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Carolyn Hax Live: Homophobia in the Family, Avoiding Plastic Baby Stuff and Preteen Peeping Tom

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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 16, 2008; 12:00 PM

In her daily column 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 was online Friday, May 16 taking 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.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

Got more to say? Check out Carolyn's **brand new** discussion group, Hax-Philes. Comments submitted to the chat may be used in the discussion group.

Carolyn's Recent Columns

Carolyn Hax Live Archives

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D.C.: I am pregnant and just found out I am expecting my second boy. I wanted a girl, but thought I would be OK either way. I am not. I am thinking of ways to hurt myself in order to lose the baby. The world around me is singing the praises of my pregnancy and excitement over a boy, and I am contemplating an abortion. I know this is insane, I know I should be happy, but I feel like this boy killed my daughter. No matter what happens, I won't hold a girl in my arms at the end of this - so is it so wrong if I rear end another car in traffic and hope to lose the baby? Yes, I'm scheduled for counseling next week, but there's a lot of stairs, traffic, knitting needles between now and then. The baby deserves better than this, deserves to be welcomed and loved, but I already have a son, I don't need a spare.

Carolyn Hax: Please call the person with whom you have the appointment, right now, and say you are in immediate danger of hurting yourself, your baby and possibly innocent others. (You have to consider that this "another car" will have people in it, maybe even babies, whose lives you will endanger.)

If your clinician is not immediately available, call the baby's father or the nearest (literally) available friend, colleague or neighbor to take you to an emergency room equipped to offer psychiatric screening. A police non-emergency operator will have this information, or if that fails 911.

If none of these resources is available to you, then call 911 yourself, tell the dispatcher you are a pregnant woman at risk of harming yourself and your baby. I won't advise any further because you need to be in the immediate care of professionals. You can work through this, and find a solution you won't regret for the rest of your life. You just need to find the right treatment ASAP. please.

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Massachusetts: If you're a person who generally forgives people and lets things go, and didn't call a friend on being a little more self-centered and careless than a friend should be, but now find yourself dwelling on it, does it make any sense to reopen the issue now, weeks later? Or should you continue to forgive and let go?

Carolyn Hax: Well, technically, it's continue to -try- to forgive and let go, since you haven't actually done so yet.

The answer in cases like this can go either way, and the outcome depends entirely on whether you actually can forgive and let go. If you don't foresee getting past the problem, then you actually owe it to both of you to say something. Otherwise it will fester and ooze up to the surface much later in a much nastier form.

I just grossed myself out.

The way to reopen it is by saying up front that you realize this is well after the fact, but that you haven't been able to shake it off. Then describe how you're feeling, don't call the person self-centered. E.g., Three weeks ago, when you stood me up to see X instead, I felt really crappy.

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Boston, Mass.: Carolyn... if I am not the primary earner in our family and I don't want to be (so that I can spend time with our son), is it fair of me to refuse to move from a city that I love to a new, possibly isolating place (i.e. no friends or family in sight, little ethnic diversity), where my husband would have his dream job? This dilemma is really tearing me in two -- please please please help.

Carolyn Hax: I am of the mind that no spouse would be living a dream if doing so would make the other spouse miserable.

I also don't think the amount of money each of you earns has anything at all to do with how you weight each other's votes here. Unless the breadwinner can get work ONLY in one location (which certainly does happen, so it's a legit and important exception), both you have equal say in where you live. In this case, his job is to be primary earner. But your job is to be primary caregiver, and both are serving the greater cause of family. Right now, you are in -your- dream job, apparently--raising your son in a city you love, amid friends, family and people from all over the world.

I'm not saying you absolutely shouldn't move--you've had your dream job for X years, I could argue, so maybe you and your husband will agree that it's time for him to have his "turn," for example. I am saying that there's a lot of room between refusing and insisting, and you and your husband need to find a comfortable spot there together.

