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Carolyn Hax Live: Religion and Dating, Engagement Rings, and Spitzer Reactions

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 14, 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, 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

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Carolyn Hax: Hiya. As promised, my favorite arguments for wedding parties, even the ones dressed to match:

Army of Turkeys (er, bridesmaids): I think a lot of it is cultural tradition. You could look at that as just another way of saying that it's just because everyone else does it and brides/grooms are lemmings.

On the other hand, you could also look at like eating turkey on Thanksgiving: there's no really great, meaningful -reason- to eat turkey instead of fish, but everyone else eats turkey and some people like to be "traditional." On the other hand, some people prefer turducken (Bridesmen! Groomsmaids! All 18 second cousins wearing outfits that are identical down to the toenail polish!) or tofurkey (non-matchy attendants) or even fish (courthouse steps, witnesses only), and that doesn't stop them from have a Thanksgiving dinner that is just as beautiful and full of gratitude. And some people don't even celebrate Thanksgiving and they still have good, happy lives.

The point is that the baseline is turkey, just because the collective "we" (including the Turkey-industrial-complex, Thanksgiving advertising, etc) have decided that it is the stereotype. Someday the baseline may change to turducken or tofurkey or fish, but right now turkey is what people expect when you talk about Thanksgiving dinner.

So if you are hosting Thanksgiving and want turkey, serve turkey (and be prepared for some of the fish people to object that turkey is a stupid, selfish, expensive, outdated embarrassment), and if you want fish, have fish (and be prepared for some of the turkey people to object that fish is a whacko, selfish, cheapskate, disrespectful travesty).

xxx

Wedding party: I have been in exactly one wedding party and I'm really glad I was included, despite the dress. (Which, to be fair, wasn't all that bad.) It was my brother's wedding and my sister-in-law had her two sisters and me and my sister as her bride's maids. It was a wonderfully inclusive gesture that has helped bring the family together. It was especially important because I was sixteen at the time, an age of awkwardness and wondering where you fit in.

My sister-in-law is a wonderful, warm person, who I sure would have gotten the message across some other way, but it did make a difference.

xxx

Wedding Party: Having a wedding party to me is a way of honoring your friends for being there for you. Both as a former bride, and as a former bridesmaid 4x over, the dress allows the other wedding guests to recognize that you are significant to the couple throughout the day (because they're not going to remember your face hours later at the reception), and also someone that they can be immediately identify if they need anything. I personally enjoy the camaraderie of being part of a wedding party and feeling like I stand out from the crowd because for whatever reason, the marrying couple wanted to honor me. That said, I may be biased because I've only had to buy one dress I considered ugly, and the brides have never abused the role. I don't find anything wrong with celebrating my friends' happiness by indulging in what I consider a nice tradition.

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Carolyn Hax: Thank you for playing, everyone.

For the record, the argument that matching is for the sake of the pictures? I still don't get it. I think it makes things easier on the guests but weird for pictures. IMHO.

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Richmond, Va.: Carolyn:

HELP!

I have really fallen for this wonderful man and we have been dating for 3 years and seriously looking at marriage. Here is the problem: He goes to church. I really don't mind the Christmas and Easter visits, but he insists on going every Sunday. It is so hard to plan weekends with his over-commitment to his church. On top of that he insists on "tithing" which means 10 percent of his income to this church. This drives me crazy! That is like a car payment! I love this man so much, but I don't know how to approach the subject of his crazed over-commitment to his faith or church. I mean, people don't do church like they used to, right? How can I drag this man out of his cave and get him to live in the real, modern world.

Carolyn Hax: Um. In my version of the modern world, each of us is entitled to live in whatever cave we damn please. Earth currently hosts about 6 billion people. Surely you can find one to love whose choices you respect.

Wow.

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In the bedroom: So for the first 15 years of marriage with my wife, with children, jobs, and a new home, our bedroom politics were what I assumed was the standard for most couples: I wanted to make love every night, and she was happy with once a week. But over the last year, it seems we have a role reversal. It's not that I find her less desirable -- I'm just tired . . . not in the mood. But now she's asking questions directly or indirectly: "Why don't you find me sexy?" "Are you having an affair?"

How do I explain this to her? Because, I love her as much as ever. And is this unprecedented? Am I the first male to not want sex every night? Is something wrong with me, or with my relationship?

