Carolyn Hax Live: Noisy Neighbors, Dating Workaholics, Birthday Presents and, ahem, Adjusting

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 4, 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.

A transcript follows.

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Alexandria, VA: Help with condo neighbors!!: Carolyn, I have a problem. The people above me in my condo are loud. Not that they play music or scream, but they walk like elephants. They also have a large chocolate lab retriever... with a lot of energy. I have asked them several times to be cognizant of the way they walk; no change. Also, even when they are sleeping, I can hear the dog roaming. I haven't slept through the night in over two months. I know other people in the building are upset by similar problems: also, are carpeting rules say 80% coverage, but no thickness requirement. Therefore, even if they do have rugs, which I doubt, I can hear every drawer open and close, every time they have sex, and each time they move a chair. Recently I put a list of "Tips on How to Be a Better Neighbor" on every door in the building and on the main tables. People are ripping them down. This morning one man saw me replacing a sign and told me off, saying that I should go live in a house if I can't deal. I told him it's the people who don't respect the close quarters of a condo who should live in a house. I also explained that these weren't rules, but suggestions or tips, and perhaps he was lucky to be a great neighbor himself and have great neighbors. I now feel terrible and is if everyone will hate me. I just want to be able to sleep through the night. I don't mind the fact that I will likely NEVER have a Saturday or Sunday where I can just relax on my couch without what sounds like wrestling above me. Any thoughts? I'm desperate. I love my home. I don't want to move, I've contacted the HOA about the noise, and getting a board resolution for carpet padding or limiting large dogs will take forever... and probably not work given the attitude of the man this morning.

Carolyn Hax: I think you need to think about what you're asking of your neighbors: "Walk gently." "Get your dog to walk gently."
This is their home. While I sympathize with your unhappiness with your noisy life, I don't sympathize with your campaign against your upstairs neighbors. They're not putting their dog in tap shoes.
It sounds like the builder is to blame, and that carpeting is the answer. You may be able to solve this by offering to pay for padding under your upstairs neighbors' carpets, and if they don't have carpets, then you can kindly point out the 80 percent rule. That is, if you haven't [cheesed] them off too badly for them to be interested in cooperating with you at this point.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

A friend invited a bunch of us out to dinner tonight to celebrate his 25th birthday. I just found out that, apparently, I am the only one attending who has not gotten a gift for him.

I don't know about you, but, I stopped receiving birthday presents from anyone except my mother when I was like, 15. Like anyone, I enjoy giving (and receiving...) gifts when they're thoughtful and truly heartfelt, regardless of the day of the year. But it just seems a bit silly to me to give a grown man a present just because it's his birthday. It honestly never even occurred to me to get him something! I mean, that's why we're taking him out to dinner, right?

Am I just being stingy? Will it be extremely tacky for me to be the only one to show up tonight empty handed? What do you think of all this?

Carolyn Hax: I will tell you what I think, with the caveat that it is one opinion of someone who gets regularly shouted down on this issue: I'm always grateful to people who feel comfortable enough not to bring me anything. If it is your instinct not to bring a gift tonight, then don't bring a gift. If, however, you anticipate that you'll then feel too self-conscious to have a good time, then find something small and easily consumed--chocolate, alcohol, coffee beans, whatever suits the b-day boy's tastes.


RE: Help with condo neighbors!!: Wear earplugs at night. That's what I do. I can still hear my alarm in the morning, but they muffle a lot of other sounds.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. I also meant to suggest a white-noise machine, but I was taking too long with the post already.


Coworkers and such: Hi Carolyn,

This sounds dumb. Perhaps an Amy Joyce question if she still ran her chat...

I have a male coworker who is constant readjusting himself, blatantly. As in, 10 times in a 5 minute conversation in my office. We were a team of guys, but a re-org put several more women on the team this week. Our HR is in an office 150 miles away (no local HR, oddly/stupidly enough), so they don't seem to be a viable alternative.

I find his practice rude and disgusting. I foresee harassment lawsuits now that there's women on the team.

How can I handle this? Leave a subtle bottle of Gold Bond powder on his desk? (Supervisors are across the country in Calif., HR is 150 miles away, no "power" locally..) I'd feel stupid saying "dude, quit it!" even though it's annoying... Amy Joyce may have moved on from "Life at Work," but we do offer Lily Garcia's "How to Deal" column and chats. A message from your friends here at

Carolyn Hax: A little nod to the lunch-at-your-desk crowd.
I'm not qualified to address the potential-harassment angle, so I would still suggest running it by HR. They may be off-site but your office is still under their jurisdiction.
As for the, "Dude, quit it!" angle, I think your best option is to accept this as an off-color thread in life's rich tapestry.


