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Carolyn Hax Live: Smoking and Parents, Handling Failure

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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 29, 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.

Submit your questions and comments any time before or during today's discussion. Other mail can be directed to Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

Carolyn's Recent Columns

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Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody. My computer isn't being very cooperative right now, so I'll need to ask your patience while I figure it out. Thanks.

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Confused, Ill.: Hi Carolyn -- When should you push a relationship? I've been dating a man that has great potential; he's attractive, smart, attentive, and unbelievably good for me. I so enjoy spending time with him and think we mesh really well. But I don't get the butterflies and thus am having a difficult time on the intimate end.

I've spent most of my dating years having inappropriate flings or being infatuated with guys who didn't reciprocate my feelings. Is there a good way to tell if this is me being freaked out by the possibility of a healthy stable relationship, or if I'm really just not sexually attracted to him?

Carolyn Hax: Sounds like this was a relationship that shouldn't have become sexual--if you're not attracted to someone, say no. But I've said myself that "should" is a useless word, so let's call it a mental note to make for next time.

Now that things have crossed that threshold into being sexual and your heart and/or body aren't in it, then I think all you can do is ask to back things up a bit. You don't have to go into great detail, just say you've let things move faster than you were ready to, and that you'd like to keep dating. Butterflies do sometimes need time to develop. In fact, I can argue and have argued practically every week that it's the slow-to-develop attractions that last the longest, because they're the ones based on the things you learn about someone only when you know him well.

This guy might not agree to rewind, but that's a chance you have to take. You can't keep pretending this is a romance when you're really still at the point where you prefer him when he's clothed.

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Questi, ON: Maybe this got covered somewhere but I must have missed it (sorry if I did)...why is your column now titled "Carolyn Hax" instead of "Tell Me About It?"

Carolyn Hax: We changed it over on Oct. 1, when the column went daily. I got tired of 10 years of having my name and the column's name butchered. One paper even ran it for a while as Tell Me 'Bout It, which wrapped me in literary hives, as you can imagine. So, now we've streamlined things, and everyone either to has no idea what the column is called or where it runs, or confidently calls me Caroline.

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Washington, D.C. : My wife wants to have a baby. I'd like to have one too, but I REALLY want her to quit smoking first. She has ditched the birth control but is taking no steps to kick her habit in the meantime. On principle, I've responded by withholding sex. This is making us both very upset. What do you think we can do?

Carolyn Hax: A marriage is not a good place to host Power Struggle Expo 2008.

I will lay out my biases for you, and say outright that I wouldn't agree to have a child with an active smoker, either. It isn't just that a mother especially would be putting the fetus, and then the baby, at risk for serious health problems. It's that, knowing the behavior will harm the baby, this grown person, who is capable of reasoned choices!!!!, -chooses- to harm the baby. Wow. That to my mind is not a good parent. I may love this person, frailties and all, but I will not share the raising of a child with a person who isn't capable of putting his or her needs aside for another's obvious, blatantly documented good.

Is that all my biases ... I think so.

Okay. So, on the other side you have the smoker, who (projecting here) doesn't appreciate being reduced to the role of a vessel, and wants the courtesy and respect of being left to make her own choice.

Which is (and here's why I disclosed my bias) an incredibly childish position. I realize I've set up a straw man here, and your wife may not be making the argument that I just projected. I would like to hear how she's justifying her decision to stop birth control, in fact.

Even with the facts I have, though, I see that she has chosen to act unilaterally (ditching the birth control) in the midst of a decision that has to be made jointly (having a child).

All of this throat clearing has a purpose, and it's simply to avoid having to throw this out there right the beginning, which would be awfully stark:

She agrees to marriage counseling, or you separate. Her refusal to act for the collective good, and instead to do whatever she darn pleases, left you no choice but to refuse to sleep with her. That leaves you with only two choices for a next step: you cave, or you take your stand to its next level. That is to fix the marriage, or end it. Caving is not a promising choice.