Carolyn Hax: I think you're entitled to ask--and being encouraged to ask, by the change in her behavior--if there's anything behind this? Because you do love her and do find her sexy, but are tired/content/whatever. It may just be that she has noticed your waning interest. It could also be that she feels self-conscious about the way she's aging.

Just to be clear--you're not asking what's wrong with her. Nothing has to be wrong with anyone here. You're just asking for the bigger picture.

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No Name, No State: Hi Carolyn,

This fall I will marry a wonderful man with two children from a previous marriage. For many many reasons, we have already made the decision we will not be having children of our own. I have never been a woman who is gaga over babies like many of my own friends---I have never really felt a strong desire to have babies of my own. I know that providing a happy home, loving unconditionally, and caring for these two children as though they were my own (with none of the perks of being "real mom") will be a big enough job. I know we are making the right decision.

Sometimes however I find myself envious of his previous wife for getting to experience all of the wonders of pregnancy, childbirth, their early years with him and with them, things I know I will never experience. That envy is not enough to make me change my mind about our decision being right, but I hate it when that little green monster pops up in my thoughts. How do I banish it forever?

Carolyn Hax: The way you "banish" anything else--by facing it. What you're upset about is real, legitimate, intimate. She saw a side of him you never will. Of course, you'll see sides of him she never will, too, but in the milestone business, not all things are created equal. You're smart to admit that to yourself.

If you're sincere when you say it isn't enough to make you change your mind, then you have that to comfort you when the envy wells up. There's no magic to this. In fact, there's no banishing of unpleasant thoughts, which is why I used the quotation marks. You will have them again, you may have them forever. All you can do is put your choices to the brutal-honesty test now, before it's too late to change them, to make sure you're ready to handle the envy rationally when it comes.

Test every one of those many many reasons, out loud if you must. That's your shield against envy..

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re: Richmond:

There is so much amusing and slightly off about that post, but I do feel the need to point out - does the guy know that his girlfriend doesn't seem to -like- him all that much?

Carolyn Hax: Dunno, but I hope this will help persuade her.

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Arlington: Hi Carolyn --

I have a slightly odd question, made slightly awkward by asking it of an advice columnist: Where can I get advice? I have some things I'd really like to be able to discuss with someone, but none of my friends are interested, and most of them have claimed to have nothing to add. These aren't issues I can discuss freely with family. Therapists, as I understand it, aren't really there to provide advice. I'm not religious, so seeking out holy folk isn't an answer either.

Is there a source I've overlooked?

Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: I'm going to vote for a therapist. Yes, technically they're there to guide, not advise. But from your description of your friends' lack of interest/depletion of options, I'm deducing that you've been floating the same issue by them for a very, very long time. If so, it would make sense to bring the knot to a reputable pro and say, "I give up. Please help me untie this."

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North Brunswick, N.J.: Carolyn,

At what point do you tell someone the specifics of why you broke up with them? I broke up a few months ago with someone I'd been with for over a year. Truth is, he started to appear to be not that nice a person and did things over a period of months (to others, not me) that were unkind, deceptive or selfish. I concluded I didn't want to be with someone who treated people like this. Although while these things were happening I told him I didn't think he was right to act as he did, when I did break up, he appeared blindsided. I gave him the "my feelings have changed and I've come to realize we are too different" talks in different versions over these past few months, but he keeps hounding me for specifics. I just want him to leave me alone but am not comfortable giving him a laundry list of all the lousy things he has done because that doesn't seem very nice either. What to do?

Carolyn Hax: First, his pressure strikes me as inappropriate. If the past unkind behavior plus his current inappropriate behavior add up to feeling uncomfortable in any other way (i.e., if you feel at all threatened), trust it. He could well just be clueless about dealing with people, but since I'm not in a position to judge that, I have to throw out the worst case just so you know it's there.

Second, while I agree that a laundry list isn't a good idea, I don't believe it's your only alternative to "my feelings changed." You can also tell him succinctly that you found his treatment of others upsetting, and cite one or two of the situations where you had been moved to speak up. Remind him.

Then I think you need to say explicitly that you have nothing more to add and ask that he not contact you any more. It's not "nice," but it's time.

It is also, by the way, an argument for speaking the truth the first time someone makes it clear he wants to hear it.