Re: Birthday: Actually, if b-day boy invited you and other friends out, HE should be treating all of you.

You imply that HE invited everyone and THEY will be paying for him.

I know that's not how it will work, but the person who invites should be the person who pays.

Carolyn Hax: I know, this is a whole other issue--the "Come pay to celebrate my birthday with me" invitation. I hope he at least chose someplace they would all normally go if they were meeting out for no special occasion.


Rockville: As someone who lives in a condo where noise carries very easily, I can sympathize with this poster to a small degree, but she needs to be tolerant. I had an upstairs neighbor who was very sensitive to noise and constantly complained about and to her upstairs neighbors. Until one day, when she was in my condo, she heard her children walking around her place. She was very surprised to hear how loud it was (her kids were not running, just walking). One guideline in our condo is to be considerate of your neighbors, but also to be tolerant. It is a condo after all, and noise will carry. If you can't deal with some noise, you need to find other living arrangements.

Carolyn Hax: Well said, thanks.


Coping Strategy: I moved to D.C. in Oct. First roommate flipped out (literally); found new place; now the guy is selling the place, time to find a new spot... got offered a full-time job from my temp gig but at $1k less per year than I was making... is it a sign? should I go back South where I came from or are these just D.C. ways!?!

Carolyn Hax: First roommate--cheerleader? Circus performer? Coin?
If you're looking for reasons to leave, then leave. If you're looking to evaluate a city based on three random incidents, then I would at least wait till you accrue a more statistically significant sample.
Welcome to D.C.!


Condos and Ear Plugs: What kind do you suggest that won't drive a person nuts while sleeping? Meaning: that are comfortable? This kind worked for me - not for a noisy neighbor, but for cubicle sanity!

Carolyn Hax: As always, this is buy-at-your-own risk proposition.


Today's Column: I applaud your advice to the gay man in today's column who was not invited to the rehearsal dinner. However, I noticed Nick's cartoon kind of made it known that he didn't agree with your advice. I just wanted to see if he had an opinion on what the person should have done instead of confront his friends?

For the record, I think it's great that you and Nick can juxtapose your disagreements like that. I really enjoy your columns and his cartoons!

Carolyn Hax: Thanks! It's interesting that you had that take on Nick's cartoon--he did agree with the advice, and we co-wrote that cartoon.
In general, when Nick and I disagree, it's rare that one can't win the other over. When that happens, usually I'll write in some nod to Nick's opinion. I figure if he disagrees and I can't budge him, then there will be readers who will see it his way, and so my argument wouldn't be complete without accounting for that.


Fairfax, Va: Re: coping strategy.

If the full-time job offers benefits you didn't get as a temp employee (e.g. health care, 401k, etc.) it could actually be a raise, despite the annual salary figure coming in 1k lower.

Carolyn Hax: Right right, thanks.


Presents?: I think that we have gone overboard with presents. It's pretty sad that when my second niece was born 2 years after her sister that they didn't need any new clothes for the baby (and had to tell friends before the shower) since they had so many unused clothes from the first child that they had enough for the second child. If the person feels self-conscious, they should just go to the card store/drug store and find a very card that correctly depicts their relationship (humorous, serious, religious, as appropriate for their relationship).

The other thing that often works for me, is to take digital photos of the event and afterwards send a CD with all the photos. Friends like to have pictures, especially nowadays, digital ones that take up less space, can be stored on the computer and called up as needed and reprinted as needed. Memories are priceless and irreplaceable.

Carolyn Hax: Perfect, thanks.
Though agree as I do with the over-gifting issue, I can't go so far as to be "sad" about a community outpouring for a new baby. Sure, yes, some of that money would be better diverted to children who arrive to no fanfare at all, but that's something the lucky families can do.
In case anyone's now wondering how to buy a baby gift in light of this, give with a mind to future reuse--books, practical clothing, well-made toys.


Shangri La: Hi Carolyn,

Love the chats, and glad to be able to attend a live one for a change.

My friend wants us to buy her house. Badly. Way below market value. In 45 days. Emotionally we both want her house, and it's possible, but it would take a ton of financial contortions that I'm not quite sure I want to do at this time. 2 hr commutes, borrowing from in-laws, etc. My brain and heart are having major battles here. It's a once in a lifetime chance, or so my heart says.

Who should win?

