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Carolyn Hax Live: Self-Evaluations at Work, Wedding Guests, Who's in the Will, and Hockey Appreciation

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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 11, 2008; 12:00 PM

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 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.

A transcript follows.

Write Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

Carolyn's Recent Columns

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Alexandria, Va.: My husband and I are in our late 30s and have been happily married for 13 years. I think (no, I know) people look at us and wonder why we don't have children. People tell me all the time that they think we'd be great parents, and we would be. We don't have children because we CAN'T have children. It never ceases to amaze me how casually friends and even acquaintances will launch into the "so, you've decided not to have kids..." discussion. This isn't something that I feel like discussing casually because, needless to say, it's a tad bit heart breaking. Our families know the real deal and that's what matters to us. I need a good response for the casual inquiry. I guess I could just say "yes, we've decided not to have kids", but that prompts more inquiries as to "why" and "because we can't" gets too personal too quickly and "we don't want them" just isn't true. Any suggestions for a "casual" response that closes the subject without feeling like a jerk? Your column is the best. Thank you!

Carolyn Hax: Cliches in writing, bad; cliches in social transactions, good. That's because the common knowledge of the phrase saves you from having to be precise, thorough, or anything else that feels wrong. in this case, I'd recommend, "It's not in the cards for us." It implies that it wasn't necessarily by choice, and the issue is closed.

Of course, some people wouldn't know a closed issue if it swatted them in the nose, so some people will respond with, "Really? Why?" Then you go to the cliche file again for, "It's a long story."

I'm sorry for those lousy cards, btw, and thanks for the kind words.

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Alexandria, Va.: Can a couple survive if one is a die hard Washington Capitals fan and one is ambivalent about hockey? See, the Capitals begin their quest for the Stanley Cup this weekend and I am unsure how my wife will react to my constant hockey watching and talk.

Any tips on how to get her to convert to become a hockey fan?

LET'S GO CAPS!

Carolyn Hax: As a former non-Caps watcher who has watched the Caps now for two seasons, I can recommend that you have her read the article that got me started:

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washingtonpost.com: Goal Oriented (Washington Post Magazine, Nov. 26, 2006)

Carolyn Hax: (Thanks, Elizabeth.)

Also, it really really helps to go to the games. Harder to do these days than it used to be, and probably not possible tonight unless you want to support the extremely aggravating scalper corps outside the V. Center, but it does help. It's just a better game live.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

I started a new job in January and am gay. While I'm open in my personal life I generally wait in new work situations to "feel out the environment" before disclosing. One of my co-workers, I'll call her the friendly-mom type, did some investigation and found out that I am gay and has approached me to fix me up with any number of eligible gay men, including her son.

Ok, first of all, I don't think I could ever date a co-worker's family member, but secondly I feel a little affronted. Friendly-Mom and I have had a number of brief conversations in passing, but nothing that I perceive would be me indicating that I'm looking for a date. I also have this feeling that Friendly-Mom just considers any gay man as a match for any other I have a gay friend, he's single, just got out of prison, and you're perfect for each other!

Any advice on how to diffuse the constant offers? I think that in general she's well meaning, but it's becoming a little bit annoying.

Carolyn Hax: I would side with you on the well-meaning-but-annoying (and I guess technically I do), but please don't brush so quickly by the fact that her son is among the people she has "offered" you.

For one thing, this is a huge compliment. Take it at face value.

And, it also probably means she sees her son in you--she imagines her son in a new workplace, being cautious to "feel out the environment," and I bet she hopes there's someone like her in his office letting him know he doesn't have to worry. So, she's being that with you. Maybe not as smoothly as you'd like, but I don't think it's necessarily grounds for offense.

Maybe this is too charitable a take on things, but maybe too it'll help you figure out a way to deflect her a little better. Maybe, "I really appreciate what you're trying to do, but ..." I'm just not looking for someone to date right now, or I've learned not to bring my personal life to the office, or some other perfectly legitimate "no."

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Alexandria, Va.: So he likes to watch hockey and she doesn't. What's the problem? Do they live in an efficiency apartment with only one TV? Or is he not allowed to have interests outside of those he shares with her because that would take away from the sacred intimacy (suffocation) they share?

Carolyn Hax: He's excited! He wants to share! Let's not get too many frustrations out at the expense of his little joy.