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Herndon, Va.: Hi Carolyn:

I recently separated from my wife of 10 years. It's a completely amicable separation which has made this whole experience, while unfortunate, better. We are proceeding to divorce so we will not be getting back together. My question is about moving on. As much as I do love my ex as a friend, I am very much focused on moving on and looking forward with cautious optimism with my new life ahead of me.

My dilemma is with dating. I am torn about what to do there. What I am worried about is whether or not I am ready as well as being fair to any woman I may date. I can pretty much say I do not want to leap right into a serious relationship right out of the gate. However, I really would like to start dating and have some fun and female companionship. I guess what I am getting at is I do not want a "rebound" relationship as I feel that would be unfair to her and me. So, when is the right time to start dating, either for fun or socially after a separation?

Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: When you meet someone whose company you think you'd enjoy. Knowing you're both susceptible to and not interested in a rebound thing is better protection against one than not dating. That's because a -decision- not to date is not the same thing as not being receptive to someone. You're either receptive, or you're not. So, go with that you're feeling, but go consciously.

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Re: Weddings: Yay! Now let's talk about why it is not necessary to have a huge expensive engagement ring. I just got engaged and I have no interest in a diamond ring. (I'd rather my fiance pay off some bills so we can save for a house.) But whenever I mention having a fiance, all eyes immediately go to my hand...which is fine, I realize it is a reflex. But people always ask me "Where's the ring?" as if that is the only thing that makes it a valid engagement. What gives?

And I won't even broach the subject of engagement watches....lol!

Carolyn Hax: Scream, drop to your hands and knees, and start "looking" frantically for your "ring." When the doink who asked about it is distracted by helping you search, get up and walk away.

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Baltimore Md.: Carolyn, am I the only who doesn't get all this hysteria and ridicule surrounding the Eliot Spitzer case? So a man slept with a prostitute, what's the big deal? According to surveys, more than half of all males have an experience with prostitutes at least once in their lives, and in most industrialized countries it's perfectly legal. It amazes me how naive many people are. But also, what's with this judgmental attitude, why are Americans so quick to pass judgment? I would never judge the sexual preferences or lifestyles of others, what makes all these people (both reporters and readers) act so self-righteous and start cracking jokes? We have yet to find out what -they- like to do in bed -- and with whom.

Carolyn Hax: The whole things bugs me, too. If he was a good governor, then I don't much care that he wasn't a good husband--and, frankly, I'm not even ready to call him a bad husband because I don't know the first thing about these two people and their marriage. I've said it so many times before--people make their deals. I'm not going to assume anything about what their deal was. The rush to pick a side and stick to it really bugs me--"men are pigs," or, "politicians are all hypocrites," or, "women need to stop freezing out their husbands." Maybe all these apply here, maybe none. Generalizations are sellouts.

To answer your specific question, I think the root of hysteria here is that Spitzer sold himself as Mr. Law and Order. A self-professed Mr. Human Frailty would have weathered this better.

At least, I hope. If we're just ravaging people like a pack of wild dogs because it amuses us, then no one in his or her right mind will want to risk prominence of any sort, and we're going to get the political, intellectual, artistic and cultural leaders we deserve.

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Can't say, Not sure: At what point do I turn to therapy when I can't shake suicidal thoughts? Is there a frequency or ferocity that is a guideline?

Carolyn Hax: It's just that you're having these thoughts. That's the guideline. Disclaimer, this is well above my credential grade, so you really do need to get thyself to a professional regardless, to a hotline if you do think you're a danger to yourself, and to 911 if that danger is imminent.

But even if you don't believe you are a danger to yourself, it's still possible that the dwelling on these thoughts itself--i.e., the obsessiveness and/or compulsion--is something you can treat. So, this amateur urges, please call a pro.

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advice advice: A life coach may be a better idea than a therapist for someone looking for advice. It's a dumb-sounding name (I always imagine they wear whistles and headsets) but some of these people (think Martha Beck) are very good. They're like very practical therapists who don't focus on your past but help you think through the options that are in front of you right now very constructively and are good at helping you develop good skills of your own.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. As always, awareness of self and vetting of pro are the keys to it all.