Carolyn Hax: I don't think there were two-hour commutes in Shangri-La.
This is also a business transaction with a friend, which is always fraught. Don't do a thing without a professional appraisal and inspection. Your friend should be insisting on it.
And--in 45 days, your friend could have a closed sale on her house just by pricing it a little bit below "market value." The reason all these houses are sitting is that sellers are asking prices based on what they want to get, or need to get. Price a little lower than what other shoppers in that neighborhood have been willing to pay, with a realistic knowledge of how this particular house compares, and sellers (including your friend) will get traffic. Another thing to take very very seriously. If your friend just wants someone to keep her house "in the family," then be able to believe with a straight face that she's willing to pay tens of thousands for that special accommodation.
Finally: I am not a real estate agent. I just know this by moving too much. So don't take my word for it, run all this by real professionals.


constant readjustment: I am amazed at how many guys do this in the presence of other people. It's not just in the workplace - ever watch a baseball game? Is there a guy out there who can explain this to us? Are these guys checking to make sure their bits and pieces are still there? Or is it a not so subtle way of reminding women in the room that the bits and pieces are in fact there? Is wearing pants really that uncomfortable on a daily basis? Does it make a difference if they're pleated pants?

Carolyn Hax: I like these as rhetorical questions. Or, I know, as verse:
Ever watch
a baseball game?
Is there
a guy out there
who can explain this
to us?
Are these guys checking to make sure their
and pieces
are still there?
Or is it a
not so subtle way
of reminding women
in the room
that the bits and pieces
are in fact
Is wearing pants really that uncomfortable
on a daily basis?
Does it make a difference if they're
pleated pants?


Rhode Island: My contribution to the condo thread. We rented in a co-op building in NYC. Our downstairs neighbor was playing multiple tvs/stereos so loud that we could barely hear our own. So I go downstairs one evening to ask him to turn it down. Clouds of pot smoke billow out. The guy was clearly just stoned out of his mind. And he was our vet. We had just that week put our cat to sleep, in part because his misdiagnosis and subsequent treatment had spurred the growth of tumors. An awkward moment to be sure.

So no advice. Except to say to could be worse - in addition to loud, your neighbors could be drug addled cat-killers.

Carolyn Hax: I can see why you moved to Rhode Island.


Re: Presents: I'll announce my bias as an artsy, quirky person with artsy, quirky friends. Nonetheless, gift etiquette discussions make me sad because they seem to focus on the material object and amount spent on it. My favorite gifts are anything that proves someone knows me. I'll still drink the last-minute liquor, but something simple and thoughtful like a mix cd or "sculpture" made of random objects duct-taped together (my favorite gift!) means more than even the fanciest generic gift.

Carolyn Hax: Always has, and always will. This please-don't-give-me-gifts thread is about mandatory, occasion-driven gifts, not the ones lovingly chosen or assembled with the particular tastes of the recipient in mind, which are always appropriate and appreciated, even just to celebrate that it's Tuesday.


to Shangri La: You buy a house because you love it, the location's great and you're ready. I didn't hear any of that in your letter.

You absolutely do NOT buy a house to save a friend and because she's pressuring you. No no no no no!!!! That can only end badly for you.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.


Arlington, Va.: What happens to an adjustment deferred?

Does it itch like ants in a Texas swarm?

Does it heat up and suddenly feel too warm?

Does it point at a pocket with a too-full load?

Or does it explode?

(My fervent apologies to Mr. Hughes and his estate.)

Carolyn Hax: I'm sure he'd be honored.


Re guy who "adjusts" himself:: I once worked with a guy who couldn't keep his hands off himself. It seemed completely unconscious on his part, so nobody construed it as harassment, but boy, was it unnerving. Finally, one of the other guys said, "What's the matter, Tom? You got crotch crickets?" That put an end to it.

Carolyn Hax: I'm just handing this chat over.


"community outpouring for a new baby": on the baby shower subject ... I hated almost every minute of my wedding shower and I dread the idea of a baby shower. I get that people are happy for my husband and me but the idea of a shower makes me really uncomfortable. We do very well for ourselves and don't need anything and I feel silly. I get, and appreciate, that people want to do something nice for us, but it makes us both really uncomfortable. We'd much rather have a card or even a casserole come delivery time than a mountain of gifts. How can I tactfully convey that to my (well-meaning) best friend and mother? I feel like an ingrate.

Carolyn Hax: Tell them outright that you appreciate their generous impulses but that you Do Not Want a Shower. If they would like to organize meal deliveries, a freezer-filler shower, or a collect-toys-and-clothing-for-the-needy shower, you will gladly serve as guest of honor.