I'm leaving out the off-the-beaten-path third option b/c neither of you seems to want it: You get a vasectomy and you stay married but don't have children. Your wife's behavior/maturity apparently have been fine for you--since, apparently, you were happily married up to this point, and the problem has been in the introduction of the sacrifices a child would need her to make. So, it is a legitimate choice not to introduce a child into the marriage. Legit in a general sense, obviously, not necessarily for either of you.

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Unsure, Va.: My husband wants to take some "boudoir" photos of me (if you get my meaning). He swears he will keep them safe and private, but I'm just a little scared of the idea. Am I being too much of a prude?

Carolyn Hax: No. At least, not to me. Recently I offered three natural laws, but I left off the fourth: Naked photos find daylight. If you;re not cool with the idea that someone else will see them, then don't take them.

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Washington, D.C.: Why does it creep me out when people use the phrase that someone "has potential". It just feels wrong...

Carolyn Hax: Good. It means your creep-meter is working. Potential is something we can apply to ourselves or a paint color. (I was going to say clothing, but that too should be left on the rack if it doesn't feel right.) Use it on other people, it has an I WILL BEND YOU TO MY WILL undertone to it.

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Birth Control and Smoking: You're not supposed to take birth control pills if you are smoker (particularly if you are over 35). I think it puts you at risk for stroke.

Carolyn Hax: And heart disease. Thanks. Of course, we don't know that this is the birth control she's using, but it's a likely enough guess that it's worth adding a couple extra mph to the forehead slap. thanks.

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Richmond, Va.: Send the smoker to a hypnotist, worked for my decades-long habit with NO relapses.

Withholding sex is very controlling and maybe that's why she isn't cooperating with hubby's orders. It has to be her decision.

Carolyn Hax: Eh eh eh, not so fast. Withholding sex does at first blush seem controlling. But when she quit her birth control without quitting the cigs, what was he supposed to do? Take his chances with condoms? A man who doesn't want a baby is a man who says no to sex.

It's funny, recalling from past discussions about women who got pregnant by accident. There's always a chorus of, well, you -chose- to have sex, so where's the accident? (A scold I don't subscribe to, by the way.) So a guy who has chosen not to have a baby chooses not to have sex, and he's controlling? Like I said in the first part--the I-do-what-I-want wife left him no choice.

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Marriage vs. Baby: I 100 percent totally agree with your answer on the smoking mom question and am amazed that you came up with such a great answer on the fly.

This makes me think that Gene is probably right about kids changing everything and deepening the relationship between two people. It is one thing to be married to an immature smoker; it is quite another to watch her become mother to your child(ren).

So my question is: Where and when do you draw that line? It seems awlful (for everyone) to marry someone with the intent of having kids someday and then realize that while this person is perfectly acceptable as a mate, you are not prepared to have kids with them if they don't make some serious changes. But it seems very premature to tell someone that they need to quit smoking/grow up/whatever before you will commit to marry them.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you. I think some will quibble with your definition of "fly."

I agree that it's awful to marry for parent potential. The recent Atlantic article that got people so fired up ("Marry Him," Feb or March issue, I forget), lays out an accidental argument for exactly why it's so awful.

You marry a whole person, period. You do not marry for traits. Ignore the problems of the whole just to get some key traits, like competent parenting skills on one end, or great passion on the other, and here's what you get (to oversimplify it drastically): You're either in love till the kids arrive, at which point you resent each other, or in love while you're raising kids, and resent each other the minute the kids get mature enough not to need you so much.

If you want the whole thing, you have to accept that half isn't good enough, and wait--knowing of course that you risk never finding it. (Cue the dance number about how important it is to love the single you.)

And, contrary to what your question implies, there is no shortcut for this process: You can't say, "Change this or I won't commit to you." You can only date someone for a decent but not joke-material length of time, and draw your best conclusion about how good a spouse someone will be for the kind of life you're planning together. I say "best guess" because, obviously, both the people and the planned life can change dramatically. But we do, I believe, often know more about our partners early on than we're ready to admit to ourselves, and so it can take actually staring down a stage of life with that person to rid us of our illusions. Sounds like that's happening in this case. Sad.