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Silver Spring: What advice would you give to the daughters-in-law of the grandma from the column? I am pregnant for the first time and my in-laws are making what I think are unreasonable demands. Everything from them telling us we should change items we picked out for the baby (they don't like the color choices), to wanting us to give them their own personal guest room (with furniture they've already picked out) in our house. Maybe they feel they can tell us what to do because they've offered to buy some of the baby items, and they also gave us a few thousand to cover closing costs on the house. Or maybe I am taking it too personally, and what I'm seeing as a demand is something they are seeing as a helpful suggestion. Perhaps they will in fact, not have hurt feelings if we don't cave in to them. Whatever their reasons, I don't know how to handle it and my husband won't say anything to them. He thinks they'll get tired of asking if we just ignore it.

Carolyn Hax: Got yourself a real coper there, don't you.

Here's what I would try, but only if you can shake off the resentment long enough to say this as a fellow parent, and not as an opponent: Explain that you understand their excitement, because you're excited too. Explain that you understand it's been a long time since they held their own babies, so no doubt their doubly excited because they know firsthand how it feels. But that's just it: They already know firsthand. They've had their chance to be first-time moms. You're just getting your chance now, and so you hope they'll understand that you'd like to be the one who gets to choose the colors and arrange the furniture and otherwise ready the nest. This doesn't mean they won't have anything to do; there's always something for everyone to do when a baby comes. You're just asking that they give you your moment.

And if they blow this off or get all pissy, then you'll know why your husband's coping method is to go hide in the basement.

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Organ donation quandary: Just found out my boyfriend, who I love and am thinking of a future with, is not an organ donor. He doesn't have any religious beliefs to speak of, but he said he would like to be buried whole.

I lost my lifelong best friend nearly a decade ago as she waited for an organ donation that never came. This issue is kind of important to me. Do I have the right to broach such an intensely personal decision with my boyfriend? How do I do I approach it without putting him on the defensive? I feel that I can talk with him about a lot of things, but I don't want to be unreasonable because I am so emotionally invested in the issue.

This isn't a dealbreaker for me, I don't think. But it is something I want to discuss with him.

Carolyn Hax: Absolutely you can raise this issue with him, and I hope you do. It is intensely personal, and you can start by acknowledging that--but it's also a public health issue. Explain that your experience gives you a different perspective, and ask him if he has considered the possibility that someone close to him might one day need an organ that never materializes. Or, that he himself might.

And if he did need one, and one became available, would he accept it? Or is it okay by him that other people aren't buried whole? Does he think it's morally consistent to live knowing this safety net is there and that he's willing to avail himself of it, but not contribute to it himself?

Then he can revisit his stance, while you revisit your deal-breakers.

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Arlington, Va.: I am heading home in a few weeks to attend a cousin's bridal shower and although I want to see everyone, I am dreading it because I have gained a few pounds and feel terrible about how I look. In reality it is not a ton of weight but enough where my pants are a little tight and I just don't feel good about how I look. I just don't want the "she let herself go" or "she looks chubby" things being said. Anything I can do other than a crash diet? Can I build self-esteem in 3 weeks?

Carolyn Hax: No, no crash diets! "A few pounds" are visible to very few, and are important to almost no one but you. And if anyone does really care, what does that say about his/her priorities? You're there to see everyone. Yay. Enjoy them. That's the best self-esteem builder I can offer.

It will be more effective, though, if you have clothes that make you feel pretty and comfortable. I would go out this weekend to get a few things for the trip that won't be constant reminders of how bad you feel, the way tight pants will be. Go where there are good salespeople, too, so you can get things that fit and flatter.

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Carolyn Hax: My hands have been possessed by women's-magazine fairies. Noooooooooo

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Re: Washington, D.C.: If it makes you feel any better, your colleague would still try to fix you up if you were straight. It was very friendly of her to at least figure out your sexual orientation before choosing her partners for you. When you reach a certain age and are single, everyone you meet wants to set you up with their "son, brother, daughter, dentist, coworker, chiropractor, spiritual healer, wife's best friend's brother, and the cute guy they met on the subway," just to name a few that I've gotten. I've even been told to change my religion so that certain friends could increase the pool of potentially eligible bachelors. So really, welcome to the club! Isn't it nice to know you're not alone?

Carolyn Hax: Now I'm curious which faith will help you hook up.