Tampa, FL: Hi Carolyn,

I have a date tonight, and I really don't want to go. I'm sure the guy is fine and all that but I think cynicism may be taking over. I just don't think I can keep doing this because my self-esteem can't take it. Or maybe I just pick the wrong men, i.e. the ones that seem nice initially and then out...weird. Or both. I don't have unrealistic or fairy tale expectations, and I don't date constantly. I just don't want to find out during appetizers that my date is a crazy and thinks talking about sex with the ex is appropriate. (Yes, that did happen.) Or what's happening as of late is that I really like the guy but he never calls me back.

Ugh I sound like such a cliche. I think I need to do the guy a favor and cancel it. He really is nice but I don't want to let things that aren't his fault cloud my judgment. It's not his problem I'm bad at this I guess.

Carolyn Hax: Well, I'd say keep the date tonight--your expectations are in the toilet, and that's not the worst place for them to be. You can of course cancel if you feel strongly about it; you can also go halfway and change the terms from dinner to just a drink.
You may not need a break from dating, but instead a higher bar: After tonight, you can decide not to accept any dates that you aren't really excited about. At least not for a while.


D.C.: My boyfriend works. A lot. He works late most nights, including Fridays and some weekends. He is in a demanding field and I know there is some degree of "paying his dues" at this early stage in his career. But I also get the sense that some of the extra hours are self-imposed.

He always says that he would rather be with me than be working overtime. But he also seems to think that that simple statement by him negates any rights on my part to express unhappiness about the situation.

It bugs me because I don't get to see him, it makes it hard for me to make weekend plans, and because when he IS at work he is not very accessible, either by e-mail or phone. It leaves me feeling like the third wheel in the relationship sometimes, behind his job.

This is someone to whom I am not engaged but who I could see myself being with forever. How do I work this out NOW so that we are both happier and neither of us holds any resentment? This is the primary source of conflict in what has been a really wonderful 3-year relationship.

(And of course I mean that we need to fix this from within, not just "wait it out until he's at a higher level at work and can have someone else stay late for him." You laugh, but that's the advice some friends have given me)

Thank you and have a wonderful weekend!

Carolyn Hax: Why is it a source of conflict? I'm not being obtuse or naive, this is a legit question.
You know his hours. You know his profession. You know his inclination about which he'll choose when it's up to him whether to stay at work or go home. You also know what the result is when you talk to him about it.
So. Can you live with the terms on which you're seeing him now? And if you can't, then what do you expect will change? The only way to "fix" something is for him to change what he does, or for you to change what you think. Is that realistic to expect here?
You scoff, but "wait it out until he's at a higher level at work and can have someone else stay late for him" may well be the answer.


To Tampa, FL: One of my girlfriends and I always said we'd accept a date if we thought one of 3 things might result from it - a good time, a good meal, or a good story! Plus, I'm hearing some signs of depression beneath the words, Carolyn - worth exploring, in the event it is present and affecting choices.

Carolyn Hax: I wondered at that, too, and should have done so out loud. thanks.


Fairfax: My problem is that I don't feel particularly warmly towards my in-laws. I don't actively dislike them, but I just feel pretty neutral towards them. I am nice to them, and see them during the appropriate occasions, because this makes my husband happy. But I guess my MIL has noticed that I am not very affectionate with them, and now is insisting that I call her mom, and be more huggy kissy. I just can't get myself to be fake about it. It is one thing to be cordial and friendly, but another to have to put on a complete act. How do I navigate this without alienating them and without having to be someone I am not?

Carolyn Hax: Tough one. Her pressuring you is really inappropriate, and in fact bound to make things worse. On the other hand, you don't get any say in her behavior, so no matter what boundary she ignores you still have the mandate you have given yourself: Make your husband happy while trying to remain true to yourself.
So, I think the place to start navigating is with the name. Either suck it up and use "mom," or, if it just rankles, say you feel strongly about calling only one person on earth "mom," but would be happy to help her find a name that you both feel good about. (If she objects your choice to honor your mom, then that will both help explain why you don't feel warmly toward your MIL, and why an ideal solution here might be aiming too high.)
Then I would move on to the affection problem. I think you're right to trace this to her/their picking up on your neutrality. So, if you want to keep having a relationship with your in-laws on your terms, vs, faking one on theirs, then you're going to have to do a better job of finding things to like about them, and showing it. Start with the traits your husband inherited from them, and that you admire in him. Also, find a few areas of commonality that you can use to extend and animate your conversations with them. That will have to warm things up a little bit ... right?


Baby shower: Would it be entirely inappropriate to ask people to put the money they would have spent on a gift into a college savings trust fund for the baby? They can feel good about doing something nice for you, and the present is the best one a kid could get. It seems like a good idea on the surface, but I anticipate a Haxian response involving something along the lines of "do not use your friends' good intentions to corral them into becoming your personal ATM machines." Do I predict correctly, or have I hit on a good solution to this problem?

