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Carolyn Hax Live: Not a Dog Person, Not a Kid Person, Rude Questions and New Haven Pizza

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 23, 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 23 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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San Diego, Calif.: You are incredibly wrong in your advice to the father of the bride. On the one hand, you want everyone benefited in a will to avoid causing pain. But it's okay for a daughter to publicly insult her father? Something tells me that this girl has been planning to settle her grudge against her father for a long time. She needs to grow up, not he, and realize that divorces aren't directed at children. They are directed at spouses. Unless Dad abused her or Mom, he should walk her down the aisle. Then he should throw her under the bus.

Carolyn Hax: Well, wait a minute. The daughter didn't write to me. If she did, and I thought she had petty or vengeful reasons for choosing her brother over her father, or if she admitted to an intent to "publicly insult" her father, I would have been happy to give her an earful about that idea.

But she didn't. The friend of the father wrote to me, and what she described was a grown man pitying himself and pressuring the bride when the only adult item on his menu was to deal with it.

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Remorseful Gossip Girl: I was recently in a social setting with some people that I don't know that well yet, and the conversation partly involved gossip about common acquaintances that weren't there. Somebody repeated a rumor she'd heard about person X, a rumor that I know to be true. I confirmed it and shared some details that I knew about it because I thought it was an amusing story and I probably had some stupid high-schoolish idea that gossip was a good way of bonding. As soon as I did, though, I wished I hadn't. This information being out probably isn't going to hurt person X in any way, but it wasn't any of my business and not my place to share it. (And sharing it probably didn't make me look good in the group's eyes, either.) I don't usually gossip, and now I remember why. I feel terrible. Is there any way to rectify the situation? Should I contact person X, own up, and apologize? Or is reminding myself that I'm never going to do that again going to have to be enough?

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, I don't think there's any road to absolution for you here. If it wasn't harmful, then you can't argue that your friend has a need to know, and so you've got little to balance out the awkwardness--for-her--of her knowing. Bias disclosure, I have zero interest in knowing what people say about me behind my back.

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Clarksburg, Md.: Hey Carolyn,

Perfect timing for you to settle a debate between me and my BF.

We have just reached the stage in our relationship where we no longer feel the need to "impress" each other. For me, this means I feel comfortable hanging out in jeans and a sweatshirt. For him, this means he has become very lax about hygiene and grooming.

Sometimes, he stinks. I have told him this. I have told him I don't like going out in public when he hasn't showered in 48 hours. I have told him it affects my desire for sex. He responds that this is his normal routine (he works from home, and most of his friends are single men), and that at this point he should be allowed to feel comfortable around me.

He says this isn't a respect/control issue, but I'm beginning to disagree. I'm wondering whether it would be overkill to call this a deal-breaker?

Carolyn Hax: There is a line between "comfortable" and "offensive." Since the hygiene issue is a charged on for you, try this. We all know it's important to be candid in a relationship. Likewise, we all know that sometimes we say stupid things. But does anyone really want a mate who says, at every instance of vocalized stupidity, "Wow, what a stupid thing to say"? There is a line where candor crosses from intimacy to hostility.

Where that line is, though, isn't fixed. It's wherever you and he choose to draw it.

I could argue that your boyfriend's insistence on public reeking meets any definition of hostility, because it sounds as if it does. However, since that's debatable, anything built on it would be debatable, too.

So I'll use the fact that -you- see it as hostility. That means he's willing to continue a behavior that is easy to change, that he knows is upsetting you, that also involves passing on a no-brainer opportunity to do something nice for you, and yet he won't. Them's your facts. Do what your gut says.

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Washington, D.C.: I just received a wedding invitation from my ex-boyfriend. Our semi-serious relationship ended about three years ago on very bad terms (he cheated), and although our personal and professional circles overlap considerably, we generally avoid one another. I'm much happier without him in my life.

