Carolyn Hax Live: Married Money, Bridesmaids on a Budget

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 22, 2008; 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


Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody. I'd like to start by thanking everyone who suggested a name for the discussion-group-to-be. I'm doing it this way because I got inundated, and there's no way I'll be able to thank you all personally, as I'd prefer.

It's still in the oven, by the way, so I don't have a name or start date to announce yet. Stay tuned.


From today's column:"She seems almost to create problems that disrupt the goodness we've created."

This reminds me of our life with an ADHD child. She was fueled by the rush of chaos and tension, not wanting the peace and calm the rest of us strove for. Quite the awakening to realize our goal lines were in opposite directions.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. It's a common refrain (complaint, I should say) that every form of difficult behavior is now becoming a diagnosis, but in one short paragraph you sum up the argument that it's not hysteria, it's progress. Knowing--or even just being told to consider--that someone's neurons work one way vs. another can be the "aha" moment that heads off years of frustration in dealing with someone.

Let's please not make this a forum on the medication end of the debate, and just stipulate that it is in fact debatable. I'm merely arguing the behavior-modification-by-the-parent angle.

Thank youse.


Married Money: Carolyn,

For the most part I strongly agree with your response to the first question in today's column. The one part I disagree with is where I think your response is inconsistent (but that is probably because I just don't get it). I think separate accounts in a marriage are a really bad idea. Or, more accurately, I think the marriage is a bad idea if you feel the need or desire for separate accounts. You state it is fine to have separate accounts. Can you explain a different scenerio (different from today's writer) where separate accounts would work? Why get married if there is no desire for a true partnership? I will say, my husband and I each still carry an old credit card from our single days that we use solely for gifts for eachother, but the bill gets paid from our joint checking account into which both of our (entire) paychecks are direct deposited. In any event, even if separate money can work in a marriage, I agree there is even more wrong with this particular coupling as you explained in your answer. Love the column and that chats ... am I the only one that wants to go back to two shorter chats a week???

Carolyn Hax: I appreciate your position, but I don't want to go back--it was bad for the column. The two sessions killed my writing momentum on two days a week, instead of just one.

As for your question: Here's the argument for separate accounts. Two people who love, trust and share a purpose with each other still move about independently--he goes to the grocery store, she to the gas station, both use ATMs, etc. Reconciling the activity by two people on one account can take some coordinating, especially if they're bringing their balances close to zero at any point. Who carries the checkbook, who has the ATM card, and if they have two cards, are they both good at documenting what they take out? Obviously in the online-banking and ATM era, this is easier to pull off than it used to be, but it is still much easier for each to pull from and keep track of his or her own supply. The two accounts can be linked for easy transfers between the two, so that there's no issue of secrecy or "mine" vs "yours." True partnership with two accounts and nobody on an allowance.


Fairfax, Va.: Hi Carolyn, so I think everyone has met one of those couples who always tell the story of how the first time the guy asked her out, or maybe even the first couple times, she said no. But somewhere along the way, something changed (usually the couples say something vague and amorphous here, so I'm never clear on this point) and eventually she said yes and are now living happily ever after. Obviously every woman is looking for something different, but if you're a guy, how do you know if you should keep trying or not?

Carolyn Hax: This is such a great question, and it's such a hard answer. I think (and do so out loud with great trepidation, since it is indeed highly individual) that there tend to be two situations that produce the happy ending you describe.

One is where the woman--let's call her Quarry, since this can work regardless of the sex assignments--is interested in Pursuer but cautious for external reasons. S/he's just out of a relationship, for example, or soon to be relocating. Then a little nonthreatening persistence can lead to a change of mind.

The other is when Quarry likes Pursuer in a friendly way but isn't really attracted That Way. In that case, a little nonthreatening persistence can give Quarry a chance to get to know Pursuer better, which sometimes allows more romantic feelings to develop--even where both were pretty sure none were possible.

So, the issue comes back to your question, with these small refinements: How do you know if you have potential for one of these two happy endings, vs. potential to annoy someone else while you bang your head against a wall till you see spots?

The thing I would look for is conversational chemistry. If you get along easily, if you naturally fall into a conversational groove and enjoy each other's company, then I would say you can hold out a little longer before you give up. Just don't press, especially not for romance; what you're after is just a chance to get to know each other better.