Carolyn Hax: You predicted correctly. I think it would be great if friends and relatives offered to open a 529 account for the baby, and, if there already is one open, then it's perfectly fine to say so and offer to provide information to that one person who is inquiring. However, it's just not okay to solicit monetary donations. The shower concept is already veering close to a "Buy me this" shakedown. Certainly expectant parents can assemble a ruthlessly practical registry (diapers, onesies, all-purpose non-extravagant stroller) and use their savings on these necessities to deposit money in a college account themselves.


London, UK: Recently my mother in law, who I get along great with and like very much, offered to loan us quite a lot of money without interest or at a very low exchange rate in order to help us with our mortgage (our interest rates are about to go up).

My husband has been pushing me to accept this offer, and on paper I can see that it makes a lot of sense. It could even be a good deal for his Mom, since she could earn higher interest through us than through her bank.

But I can't shake feeling really uncomfortable about the whole thing. I just fundamentally don't like the idea of entangling myself financially with family members. I feel that there are too many emotions involved and I would rather have a very impersonal relationship with anyone I am in a financial transaction with. This feeling is exacerbated by my sense that what she really wants to do is GIVE us the money, and she may not even "allow" us to pay her back when we want to.

The weird thing is, normally she's very sensitive about not imposing herself on us - we have to work really hard to encourage her to come on holidays with us, which we ALL really enjoy, because she feels like she's intruding.

My husband gets what I'm saying, but he just doesn't think the qualms outweigh the potentially mutual financial benefit.

What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: This might be the one occasion where I advise against someone with qualms. Take the loan; structure it so she benefits; make the payments religiously--and electronically, if you can, so she can't tear up a check; deposit the savings immediately in a liquid savings account; and pay off your MIL through a refinance if you get the slightest hint that this was a bad idea.
I also don't normally advise getting into money arrangements with relatives, but this is parent to child, a potentially sound transaction (i.e., keeping wealth in the family sted giving it away to banks), and there could also be inheritance benefits. If your MIL is in the States and is wealthy, she could be looking at losing a lot of this money to taxes upon her death. As I disclaimed with the real estate question, I'm not a licensed pro in this area, and I would strongly advise getting professional advice before you make this decision (lawyer and accountant).


Silver Spring, MD: To Tampa: We have all been there, dating can get really tedious. I recommend taking a 3-6 month break, discovering what does make you happy, like hobbies. When I took a break, I came back with such a better attitude. Oh, and I raised the bar. No more saying yes because I am bored. On a bad date I can be more bored and also with an awkward or crazy person.

Carolyn Hax: Sounds apt, thanks.


Huggy in-laws: My mother-in-law is awful. Not warm or maternal, aggressive, fixated on superficial appearances. She barged into the delivery room during hour 15. My husband refers to her as a force of nature. I give her a hug and a kiss whenever I see her because inside I am thanking her for my husband.

Carolyn Hax: A new twist to thinking of England. Thanks.


Rockville, Md.: Hi Carolyn,

I've just broken up with my bf yesterday. I am still very sad over this... but next week is his birthday and I was thinking I still want to drop off his b-day present at his house. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: I'm going to get a hundred different opinions in response to this, but none of them will be right except the one that's right for you. He could be so offended he lobs it from a specially engineered catapult, or he could regard it as a tangible reminder of the fundamental love and respect between you, despite the outcome. Trust your gut.


Virginia: A friend recently lost her husband. I want to be a support to her, but when is a polite decline a polite decline, or a signal of slipping into something worse?

I've extended a couple of invitations to lunch, an offer to stop by with dinner and either drop off or stay, and an offer to pick up her daughter to spend the afternoon with my kids, but was turned down each time. Her loss is very recent (it's just been a month). Other friends (who don't know her) say to "make" her get together for her own good. That doesn't seem right either. I don't want to ignore possible danger signs of depression, but also don't want to be insulting to a grieving friend who may be being bombarded by such well-meaning invitations from others who know of her loss. She knows I care. I check in regularly. Am I doing the right thing in not pressing her?

Carolyn Hax: I think so. If you get a bad feeling about it all, then maybe take action--calling someone you know to be closer to her than you are is a good, non-invasive option. Otherwise, hover at a polite distance away, continue to extend invitations at judicious intervals, and let her determine the speed of her own recovery.


Long hours: I have no idea if the boyfriend who works a lot is a lawyer, but it kind of sounds like he is (or it not, has a similar enough work situation to mine that I think I can lend some insight).