I cannot fathom why he invited me to the wedding and of course will not be attending, but my Southern upbringing says that I have to send a gift for being invited. Do I? And, more importantly, would it be inappropriate to send knives?

I should note that I'm not sure whether his fiancee even knows we dated.

Carolyn Hax: Just decline, you don't have to send a thing. Satisfy your upbringing with a congratulatory card sent after the event.

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Not a Dog Person: This is a serious question. I am not a dog person, proudly I am no longer terrified of dogs but I just do not like them. I know I have a strong bias so I need advice. Our neighbors have a dog and they let her wander about our yards. The dog is a lab and loves attention, kids and play. The dog will come up on our deck while we eat, chew on my kids' toys, shoes etc.

When I brought this up to the neighbors they suggested I not leave toys in the yard, shoes on the deck and ignore the dog when it begged for food. They explained that labs were social and the dog was just being neighborly.

I need to know from some dog people what fair limits would be. Obviously, I think the dog should never be in my yard but that may be extreme.

Carolyn Hax: The dog should never be in your yard.

How you handle this as a neighbor is a little less black-and-white, because they are 100 percent responsible for containing their dog on their property. Since they're not taking that responsibility, obviously, that most likely means they don't see it as their responsibility.

And when you're dealing with people who see no problem letting their lives spill all over yours, when you've made it clear you don't want their spillage, then you have an issue. Charge hard at them, and non-responsibility-takers are the most likely to start blaming you. Fun stuff.

So here's where I'd go with it. Tell them you realize their dog is friendly, but you would appreciate it if they kept her off your property. It's on them to figure out how. If they hem and haw or just ignore you, ask again, and suggest a fence. Kind words are all you've got before you get to laws, so use them liberally--but not weakly. You have no obligation to budge, not even out of neighborly flexibility. So let your phrasing reflect that: You certainly don't want to be a pest, but you've chosen not to have a dog yourself for a reason, and so having someone else's dog around defeats that purpose.

If they say no again, then you're at the crossroads: legal remedy, get used to the dog, or spend money you'd rather not spend on your own fence to keep the peace? That's a choice I can't make for you, but that's what it'll come to. Obviously I hope it doesn't.

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Falls Church, Va.: A woman I used to work with and I have been hooking up recently after she broke up with her boyfriend. It is just sex, and her boyfriend is trying to win her back. She is torn. I am 100% honest with her that it's just physical. She is confused and thinks about going back to him, but still wants to see me. I feel I am doing nothin wrong here. Am I obliged to not sleep with her?

Carolyn Hax: What do you think: Ten years from now, a proud moment in your history, or not?

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Older Mom: C'mon -- I thought your answer to the older mom (38 at her child's birth) was a little hard on the bystanders. It's not "rude and deeply personal" to say, at the park or something, "Oh, is that your grandson? What a cutie! How old is he?" or something to that effect. People ask me, in the same passing way, whether I'm my son's mom all the time, as a prelude to asking the usual questions about him. The fact that I'm 30 and my son is 2 doesn't make the question any less "personal"; it just means that I'm not over-sensitive about this.

Carolyn Hax: Ah, but they're asking if you're the -mom.- Which is still personal, frankly--people really do need to figure out that their curiosity is not grounds in itself for asking a question of a stranger--but it at least takes the edge off the rudeness. If you're just trying to make polite conversation, then make it polite. Such as, "What a cutie. What brings you out on this nice/cold/warm/rainy day?" What does it matter what the relationship is? I say this as a skeptic of ridiculous sensitivities--people really do need to ask themselves occasionally whether their "usual questions" are rude. So many of them are.

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West Coast: Do you think all couples eventually run out of things to talk about? I've noticed that conversation between my lifetime partner and myself runs dry so quickly these days. We mostly just talk in puns and inside jokes, but nothing real like we used to. Is this an inevitable fate of partnership, or is there a way to learn how to boost our communication skills? I keep having a complex that we are already one of those old couples who eat dinner in restaurants and don't talk at all.