Also, in the interest of not encouraging stalker-type behavior, you can't look really really hard for the smallest signs of encouragement. Make sure the encouragement is out in the open and unmistakable. Obviously it won't be encouragement to date, since the whole issue here is that you're being rejected romantically. The encouragement has to be for continuing conversations, staying in touch, clear and mutual lingering when you see each other, etc.

Good luck.


Married with two bank accounts: This strikes me as one of those places where it's nobody's business but the two people involved how bank accounts and finances are structured. Why does and should it matter to anyone else how bills are paid?

Carolyn Hax: Agreed. But since we're peering into a hypothetical marriage instead of a real one, I think it's a fair question. It was judgmentally phrased, though, so the phraser might want to a quick self-diagnostic scan for smugness elsewhere. Thanks for the tipoff.


San Francisco, Calif.: I've been accepted to a few law schools. None are top picks -- based on the results a few years ago, my chances at top 20 schools are grim. I aimed lower this time, but am concerned about prospects at graduation after a large financial commitment. And yet I haven't had much luck finding a satisfying job or even solid stepping stones after several years in the work force including quitting and undertaking a cross-country move (which reaped me a year of unemployment in the aftermath of 9/11). But I can't see myself staying where I am. Can you recommend any steps to come to terms with next steps and, say, quitting?

Carolyn Hax: Law school isn't going to relieve you of the burden of finding a satisfying and stable career, so if that's what you're asking it to do, I would reconsider. Even a top 20 school won't do much good if you don't like what you're doing.

Have you done any focused career research with someone trained to help you examine your nature, strengths and goals? You're looking at law schools, which means you're a college grad, which means you have an alma mater with, presumably, a career office and alumni/ae network. You can investigate some less-well-known career paths through that office, followed up by conversations with alums in these fields, and you can look harder into your job prospects after Law School X.

Right now your reasoning sounds a little aimless, which is fine--I can't think of many people who haven't been lost at some point, and, in fact, it's usually what precedes self-discovery, imagine that. But it's one thing to be aimless; it's another when you make targeted decisions in spite of your aimlessness. That's when the regrets and backtracking often happen. This time is best spent thinking, researching saving money, and keeping options open.


Wedding Woes: My two bridesmaids (who are also my two best friends) sat me down and told me they will not pay more than $80 for bridesmaid dresses. They both have young families and said they are strapped for cash and have to cope with the additional burden of arranging childcare for the weekend. I hadn't even started looking for dresses yet, and I spent over $200 on dresses for each of their weddings. I don't want to be unreasonable or place a huge financial burden on them, but $80 is a pretty small budget. I know that I could pay the difference myself or let them find dresses in their price range, but the dresses aren't really the point. I feel hurt that they are telling me what to do, and I feel like they consider my wedding less important since I'm the last one to get married. Right now, I feel so hurt by their attitude (it wasn't just what they said, it was how it was said) that I would rather find new bridesmaids. I know it's a decision I would regret later, and I don't want to ruin these friendships over something petty. How do I resolve this? Can I make myself just get over it?

Carolyn Hax: Well, the circumstances have changed, so while it might not be "fair" that you got married last, they have less money now than you did then. What can you do. A little flexibility and compassion here would be a best-friendly thing for you to summon on their behalf.

So, when you do talk to them--as you have to, since making yourself "get over it" when you feel justifiably upset never actually works--tell them they hurt your feelings. "It wasn't just what they said, it was how it was said"--that says it all, exactly as you need to say it. The "how" is important, even when the issue of what your bridesmaids wear just isn't. (You can just have them wear whatever they want, and even already own--$0!. Matching is not required by law.)


From a couple of weeks ago...: I'm the one who wrote in a couple of weeks ago about my father-in-law INSISTING he be able to visit the hospital when my baby is born. I just wanted to write in to say that we've come to a compromise. Finally. Now, it took my husband beating him over the head with questions like "dad, do you really want to be in the room when (wife) comes out of surgery and is completely out of it and the doctor is checking her private parts and she can't even focus on the baby, much less you?" and "dad, do you really need to be there when (wife) has her breasts exposed, trying her hardest to get the baby to nurse?" and other such embarrassing situations. My husband pleaded with him to please reconsider and come visit on the 3rd day of our hospital stay. If I'm feeling up to it and everything is going well with the health of the baby, maybe even visit on the 2nd day. He grudgingly relented and plans to visit on day 3 unless we call him to come earlier. Whew!