I think the girlfriend might not be getting the traction she wants when she complains about his hours because she continues to pick at an issue that hasn't changed since the last time she complained. I work a -ton- of hours, often on weekends. My husband is also a lawyer and works a similar schedule. It is hard enough to make the phone call to say "can't eat dinner with you tonight, might not see you until tomorrow." Knowing that such a phone call will be greeted with a stream of upset is something I thank my lucky stars I don't have to deal with. For people who don't work this kind of a job, it's easy to view the long hours as somehow "extra" or "by choice." Nope. I'm betting the boyfriend, if asked by a neutral source, would honestly answer every time that he'd rather be home than at work on a Friday night if he could. He can't, and things will continue to be excessively stressful until the girlfriend gets that. It's really unfair of her to continually put him in the position of defending his choice to fully do his job.

Put another way, what if the girlfriend were to take a different approach the next time she finds herself sans working boyfriend on a Friday night. What if she were to ask herself who has the less enviable position - the person with a free evening, or the person stuck at the office? Seriously.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.


Sacramento, CA: Regarding the woman living in the condo with the noisy neighbors. Condos have the highest rate of tenant complaints and lawsuits for noise, particularly noise transmitted between units. I work for an acoustical engineer and we are constantly involved with both helping tenants solve these types of problems and in lawsuits against builders and owners. This tenant might want to contact an acoustical engineer consultant and have her unit evaluated. There are often changes that can be made to her own unit that will help solve the issue of sound transmitted through the floor without involving the tenant above. is a good place to start looking for answers and referrals to an acoustical engineer. Good luck!

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. One more along these lines:


Re: Help with condo neighbors!!: : The "hearing drawers open and close" caught my attention -- I am an acoustical engineer, and we are frequently consulted about situations such as this. Part of a condo purchase agreement/contract documentation should state that either (a) that your residence has assemblies that meet International Building Code minimums (STC 50 and IIC 50) or, (b) a higher STC and/or IIC rating, depending on the whether the building is 'market-rate' or 'luxury-rate'. Either way, these values must be provided to purchasers. In this case, it doesn't seem to me as though she's getting the minimum... which is when you can have your adjacencies tested (not cheap) and find out that you have what you paid for, or you don't.

Hope this helps! Love your column, Carolyn!

Carolyn Hax: I'm just the conduit here, so, condo people: Hope this helps!


Good time, a good meal, or a good story.: While I appreciate someone wanting to justify going out on a blind or near-blind date, the person's comments about "a good time, a good meal, or a good story" kind of struck a chord. As I guy, I've had the misfortune of having been on a few dates where it seems the only thing the woman was interested in was a free meal. Just getting a nice dinner isn't enough of a reason to go out with someone -- there should be some genuine interest (or the potential for it) or you should otherwise decline the date.

Carolyn Hax: Sorry, I meant to flag that--anyone in it for the meal should be reaching for his/her wallet when the check comes. Thankee.


Weight, Weight, Don't Tell Me: Oh, help. Please. I need to lose a lot of weight: 60 pounds to put my BMI in the healthy range, but honestly 30 is a far more realistic (though still very difficult) goal and one I'd be thrilled to reach. I am doing many of the right things in terms of portion control and exercise and am working my way up to more. So far it's yay, go me.

Here's the problem I have, and have had ever since I got fat: I have been told my whole life that I was fat. My mother spent her life beating herself up for having hips and breasts, and its only in recent years that I've been over to see past this inherited self-loathing and realize how bad it's been for me. I was told by family and peers that I was a pig long before I ever got fat -- pictures of me in high school show a pretty, miserably insecure teen who had no idea that she was STACKED, not a hippo! If I had really been able to see myself in the mirror, I don't think I ever would have put on the weight to begin with.

So between that and all the weight-loss stories about size-8s dieting themselves down to size 3 and drivel like the scathing piece about the "fat" (US size 12) would-be beauty queen your colleague Weingarten put up for discussion today, I feel like I'm doomed before I even start. I know, objectively, that every little bit helps and that I need to do this for my own health and well-being, not in hopes that some jerk on the street will for once refrain from calling me a heifer. But what it feels like on the inside is: what's the point? People will always think I'm a pig. So how do I stay motivated when for me, to be achievable at all, the big goal has to be a size 12 or 14, not a size 6?

I wish people would finally realize that publicly shaming and ridiculing the overweight isn't helping any of us.