Maybe this can get you started. Establish that you both have equal say, and that all elements of the equation are open to discussion. By that I mean, how far from his dream job is he now? Would a similar opportunity ever present itself in Boston if you waited for it? Is he -sure- of the "dream" part of the job, so sure that he's willing to bet his family's happiness on it (since we could fill an entire chat with the unknowns about new jobs, and the fallout thereof)? If you do move, are you willing to put everything you've got into making it work, or are you going to hold on to your sense of loss? If he agrees to stay for you, will he put everything he's got into making it work, or will he hold onto his sense of loss? Are you overstating how bad the move might be for you--are you better at making friends than you think, and inclined to see things as adventures? Or are you right to worry--are you slow to make friends, easily isolated and down, a creature of familiarity and comfort? Would your husband agree with your assessment? Are these things he loves about you? (Adjust this line of thinking as needed to apply it to your husband's temperament, and to how the move would fit in with that.)

Finally, is there a mutually agreeable third location that would have a little more to offer you (and therefore cost you less emotionally than moving to isolation), with a better, if not ideal, career opportunity for him (and therefore cost him a little less than staying in Boston would)?

In other words, this is not about agonizing privately, but instead agonizing together. And if it isn't, please assert to your husband that it should be. Marriages don't have compartments.

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Washington, D.C.: I had a few really nice dates with someone recently. Things seemed to be going well but I got a phone call from her saying that, while she liked me, she was also dating someone else and decided that she wanted to commit to him. Though I was disappointed, I appreciated her honesty and we parted ways on good terms.

I have since found out who she is dating and it's someone that I am familiar with because he coincidentally had an encounter with a friend on an online dating site. He was very crude to her and made clear that he was only interested in one thing. I have also met him before and everything that comes out of his mouth is rude.

So two questions: How do I not take this personally that I was dumped for a guy that I believe is a jerk?

Is it worth saying anything to her about my friend's experience with him? I, of course, have two interests in this. I want her to be safe and I wouldn't mind dating her again. In the movies, the nice guy archetype fights for the girl and wins her back but I don't think that happens in real life.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, if this hasn't already been the plot of a movie, then it will be ... does have some "Bridget Jones" to it.

1. Don't take it personally. The only way jerks can ply their trade is by getting their victims to trust them, which means giving them the kind of attention they're looking for. For a while. So, all this girl did, from what we can deduce, is fail to spot that his attentions might be insincere. If that's something to take personally, we'd all be too wounded to move.

2. Don't tell her you know the guy's a jerk, or what your experience was with him, or anything. For one, it's not your place. You are not only compromised by your ulterior motives, but you aren't in a position to guarantee this guy will be the same jerk now that he was before. You heard about his online antics secondhand, and his "rude" behavior when you met him represents one person's opinion of one meeting.

I do think it would be fine to call her to say hi someday--in a few months, a year, whatever. You parted on good terms, and you never know.

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rockandahardplaceville: This question is probably very common, but I'm still kind of at a loss as to what to do. A friend and I dated for a while and then broke up by mutual agreement that various facts and circumstances made it better for us to be friends. The problem is, I still have feelings for her, and she doesn't for me, and her indifference hurts. I want to keep her in my life for the reasons that she was my friend in the first place, and she didn't do anything bad to me besides not love me as much as I did her. So how is this going to work?

Carolyn Hax: It won't unless you can get to the point where it doesn't hurt to be around her. Yes, you had something in the friendship that you really valued, but you can't just isolate that like it's a substance in a lab. It's now combined with something else, which makes it a third thing entirely--not a friendship, not dating, but a friendship with someone you dated. If it doesn't work on those terms, then it doesn't work. At least not now while your feelings for her are still strong and the rejection still stings.

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Charlotte, N.C.: I know this makes me look like a 3 year old, but here goes, anyway. My husband of 8 years and I had a rocky marriage almost from the start, so I was not terribly surprised when he left me for someone else. Here's the "shallow" part: his new GF is seriously overweight, lives in greasy jeans, has a bad complexion and long, unwashed hair. She has 2 children but has never been married, and lives off food stamps and AFDC while working part-time at a local convenience store. While I'm certainly not a 10, I'm a professional who works hard to stay trim and neat and have a nice appearance.