Carolyn Hax: Indeed. Good for your husband, and yay for you that he's got your back. (Or, you know, whatever parts need watching.) I'll even toss a bone to your FIL for backing down a step or two. Maybe, if FIL does stay true to his word and doesn't bother you those early days, your husband can invite him to come visit just the baby in the NICU, if circumstances permit. Nice goodwill-banking gesture that could help you all someday.

If you're up to it, please let us know how it all goes, though I'll understand if you forget or don't want to share.

(This is the planned C-section for the baby with a heart condition, for those following along at home.)


Baltimore, Md.: How do deal with people who want to kill you with kindness? I know it is cliche but my MiL is driving me nuts. I'm pregnant with the first grandchild and her "helping" is driving me up.the.wall. From "helpfully" inviting people to the baby shower without asking, to "helpfully" saying she'd act as my labor coach (a BIG no that was met with disappointment and teary eyes).

My husband told her that we'll let her know what we need help with in an attempt to give her something to do within bounds. But she complains about not being involved, not feeling included. I am ready to yell, "You already had two kids! This isn't your pregnancy! Stop the passive aggressive a**hattery!"

What can I do to deal?

Carolyn Hax: Make good on your promise, asap and with some continuity. Pick some specific area where you need (or at least can bear) her help, and sic her on it. If you keep distancing her, especially out of annoyance, the more upset she's going to get, and probably the more annoying to you. Find some way to include her on your terms. Another gesture that will bank some goodwill for when you need it.

Something else to consider: This past fall, when an issue involving a MIL and pregnant daughter-in-law came up, I got a torrent of e-mail from grief-stricken mothers of sons who felt left out of their grandchildren's lives. Now, the specifics are complicated, obviously--I wanted to ask them all, have you been nosy, pushy or critical?--but some no doubt were innocent bystanders who got shoved aside by daughters-in-law who simply didn't click with them. That ain't right. As long as there's no abusive or destructive behavior involved, please err on the side of inclusion.


Law School: I'm sure you'll be inundated with disgruntled-lawyer responses, but please, PLEASE let someone else tell San Francisco that law school is NOT the panacea to career unhappiness. As someone who thought law sounded interesting (wrong, for the most part) and felt pressure to have a "professional" career (needlessly), I can assure you that being trapped at an all-consuming BigLaw firm just to pay my $70K of law school debt is not so great. Please reconsider going, particularly if you're not super enthusiastic about being a lawyer. Plenty of other careers exist that cause far less debt and ultimate workload.

Carolyn Hax: We are (inundated), and I will (let), so thanks. The rest of you, get back to work--this can't possibly be billable.


For Wedding Woes: Just make each bridesmaid wear whatever $200+ monstrousity she made you buy and wear in her wedding, assuming they're still lurking in the back of your closet.

Um, that's if the talking nicely thing doesn't work, I suppose.

Carolyn Hax: Bleeping brilliant. She can even offer to pay for the tailoring, too, if they aren't the same size.


Aimless: Carolyn, your statement "it's one thing to be aimless; it's another when you make targeted decisions in spite of your aimlessness" hits close to home. A few years ago I found myself in a similar situation, aimless and making big decisions to quit my job and move back to my previous locale. This course of action forced desperation and a lot of soul searching, which ultimately lead to the discovery that I really like my line of work and life is okay after all. I'm happy with where I am now. I have some regrets about the decisions I made then, but I have no idea even in hindsight how I would have gotten to where I am now without having gone through that or something similar. Before I quit and moved, I tried and soul-searched and grappled for a long time, yet couldn't figure anything out, even though now the answer is clear. I would advise anyone else not to make the same rash decisions I did, but what if nothing else works to open your eyes?

Carolyn Hax: Funny, I almost put in a disclaimer when I said that.

Just as aimlessness often precedes self-discovery, so does a bad or just regrettable decision--which, of course, upgrades the decision in hindsight to a good decision. But that's hindsight, meaning, the bad decision was made, so what're you going to do? All that's left is to make the best of it.