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I love him -- is it too soon to tell him?: I'm at the "I love you" stage with a guy right now, but I know he's not there yet. He's a bit more cautious than I am emotionally, but he's definitely headed in the same direction (he was the one who was interested in me for years before I came around). We get along great, and we're taking things slow because I am close with his family. We've only been dating for a couple of months but have known each other for years. I think I should tell him where I'm at in the interests of honesty (and because the odds are increasing that I will blurt it out at an inopportune moment). Is there a way to tell him that I'm okay with him not being at the same point as me but this is how I feel? How do you spring that on someone? I don't say this casually to just anyone. I'm not someone who says it in the throes of infatuation. Or should I wait because we're taking things slow? I can talk with him about anything, but I'm just not sure how to approach this.

Carolyn Hax: Think of it as you would anything else. If you're saying it for you, then wait. If you're saying it for him, then just say it.

If you really are okay with not hearing it back, then don't worry about it. That will speak for itself. Perfect phrasing not necessary.

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Follow up question on butterflies: I'm in a similar situation as the first writer, but my situation is in the earlier, still-clothed stage. I just met a guy who I really want to get to know and have a ton in common with. But no butterflies, and I'm not sure if they could develop. Do I just be up front with him about that from the beginning when it comes up -- that I want to get to know him better, but I'm just not sure what form that will take (friendly or romantic)?

And how long should you reasonably give it to feel a flutter? I don't want to dismiss a potentially really great guy too soon...but I need the flutter.

Carolyn Hax: Yes, be up front. You said it well--you're interested in getting to know him but you want it to be as friends, not dating.

There's nothing cruel about it, it's just fact, and it can be seen in more than one positive way: as an opportunity (to get your attention); as a benefit (sharing time with and getting to know someone he apparently likes); and as an invitation (since you're asking him out, essentially). If he can't get past his ego to recognize even one of these, then he probably wasn't going to become a butterfly guy.

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Be Fair: I've seen you be more compassionate to alcoholics than to this smoker.

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry. I feel none for someone who goes off birth control against her husband's wishes so she can smoke while pregnant. The nicotine may be an addiction, but there's no addiction to going off birth control. I would come up equally empty for an alcoholic who made a similar, independent-of-the-addiction choice. It is naked self-centeredness. The better comparison would be to hold up my record of compassion for that, not for alcoholism.

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Chances with Condoms: Wait wait wait wait wait-- I don't agree with what she is doing (esp as a smoker with a patient husband who stuck with me during the very terrible time when I was quitting so we could start trying), but she's been holding up her end of the birth control bargin for a long time and he can't put on a condom for a few months while they sort this out? That's what we did, to make sure the hormones from the pill had time to clear my body but made sure we weren't pregnant before we were ready.

Carolyn Hax: But you were ready to have a baby if the condom failed, and you were trying to quit smoking, and you agreed to change birth-control methods as a couple and not on your own. You're 3 for 3 on the necessary items differentiating you from this couple.

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Midday Midlife Crisis-ville, M.D.: Hi Carolyn:

I have a pretty unfulfilling job: I know that I'm not happy here and that there aren't really any opportunities for professional growth, so I'm actively looking for a new job. That said, I'm looking for higher ed jobs, where the hiring process moves glacially. I'm starting to worry that I'll be stuck at my current job for another year (when the hiring cycle in my field picks up again). The whole job search is starting to feel pointless, and I'm struggling to be both optimistic and patient. Do you have any suggestions for avoiding the midday midlife crises that hit a few times a week? I'm starting to feel hopeless, and while I've been on them before, antidepressants aren't an option now. (I want to start a family soon, but I was hoping for better job security before then. Still, the timetable for for going on and off medication is too long.) Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: You did come to that conclusion about medication through discussions with your doctor, right? Not pushing pills, just pushing against premature/under-researched conclusions.

If you haven't talked to your doctor about that explicitly, I would do so, but either way I would urge regular exercise, if it's medically appropriate, obviously, and also thinking creatively about what to do with your possible extra year of waiting. The exercise is simple--it has shown in test after test to be an effective depression fighter.