So, while of course I know the beauty is only skin deep bit, I can't help but wonder why he left me for her? (Would I feel better if he left me for a PhD beauty queen? Dunno.) We're actually on decent terms so I asked him! His response was, he really can't explain it, of course I'm better looking, better educated, but for whatever reason they just clicked. FWIW, our sex life was fine and neither one of us wanted children.

I'm sure in time this will be better, and I'm already doing better, but still. It seems silly to be jealous of someone with such seeming negatives but hey, she has my guy! Any thoughts on how I could get a handle on this would be appreciated. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: I'm going to let everyone else debate your take on the bad complexion/job/decisions, and answer your question straight: When it's work to be with someone, none of the bells and whistles matter--in the end, it just feels like work. When it's easy to be with someone, the lack of bells and whistles is not something you care about as much as you may have thought. It's just easy.

So I would advise not beating yourself up, and just making peace with the element you know best--in fact, knew before there was even a somebody else. You and he were work.

Now, could he find her easy to be with because he doesn't challenge/threaten/emasculate/scare him, etc.? Sure. She could also be warm and funny and emotionally available and someone who gets him in a way no one else ever has. Either way, it's not about you, it just is.

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Today's column: I used to be that single girl at the office older married guys would lunch with. Especially out of college, the married guys would take me out to lunch and pay while complaining about their wives the whole time. I was always careful never to flirt and if it got creepy I would cut it off. I was never attracted to these guys but liked the free food. In retrospect I suppose those guys could have gotten the wrong idea. I still go to lunch and there is still no flirting but I pay my own way.

Carolyn Hax: I appreciate your honesty.

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when atheists are the fundamentalists...: I am a practicing and faithful Episcopalian. In a communion with a long history of attempting to reconcile "the three-legged stool of holy scripture, holy tradition and right reason," tolerating discomfort and being willing to wrestle with change and debate are basic Christian duties. What to say when uninformed (but well-meaning wonderful people) friends speak about Christianity in my presence as though the only reason to participate is being a weak person who "needs the comfort of authority" or "has a deep yearning for an authority figure because it is too hard to face life on your own"? These misstatements are so primitive that they are offensive. We have had our share of in-depth discussions on religion and atheism, and it's been fruitful for all, but it's getting to be too much to go through this every time we get together. What I really want is a quick rejoinder that will magically get them to stop making such offensive and inaccurate overgeneralizations, but without being offensive myself since they have a strong faith in no-God and religion-harmful, and then change the subject.

Carolyn Hax: Since you know this person well enough to have had "in-depth discussions on religion and atheism," then you know this person well enough to respond with your honest feelings, and not just a pre-fab comeback--"I resent being judged"; "I respect your right to believe as you choose, and would appreciate the same respect"; "Just as I can't prove there's a God, you can't prove there isn't one, so let's not embarrass ourselves by claiming certitude that we can't support." Whatever you feel you'd like to say. After that, you can start excusing yourself from the presence of people who cross this line.

BTW, I do have a quibble with your "well-meaning, wonderful people" assessment. Calling you "weak" is immature at best.

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Sioux Falls, S.D.: I have a question for you. I've got a newborn, 8 weeks old. I'm currently on leave and every day I've been opening the drapes to let the sunshine in. Yesterday Junior and I were taking a walk and ran into one of the neighbors, who let me know that her son and his friend (age 12) were camping out on the ridge behind our house in an effort to spy on my breastfeeding. They were discovered by her husband, who read them the riot act.

She asked me to close the curtains in my house when I'm nursing so as not to tempt her son. I was a little taken aback - I mean, the kids were using binoculars to see into my living room. Do I really need to do this? Half the time it's the only exposure to the outdoors I get (the other half is when I go out to get the mail).

Carolyn Hax: Heh. "Exposure to the outdoors."

Of course your neighbor's asking you to shut your drapes isn't funny, it's ridiculous, and if you don't care who sees you, you're under no obligation to change any part of your routine. But if you don't appreciate being the training film for those resourceful neighborhood tweens, I would suggest turning your chair a bit to deny them the angle. Plus, if they can see you, you can see them--you can also cast an eye up to the ridge before you whip one out.