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For North Brunswick: And be prepared for him to challenge your dislike of his mistreatment of others: i.e., he might claims that you are too uptight, you are over reacting, whatever. Don't get into that argument. Simply say his treatment of others was not acceptable to you, and you wish no further contact with him. Say it once, hang up, walk away, and don't respond to any further attempts by him to engage you about it. the worst trap women fall into, and then end up in bad relationships, is the feeling that they must be nice, and that they have to defend their reasons to end the relationship. The best way to end it, is to END it. Meaning, again, you say you want no further contact, and your actions back that up: you don't take his calls, you don't respond to emails, you don't open the door and you call the cops if he's outside ringing the bell.

Carolyn Hax: Excellent. (Except that men fall into this trap, too.) Words to underscore: "Your treatment of others was not acceptable TO ME." It is not open to debate that way, which someone can then point out when the other tries to debate. "I said it wasn't acceptable TO ME, so there's nothing more to discuss." Followed by your point about no further contact. Thanks.

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New England: Love your chats.

I am very concerned about my marriage. I was wondering what you think about a recent scenario that occurred. Basically, my husband refuses to sit up front in the car with me. We have a toddler, and when he was little, my husband would sit in the back with him in case the little one got fussy. Now he is a toddler, sitting face-forward, and I feel very uncomfortable shuttling the family around like a chauffeur (I do all of the driving). I approached my husband last night, asking in the kindest language possible if he could start sitting in the front with me. He replied a firm "no." I'm very upset by this. We've had our communication issues for sure, but I feel his inability to follow a basic request nervewracking.

Any thoughts? Is this a major red flag?

Thank you.

Carolyn Hax: Did you present your basic request with any explanation for why it mattered to you? Did you ask him to explain his, "No," or did you stop your reasoning process at the point of recognition of, "I did not get what I want"?

Both of you care about this. Neither of you, apparently, knows why the other cares about this. I'm concerned about your marriage, too, but not because one of you rides in the back seat. Talk to him. Dukes down. Share thoughts and feelings.

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To Bedroom: I've heard that women's sexual "peak" (sorry, can't think of a better word) is later in life than men's. Sometime in their 40s is common, which 15 years of marriage might put this couple right at. Of course, communication with your spouse is always good, but Bedroom should know that biology could also be in play here.

Carolyn Hax: Mebbe. Thanks.

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Somewhere, Somehow: Carolyn:

Brother is getting ready to marry a woman, with whom he has (and has expressed to me often) deep personality conflicts. Brother is not even sure he wants to marry the girl, they have been in serious couples counseling, broken up a thousand times, but yet, they are limping towards planning the wedding.

Brother expresses his unhappiness often to me. I finally said, nicely and roundaboutly, either put up or shut up: either marry her and shut it, or move on. Instead, more angst. Should I be more explicit re: put up or shuddup? should I give my opinion (have not yet) concerning their ability to make it as a couple? Or should I tell him I don't want to hear it anymore? (only I think I am the only one he talks to, very buttoned down guy).

Side note, I like future SIL. I think she is very sweet with a very nice sense of humor.

LUV YA!

Carolyn Hax: Well, at least that's something--the bride is at least a nice person.

There's not much you can do to stop someone from making a mistake he's determined to make. You can, though, shift your take on why he's sharing your unhappiness. You see it as a chance to fix things. Maybe he doesn't want it fixed, maybe he just wants to talk. Let him talk (and of course drive you nuts). Ask questions instead of offering ideas--example, "What do you think you should do?"; "What would be your perfect outcome?" or even, "Is there something you want me to do or say?" and "WHAT DO YOU WANT?" Leading questions.

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Suffering in Seattle: hi Carolyn -

Online only please.

I am a happily married man, but for one fact: my wife and I can't have kids. We've been struggling with this for the past 3 years. Somewhat surprisingly, it has brought us closer together as a married couple.

Here's the thing: I don't know how to help us get past this, or even IF we can get past it. My wife still cries herself to sleep every night. I hold her and console her the best I can - I have even cried with her (not ashamed to admit it). Seeing her like this is just torturous.

We're financially strapped from trying everything we could try. We're considering adoption, but it's too much to think about at this point. I have convinced my wife to seek out therapy, and she is. It doesn't seem to help, but it's not hurting either.

Meanwhile, everyone around us is pregnant. Friends, family, co-workers... you name it. And everything we see/hear/do gets filtered through the fact that we can't get pregnant.