The creative job thinking is just my reaction to what seems like an unnecessarily binary way of thinking. Why does it have to be EITHER bad job OR academia 2009? Especially since there's no guarantee that you'll get something next year if things don't work out year, you might best serve your needs by finding an interim career path/income source, one that puts you at least closer to your goals.

Most careers have somewhat porous borders with a similar field(s)--journalists to teaching, for example, or to the business/management side of the publishing industry. With what careers does your ideal job share a border? Is work more readily available there?

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Washington, D.C.: How do you cope with aging parents? I have young kids who love their grandparents. But they are starting to fail, much earlier than expected. I'm completely torn up about it, and the thought of my children growing up without my parents paralyzes me. How to cope?

Carolyn Hax: Maybe it's just Caroline Without Pity day, but my reflex answer was, "The way everyone else has since the beginning of time."

As the daughter of a mother who died much earlier than expected, I am extremely sympathetic, so my real answer has to have both elements.

Death is THE one fact of life. And while we all want kids to have childhoods spun of moonlight and bunnies, death obviously has no regard for whether your kids are old enough to process loss on their own. So all parents have a responsibility to think through the complexities themselves first, make some kind of peace with them, and then teach their kids in a gentle way that life is cyclical, not permanent. You need to teach them about time, teach about life, then teach about the effects of time on life. Your parents actually offer a loving framework for that. They were your age once, and they had a child who was your child's age once--you--and you are all following on the natural path.

(more)

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Carolyn Hax: I have two book recommendations that I think/hope will cover kids of all ages. For older young kids, there's "Tuck Everlasting," and for younger (this is the hopeful part, since someone just told me about this recently and I haven't read it yet) try "Lifetimes."

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Suggestion Box sort of thing: Have you ever thought about posting the question and let us read it while you work on your answer? It would keep us occupied while you think and type...

Carolyn Hax: Hm. It would mean I couldn't bail on a question without your knowing about it, but I'll float it out there.

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Alexandria, Va.: My heart is broken. My BF of five years broke up with me. He can't handle my successes. They make him feel small and worthless. Is there anything I should do?

Carolyn Hax: Feel very sad for him that he can't find joy in watching you fly. And, be grateful he could be honest with both of you. He wasn't the guy.

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Goleta, Calif.: Hello Carolyn:

Love the chat!

Three years ago, I was suddenly dumped by my boyfriend of a year and a half rather coldly -- with him stating that a man is judged by the quality of the woman on his arm (Yes, he actually said that) -- and that he has always been attracted to 'Barbie' types. Which I'm SO not. 'Attractive,' yes, but no beauty pageant winner.

I've dated a lot in the past several years, but have consistently bailed when things start getting serious, because I'm afraid that once again, they'll suddenly look at me and judge me 'unworthy.'

How can I get past this? I'm now dating a man who is a wonderful person, who has expressed real hope and anticipation for our future together, but his ex wife is gorgeous, and I can't help but wonder.... when's he going to notice that I'm NOT?

Carolyn Hax: If a woman is judged by the quality of the man on her arm, then the day your ex-boyfriend broke up with you, he sent your stock through the ceiling .

True as that may be, I appreciate that you aren't able to believe it right now. I suspect the problem may be that you're looking outside yourself for the answer--in other words, dating and waiting for guys -not- to dump you. And is there any suspense worse than the suspense of waiting for something not to happen? You're never out of your misery until something worse actually happens.

Please regain control of the situation by realizing you have, maybe not full control, but a lot more control over this situation than you think. Your ex-boyfriend did not, -did not-, do this you out of the blue. He was a jerk for the year and a half leading up to his final jaw-dropper, and gave of signs of just that. I knwo this because there's no way someone can be that awful without giving himself away.

So, the way you regain control of all this is to ask yourself what signs you missed, and, more important, why. Were you rationalizing them away? Too absorbed in how you appeared to him to notice how he appeared to you? Were you just invested in making things work? There are lots of reasons this happens (and it does happen, not just to you).