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Pregnant, USA: Carolyn,

I am pregnant with my first child and I find that I hate baby stuff. I hate all the plastic, glowing, singing, vibrating, over-priced junk. I hate baby cartoon animals. I hate onesies with trucks for boys and flowers for girls. I hate pastel pink and blue. I hate baby Einstein. (Please don't flame me...)

BUT... I love my baby. And I love my family, too, but I keep putting off telling them about this pregnancy because I don't want to get sucked into the vortex of baby showers, embroidered bibs, and batteries-sold-separately.

Am I the only mom-to-be out there who feels this way? Is it even worth it to fight for what I want or should I just give in to the madness now?

Carolyn Hax: No, you can fight it. Just be firm (and non-judgmental) when you say no, and accept that some people will follow the course they think every parent has to follow, your tastes and principles be damned.

In fact, it bears repeating--no judgments. You're free to like what you like, just as other parents are free to like battery-operated TV-branded overpriced plastic clothing. If people get a whiff that you're judging them, or, worse, closing your mind to things before you really know what you're in for, you might as well go out begging for flak. A lot of people do manage to go into childrearing with firm ideas, and then emerge from childrearing with those ideas intact--but I think the more common experience is to go through those years constantly tweaking, revisiting and sometimes outright reversing all those initial ideas. And the latter tend to me merciless with those who plan to be the former before they have even given birth. Just a heads up.

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breaking up: My boyfriend of 3 years and I are on the verge of breaking up. There are some serious incompatibilities that he's never been willing to admit to before, like not ever wanting kids. Despite this, he keeps saying that he sees himself with me for the rest of his life. And I keep telling him, well, that's not going to work if we want different things from the rest of our lives- neither of us will be happy.

I'm trying to make this as civilized as possible, because we are part of a very tight group of friends, and I will see his siblings on a weekly basis in the future. I know that I'm going to be cast as the bad guy in this situation, and he's going to be the wounded, she-done-me-wrong, and this came out of nowhere guy. But if he refuses to acknowledge these problems, what can I do? It's to the point where he basically pretends like we have never had these discussions.

Carolyn Hax: If you already have cause to believe "he's going to be the wounded, she-done-me-wrong, and this-came-out-of-nowhere guy," then "serious incompatibilities" are the least of your reasons to end this relationship. The best question you can ask yourself before making a serious commitment to someone is, will this person make my life hell if we ever break up/separate/divorce? And if the answer is yes, then get out now, today, at the first possible opportunity. A "yes" is your notice that this person will not take care of you, will not regard your feelings as equal to his/her own, will not do the right thing if it happens also to be the difficult thing, too--I could go on. But it all adds up to your notice that you're with a "me first" person, and that means there's only misery in it for you, even if you agree to the letter on the whats, the wheres and the how-many's. Better to take your misery now and get out. The stakes in a relationship rarely get smaller with time.

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For Pregnant, USA: You may hate that stuff but history shows babies love that stuff. And when it is the only way to make baby happy or make baby stop screaming, you may start loving or at least not hating that stuff, too. Keep an open mind if you can.

Carolyn Hax: Well said, thanks.

BTW, since this is the age of retail, there are places to shop for sap-averse parents. I won't promote here but Pregnant USA should ask around, particularly parents who are carrying stuff deemed less offensive than most.

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Washington, D.C.: My husband recently told me, essentially, that he no longer loves me (and is certainly not attracted to me) because I have disappointed him too many times by failing to advance professionally. I have an admin support job (one I'm very good at; I'm well-paid, at least for admin work, and I'm admired and respected by my employer). Because we have young kids, and any other (higher-level) job would likely involve longer working hours and a lot more stress (and hence, less energy to devote to home and family), I am not actively pursuing advancement opportunities at this time. At the time we met (and dated and got married), I had no idea his love would be contingent upon my professional advancement. Certainly, I have discussed other hopes and dreams from time to time, but we both agreed (I thought) that it would be best for me to have a low-stress job with regular hours while the kids are small. He now works in a competitive industry in which, for better or worse, one is judged by the quality (appearance and professional position) of one's spouse, and he feels I'm an embarrassment and a liability. I don't suppose there is any hope for this marriage? He won't go to counseling, because he feels the problem is mine (failing to live up to expectations).