When the big bad decision hasn't happened yet, though, and you're still just poised to make it, it's still a good idea to try to spot it as bad and prevent it before it happens. In this case, it's a decision that involves a lot of time and debt, which is all the more reason to try to head it off.

It gets a little more complicated with what you're talking about--a decision that's more easily reversed than paying a big tuition. In that case, yes, it can shake loose some clarity and insight. Aside from the whole age thing, 22 follows 21, life is rarely linear, and careers are no different. I've said before, I got this job because I was agitating after not getting another job, which now counts as the happiest, most fortuitous rejection of my life. That came about by my applying for a different job (i.e., decisive action, but fairly easily reversed) at a time when I was tired of not knowing what I wanted.

So I guess the upshot is, if you're ready to give your life a decisive kick in the pants, that's fine, but if possible, try to build in some room to change your mind. Ha.


Help from MIL:1. If MIL can cook, she can stock your freezer with small portions of dinners

2. She can take charge of keeping track of baby gifts, addresses, thank-you notes

3. She can be the person who calls everyone on the list to tell them the baby's born (the expectant mom would probably need to make TWO lists, one for the people she wants to call herself (shortish list) and the other for the MIL to use).

4. If she's any use with a camera, she can be your Official Designated New Family Photographer.

5. Enlist her for short but crucial babysitting periods early on when new mom will be desperate for a few hours of sleep. This could be combined with some pumping by new mom, bags of breastmilk in freezer, so new mom can nap or rest, and MIL/new grandma can share joy of feeding the baby.

6. - 100. Etc. Ask her for suggestions...

Carolyn Hax: Nice, thanks. Also, tracking down bargains on things they know they'll need, like diapers, wipes, baby food (with long exp dates), would be a -huge- service. Finding deals takes time, something a mom on her ... was it third? pregnancy can't possibly have.


New York City: Hi Carolyn! I love your chats!

I'm 35 and most of my friends are married, many of them with children. I feel like they joined a cult for which I am not qualified. I make a lot of effort to see them- go to their house, show up at group events (as the only single) and basically bend to their schedule. When I have an event, very few of them are willing to do something without their kids...and god forbid, without the husbands!!!

How do I deal? I am trying to make new friends who fall more into my demographic but I'd still like to be friends with my old friends.

Carolyn Hax: I get what you;re saying, but of course it's not a cult, it's just a time and energy suck that doesn't allow for much flexibility. So when you "have an event," it doesn't surprise me that your friends are hard to recruit to join you. It would surprise me, though, if they never wanted to get away from spouse or kids, since really i think there are few family people who don't need some air.

I would try instead to work with their schedules, since, like it or not, they will be less flexible. For example, if your events tend to be on weekend nights--and your friends are never available--ask if weeknights would be easier for them. If so, find out how much lead time they need. Just anecdotally, I've seen that some busy parents prefer a long lead time to plan, and some do better with impromptu stuff, "this is a good night so let's go, see you in 30 min."

Again, I get what you're saying. It is not fair that you should have to do all the accommodating just to see just a friend, unencumbered. But I think a lot of people are happy for a chance to get away from spouse and kids, but need you to agree to a 45 min coffee or cocktail date, possibly on the fly, vs getting them to go with you to a two-hour play on the other side of town, or party that starts at 10 pm.


Baltimore Again: Carolyn, thanks.

I should've been clearer: We've given her tasks and it is never enough. She loves home improvement/interior design; we asked if she'd like to help design the nursery. We invited her to an ultrasound. We have a password-protected blog so she can get regular updates about the pregnancy. We invited them to spend Channukah with us so we could go maternity and baby shopping together.

But it never enough. If she doesn't get exactly what she wants, she pouts and says she feels left out. But there are some things that are non-negotiable -- like her being in the delivery room. What do I do about that?

Carolyn Hax: Gotcha. How active has your husband been in taking this on? Specifically, has he drawn her out, to see if there's something bigger going on here? If she's just me-ish and manipulative, there won't be much more you can do than keep setting the terms and setting limits. (Tiring, but better than the alternatives.) You also need to make sure you and your husband are in agreement on dealing with the issue, else she will recognize the gap between you and exploit it.

If on the other hand she has something she's genuinely upset or worried about and this is just the way it's coming out, then getting her to air it and deal with it could really help all involved.