Once you feel confident in your ability to see what you missed in Jerk 1, you'll start to feel confident in your ability to spot Jerk 2--ideally before you even agree to a date.

Once you feel better about your ability to judge character, then you won't be so afraid, for two reasons. First, you'll feel better about the people you're dating, and you'll feel better about your ability to recover from something that doesn't work out.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Carolyn --

I have lost a freelance editing job. I was honest in the interview (no experience with book editing, just business letters; stints as a high school substitute teacher in English) but chose not to turn down the opportunity and the publiher wanted to hire me.

The job was overwhelming and just not a good fit. I will not get paid for the many hours I put into the job.

How do I get rid of this idea that just because I failed at a job I am not a failure?

Carolyn Hax: Since I know I've been glazing you guys today with more than the usual longer-than-usual answers, here's a chance for you to get involved. For this discouraged freelancer, would you please post something significant that you do well, and something significant that overwhelms you? Call it a collective we-all-fail-but-aren't-failures greeting card.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Re saying "grow up first" as a response to a marriage proposal:

My husband of 38 years proposed to me three times, all when he was 22 and I was 26.

The first time while I was driving him home in rsponse to his request because he was too stoned to drive safely. I said, "I want to give you some good advice. Never sign up for anything for life while you're intoxicated" and then dropped him off at his apartment.

He phoned the next morning, said he was no longer stoned, and proposed again. I said, "If you ever grow up and still want to do this, please ask me again. But for now we're going to just be friends who like talking and kissing."

The third time about 75 days later when he actually had grown up, and I said yes.

We both agree I was right to say no those first two times. We still celebrate the 18th of each month as the monthiversary of our wedding. And we still yell at one another now and then, and then make up and go on being happy.

Carolyn Hax: It wouldn't be fair if I kept this giggle to myself. Thanks for the story.

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Boston: So good college friend is getting married in September. She was a bridesmaid in my recent wedding (September 2007) but did not ask me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding. I know we've been out of touch recently - I moved away from where friend currently lives about 18 months ago and a lot of our contact in the past year centered around my wedding - but I can't help but be disappointed that I'm not part of her wedding. And - this is her second engagement - I was asked to be a bridesmaid in her first wedding (that never happened). How do I deal with this? I know it's her wedding - she can do what she wants to, and I don't want to take anything away from her good time, but I also feel like I have to talk to her about how I feel or else it'll hang over me. I've asked about wedding events - showers, bachelorette party, etc. - and haven't gotten much response. Not sure how to walk the line between being supportive and excited for her wedding plans while being disappointed that we've apparently lost touch. Any thoughts?

(Not) Bridesmaid Blues

Carolyn Hax: You have not been in touch lately. If you miss the friendship, direct your effort to restore the friendship. If you're stinging about not making her Top 5, then realize she isn't in your Top 5 any more, either, and resume progress along your sensibly divergent path. It's not about the title.

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Expectations? : So, how do you reconcile your past idea of love (admittedly naive, fairy-tale like notions) with a more realistic version, without feeling like you've "settled"? In my 20s, I had some fairly unrealistic expectations/ideas about love. Now that I'm well into my 30s, I feel I've matured a bit and have more realistic expectations, but worry that maybe I've given up/in a little too much. Is this just something that happens as you get older?

Carolyn Hax: Not necessarily. This touches on what bothered me about the Atlantic argument. If you're considering a guy when your younger self would have ruled him out as too heavy or bald, that's not settling. That's realizing your younger self had thoroughly idiotic standards, because they had nothing to do with actual happiness.

If you're giving someone a chance even though you're not in love after the first three dates, you're maturing.

If you're well into your 30s and you're still not sure whether to keep dating someone to whom you're not instantly attracted, you've got a little more maturing to do.

If you're not in love with someone and you're committing because you think it's your last chance at someone tolerable, you're settling.

By the way--the love born of realistic expectations is not a step down from the love born of fairy tales. Just because you were raised to want roses doesn't mean irises aren't pretty. And look, ma, no thorns!