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Any tips on how to get her to convert to become a hockey fan? : My husband is the reason I'm a football fan. When we met, he was a huge football fan and I couldn't have cared less about it. I'll tell you the three 3 things that did it for me:

1. We watched a few games together and he got out pen and paper and explained the plays with diagrams so I could understand what was going on. He drew the x's and o's and arrows, and such, and that made watching fun. Sometimes he got out loose change and used them to represent the different players.

2. He's been very supportive of my own interests, and has attended many art shows with me.

3. Sex during half-time.

Now I really enjoy watching football, and even follow all the off-season news, like who's being traded and such. Good luck!

Carolyn Hax: Hope Hockey Man is in good shape. (I don't know how this translates for baseball.) Thanks.

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Falls Church, Va.: When I asked my SO why he didn't believe in more (than the bare minimum of) foreplay, his response was, and I quote: "Why beat around the bush?"

Other than having a frank, open, honest, tactful etc. conversation, how does one respond to that? I'm afraid that my response of laughing so hard that I cried hasn't helped any.

Carolyn Hax: I don't know. I imagine you felt a little better.

Speak slowly, and point out that while his engine works fine with a cold start, yours performs better when it has a chance to warm up.

Okay, that just skeeved me. Better ideas?

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For Arlington: I had a very similar experience a few years ago...and the person I feared would say something about my weight actually did. And you know what? It didn't make me feel bad at all - in fact, it amused me to no end and still does to this day. What the hell kind of person looks someone up and down and comments on weight gain? This is the same woman who, in the same weekend, noted that the dress I wore to a mutual friend's wedding was the same one I had worn to her wedding. A year prior. Whatev. I still looked good in the dress, and I had double confirmation that the woman in question is a major a**hat.

Definitely buy a few new pairs of pants that fit - you will be amazed that you actually look slimmer when the clothes aren't tight.

Carolyn Hax: Great story, thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: Why don't you advise more dating, childless couples to break-up? Maybe the girl dating the guy who is perfect-in-every-way except he hates all of my friends and family should seriously consider breaking up. Even if there are no major red flags (i.e., abuse) sometimes telling someone it is okay to end a relationship seems like an option that is not given enough consideration.

Carolyn Hax: Are you speaking in general, or to a specific example?

Either way, I try to give people questions they need to ask themselves, the honest answers to which will often point them toward breaking up. I used to be more explicit, but over time I realized that people have to come to the decision themselves, or they'll just end up tuning me out.

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San Diego, Calif.: I'm setting up a trust for my family after I die, specifically for my nieces. I also have two nephews. I routinely hear from the girls by email or letters, and always after I send them a gift. From the boys, never. I usually have to ask if they receive their birthday presents. Am I obligated to leave the boys something, if only a token? I really have little to no emotional connection to them. And I would like the girls to have a financial cushion, given women's earning power. I don't wish to cause pain, but I'll be dead anyway, so why not?

Carolyn Hax: Because your death will mean you don't have to deal with the pain, not that the pain won't exist.

Making a statement with your will may feel satisfying to you--and it's certainly your right to make any statement you want--but it can wreak havoc on the living. Hurt feelings, bitterness, feuding, legal wrangling and family alienation are all fairly common outcomes when someone gets cut out.

Now, I get that you have no relationship with your nephews, and that you want your nieces to know you have valued their efforts to maintain a relationship with you. The boys also might be good kids who, when they find out about the trust, are happy for their sisters and can accept that this gesture isn't a slap to them but instead a thank you to their sisters/cousins.

However, the way you're phrasing it here, it is a slap to the boys. You are pretty much saying, "You never sent me a thank you not so this is what you get from me: Zip. Enjoy." And, well, that hits -me- wrong and I'm not invested at all. Maybe the boys were socialized away from notes to uncles/aunties. Wrong, yes, but possible, and also not their fault if it's true (and they're too young to be expected to grow manners of their own.)

Finally, "women's earning power" is a statistic, not a prediction. Those nephews could go into public service careers and make squat teaching or tending to public safety or whatever, while the girls take Wall Street. Big concepts don't translate perfectly to individual outcomes.

I guess all I'm saying is, think carefully about what you want to say with this statement. If it's just, "Thank you to my nieces for their special attention to me," then you can accomplish that by giving them more money than you do to the nephews, or by dividing things evenly and giving the girls heirlooms, or some other bit of finessing.

If your message is really, "Nephews? I have nephews?," and if your heart is set on giving it, then, okay, but I would also advise asking yourself whether your nieces aren't on to you. Ahem.