Carolyn Hax: Wow. You can't change his opinion, but please do feel free to express (what I assume is) your disappointment that he doesn't consider your success as a mother to his children, and your success at balancing your professional obligations with your domestic ones, as worthy of his and others' respect. Not just because but especially since you were led to believe your decisions were made jointly and for the good of the family, you need to stick up for yourself here.

A trip to a family counselor and a lawyer wouldn't hurt, either. While that might seem counter to a goal of repairing the relationship and keeping your home intact, I don't think you'd be undermining or ruling out that possibility if you prepared yourself, instead of just waiting till the other shoe drops. Besides, being underestimated once seems like enough for one marriage.

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Your idea: You wrote:

"The best question you can ask yourself before making a serious commitment to someone is, will this person make my life hell if we ever break up/separate/divorce?"

Wow - I never thought of looking at things like that! Do you really suggest going into a relationship thinking about the worst-case scenario? Maybe it's a brilliant insight. Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Of course it's brilliant. Cheez.

Seriously--it's considered irresponsible to make any big decision without mentally walking yourself through the worst-case scenario. To avoid it with a relationship because doubts seem "mean" is, I think, the equivalent of choosing to shut off half your brain, arguably when you need it most. Almost everyone who gets out of a bad relationship will admit to having seen something was wrong long before choosing to get out. This is an easy way to preempt a whole lot of bad decisions in one stroke.

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McLean, Va.: Hi Carolyn!

So, my parents hate my husband of 7 years. They think he is a total dufus, that he plans and dreams too much about future projects instead of "growing up," etc. Of course, I see the same things in my hubby, but honestly, they don't bother me. I know that when is talking about having his own restaurant some day, he is not running out and leaving his job to do this tomorrow. But I find that knowing how my parents feel makes it really hard to be around them. I don't want to apologize for my husband and for my life. They are civil to my hubby, but when I am alone with them there is much eye-rolling, comments, etc. I have stopped telling them stuff about my husband, just so they can't find a reason to criticize him. I am very close to my parents - or used to be - and my husband is a decent, smart, kind, funny guy. How do I cope with the negative remarks from my parents without upsetting them?

Carolyn Hax: Have you told your parents yet that you no longer feel close to them because of their dismissive attitude toward your husband? Just that specifically. Also, have you said that you see a lot of what they do about his dreaming, but aren't bothered by it, because you know him to be responsible?

There may be a point where you just end up distancing yourself, but it would be unfortunate if you wound up there before laying the whole thing out for your parents. At least then you will always know they had a choice, and they chose to alienate you. Painful, but less likely to dog you with future regrets (and to torture them) than if you pull away with no explanation.

By the way--if your parents go to restaurants, then they have no business criticizing people who want to open a restaurant. It may be a risky business but there are plenty who don't go into it rashly. Just for what it's worth.

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Greensboro, Ala.: My husband, a giant homophobe, lost his mind when my brother announced last week that he is gay. I knew my husband had this shortcoming when we married, but I never expected it to become such a... local problem.

I want to support my brother, but both he and my husband have made it clear that they expect my relationship with the other to change based on this new development. Both say it should be "obvious" where my loyalties lie.

Where do my loyalties lie? I've know my brother my whole life, but my husband is my husband and the father of my children. Is it possible to just refuse to make this decision?

Carolyn Hax: I don't think so. Moral choices are built without that option. Of course, the real pressure to make them is internal, not external--and so I imagine the more pressure you get from both of them, the less inclined you're going to feel to support either of them.

But that doesn't get you out of it, because this is not about either of them. It's not about saying, I choose my brother because he's blood, or I choose my husband because I took a vow.