Depressed Pregnant woman from last week: Thank you for your advice! I wanted to check in and let you know I'm doing much, much better. Shortly after your chat, I got an excellent job offer, they're perfectly fine with my pregnancy and my husband and I spent the weekend doing things that fiscal insecurity had been preventing, like going out for breakfast and seeing a movie. I'm still going to look for a therapist, but a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders that has made a big difference. Thank you again for posting my question last week.

Carolyn Hax: You're welcome, congratulations, and thanks for checking back in.


Bethesda: How much slack do you cut for friends' being "busy?" I'm in my late-30s, unmarried, no relationship, no kids (god, I sound pathetic) but I've always felt I had good group of friends--all of whom are now married, some with kids. A while back I noticed that while they were always enthusiastic to hear from me and would make time to see me, I was doing all the heavy lifting and so I experimented with not getting in touch and, worst fears realized, nothing. No calls, no e-mails, no IMs, nothing. I know they're busy, but I also know they watch plenty of TV/movies and go shopping and take naps and read online gossip sites, so it's not like every minute is scheduled. Evidently, I'm pretty far down the priority list. I don't want to nurse childish hurt feelings, but my feelings are hurt and I'm wondering if I've always just assumed they liked me more than they do.

Carolyn Hax: This is a good if coincidental extension of the post before this one.

Look at your list: "they watch plenty of TV/movies and go shopping and take naps and read online gossip sites." In other words, they do solitary things that are within easy reach for tired people who need to regroup. I can't speak for everyone, obviously, but judging from the people I know, it's not a slight, it's not a reflection of priorities, it's default. You have an hour not when you plan to have it, but when it shows up, so you blow it on unplanned R and R like a TV show or a quick run to the store. Scheduling time to see someone is, granted, easy, and for some verging on effortless, but for many others it involves one extra step that proves insurmountable, no matter how much they like the person they'd be calling.

If you genuinely like and enjoy these friends--in other words, if you're okay with letting the companionship be its own validation--then go back to being the one who keeps in touch.


Bethesda, Md.: My super close friend seems to have some mental disconnect about the notion of marriage. We're 26, but literally every time she hears about someone we know getting married she freaks out about how weird it is and how no one our age could possibly be ready for something like that. Well... I just got engaged and have no idea what to tell her, since her other reaction to people's happy news is to express that she feels like they are shoving their happiness in her face (she is single). What's the best way to broach this one?

Carolyn Hax: Treat it as her issue, and just tell her you just got engaged. If she suggests you're shoving it in her face, ask (plainly, not with your dukes up) what she would have you do instead? You can't withhold the information, and you aren't going to decline the proposal because your friend isn't ready for it.

There;s nothing wrong with the fact that -she- isn't ready for marriage at 26. Good for her for knowing it. However, the immaturity that has her so unprepared for marriage is, unfortunately, the same immaturity that has her thinking that all lives resemble her own. That's where she loses her leverage, and others' sympathy (and patience).

If she isn't willing to engage in a productive conversation about it, and if she isn't willing to see you as the same friend to her you've been all along, then that's going to be a loss she brings upon you both. For both of your sakes, I hope she can rally this time.


Bridesmaids...: First, I'm a guy, so let the eye-rolling about my input on this issue commence. I kind of like the "drag out the old bridesmaid's dresses out" idea, if only so she can say:

"Look. I bought these things for your wedding and spent over $200 on both of them. I realize that your finances are tight right now, but it's not very nice for you to issue an ultimatum like this. I promise that I will do my best to find something affordable and simple that might actually be able to be reused sometime in the future, but I can't promise that it's going to be less than $80. And since I'm not exactly rolling in it with all the other wedding expenses I can't help pay for your dresses either."

My wife and I bought my sisters' dresses outright for our wedding, but they were unemployed college students. Assuming that the two friends aren't on food stamps and this isn't a shotgun wedding that's happening next week, they probably have had more than enough time to save $10 here or there to put into their "hideous monstrosity of a dress" fund. And if they're adult enough to have a kid, they're adult enough to say that they don't really want to be bridesmaids, if that's the case.

Carolyn Hax: Hey, we don't do the guys-can't-have-opinions thing here. Conveniently, this demonstrates why. Thanks muchly.