By the way, your still being around means you do have a chance to know your nephews. You are reaching out to them, too, right? Not just waiting to see who says thanks?

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Anonymous: Carolyn,

I was in a great relationship with a separated woman with two small children. We really loved each other and we were great for each other (or so I thought). I didn't see any indications that she might go back to her ex, especially given some of the things that happened in her marriage. They had moved forward with all the separation paperwork, child support and were getting ready to sell their home, etc. They were also living in separate households.

Our relationship abruptly ended about a month ago. Over the course of a weekend she basically told me that she needed to be alone to figure out her life. At the same time her ex was talking to her about trying to work on their relationship.

She knows how I feel about her and that I want her to be happy, and I've respected her decision by not contacting her beyond a few initial attempts when this first happened (before she was clear about what was going on). I asked for a chance to meet to understand what happened, and she tells me that she's a mess and too emotional to meet. So, here I am with no answers from a woman with whom I really love. I know I have to move on with my life. I struggle with whether I should try to pursue some closure or just accept the fact that I may never get any answers?

Carolyn Hax: I don't know, I think you have all the answers you need. She cares about you. She came to those feelings while still having a lot of ties to an old life, and a lot of people to think about other than herself. And while it seemed to you (and maybe even to her) that the emotional turmoil was behind her when you got together, the current circumstances say she was probably just beginning to sort through it all. And, it's not as if emotions go where you tell them to. All you can do is not create any more turmoil for her, hope that the marriage issue resolves itself in the most favorable way for her family, and, if she doesn't reconcile with her husband, hope you're the one she calls when she's ready.

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Thanks for the laugh:"why don't you advise more couples to break up?"

Because then the complaint of the week would be, "Why do you advise couples to break up?"

Carolyn Hax: Which is a complaint I get fairly often, that I'm too quick to say something's not working.

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Old Age Dating...: I've been flirting with a guy for the last few months. He's been flirting with me too. This week I just found out he's 10 years younger than me! He's 22, I'm 32! Neither of us look our age so it wasn't an issue until now. I think we both still find each other attractive. What are your thoughts on 22 year old guy with 32 year old gal? (We have business/education in common.) Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: I have no thoughts other than that your thoughts and his thoughts are the only thoughts that count. And it is the thought that counts. I think.

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Carolyn Hax: I was about to type a, "But seriously ...," when I realized there's really nothing to add. If age is an issue, then it just means you're not well-matched the way any couple is or isn't well-matched. You get to know each other, you see. A 10-year age difference between two legal adults adds no new feature to the usual process.

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RE: I don't wish to cause pain, but I'll be dead anyway, so why not?: I take it you are referring to not wanting to cause the nephews pain? Well, you might actually cause the nieces some pain by leaving the nephews out. For the rest of their lives they will have to deal with the nephews who got nothing. They may end up feeling guilty and resenting you. They may have the nephews' anger vented on them.

Who knows how the family dynamics will play out, but I guarantee it will cause those nieces some sort of grief if the nephews get zero.

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, it really does stress everyone. Except: The nieces would presumably have the power to give the nephews some of their shares, which I've actually seen happen. It actually brought the two parties closer, probably not what the writer of the will had in mind but a real affirmation of faith in mankind for those of us who witnessed it.

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San Diego, Calif.: Re Trust. I'm a bit piqued at your reply. It certainly wasn't my intention to slap down the boys, although it does read that way. But I do have more of an emotional connection to the girls, and none to the boys. I don't think I should have to give them some of my hard-earned money simply because they were born. A dear uncle of mine died recently, and left his money primarily to my sister - and I'm thrilled for her. No, I didn't (really!) wish he had left me something, since I have lovely memories, and he was much closer to her and her children. I guess I expect others to have a good attitude.

Carolyn Hax: I did include that possibility, that the boys would be good kids who were happy for the nieces, not bitter. But then it would seem even more unfortunate that they weren't included. You have the power to say something here. My advice was and is to make your best statement, and say it with great care. Especially since you won't be around to clear up any possible misunderstandings.

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State of panic: I have to write my first employee self-evaluation and I'm freaking out. I've got untreated ADD (finally made a doctor's appointment, though!), so even though everyone says I'm doing fine and pulling my weight at work, I feel like I'm constantly struggling to get the basic stuff done. Combined with my natural allergy to self-promotion, this means that I feel utterly panicked at the idea of having to puff up about how well I demonstrate various competencies. How can I approach this without breaking out into hysterical hives?