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Washington, D.C.: On the bridesmaid conversation - I was engaged two years ago, and for financial reasons am holding off on the wedding. My bridesmaid preferences have significantly changed - in fact, one of my bridesmaids got married and did not ask me to be a bridesmaid and also no longer answers my calls...

Can I rescind my bridesmaid invites?

Carolyn Hax: Sounds like you have to.

These are, in fact, the perfect conditions for the perfect wedding party: no wedding party at all. Spare the hard feelings by saying you've re-thought the whole ceremony in the intervening years, and it'll just be you two up there. Makes sense especially given the money issues.

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Headslapville, Va.: Wait: Boston wants to buy and wear a bridesmaid's dress?

Carolyn Hax: Write it down: 2.29.2008. We have seen it all.

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Favorite Niece : I'm in law school and I've got two nieces by my much older brother. They have different mothers, so I see them at different times, for the most part, and I have a much closer relationship with the one I see more often.

Recently, my brother has complained that I pay more attention to the "favorite niece," and that both girls have noticed the iniquity in the way I interact with them. They're 10 and 13. Is this something I should talk about with them, or just change my ways, or maybe make a nice gesture like take them both on a fun outing when they're here in March?

Carolyn Hax: Wow. It would be nice if your brother had pointed out to them--and assured you he had--that it's just a matter circumstance since you see one of them more often.

But since you're apparently not getting much help here, yes, you're going to have to make a consistent, extra effort with the one you see less.

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Columbus, Ohio: Here's for the discouraged freelancer:

I am a scientist, which means I spend a lot of time combining chemicals in exact proportions to make buffers and other solutions. Add some amount of chemical A, add some amount of chemical B, etc., mix, and voila. It's not difficult, but it requires precision, and I'm renouned in my department for my buffer-making skillz. So WHY can't I bake? Add X amount of flour, Y amount of sugar, mix - except instead of turning into a delicious cake, it turns into a chunk of asphalt. It baffles me. Just because you are good at one thing does not mean you are good at everything!

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. More coming in.

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Failures R Us: On the plus side, I am quite successful in my career and have a wonderful husband and home life. Yay, me!

However, I cannot keep track of our finances to save my life. I have a pretty good idea most of the time what our various account balances are, but I am terrible about forgetting to pay a bill, keeping the checkbook balanced to the last penny, etc. I've struggled for years and read all of the self-help advice and finally concluded that I just suck at financial stuff. Unfortunately, my husband is even worse, so until we can afford to hire an accountant (ha!), I'm stuck.

I just don't care enough to put that much energy into it. I am in awe of the people who do.

Carolyn Hax: Unsolicited advice: Bank online (and sign up for email reminders), pay bills right when they come in, and take out a predetermined, round-numbered amount of cash each week so you can mentally deduct it when you go online to pay bills. It's not perfect, but it'll help with forgotten bills and mystery balances.

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Freelance editor: WHAT?!?! Just because you failed at a job doesn't mean they don't have to pay you for work already done... have you talked to a lawyer about this?! I don't know what your contract was like, but you need to not take this without question, there are many imaginable situations in which what they're doing is illegal.

Oh, and I'm really good at napping and I'm dreadful at organizing paperwork. Fortunately, my job as a paper-pusher/cube monkey makes that an ok combination. At least, it does when I'm feeling creative. And actively trying to get fired.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the mental image of your job.

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Riverside, Calif.: Hi Carolyn,

How do you know when to get married? I'm in my mid-20s, and have been with my boyfriend since college. We love each other, and plan on eventually getting married.

Lately, I've started to feel pressure from friends and family to formally declare our commitment to each other. And perhaps some internal pressure as well. But the idea of planning a wedding just seems tremendously un-fun. I'm assuming that eventually my desire to be married will outweigh my feeling that a wedding will be inconvenient. I do, after all, want to get married one day.

I suppose it's strange that I leave my boyfriend out of this: he's indicated he'll be happy to wait indefinitely but is also willing to get married whenever.

Thank you, Carolyn, and I love your column.

Carolyn Hax: You know it's time to get married when the issue of the wedding has no place in the reasoning.

