocate somehow, but I don't have the money to take them out all the time, and I don't think that's what they want anyway. Got any ideas? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Bring food.

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Inquiring minds: What else was in the letter with the kid with the rotting pea up his nose? This sounds too fabulous to keep to yourself...

Carolyn Hax: Good question--I shoudl have asked sooner, since I'm about to go. Maybe next week?

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Adults only: technically, unless the invite is issued to the parents and the kid, they should know the kid isn't invited. But we know they know that already and don't care. Why not make a call about something else entirely and work into the conversation somehting to the effect of " I hope you are able to get a sitter - we do look forward to seeing you." that will lead to "oh we're going to bring him" which gives you cause to actually SAY "this isn't really a kids-type event - but we'll love to have all of you over some other time" but be prepared for them to be offended and you having to give them bacon pants for christmas.

Carolyn Hax: Works for me, although I'm always a little leery of the ulterior-motive phone call. It's really only for those smooth enough to pull it off.

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My mom used to do that!: My mom used to make us all write "articles" for the yearly newsletter describing how our year had been. By the time I left for college, the only "articles" I would submit would detail how I dropped out of high school to run a brothel in Maui, or interned at an alligator wrestling farm, or had gender reassignment surgery. And she ran them. Hopefully, those "articles" made up for the rest of them, which were more of the "200X was a busy year" variety.

Carolyn Hax: You know, to people who really did drop out of high school to run brothels in Maui, this is pretty callous.

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Cambridge,, MA: Hi Carolyn,

I submitted this before the chat, but either it was too inane (more so than bacon bikini bottoms? :) or else it got lost. Since you're hanging out for longer today I thought that I'd resubmit it.

I have an aunt who is really good about sending me Christmas presents. I, on the other hand, am abysmal about writing thank you notes. It's at the point this year that I never thanked her for her gift last Christmas. I don't want it to look like I'm just thanking her now just to get a gift. I'm really blocked on this - can you give me a way to approach this?

Carolyn Hax: Send a Christmas card, don't mention the unmentioned gift. Just show her you think about, care about and appreciate her, which is what the thank-you note is supposed to do anyway.

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I'd love to be able to reciprocate somehow, but I don't have the money to take them out all the time,: I have this problem as well, and they always insist we bring nothing to the dinner since they want to provide all the food.

I just bring a few bottles of wine every time.

Carolyn Hax: Sold. And finally:

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Arlington VA: Actually, I think the total RBI of your 6 year old in T-ball would be really funny. Maybe a whole scouting report? He's got a swing like Ted Williams, and can hit for average and power... as long as the tee is raised 3" above the lowest setting.

Carolyn Hax: The "hit for average and power" makes it. I think I need to steal that.

Of course, first time I typed it, I wrote "hot for average and power," which means it's long past time to go.

Thanks everybody, and get back to writing your Christmas letters. Remember, I want them long, painstakingly detailed, and without a trace of irony. (sound of whip cracking)

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