Also Bethesda: Bethesda asked, how much slack do you cut friends for being busy? I'm one of the ones whose life with husband, kids, job, etc. overwhelms my ability to plan friendly outings. I'm also a pretty fair introvert, and I find the outreach hard, even to people I like. I do e-mail since that can be done on the fly, but I don't usually get my act together for anything else. I am, however, deeply grateful for the people who DO take the lead.

Carolyn Hax: hey, get out of my head! (For your own good--it's scary in there.)


Picking up the Phone: Boy - there really are some people that just don't get that this can be hard aren't there? Over Christmas this year my mother-in-law was explaining how she stopped being friends with someone because they never called. Upon futher prodding it was revealed that the woman had had a horrific couple of years (several deaths, the loss of a close friendship following the deaths, children failing in spectacular ways) "but" my MIL concluded, "how hard is it to pick up the phone?"

That's when I realized that literally noone in my inlaws family has depression - its so commonplace in my family it had never occured to me that everyone didn't know how this stuff works.

Carolyn Hax: Depression and introversion, don't leave that one out. It's big, and as a bonus it neatly ties in that first comment of the day about the child who was hard-wired to have a goal other than serenity. A phone call, a mere flick of the wrist for one person, can take days of deep breathing and self-motivating for another, even when there hasn't been a string of horrors to explain it.

And depression and introversion are just at the top of the list. There's also sheer volume of commitments. A lot of people would rather go out with friends than sleep or do laundry, but the price for that choice is too high. Thanks for weighing in.


Washington, D.C.: Shorter version of an earlier post:

What is the best way to react to a finacee who works very long hours, and doesn't do the things that s/he says that s/he wants to do (e.g. hitting the gym, starting a hobby, making new friends) or the things that I've said that I need (e.g. her/him planning some dates, so I'm not the only one to do so.)

S/he sees my disappointment and annoyance when s/he is not getting these things done, and it makes her feel hopeless and attacked. Yet, if I say nothing, s/he doesn't get them done then, either.

How can I effectively encourage him/her without making him/her feel badly?

Carolyn Hax: Drop it. This is the person you have, so either accept him/her/it as-is or call it off.


Babytown, Calif.: I'm in my early 20s and not ready to lose all my friends to having babies! Is that really what happens? A good friend of mine is (suspected, not actually confirmed) preggo and has completely dropped off the face of the earth ALREADY -- the kiddo doesn't even exist yet!

Does it have to be this way? How to maintain friendships in spite of babies?

Carolyn Hax: Some preggos get very sick and/or very, very tired. You'll be an early candidate for friend of the year if you ask how she's doing with your mind (and sympathies) open to that possibility.

The short version of how to get through this w/o losing all your friend is to be flexible and know it's temporary. The cliche that keeps coming to mind when describing the small-kid years is that parents are bailing as fast as they can. You can either help them bail, get out of the way without prejudice (seriously--"No worries, I'll see you when they're 6" is wonderful if you really mean it)--or you can say buhbye to the friends.


Marriage counseling?: My husband I haven't had sex for 8 months. No foreplay. Nothing. He tells me he's attracted to me, but nothing comes out of it. I've tried to ask him about it, have cried, we've gotten into fights, etc. We do have an 8 month old, but people have sex when they have kids. But the problem is, I'm wondering if I want to have sex with him as well. I'm looking into marriage counseling right now, but money's an issue and most of the insurance companies don't cover marriage counseling. My job (teacher) also makes it virutally impossible to take calls. I'm feeling at a loss.

Carolyn Hax: Is he afraid you'll get pregnant again? That's just off the top of my head--obviously there are many other possibilities. Ideally you would both feel safe discussing uncomfortable things without the referee, especially given your time and money constraints. To that end--have you assured him that you'd rather be told an unpleasant truth, if indeed there is one to be told, than be left wondering what's going on? Sometimes that's all the opening someone needs.

If that doesn't work, then please do keep up the search for a counselor; try checking with the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (; you can do clinician searches there, or look there for a number you can call for info) for low-cost or sliding-fee counselors who work weekends. It might be a narrow selection, but it's a start.


Washington, D.C.: So who gets to keep friends while be totally off the hook for it being a reciprocal relationship? Just people who are depressed and introverted? People with two kids but not one? People without a nanny? "Being" a friend implies give and take. You seem to be saying that some people are exempting from ever having to give.