It's about what you think is right, and what you think is wrong. Do you believe homophobes are an affront to humanity? Do you think homosexuality is an affront to God? Do you believe in living and letting live?

Actually, this is a good one for Solomon: Which of them is making a case for love, and which one for hate? The only right choice is the one that allows love to prevail over hate, no?

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How do I cope with the negative remarks from my parents without upsetting them?: If you can find a way to confront people without upsetting them, let us know! They may get upset, but hopefully they will be glad you told them that THEY are upsetting YOU.

Carolyn Hax: Oh, yeah, right! Thanks.

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Carolyn Hax: Pleasing everyone is way overrated, too.

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I know that I'm going to be cast as the bad guy in this situation, and he's going to be the wounded, she-done-me-wrong, and this came out of nowhere guy. : HE may see it that way and try to characterize it that way. But that doesn't mean the friends, or even his siblings, will necessarily see it that way. You can't stay in a bad relationship you don't want out of fear of being made to look bad. Everyone else will get over this breakup.

Carolyn Hax: Right. And if they don't, that's their mistake--they're believing one person's story without fair consideration of the other side. Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: I think Greensboro can opt out of a side here. Why can't she say "I love you and expect you to honor my brother as my brother." and "I love you and expect you to honor my husband as my husband." Your answer seemed to intimate that she has control over what either of them think of the other.

Carolyn Hax: I didn't intend it to. The point of my answer is that she has to duke this out in her own soul, and whatever comes of that on the surface, with brother and husband, will arise from that. What you suggest is one possible approach, for someone who can live with herself on that fence.

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Pearl River, N.Y.: To Washington D.C. Administrative Assistant:

Just wanted to add one further thought -- Please don't short-sell the importance of your role, either in your mind or to others. I'd venture to guess that many high-level executives would readily admit that they'd be utterly lost without their assistants. Effective administrative support is worth its weight in gold, and I think most truly intelligent people recognize that. Your husband's attitude is the crashing disappointment here.

As a fellow admin. worker, I salute your very sound decision to stay in your job for the greater good of your family.

Be proud of yourself, and good luck with the rest!

-Pearl River, N.Y.

Carolyn Hax: Hear, hear.

--Daughter of executive secretary

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Chicago: Re: homophobic husband. What does she expect will happen if one of her children is gay? She chose someone who she admits she knew was a hateful person, so deserves some of the blame for the situation.

Carolyn Hax: Still here, Greensboro?

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reva: About the parents who comment negatively on their son-in-law: Are there really any families where this DOESN'T happen?

There have been times when I've packed up my kids and walked out on my parents for their refusal to stop nitpicking my husband (usually when he's not there). My sister's report similar behavior during their visits, too. The only time my mother ever really commends my husband (to me, never to him directly) is when one of my brothers-in-law screws up royally. Then, it's usually an "I can't complain about John anymore, because -- can you believe it! -- Peter did XYZ..."

I guess I always assumed this was one of those "no man will ever be good enough for my daughter" phenomena. Are there families out there where sons-in-law are lauded (directly and to their spouses) by the parents? I'm so jealous.

Carolyn Hax: There are. There are some amazing people who see their own kids' flaws well enough to side with their spouses when it's appropriate to; there are some who really just like the people their kids chose, and had the maturity not to close their minds to that possibility; there are some who don't like their sons- and daughters-in-law all that much but who wave the flag anyway, because they believe in both family and free will.

And while I'm sure you asked this question rhetorically, knowing full well that there are in-law relationships that work, I'm answering it anyway for two reasons. 1. I never get to print the happy stories, so in this forum it probably does look like all in-laws are evil; and 2. that mindset does become a self-fulfilling prophecy, even among people who know it's more complicated than that. It's just so much easier to be oppositional--which lets a person to be right about everything, period--than it is to be nurturing toward something that often rubs you the wrong way.