Carolyn Hax: Do stuff together that can become a conversation topic. Reading the same book or newspaper story, watching the same movie or TV series, following a team, doing a regular volunteer gig, all these things are fuel for different levels of conversation, along with some nice time together. Sometimes it's going to be, "Do you think they'll re-sign X?" and some of it will be about your most deeply held beliefs. You won't have the getting-to-know-you motor to drive your dialogue the way you used to, but you'll have the ongoing-connection motor, which you've probably used with friends and family--without questioning it--for years.

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New York, N.Y.: I have no problem with sleeping with many women. None. The only guilt I feel is sin and I go to confession and try to stop, but, I just love the "chase" too much. I want to get married (I'm 40) when I find the right girl. I want a sweet, innocent girl who actually says "no" to me. I know you think I am a rat, but women have made it far to easy to sleep with them... at least in NYC.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, you do have a problem with sleeping with many women, other than sin, but you just haven't figured it out yet. You see a woman as a lesser being than you are, whose value is diminished by sex where yours isn't. So, any woman who has a sharp mind and values herself won't have much to do with you, and so that means you're choosing as a life partner from the pool of women who aren't sharp and/or don't think much of themselves.

You may want to dismiss this as an oversimplification, which it might be, but I also might be right, and you'll be the one who gets to find out. Enjoy.

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re smelly boyfriend: Carolyn, when the verschtinking boyfriend goes out without showering, he is not just grossing out his GF or his supposedly-uncaring single guy friends, he is grossing out everybody downwind. This means he feels he doesn't have to impress anybody. Ugh. Can we suggest deodorant? If he were a teen guy, he would be the Axe marketer's ideal target.

Carolyn Hax: That's why I said I could probably argue it was hostility without getting into the issue of relativity. He's flipping off everyone he sits next to, stands in line with, rides with in a packed elevator ...

How's lunch?

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Rockville, Md.: I really really hope you can answer my question as I only have a few hours to change someone's mind.

My wife and I and our very young kids are supposed to travel six hours in the car tomorrow to see an elderly relative. My wife feels obligated to go to see this relative because of this relative's age and that the relative wants to see the kids. My wife has been working almost every weekend since Christmas and is exhausted. She was late twice to work this month which is unheard of. I told her we could go see this relative later this summer and that she should use this weekend to get caught up on some much needed rest and some much needed time with our kids. She says the relative would be disappointed if we didn't go. She's very insistent although I can tell that the thought of extra sleep and not driving two of the three days off appeals to her. I'm thinking of calling this relative to explain the situation and have her call my wife and tell her not to come and to get some rest. What do you think of this? Obviously, I would want it to be on the low down as I don't want my wife or any other family members thinking I'm trying to keep her away. She is just in huge need of rest. I'd really appreciate your input! Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Is it absolutely impossible for the relative to travel to you?

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For not a dog person: I have a bias, too. My life revolves around dogs. I have three of my own, run a rescue group, foster, transport, spend thousands of dollars a year on meds and vets for dog I'm trying to help, let my dogs sleep on my bed, have never taken a vacation that didn't include them... You get the picture. Bona fide dog fanatic. And even I think you're 100 percent correct. Your neighbor's dog doesn't belong in your yard. If I were your neighbor and one of mine had ever inadvertently gotten out and gone to your house, I'd be apologizing like crazy even before I knew you weren't a dog person. You've overcome a fear but still don't want to be around dogs, and that's absolutely your right. Your neighbors are jerks and make the responsible pet owners look bad.

Carolyn Hax: Rarin. Thanks.

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New York: My girlfriend of 4 years just told me she "needs to take a break", and needs to "be alone for a while." Although I'm totally crushed, I do understand. The past year has been one of great changes and challenges for her, a year that has brought a rush of successes and disappointments, and a whole lot of "firsts" in her life. So I empathize with her being emotionally drained, excited, and maybe a bit uncertain of what she really wants.