Carolyn Hax: Oy. That's not what I'm saying. I'm simply suggesting that people have vast differences in their temperaments and their circumstances, and that successful friendships benefit not from a flat quid-pro-quo, but from a subtler understanding of what people give and why.

So, someone who is friends with a busy married parent may have to do the work in reaching out, but in return will have a friend who is happy to be out, who brings a different perspective to life, and who can make the more flexible person feel grateful for his or her circumstances--and who will remember your efforts a few years down the road when he or she is in a better position to give back.

Same applies with someone depressed or introverted. You value someone, you bring what you can bring to the friendship, and presumably you're rewarded in other ways. That introvert you always have to go out of your way to call may be your fiercest ally when you need someone to stick up for you, or will take your secrets to the grave, or will forgive your quirks in a way no one else ever will. It's bringing a little sophistication to the definition of "reciprocal."


Houston, Tex.: Maybe this is one of the benefits of being "advanced maternal/paternal age" (ahem)to young children -- in our group of friends, no one seems to get neurotic/upset about phone calls that go unreturned, plans that need to be canceled, or last minute invitations; everyone understands and appreciates how crazy life gets.

Carolyn Hax: Age certainly helps, but it's not the deciding factor. I think it's about being able to recognize that the world has wider borders than the tips of one's own shoes. (A recognition that does tend to improve with age, but is not guaranteed to.)


Sick of the silent treatment: I feel like a complete failure in communicating with my husband. I don't know if it's a difference in the sexes thing, but when I try to open the lines of communication he either gets defensive or gives me the silent treatment. How do couples who aren't communicating effectively start talking? Therapy is certaintly my first thought, but I don't even know how to bring that up these days. I'm tired of walking on egg shells and feeling insignificant.

Carolyn Hax: It's not about the sexes, it's about (im)maturity, fear and, because of these two, a need to control. Just look at what your husband has accomplished by his behavior. He's got you blaming yourself, as well as withholding any negative information from him. He's got you in a position where you're not going to challenge him on anything. For someone who is scared bleepless by change, uncertainty and/or uncomfortable feelings, that's the sweet spot.

Of course, you know the truth of it--it's hell. You have no intimacy, no warmth, and probably not much love left. That's the big lie at the heart of control, it gives a sense of security that's false and, for that reason, extremely fragile.

You can't make someone talk who is determined not to talk., You can, however, take care to talk right to the (likely) problem: When he gets defensive, you can say, "I'm not saying I don't like/love you, I'm saying that I feel X." Address the underlying fear as you're addressing whatever else it is you're trying to address. It's leading a concern with "I miss you," for example, instead of, "You never ..." whatever.

That is, if it isn't already too late. That's the sadness of control--it usually kills the feelings, and the relationship goes with it. I hope you can catch it in time.


Arlington-ish: Carolyn, I need a good smack. I am having some work issues that are making me feel very bitter and angry and I need help snapping out of it.

My job is very high-stress; I'll spare the gory details but I am burning out fast. After my awesome BFF boss left for greener pastures, upper management dangled a promotion in front of me and then snatched it away.

Now I have no promotion, an insane amount of stress, and a completely clueless new boss. I think the part that stings the most here is that after pouring my soul into this job for so long, I have to prove myself all over again to this new person, and I am just too darn tired and angry to show off my own competence.

I know I'm shooting myself in the foot here, but jeez louise. Am I am just too angry with this company to keep going? It's so hard to let go of the feeling that you've been taken advantage of.

Do I need to let go of this? Find a new job? Go on a three-day bender?

Carolyn Hax: Anger that has you compromising your own career is extremely unproductive anger. Channel it somewhere else--into doing a hell of a job, for example, just so you can prove what an idiot your new boss is for letting you get away and take an excellent new job somewhere else. As revenge fantasies go, it's at least decent, and I hope enough to keep you focused on not imploding.

I guess your old boss isn't hiring at the new place?


Gaithersburg, Md.: Carolyn,

In today's first letter, you seemed very passionate in your response. Clearly the forehead-slap-inducing potential of the letter was through the roof. Do you ever find yourself getting more upset and/or involved with certain types of letters?