Carolyn Hax: I sympathize, and agree that most public discussion on the topic of weight is useless, and that's only when it's not actively counterproductive. Yes, we are in the midst of an obesity surge, and it's shaping up to be (sorry) a public health crisis. However, losing weight is about as private a health issue as their is. You are at the store, you are stocking the pantry, you are holding the fork.
So, my advice is to stop talking about this, stop reading about this, stop clicking the links to size 16 (I believe) beauty queens. You will pick up some ambient noise about weight, but block out as much as you realistically can. Make it about the store, your pantry, your fork. Every time you hear something destructive, schedule, and take, a walk to counteract it.
It also wouldn't be a bad idea to research names of reputable counselors who specialize in body image issues. It sounds like a lot of the weight you're carrying no can't be measured on a scale.
All of which is to say, stay motivated by staying focused on your private goals.


STDs: Two of my dearest single friends have herpes. Both have talked about the difficulty of dating people who do not have it. I think that they would like each other for other reasons, but would also like to help them with this issue in an already complex dating world. Is there any tactful way of setting them up, while telling them about their shared affliction/characteristic?

Carolyn Hax: Two choices. 1. You set them up, and let them figure the rest out. 2. To each one separately, say, "Would you ever want to be set up with someone else who has herpes?" They can guide you on the rest.
I lean toward 2, because it saves them The Conversation (even though you know it will go better than each of them expects, they'd still have the dread of preparing themselves for it).
However, unfortunately, if you try 2 and you get a "no" from either of them, then you'll have to wait a while before you set them up using method 1.


More long hours: I'm sorry lawyer and other type-A people, but you aren't getting it. It's not that you HAVE to spend long hours, including weekends, and sometimes only see your spouses every other day. It's that you have chosen a job with these requirements, and you choose the job over the person every single time they ask for more of your company and you say you HAVE to work. All of this would be much easier if you admitted flat out that you are ambitious, you have a high-level goal for your career, and until you get there, everything else will be low-priority. Don't lie and say you would rather be at home or with your lover. Mostly, that just isn't true. If you are comfortable with your decision, then own it already.

Carolyn Hax: Now now. The people who are dating these A people -chose- to date them. Often (since this seems to be about "getting it") the high-powered career is part of the attraction. So, both parties contribute equally to these kinds of conflicts, and I would even argue it's the later-on-the-scene boy-or girlfriend who is trying to change the terms after the fact.


Re: long hours: I don't know, I'm another lawyer in DC who sometimes works heinously long hours, and I do not think that it's always true that you just have no choice in the matter. Some people fail to set limits, or make themselves ultra-available for last minute projects, because they like to feel necessary and important, or just don't know how to say no. Not knowing this guy, of course, we can't tell whether that's the case or not here.

Then there's also the angle that you don't HAVE to have a job that forces you to work super long hours. If the boyfriend's values in life are such that he's choosing this because the prestige or money is more important to him than having a saner lifestyle, that's important for the girlfriend to know.

Finally, not knowing what his job is I could be totally wrong about this, but the fact that he's not available by phone or email seems weird and possibly suspicious.

Wow, it seems like I just wrote a treatise on why I need a new job, doesn't it? Hmmm.

Carolyn Hax: Better, thanks. I would only add that "important for the girlfriend to know" is not that same as, "important for the girlfriend to change/renegotiate/pick fights about."


Wedding shower: My fiance comes from a large Italian family - I come from a very small family. We're getting married at my grandparents' home in June and in order to cut the guest list to a reasonable number (given the space and funds that we have), we are not inviting about 20 of his cousins (there are 20 more that are invited). My fiance is not close with these cousins and hasn't been in quite some time. Everyone seems to understand except for his mother. She is throwing me a bridal shower in May, which is very nice of her, but she has invited all of the cousins that weren't invited to the wedding. She's also invited all of her friends that were unfortunately cut from the guest list. There will be people there that I do know, but I do not know the majority of the people that will be at the shower. How do I deal with the awkwardness of opening a gift and then not knowing who to look at and thank? Also, how do I keep my frustration with her - the future MIL - in check? I don't think she's doing this to be malicious, but it's very uncomfortable for me.


Carolyn Hax: Oh no no. There are two glaring etiquette don'ts here, one minor and oft ignored, but the other a disaster. One is that a relatives do not host showers. It is seen as soliciting gifts on behalf of the family. That's the smaller of the two.
The awful insult is the inclusion of people at the shower who are not invited to the wedding. It says they're good enough to spend money on the couple, but not good enough for the couple to spend money on them. This is not about not knowing whom to thank, this is about potentially offending a lot of people.
Please, if you can't stop this party without doing more collateral damage than the party itself is doing, then
please at least try to re-cast it--as an introduction to the couple, for example. I'd say "engagement party" but those have turned into gift shakedowns, too. Ideally you can persuade her to hold a party after the wedding for everyone you couldn't accommodate at the wedding. Agh.