Compounding the problem - her ex husband will not ever leave her alone. The entire time I have been with her this man has been on the periphery - he harasses her at work, he hounds her via email, phone calls and texts. He even found out where she lived and went over to the house uninvited and tried to get into her house. He has recently threatened to find out where she lives now, and to come "get her."

My question is what do I do? How much time do I give her before checking in on her, and trying to get back together and try to make this work? I am all for giving her the time and space she needs to figure things out, but at the same time I love her immensely, and I don't want to just let a good thing die without some real effort and communication. Then again, I don't want to be like her hounding, harassing ex who can't just move on, and let her be in peace.

I feel awful all around, and I am asking for some perspective and help understanding the best way to move forward.

Carolyn Hax: She really, really, really needs to be alone for a while. She asked for this, so you have to grant it, period.

It's better for you in the long run, too, if that helps. If you do cave and check in on her, and you do try to get her back, even if you succeed it'll be just another pressure situation for her, and so it won't work. You're talking about "effort and communication," but she has communicated. So, now, make the effort to set your agenda aside.

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Rockville, MD (again): Yes. This relative hasn't left her hometown in over 30 years. Refuses to leave. I just believe if she really knew how much my wife needed this weekend she'd understand. But, my wife would never say a word. Thanks again for your valuable advice!

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I wasn't going to throw this out there, because it's going to sound so judgment-laden, but ... your wife doesn't need this weekend, your kids do. Your wife is worn out, but she's an adult who makes her choices--as is the elderly relative, apparently. The kids are the ones who didn't choose their mom or her career or her recent schedule. They get dibs on mama's time. They get the fruits of her one possible weekend of sleep.

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Rude Questions: Carolyn - I love you. But really, sometimes you can just be so prickly. While I get that I'm not someone who is personally bugged by people asking me somewhat personal questions, I can't help but feel like people just sometimes need to get over themselves. We live in a society and we interact. A person with a child tends to be related to that child. I don't think I should have to make sure to strip my casual comments/questions of any inference of a relationship. Kudos to those who automatically think/talk that way - but the thought of expending those mental gymnastics on the off chance someone can't just a grip is really exhausting.

Carolyn Hax: Point taken, but I actually am not personally bugged by most questions, either. It is the pervasive, persistent distress that people have aired in this forum over the years that has converted me. I'm not advising people to tiptoe through every situation, and I even said in that post that oversensitivity is a problem in itself.

However, I don't see how anyone suffers if we all run our "standard" questions through a rude-o-meter. Once. Check your need to know against the net effect of everyone's need to know on everyone else over a lifetime. Sure, your friendly inquiry may be well-meaning, even harmless in itself. But you have to consider what that inquiry would feel like if you got it 80, 200 times a year--because that's the position some people are in.

Idle curiosity used to have an invisible lid on it, but when society undertook a purge of a lot of needless shame that had accumulated over the years, it also blew that lid off with it. And so people don't stop themselves from asking just about anything, when in fact it would be to everyone's benefit if they did.

Again--don't tiptoe. Just think hard, once, about the kind of things you do ask, of whom, and whether you have any business asking them, and whether you could be just as friendly and interested if you backed off a bit on the details. I'm urging mindfulness, not launching a social censorship campaign.

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Columbia, S.C.: One tip for the person with dog troubles: most cities have ordinances about dogs barking, running loose, etc. If it is a nuisance, you can call the appropriate office in your city - usually they'll start by issuing a ticket (at least they do here). Often that's an effective enough warning for the dog owner to take steps to control their dogs. (And, this is anonymous, too.)

Carolyn Hax: If it's already an issue between the neighbors, they'll probably know who blew the whistle, but I did forget that of course a loose dog can be seen and therefore reported by just about anyone. Thanks.