Carolyn Hax: Oh absolutely. I'm not trying not to be human here.


Carolyn Hax: Just noticed the time, so that's it. Thanks everybody and hope to see you here again next week.


Carolyn Hax: I accidentally deleted this while I was trying to post it, so here it is as a cut-and-paste--it struck me as a good counterpoint:

Washington, DC: A partial dissent from the flood of disgruntled lawyer emails: A law degree DOES have some advantages for people who aren't quite sure what they want to do with their lives. It's valued by potential employers in a wide range of fields, not just law firms. And many people DO enjoy law school and legal practice.

That said, here are some thoughts on how to make this decision:

--First, to be blunt, just how bad are the law schools you're considering? There are over 200 law schools in America, and there's a lot of distance between number 21 and the bottom of the list. Legal employers tend to be rather elitist, so your job prospects if you're toward the bottom of the food chain aren't that great, and the schools in that range really aren't worth the money. But being in the top 20 isn't essential.

--Second, talk to the career advisers at the potential schools about what kinds of jobs their grads are doing, say, 1 year after graduation (after they've had time to take and pass the bar). Get stats re: how many grads are working for different types of employers. If you want to do public interest work, talk to alums who are doing that kind of work and find out how hard it was for them to get where they are. It may surprise you, but good public interest work is often much harder to get than law firm work--there are a lot of people competing to work for practically nothing! And for the ones working at law firms, make sure you know how many are employed as associates and how many as contract attorneys (i.e., legal temps). There was an eye-opening story in the Washington City Paper recently about the world of contract attorneys--you really don't want to be in it.

--Third, once you have this information, make your decision based on the assumption that you will be an AVERAGE graduate of the school, grades-wise, not that you'll be at the top of the class. That assumption is statistically much likelier to be correct. An enormous number of law students start school, especially at lower-tier schools, assuming that they will finish in the top 5% of the class and will thus have all the same career options that they would have had if they'd gone to a top law school. They can't all be right.

--Talk to the school about whether there are loan repayment programs for students in lower paying careers.

--Finally, think about some jobs that you would like to do after law school, and go talk to people who do those jobs. Find out whether they like the work as much as you think you would, and ask for their honest assessment of whether they think you would have a good shot of getting a similar job after graduating from school X. If they say "Sure, if you finish at the top of your class," see the advice above.

Good luck!


NY, NY: Hi, I think you're missing a couple of points on the parents-of-toddlers-have no time. Some people with 'no time' make the effort to sincerely thank the single friend for being so understanding, cheerfully trekking out to the boring suburbs, watching a toddler drool as if it's the latest blockbuster, etc. Others simply enjoy taking whatever the friend gives, and this gets worse not better over time. Some parents are frazzled; some are self-important. Just sayin'

Carolyn Hax: True, and I'll even forgive the "just sayin'." Gratitude vs. entitlement does make all the difference. That's true of any situation, though. There will always be good people and there will always be jerks. If anything that's an argument in favor of a nuanced definition of reciprocity.


Marriage Counseling: Ask your insurance company about "family counseling." Most companies cover family counseling as it includes parenting, etc. Don't mention marriage counseling when you first call for a referral.

Carolyn Hax: can't vouch for this but worth looking into, thanks.


Port Richey, FL: About the m-i-l who wants to "help" a bit too much for her d-i-l who's preg., I have to ask, as the m-i-l always been this way? Mine was. We used to say that she had to be the bride at every funeral and the corpse at every wedding. Anyway, if this is something new, she could be ill, either depressed or obsessive/compulsive. If it's not new behavior, then I'm sorry for you and I truly understand what you're going through.

Carolyn Hax:"Used to say"? If I'd thought of that, I'd say it every day, just amuse myself. Thanks.


DC: Your response to the question was:

Carolyn Hax: Drop it. This is the person you have, so either accept him/her/it as-is or call it off.

But what if the person USED to do all of that stuff, then slowly stopped. And yes, I know it's probably depression, but the person STILL won't do anything about it.

Carolyn Hax: Is it probably depression? Or is just that the courtship phase is over?

If it is depression, then maybe you have to add to the "this is person you have" file that s/he is susceptible to depression and not inclined to seek treatment for it. There maybe different facts to consider, but you still need to work off facts, not used-to-bes.


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