Carolyn Hax: The point is the result, not how you (hyperventilate till you) get to that result. Make a list of what you accomplish, pick out the things you feel you do particularly well, and be grateful you have "work habits" to cite as an area that needs improvement.

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out there: I have 2 daughters, in their late 20's. Daughter #1 (older) is getting divorced, trying to complete GED, has lousy job/poor pay, and a little girl (my sweet grandbaby).

#2 is getting married in May, with satin dress, tuxes, the works. She's asked her sister to be MOH. Her sister can barely afford groceries, much less all the "stuff", plus she's struggling to keep her own sanity during the (bitter) divorce. They are not getting along and both of them feel somewhat betrayed by the other. There's anger, not empathy.

Please help me. This makes my heart hurt. Nothing I say to either/both has made even a slight difference. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Well. If you can, the first thing I'd suggest doing is to make the MOH money issue go away for Daughter 1. I know, I know, some people get all funny about handouts to grown kids, but this is such an exception. It's onetime compassion, not to mention insulation from Sister 2's self-absorption.

Second, I think you need to deliver this ... deliverance directly to Daughter 2, point out that all MOH items are to come from this sum, because a divorcing student/mom who is struggling to afford groceries is not the place to go for her wedding expenses. Yes, I am advising you to take a side.

Yes, I realize Daughter 2 might get angry and take it out on Daughter 1, but then you get to deliver the "It's time to grow up" talk to 2. I hope you don't need to.

Then, you go to 1 and explain that the money issue is gone, and in return would she please try to think back to her wedding, and how she might have felt if her sister were going through a bitter divorce at the time. Yes, the one whose broke and in pain needs more attention and compassion than the one who's celebrating, but this is indeed a time of celebration, and the couple deserves a family who can set their own troubles aside long enough to muster some happiness for them.

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Probate Hell: Regarding the nieces and nephews in or out of the will, I do agree with all that's been said, but even equity guarantees nothing. My parents included all us kids evenly, despite one brother who had nothing to do with them and us for over a decade. He still sued over various legal minutia, quite contrary to what my parents were hoping for by including him. They thought it would help breed peace. Instead, the legal process gave him the opportunity to seek retribution for past (perceived) wrongs that had nothing to do with the will itself. It has torn us apart. Bottom line: reasonable people will act reasonably; unreasonable ones cannot be convinced otherwise.

Carolyn Hax: A truth learned painfully by just about everyone at some point. At least you have the comfort of knowing the reasonable people did their best. Thanks.

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Re: employee self evaluation: As manager who receives others self evaluations (and of course I write my own as well) I think people over estimate the need to "brag on" or "puff up" their achievements. In most workplaces, achievements speak for themselves. Saying something like "In the 4th quarter I trained 3 new team members, and had all of our invoices submitted by the deadline" sounds just as good if not better than "I am a really good trainer, and I did a great job getting our invoices in on time!" Documenting what you did is likely more important than commenting on what you did.

Carolyn Hax: Nice, thanks.

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Hagerstown: Hi Carolyn,

this kind of stems from last week's discussion about people with crazy job schedules and accepting them at face value. There is a person who seems pretty interested in me and keeps trying to schedule things to do together. We've gone out a couple of times and have fun when we're out. We have plans in a couple of weeks, but it seems like work always comes up and he cancels. I've already decided if we can't follow through with these plans, its really not worth it to me to wait another couple weeks until he's free to do something. The question is, when I'm telling him this, how do I not sound snarky. He's really a nice guy, and I've known him as an acquaintance for a few years, but our schedules just don't match up. Plus, he pretty much communicates over email. I just don't want to be mean, but don't know how to say I don't want to see him again in a non-mean way.

Carolyn Hax:"It sounds like you have a lot going on right now. Why don't we try this again when you have more free time?"

Question for you, though; why do you have to "wait" for him to be free? You can have your regular social life in the meantime, I assume.

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out there, again: I'm the mom with the 2 daughters. I need a plan B from you, please - I should have mentioned that my own finances are pretty precarious due to husband out of work/disabled. We're all right - it's tight -but I don't know how much more financial help I can provide to the divorcing daughter. Is your advice the same if financial help is not in the picture?

Carolyn Hax: Who is paying for the wedding?