I know life isn't always supposed to be fair, but this is just a punch in the nuts. I'm having a hard time sleeping, and just have lost all my zest for life. I keep the brave face on for my wife as best as possible, but I'm just a husked out shell. A strong breeze can blow me over.

Any "outside the box" advice for me? for us?

fyi: We've taken a vacation. We've sought couples therapy. We've switched doctors. We've grieved for the loss (still are). We may adopt, we may foster parent. Don't know yet. We've done a lot of the things that are supposed to make it better.

Carolyn Hax: That is a punch in the nuts. I'm sorry.

Since you say you've gone through the trying and self-nurturing and grieving, it looks like you're at the point where the best thing for both of you would be to get outside yourselves. Get out there. Give. Care. Find need, need even greater than your own, and bust yourselves to help. Your lives have let you down, and you can't fix that (or at least aren't ready to), so get out there and fix -something.- Take the free time you feel you've been cursed with, and make it someone else's blessing. Make up a whole new riff on the word "family" that is yours and your wife's alone.

Wish I had something better. But it's still on you--you can see this as easy for me to say, or better than crying yourselves to sleep.

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Not just Mr. Law and Order: Mr. Spitzer specifically prosecuted and sent to jail people who did what he allegedly did. He also may have used public funds to make it happen (big state governors travel with staff, security details, etc.)

Having said that -- I think what fascinates a lot of people about this is not the adultery or even the prostitution but the danger factor -- what motivates a guy to do something that risky when he has so much to lose and, presumably, many safer options for scratching that particular itch.

What I can't get over is the blogosphere trashing his wife, suggesting either that she is to blame for not giving it up at home or has betrayed all of womanhood by standing with him at the press conferences. What's up with that?

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for sharpening the specifics. I knew he had been hot to prosecute Wall Street types, but didn't have at fingertips that he had personally gone after prostitution as will, even though that would certainly be part of the office.

I don't want to turn this into a splinter pack of wild dogs, I just wanted to post the clarification of outrages. Thanks.

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London, U.K.: Dear Carolyn

My mother has made friends with my ex. She invites him round for family dinners, emails him, etc. I have told her this makes me uncomfortable and informed her that if I ever come round for dinner and he is there, I will leave immediately, but she continues. One could argue that this was her own business, but she also is constantly reproaching me for breaking up with the 'poor dear sweet boy' and wondering aloud why I am 'so fussy' or 'what on earth could he have done to make you think you want to break up with him' (erm, the poor sweet boy has an ego the size of a small continent, and I got sick of it).

I'm really not sure whether the ex is trying to get me back via my mother or whether these comments are all her own, as it were, but any suggestions as to how to get it through my mother's head that this is NOT her future son-in-law and that really, she should mind her own business?

Carolyn Hax: While it's tempting to list the fictions that would get your mom to back off--"He's impotent," "He's gay," "I dumped him because he said he was afraid I'd age to look like you, Mom"--none of these would fix the problem, which is that your mom wouldn't know a boundary if it invited her to dinner with her ex's mother.

So, you're just going to have to draw those boundaries, and enforce them. You won't stay for dinner if the ex is there. You won't respond to efforts to talk about the ex. If she muses aloud about your bad judgment in dumping the ex, you talk about your new curtains. Etc. Sorry you got the short straw on mothers who grasp respect.

If the ex does approach you, by the way, feel free to point out that while he's free to date your mother, you won't be joining them for dinner.

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New York, N.Y.: I've heard that people shouldn't consider having kids unless they're 100% for it. I'm not. I'm about 49%. Is the answer as simple as that?

Carolyn Hax: That's madness. How can anyone be 100 percent for something they've never experienced firsthand?

Unless it's vague, like, 100 percent for the -right- to do something. But I digress.

I would say instead that people shouldn't consider having kids until they're ready to back their own decision 100 percent, no matter where it takes you. Parenthood is no place for part-timers.

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Expecting: Carolyn -

I am a LONGtime follower of the chats and columns (like 8-9 years or so), and I diligently read the chats every Friday.

I used to write you about dating woes - now I am 10 weeks pregnant with my first baby with my loving husband of more than 2 years. Things are going great, and I'm starting to hear more and more about various birth options.