Washington, D.C.: RE: Gay groomsman. Carolyn, your advice was sensible and empathetic, as usual. But with all due respect, you missed the huge pink elephant in the room (so to speak).

Whatever the motivation, the groom not only deliberately dissed the guy by not inviting him to the rehearsal dinner, but has apparently chosen to stick with the lie. Presumably the bride's parents sent the photos to the whole wedding party, not just one groomsman, so the very fact that the groom nor the bride has taken the initiative to explain/apologize says it all.

As a gay man who has been in similar situations (if not quite so dramatic, thank God), I know all too well how hard it is to walk away from a long friendship over this issue. But for the sake of the groomsman's self-respect, that's exactly what he should do. The only question is whether to tell his former friends why; I probably would but he certainly shouldn't feel obligated.

Thanks for listening.

Carolyn Hax: You're welcome. I saw the pink elephant just fine, I just don't believe he should walk from the friendship based on his own 2-plus-2 math. After a talk with the couple, if only to confirm what he deduced, he can still decide to walk. Just because something looks obvious doesn't mean there's nothing missing from the story. Why not make the effort to check?


12 vs. 16: Carolyn, you and your weight-loss commenter are both right. The beauty queen in question is a UK size 16, and UK sizes are one to two sizes different from US ones -- depending on what she's wearing, in US clothes she'd be in a 14 or even a 12.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.


Potomac, Maryland: Thing is, Italian families do host showers for relatives. I know; I am an Italian married to an Italian.

Carolyn Hax: I know a lot of people do it, which is why I tempered that part. In this case best approach might be through the groom-to-be; let him figure out what needs to be done to keep family happy, both Mama and those distant cousins.


Could you post the link to Weingarten's discussion: about the UK size 16 beauty queen? I can't find it on the site.

Thanks! A Fat Beauty Queen. Yes or No? (The Gene Pool,

Carolyn Hax: Okay, just don't suck me any deeper into this than I already am.


Carolyn Hax: Wait! I can just run away!
Bye-bye. Thanks for coming, and type to you next week.


Minneapolis, MN: For Weight, Weight, Don't Tell Me:

I'd like to put in a plug for considering a 12-step group, Overeaters Anonymous. It is patterned after AA, but focuses solely on problems with compulsive overeating, be it those who are overweight, those who binge/purge or those who are anorexic as well. I am a member, and have found the support in those groups to be phenomenal for open and frank discussions on dealing with food as well as the warped attitudes around weight of sometimes those well-meaning people in our lives. It isn't about diets folks, it's about a whole new way of living.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. Can't vouch for it but here tis.


Showers: can you tell me the purpose of a wedding shower other than to solicit gifts?

Carolyn Hax: There isn't one. But friends are third parties who wouldn't benefit personally from the gifts, whereas family arguably could benefit. (It's actually not that big a stretch; money you don't spend on dishes is money you keep in savings, which your parent or sister could then inherit.)


Wedding shower: It's worse than I thought I guess. Initially she said that she was going to not do the shower because we were having such a small wedding (fine with me - the whole idea of a shower is a little uncomfortable for me), but I just got my invitation for the shower in the mail. Unfortunately, I don't think anything can be done. The worst part: she invited 40 people. Most of them are not invited to the wedding. Unfortunately, since the invites are out, I don't think there's anything that I can do about it.

Thanks for the input though.

Carolyn Hax: Probably not, but I guess you can go out of your way to include them in other ways. Or, you can put out the word on this:


Shower: What about a recipe shower? Everyone brings a card with their family specialty to the party instead of a present. Mom-in-law provides the recipe box.

Of course, this only works if the couple enjoys cooking.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, no one has to know if they never intend to pick up a pot.
You can also give it a family theme--family recipes, or bring stories, photos.
Okay, reaching, but. Ugh.


Re: STDs: Does it seem a little risky to be divulging someone else's private info though? Telling someone that someone else has herpes might not go over well, even if the person being told has it too. And they may fell that the herpes is what you think they'll have in common. It's going to be touchy to pull this off. Can you just get them together in a friendly way and see if anything happens between them? Have a dinner party and seat them next to one another?

Carolyn Hax: Yikes. I'm not advising that anyone divulge that without the other person's express permission. Thus the vague wording of the question, and no names named. That way the person you ask can say, "Yes, I'd like you to set me up" (thus acknowledging that the HSV info will be divulged) or "No, please don't set me up." What you suggested was my option 1. Option 2 only works if both parties agree to a full-disclosure setup. I hope this is clear now.



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