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Perplexed in Alexandria: the Gurus advised me to ask you this question:

Is it common to ask bridesmaids to attend the wedding solo? Can we put this out to the many brides and wives out there?

Carolyn Hax: It is, I think, and I understand it. Extending everyone the opportunity to bring a date 1. gets expensive; 2. adds potentially a lot of people who wouldn't know the couple if they tripped over them, which can make things impersonal; 3. implies that being dateless is the social equivalent of having a horrible rash.

Now, if this is a wedding of 500, those reasons start to fall apart, but for anything close to an intimate-type wedding they apply and (imho) make a lot of sense. There are also situation specific exceptions that make exclusion rude, like, you're all asked to come solo except the marrieds even though some are with long-term mates (especially bad if there are gay wedding party members who have mates excluded but can't marry). Another one would be if you're being asked to travel so extensively that this wedding becomes your only shot at a vacation this year; then a couple would be thoughtful to let you bring your travel buddy. Stuff like that. There are others but I'm taking too long. But for your basic festivities and unattached attendants, solo seems okay/sane.

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2 daughters and a wedding...: I would add to your awesome advice the suggestion that the mom gather both daughters together in the same room, ask them to save their responses until she is done, and then say all the stuff you suggested to them where they both can hear it. This should prevent either one of them from feeling that Mom is taking a side, because they will both hear that the other person is getting a talking to as well.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. That might even save the parents from having to chip in.

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Nephews: As my nieces and nephews are getting older it's become clear that it's going to become easier to stay connected naturally to my nieces by virtue of shared enthusiasms than with nephews who are starting to enter that teen-boy, can't talk to a female, gawky, stinky phase. I love them tons though and I don't want to lose them even though they won't say "love you" or don't want all the hugs and kisses anymore--so I set up things to do with each of them one on one (lame movies, breakfast out, etc.) and I fire random questions at them to make them talk to me (and stare at them with a goofy smile until they answer). If you've got the money for a trust fund, you've got the resources to buy yourself a little time and entertainment to really build a bond with them. They are so worth it.

Carolyn Hax: I love this. Thank you.

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Washington, D.C. Suburbs: Last year I was forced out of a job and slid into a depression. When I found myself crying all the time and finally, sitting in the corner going "B-bb-b-ph-b", I went right out and got help, and got better with the help of low-dose meds and talk therapy. During that time, I confided in family about what was going on, because I needed help (I have four kids and a great husband, but we were really having a hard time). Anyway, fast-forward nine months, my therapist has declared me 99% less crazy and I feel ... good (thank God). I'm job-hunting again, which is hard, but I'm rolling with it. Anyway, the thing is, I'm worried my (extended) family will never see me the same way again -- they seem to walk on eggshells even when they don't need to and are constantly asking how I am. I'm OK! Please! Any thoughts for convincing them I'm really doing fine without essentially convincing them I'm not? I'm tired of being treated like a mental patient. I think part of it is still this old-fashioned view of depression as something my crazy grandmother suffered from as a weakness, not as a treatable and often temporary illness. If I'd had TB, and was better, I don't think they'd be doing this.

Carolyn Hax: Hm. I like that: "If I'd had TB, and was better, I don't think you'd be doing this." Especially if you include the I-know-you-mean-well-and-appreciate-how-much-you-care buffer that helps a hard point land softly.

Please remember, too, that even though the sickness was creating your bad feelings, it was still your feelings that were affected. Even people who know this will still probably find themselves tiptoeing a bit, just as they would make an extra effort to carry heavy things for someone whose back had just healed from an injury. Annoying, but, human nature. Some of it you'll just need to ride out.

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College Bound: Tomorrow starts a new adventure, the first of a week of college visits with my daughter & only child. It will be just the two of us, and I know we'll be talking about the different colleges during the long car rides. Any tips on how to contribute to the conversation without giving too much input? I really want her to form her own opinions of the schools. Thanks...I love your column & chats!

Carolyn Hax: Thanks! When you're about to comment on something, try turning it around: "What did you think of the [thing you were about to comment on]?" Remember too that quiet times in the car are a great time to process a lot of new information.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: I recently got back together with a man who pulled some shady stuff back in the day and earned the white-hot hatred of my parents and siblings and friends. So today, I don't know what to say when they start a sentence with, "You aren't still seeing (Satan's Spawn), are you?" And believe me, EVERY one of them has said this. Same wording and everything.