The problem is that I can't seem to find an UNbiased opinion anywhere. One camp is "natural childbirth at home or you're evil," another is "supervised childbirth in a hospital or you're stupid," or you get "c-sections are the bomb, and I don't know why anyone would even attempt a vaginal birth."

And don't even get me started on the breastfeeding "literature." (Anyone who is physically able should breastfeed exclusively for 12 months or they're evil and selfish.)

I certainly will discuss it in detail with my OB, but even OBs vary widely in their takes on the matter.

What's an expectant mother to do?

Carolyn Hax: Tune it out, trust your body. Your build, the baby's size, the baby's health and your health are four variables that affect the kind of birth you will have, and none of them is under the control of any true believers. So, let your OB know you want to get your childbirth education (month 6 or 7, I think) from an unbiased, nonjudgmental source, and develop your plan accordingly. And get used to saying, "Thanks, I'll consider that," as a means of deflecting all but the pushiest unsolicited advisers. Congratulations!

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Downtown D.C.: Good morning Carolyn! When I was 23 I moved to California, where I joined a local soccer club and met Peter, a 46 year old man. Peter and I were friends for nearly a year before a romantic relationship began (because even though there was initially some chemistry, I was super hesitant about dating someone so much older). Months later, I am totally over the age thing and in a very happy and healthy relationship. The problem is my family and friends back on the East Coast (which is where I am living now). They are convinced that Peter must have ulterior motives and that he must have issues if he can't find a woman his own age and is resorting to dating a 25 year old. They also raise other issues including having to take care of an old man in twenty years, the possibility of future kids having a very old dad, etc. My family's opinion is very important to me - and yes, there are some complications with dating older men, but how can I convince them that Peter is the right man for me?

Carolyn Hax: When you stop feeling the need to try, that's when you'll be most convincing. You're right to weigh complications like the possibility of becoming a caregiver, and certainly make it clear you're open to other possibilities you haven't thought about.

However, for the rest, be steady in your request to people that they trust you not to be naive or rash, and to make the best decision for you, should you even get to that point.

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Boston, Mass.: Hi Carolyn, thanks for answering my question. So lately (past year or two), I've noticed that I become very worked up about stupid little things. People standing too close in public, or behind me in line, when I drive, I become irritated and inexplicably frustrated. I never show it, I just sort of walk around with it.

Outwardly I'm very upbeat and positive most of the time.

I tried to figure out what it might be. I'm 30 and I feel like life isn't going how I wanted it to. I feel like by now I should've met someone, I should be settled into SOME sort of concrete something. I find myself feeling like the slow kid in school when outwardly I KNOW it's stupid to worry about things like this.

Most stuff I get mad about are completely out of my control. I work out, which helps but how do I stop getting worked up about the little things?

Carolyn Hax: You answered it yourself. You included this: "I'm 30 and I feel like life isn't going how I wanted it to. I feel like by now I should've met someone, I should be settled into SOME sort of concrete something. I find myself feeling like the slow kid in school when outwardly I KNOW it's stupid to worry about things like this."

So, you know that feeling dissatisfied with your place in life is coming out as irritability with little stuff over which you have no control.

All you need to do is connect the last two dots: You're frustrated at your lack of control over the main elements of your life, and, through the filter of this already out-of-control sensation, minor irritants are having an outsize effect on you.

You work out, which shows you've already connected this last dot at least subconsciously--you're taking control in an area you can and that has a direct effect where you need it (blowing off some of the steam). Now, finish it. Look at the big pieces that are making you so unhappy, and start breaking them down into things you are and aren't in a position to change. Then start with the easier things to change and get moving.

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Pleasantville, USA: Hi Carolyn - love the chats! I had an interesting conversation with my mom this weekend re: "my generation" and relationships (I'm 30). My mom doesn't understand why it seems to take us so long to commit to a partner. I have lots of girlfriends who have been with the same guy for three, four, and five years, but still aren't sure he's the right person, avoid the topic of marriage, and get flat-out panicked when it does come up. They do all want to end up married with children, and they are starting to stress the biological clock thing a bit, but can't seem to pull the trigger either on making a commitment or looking for someone else they want to commit to.