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Detroit, Mich.: Carolyn,

I'm pregnant with twins! Through IVF! So yes, we knew it was a "risk" and it was one we planned for (by returning two embryos to my uterus and rolling the dice to see if both would stick around.) I'm thrilled.

And... I'm terrified. The reality of having twins feels different than the possibility of having them, which we weighed when we were emotionally bereft at the thought of never having ANY kids. (Add to that the horrific financial burden of IVF, and many couples do as we do and opt for twins to increase their chances.)

My question is... how do I get over the terror (of having a rough pregnancy, of caring for 2 infants, of not having kids who feel totally unique and individual) and ENJOY what we're embarking upon?

Carolyn Hax:"of not having kids who feel totally unique and individual"?! You need to talk to some adult twins. This may just be the accident of my experience, but to a one they have raved about growing up with this special other person at their side. To hear them talk, it's magic.

That's a practical thing you can do. On the rallying-yourself side, you can get used to the idea that two crying babies isn't much different from one crying baby. You're still soothing a crying baby, right? So, when you soothe the first, you just move onto the second. The trick is to learn to spot which one will be more easily consoled, so you can console that one first. But that's just stuff you pick up as you get to know your babies.

Next, extend this one example and apply it to everything else you're worrying about: It's not AAAH, chaos! (Well, not always.) It's learning to look at it as taking a little more time.

It'll take you more time to do everything--to feed, bathe, dress, teach, everything. But that would be true of singleton siblings. You;d just put in the time 2 or 4 or whatever years apart, when with multiples you're doing it all at once. Where you've been thinking "overburdened," start thinking, "efficient."

As for the rough pregnancy, anyone can have one. You just have a little less leeway--in a business where there isn't much leeway anyway. Just be particularly good to your body right now. Always nice to have an excuse.

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not a failure: I suck at making friends. I'm a non-chatty, private, introvert. I don't really know how to make inconsequential small-talk, and not comfortable talking about consequential stuff with people who aren't -yet- my friends. I'm not the life of the party. I'm not good at planning or arranging social activities and incredibly uncomfortable inviting people to places/activities with me.

However, I'm actually an excellent friend. I will listen to you, cry or laugh with you, give you advice if you ask and keep my mouth shut if you don't, help you move or paint your living room, sit for your kids or pets, crawl out of bed at 3am to pick you up from the bar police station or side of the road. And once I know you, I'm even fun to hang out with.

Carolyn Hax: One more coming:

_______________________

Discouraged freelancer: I'm a lawyer, and a good one at that. I can research and

write the heck out of a motion, and I was always itching to

take on more and more responsibility. When I started

becoming solely responsible for motions, I was a little

nervous, but stepped up to the challenge. I was thrilled

when a very novel argument of mine was approved by the

court, creating new law in the state. But you'd never know

I was any good if you saw me in court, stumbling over my

words, visibly nervous, too timid to speak up when

necessary. And practice didn't help, unless I was willing

to put in years and years of it. And I wasn't -- I hated

public speaking too much, and shifted my priorities.

Eventually I left law, partially for that reason but also for a

whole host of others. Sometimes I think maybe I'm a

coward and I should have pushed myself, other times I

think there is a world of things I want to try now, and

there's nothing wrong with recognizing my flaws.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks--these really get at what I was looking for.

_______________________

Washington, DC: About that wedding - I don't want to get rid of bridesmaids. This is my first and only wedding - and I want the whole package, that's why I waited - rather than go into debt, I have been saving for my wedding.

Say what you want about me buying into the wedding bull... but this is what I want. I just want new bridesmaids.

Carolyn Hax: Well, I want trees full of 20-dollar bills. Maybe your now-second-string bridesmaids are dying for you to cut them (not beyond the realm of imagination). But if getting to your dreams means trampling through other people's feelings, then I would give the value of your dream a hard look to see if it's important enough to justify it.

"First and only wedding"? Indeed.

_______________________

Carolyn Hax: Okay, marathon over--hope it made up for the slow start, and I'll try to clean up my computer for next week. Thanks, and see you then.

_______________________

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