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Re: hated hubby: Yes, I have told my parents that their comments hurt my feelings. Their response is always denial, and to prove that they really don't feel that way about him, they are always super careful about buying him birthday gifts and Christmas gifts, etc. I guess they feel that he is not good enough for me and that he is holding me back from some great future that they have imagined for me. I often wonder whether they are just disappointed in me and somehow they think that it's all my hubby's fault that I am not a nuclear physicist, or a famous poet, or whatever they want me to be. Because they deny how they feel, it makes it even harder to get things out in the open. So I am inclined to tell myself to get over it and plan activities that don't include both parent and hubby. But it still sucks.

Carolyn Hax: Not to push this beyond reason--if you're done, you're done--but have you said explicitly to them, "I often wonder whether you are just disappointed in me and somehow you think that it's all my husband's fault that I am not a nuclear physicist, or a famous poet, or whatever you want me to be." That's powerful stuff. More so if you can support it with specific anecdotes.

Of course they can still deny, deny, deny, but then that's also telling you there was always going to be a limit to how close you would ever be too them, whether you married that guy, another guy or never married at all.

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Baltimore, Md.: I recently had an abortion, like a month ago. It was a mutual decision between me and my boyfriend. My boyfriend has a child already from a previous relationship. My problem is that I feel resentful every time he spends time with his daughter. Every time he says he will be spending the day with her, I think about our baby that he didn't want...

Carolyn Hax: Then it doesn't sound as mutual as you suggest. Please talk to a counselor about this. You're carrying around serious resentment, and I imagine grief, too. The place you went for the abortion should be able to steer you to a therapist. I'm sorry.

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Carolyn Hax: This is my third time answering the door today. Sorry--back asap.

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Washington, D.C.: I recently reconnected with a college acquaintance, and found myself falling for him. He lives in another (nearby) state, but after I got home, I let him know how I was feeling, and apparently it's mutual. So great, we plan to meet up when I'm in his area next month to get to know each other better, and see what happens. The thing is, he used to date a good friend of mine when we were all in college. I don't really think she'd have a problem with the two of us dating now, but I'm still a bit nervous about broaching the subject with her. And I find myself with the urge to call her to get prior approval for a relationship that might not even happen. Should I call her now, or wait and see if anything develops before telling her?

Carolyn Hax: No doubt it seems weird to call and get her "permission."

Now imagine how weird it would be to call after you've been seeing him for six months.

Obviously nothing may come of it, in which case waiting means you'll have been spared any conversation at all ... except the one where you mention after the fact that you saw this person for a while and then nothing came of it.

So, of the three variously weird conversations, I'm for the one that gets you out front of it. "I've got plans to see [dude], and not telling you would seem like I was keeping a secret, so, there it is." Not permission, just, getting it over with.

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Md.: being homophobic doesn't make someone a hateful person. as politically incorrect as many would like to believe it is, many people simply do not believe that homosexuality is acceptable or moral. They are entitled to that belief. It jives with the religious beliefs of a whole lot of this country.

That said, the husband needs to be civil and tolerant of the brother regardless of orientation, simply because that is what grown up people do. And the brother needs to act in a civil manner, even knowing that the husband has previously expressed tactic disapproval for the same reason.

My husband is uncomfortable with the fact that one of my friends is gay, but that doesn't stop him from being pleasant and civil on the occasions that find them in the same room. My friend knows my husband's beliefs and respects his right to those beliefs. He's civil and pleasant as well. It's called civilization. Welcome to the world.

Carolyn Hax: Well, that would require, wouldn't it, loving the sinner while hating the sin? Which doesn't seem to jive with the "homophobia" description. Which is why my answer was what it was--love over hate. Arrange details as needed.

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Massachusetts again: Thanks for answering my question, and you're right to point out the "continue to -try-". So now my question is, how long do you keep trying to let go before you realize that you're not going to get over it? (I realize that "weeks" is probably too long, I'm just trying to avoid making the same mistake in the future.) I come from a family split between the immediate blow-uppers and the let-things-fester types, so it's really hard for me to figure out where the happy medium is.

Carolyn Hax: Eh. It's a process like anything else, and hard for just about everyone. Recognizing your family extremism is huge.