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New Haven tips?: Carolyn, my husband and I are going to New Haven this weekend to surprise my friend at graduation. I'm not able to go to the luncheon for her program (limited tickets + last minute decision), so we'll need a place to eat lunch. Where would you recommend? (My husband is kind of a picky eater, so would prefer something simple and typically New Haven vs. an ethnic kind of place.) Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: There are two spots right on Crown St. Louie's Lunch, the famous bare-bones burger joint (no ketchup served, but you won't miss it), and Bar, right across the street from Louie's, which has the great New Haven-style pizza without the schlep to Wooster St. But that's all each of them serves--burger at one, pizza (and one kind of salad) the other. If you want actual menu items, email me--tellme@washpost.com

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re: Rockville, Md: What a great spouse. Seriously. That's the way things should be -- two people balancing each other out, worrying about the other's health/happiness. It's the little things.

Sigh.

Carolyn Hax: Yeah. Here's an other-side suggestion for them, FWIW:

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For New York: I read a clear threat from the ex-husband in the letter about the girlfriend who needs some space. I think it was an oversight for you not to recommend that, before leaving her alone, the guy make sure she isn't in some danger. The ex is trying to get into her house against her wishes and saying he is going to "get her"??!! Should she be thinking about a restraining order? Should her boyfriend be so blase about this scary behavior director toward the person he loves and is about to leave alone with minimal check-ins?

Carolyn Hax: You're right. I had it in mind to ask if she had reported the ex to the police yet, and by mistake I hit send before I got there. Thanks for the catch.

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Speaking of dog people: Sort of a related question...

I was attacked by a dog at a very young age and have a fear of them. The smaller ones don't bother me but the bigger ones do. As a result, I'm not so much a dog person. I don't care if other people are but for me not so much. I've gotten a bit of flack from some dog people here and there but was recently informed by a close friend that I should be cautious of saying it. Most people are "dog people" and to meet someone who's not is...well weird. My friend had a point. When I unknowingly tell "dog people" I don't like dogs the response is defensive.

For what it's worth, I also loathe Swiss cheese, cantaloupe, honeydew, and Mexican food.

Are these distastes something I shouldn't be sharing with others?

Carolyn Hax: If there's no point to sharing them, no, but if it's part of a larger story, conversation or decision about where to eat, then it's relevant and there's no need to stop yourself just because someone might love Swiss cheese. Your hatred of Mexican food doesn't reflect on anyone but you; people who love some food that you hate have no need to get defensive, unless you're perpetuating a myth or stereotype, in which case I think you do need to expect someone to correct you--gently I hope.

Which brings us to dogs. Unless you're saying nasty things about all dogs, based on your one experience, the dog-lovers who give you a hard time are actually out of line. They may love dogs, but you don't have to.

As I said, your only obligation is to refrain from judging all based on one, from perpetuating myths/stereotypes, or, too add one more, from saying anything just to tweak dog-lovers because you have a bad history with them. Civility demands that both parties live and let live.

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Carolyn Hax: Oops--I forgot to post the other advice re Rockville situation, distracted by the stalking ex reminder. Coming in a second ...

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Re Rockville -- I think he's infantilizing his wife!: Here's how that husband can HELP: Asking if she'd rather stay home; offering to play the heavy if she does; suggesting alternatives -- like HE takes the kids and she rests, or even that they all go but that he take on primary care of kids/elderly relative while wife sleeps in.

What he's suggesting is PATRONIZING, underhanded and dismissive. Manipulate the relative into canceling and then lie to the wife? and this is a GOOD idea??

The impulse -- to support wife and have her recognize and prioritize her own needs as well as others -- -is- a good thing. His proposed plan of action: AWFUL.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. One more:

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For Rockville, Md.: Eh, we all do things we might not want to do out of a sense of family obligation, and I think that's actually a good thing. Your wife is an adult, and she's made her decision. Go and try to enjoy it as much as possible.