Sometimes I lie. Mostly I change the subject. I'm worried that the truth will lead to an emotional beat-down, and I'm tired of having to justify myself.

Help?

Carolyn Hax: Would you be willing to justify yourself here? I'm not judging, I'm curious.

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Carolyn Hax: Justify quickly! I'm wrapping up soon.

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Baltimore: Hello Carolyn,

Thanks for consistently thoughtful and interesting advice. Although I've never written in myself, I find myself applying your advice to my own situations often.

Regarding Sunday's column about the man (or woman) who doesn't want to divorce his (or her) spouse because of the kids: While I also sympathized to an extent, I stopped being interested in his needs when he stated that the reason he couldn't tell his wife was that "my marriage would end, and I'm not ready for that yet." He's the one cheating! Why does he get to make a unilateral decision about his wife's happiness? If anything, SHE should be the one making the decision about HER happiness. You didn't mention this at all, I assume because of space constraints, but it seems to me to be a glaring omission.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, you're right about that line--I choked on it too. I tried to cover it and everything else related to the wife by urging him to treat her with respect. All the specifics of the way he's treating her dovetail at that point. Respecting her means he considers what she might want, what she has a right to know and control, what kind of life he's unilaterally resigning her to now, what the kids will see when they're together and when the marriage eventually ends. Maybe I did make too little of it, and her, specifically. But that wasn't my intent.

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Been there, done that: Honestly, if the bride/groom don't want the wedding party to bring dates, and they are even-handed about it (as already referenced previously) then I'd rather they did that upfront. I once traveled 6 hours to a wedding in Albany NY in which my boyfriend was a groomsman. The bride decreed that at the reception, the groomsman and bridesmaids were to be each others' dates for the evening, and she banished all the actual dates (including spouses!) to the farthest table in the hall. We were not even to be allowed to have champagne, but one of the bridesmaid's husbands managed to swipe a couple of bottles from the head table when nobody was looking. Seriously, if you don't want us there, just say so before hand and don't drag our sorry a--es up to your event just to treat us like unwanted bellybutton lint.

Carolyn Hax: I'm sure you at the bad kids' table are all close to the couple now. Wow.

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WAIT! : Doesn't the mom with two daughters and a wedding have to weigh in as well before the end of the chat?

Carolyn Hax: Right, about the money.

Maybe all three of them need to get together and have a huge water-balloon fight.

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Dating Satan's Spawn: I too got back together with an ex who had rampantly cheated on me a few years before. I also got the same responses and found myself not wanting to tell people we had gotten back together. What I ultimately learned was that I was with him (again) more because I wanted us to not have broken up in the first place, not because things had grown and changed and all was forgiven. The reason I didn't want to tell people we were back together turned out to be because I wasn't completely comfortable with it myself. Obviously, we parted ways again when we both realized there was too much water under the bridge to move forward together. It sucked, but I ended up in a better place. Not saying that's the case here, but maybe Minn. needs to look hard at her reasons. (Truth-seeking sucks sometimes, huh?)

Carolyn Hax: Apparently it's like finding a dropped contact lens, because I still haven't heard anything.

Hmm hmm hmmm hmmmm ...

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No dates?: That's crazy. I cannot imagine not 'allowing' my best friends to bring their significant others to my wedding. That is seriously poor behavior.

Carolyn Hax: The question didn't specify sig others, it just said "dates."

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Carolyn Hax: Time to go. Thanks everyone, OH RIGHT I almost forgot--I'm taking next Friday off. So, type to you next-next Friday. Have a great weekend.

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Satan's Spawn: Well, I think his actions were terrible, but I don't believe he is. I love him and I want to see whether there is anything we can salvage. He's working on his own issues, and I don't feel as though I'm having to sacrifice myself to be with him.

Ack! Justifying just seems so battered-woman's syndromy to me.

Carolyn Hax: Interesting that you would draw that parallel. I know it can sometimes be harmless--say, if you actually walk into a door and get bruised, and then you have to explain your bruises by saying you walked into a door, you're going to feel battered-woman's syndromy for perfectly innocent reasons.

But pair that with separating the actions from the person, and it gains some impact. You obviously know what happened and we don't, so you know whether it's even possible to separate actions from person--but I will say that if you explain it to the people you're closest to, and if it doesn't pass the laugh test with them, please resist the urge to hide or get defensive and stick around to hear them out. Loving someone is not something you put in the "pros" column to weigh against "cons."

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