Anyway, if you feel yourself starting to get annoyed with your friend where you never had been before, it's time to say something. That works as a general rule.

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Richmond, Va.: Gay man here - I'll toss out something that was important for me to learn during my coming out phase - the brother is still the same guy he was last week or last month. He was gay then, the husband just didn't know it. So did the husband like (or at least not actively hate) the brother then?

I know that doesn't really address the woman's dilemma, and I don't know if the homophobe can be reasoned with, but there you go.

Carolyn Hax: I like it. Thanks.

And, to return to the second post, I think, "What if you have a child who's gay?"--substituting "gay" with other adjectives as needed--is such an important question for people to ask of themselves as they form (and I hope periodically revisit) their world views.

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Hated Hubby: OK, she's tried talking to her parents about their hate/disapproval of her husband. Has she ever simply cut them off at the pass? When the eyes start rolling or the comments start flying, has she ever said, "we're not doing this." My mother was starting to get slightly toxic on a particular subject (wasn't actually about my husband -- it was about her lack of grandchildren from my womb). I finally just refused to have that conversation with her anymore. If she brought it up when we were on the phone, I'd tell her (in a calm voice) that the conversation was over, said goodbye and hung up. If we were together when she brought it up, I'd tell her the conversation was over, get up and leave the room. Guess what -- she stopped bringing it up.

It sounds like the eye-rolling and comments only occur when she is with them alone, so I'm not sure planning separate stuff with them is the answer.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks--I was trying to get at that with the "cite specific anecdotes" but you did a much better job of it.

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Arlington, Va.: I know it's late in the chat, but hoping you can take this one.

I called me older sister the other night and she sounded terrible. She and her husband were fighting and we didn't talk long. I told her I would e-mail her the next day (yesterday) to check on her since it didn't sound like she could talk. I did, and she poured her heart out over e-mail. It doesn't sound good (alluding to verbal abuse...), but it doesn't sound hopeless. I told her to think about counseling. They have a baby who is turning one in a few weeks and that she shouldn't underestimate how hard that this past year has been and that it can get better. I can't tell anyone else in my family because they would pester her about it. Did I steer her in the right direction? She was also comparing my marriage to her and how mine sounds better, and I tried to let her know that no marriage is perfect. Thoughts? Advice? I am really worried about her but don't want to overstep.

Carolyn Hax: Please steer her to resources on verbal abuse. "The Verbally Abusive Relationship" by Patricia Evans gets high marks from readers, and for a quick read there's my standby Domestic Violence: The Facts, www.peaceathome.org/fact_book.html

I realize you were trying to calm her down, but verbal abuse is a very big deal--and a well-meaning comment like, "No marriage is perfect," can unfortunately reinforce a verbal-abuse victim's doubts that s/he has any right to be upset. Counseling is a good suggestion, but if it's couples' counseling, I think it's also important that she has individual appointments as well so she has a place she feels is safe to speak freely.

I'm glad you're cautious not to overstep, since she does need to find her own way, but a big part of that will be having a listener who just listens. Don't reassure her on anything you don't know firsthand--reassure that she's safe talking to you, that she's a good person, that she has options, but nothing more specific than that. In other words, back who she is individually, and her use that strength to sort out what's right or wrong at home.

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Civilization: I disagree with the previous poster - civilization doesn't mean barely tolerating people's differences in public while believing that they are less valuable as human beings in the privacy of your own home. The latter may be our right as Americans but it doesn't make us civilized. I think the original poster knows in her heart what she needs to do (read: stand up to her bigot of a husband) - I hope she's brave enough to do it.

Carolyn Hax: A standing O for Civilization.

That's it for today. Have a great weekend, thanks for coming and type to you next week.

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another Richmond: In my "I'm over it," "dammit, I'm not over it" struggles, I look for the reality of "I'm not over it, and I feel OK." Sorta the middle ground between the unreal totally great or totally sucky. The fact is, I'll never be over some stuff, yet I still am OK. Both are true.

Carolyn Hax: V. cool. Thanks.

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