My mom thinks that when you're with the right person, "you just know." She doesn't understand how one can still be confused after 5 years, or why one would stick around if serious doubts lingered after that much time together. She thinks things are "much more complicated" for our generation. For the record, she met my dad at 14 and married him at 19. Many of her friends did the same, and are all still married happily (yes, I grew up in Pleasantville). So...why are things more complicated for my friends and me? Are we making it harder than it needs to be? Or were things just simpler 35 years ago?

Carolyn Hax: Well, people are the same, so I think it's problematic to dismiss things as "simpler then." People were just as likely to be strong or needy, optimistic or depressed or moody, reliable or flaky, content or chronically not, perfect for their roles or hopelessly miscast in them.

At the same time, the range of choices was narrower, and so expectations reflected that. Certainly that's a point in the Mom-had-it-easy column. But if pressure to conform doesn't create complications, I don't know what does.

I think the more productive way to look at it is to ask your mom to think what she might have done had she be given a modern set of options. Would she still have married at 19 the man she met at 14? Or would her projected worldliness (and of course her longer-drawn-out adolescence, which I haven't even factored in yet) made her see her life as a creature too expansive and dynamic to fence in so tightly and soon?

It could be that judging a three-to-five-year waiting period on a potential mate by the standards of two generations ago is just flawed. With people asking more of their lives, they have more they need to know (and, often, see for themselves) about the person who might share it with them.

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Carolyn Hax: Now, having said that, I think it's essential to make the distinction between waiting to see how something plays out, and being stalled by indecision. Certainly both happen.

And, certainly, the two are getting confused for each other in almost epidemic proportions--I think anyone who spends time in this forum regularly has exhausted all patience for people who have rationalized themselves into such a corner that they're in long-term relationships with people they neither like, trust nor respect. (See opening post.)

I also think life (or the perception of, at least) has gotten so long and changeable that people are growing more comfortable with serial monogamy, either as research for--or an outright substitute for--full-on, married-at-19-and-celebrating-our-60th-anniversary monogamy. Maybe we're all just creating something in response to changing times and haven't yet adapted the fairy tale to help us explain it to our kids. Certainly the old one wasn't doing it for many, if not most of the people who tried it.

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Re dating older soccer players: Just tell em soccer players go longer than normal people. Oh, by the way thanks for the chat and are you heading over to Lewis Black's chat?

Carolyn Hax: You're telling me to go away, aren't you.

Cool. Bye, thanks, and type to you next week, preferably about something other than prostitution, which may not be humanity's pride and joy but which clearly isn't going anywhere any time soon, is it?

Because (I can't leave without posting this):

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Charlotte, N.C.: If nothing else, what happened with Eliot Spitzer has exploded the myth of the high price call girl. No, the guy isn't paying the big bucks to get a woman with the body of a Hooters waitress (nothing against Hooters waitresses, it's just a convenient icon) and a master's degree in particle physics who is also multilingual, spent summers in Paris, and spends weekends volunteering at a soup kitchen. No, the infamous object of Spitzer's attention was a girl from New Jersey with a high school degree, a myspace page, admitted drug use, and a vocabulary that includes the phrase, "like, dude, do you want the sex"? In other words, neither good nor bad, just normal. A normal girl. So what makes someone risk it all on normal, when at home sits a woman who is, by all accounts, rather special? As a 40-something woman myself, I'm genuinely curious and I bet I speak for many women like me. Our competition isn't a fantasy girl, it's the kid next door. Does it truly come down to age and looks? I'm not sure if I should be relieved or worried.

Carolyn Hax: Maybe the competition is competition precisely for her lack of ability to compete. But that almost seems too pat.

So, on that note. Seeya. Thanks again for your endurance.

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yikes!: you said, "And, certainly, the two are getting confused for each other in almost epidemic proportions--I think anyone who spends time in this forum regularly has exhausted all patience for people who have rationalized themselves into such a corner that they're in long-term relationships with people they neither like, trust nor respect. (See opening post.)"

So wait? If I read your forum, then I must not like, trust or respect my partner? Or would you make a distinction between those of us who are asking and those of us who simply enjoy the reading and occasionally the reflection on that that may/may not apply to our situation.

Carolyn Hax: Yikes, I hope you misread, and I didn't mis-write--I can't really see where, on the fly. I meant we collectively as chat-dwellers have lost our patience with the people who do this, because we keep seeing it several times a session. I hope that clears it up.

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