If this is a bigger issue - as in, your wife can't say no EVER - then talk to her about that. But if it's just this one weekend, I don't see how it's a huge deal.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks all.

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Help: So MIL thinks I don't like her and don't like to spend time around her. The truth is I love her and I know I am really lucky that my husband's family is so great. True, they do things that annoy me but no more than hubby does and I am married to him.

I am kind of a social idiot and I don't always know how to act around people. I know other people take my actions to mean things they don't. Like when I send my husband to her house for the weekend for the kids, it is because I need time off, not because I don't want to see them. I told them this several times, but they didn't seem to believe me.

They recently cut short a trip to visit us and told me it was because I didn't want them to be around. How do I know if they are kidding with me when they say I don't want them around, or if I really need to convince them I actually like them?

Carolyn Hax: Hm. If you're a "social idiot," you might not be the only one in this scenario. Who keeps saying, "X doesn't want us around," and means it? Maybe she is joking, but it's an awfully loaded joke.

What does your husband say about all this?

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also for New York: I'm also wondering if the ex has threatened the current bf, to the girlfriend, or threatened to hurt girlfriend if she doesn't get rid of current bf, and whether she's protecting herself and/or current bf by throwing him out. I know this is totally reading in and turning this into an episode of CSI or something, but he should ask before he goes.

Carolyn Hax: Idunno, there have been enough reminders in the news that these cases aren't just the realm of fiction. Thanks.

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Tired wife visiting elderly relative: I can appreciate that the husband is trying to carve a little time out for his wife to rest, but in that situation I'd just want him to support my decision to go, especially if I were really running on empty. Instead of making her expend what little energy she has fighting with him to go, it'd be great if he figured out exactly what had to be done to make this trip happen with as little impact on his wife as possible, and then do it. Tell the wife to lay down and then pack all the kids' stuff, tidy up the house, load the car, get the snacks and then pay attention all weekend to whatever needs to be done so that she can be with the elderly person and her kids.

Maybe she's afraid of the frailty of this person or that if this visit gets put off it won't happen at all and she'd feel guilty. Whatever her reasons, they're important to her. Make it happen.

Carolyn Hax: If they go, this is the way to go. Thanks.

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Another dog question: My brother, sister-in-law, and 20 month old nephew are spending the night with us tomorrow night and they are bring their two dogs. We just bought a new house, have no fence around our yard, and two cats who would rather not share their home with canines. However, I couldn't bring myself to say no, mainly because I wasn't exactly asked if it was OK, just told it would be so. My husband is less than thrilled to say the least. It's not that we don't like dogs, we just don't want any and especially none in our home. Can I recant my acceptance of their doggie self invite?

Carolyn Hax: You can call and say you're stressing about the dogs, apologize for not having the backbone/presence of mind to object upfront, and ask whether there are alternatives--kennel there, kennel here, pet-sitter there ...? Obviously it was wrong of them not to ask you explicitly if it was okay to bring the dogs, and you certainly had every right to say no to them whether they were clear about asking or not. However, now that you have essentially said yes, you're the one who needs to be flexible/grovelly in retracting the yes, either partially or fully, if that's what you decide to do.

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re: New Haven: But the schlep to Wooster Street is so worth it! I mean, if I were the one going to NH? I'd call ahead to Sally's. Or Pepe's, but really Sally's. I'd order 7 tomato and mozz pies. I'd eat one outside with the compadres (or alone, whatever, more for me) if it's nice. The rest get buckled behind a seat belt and taken home for the freezer. Because Baltimore pizza sucks.

Stop looking at me like that. I'm not crazy.

Carolyn Hax: Heh. Never once got through with a call to Sally's, but maybe you have the magic somehow. And I'm in the Sally's camp. Besides, it opens at 5, right? BTW, if you're going to get six spares to take home, get the half-baked.

But, that said, I think Bar is that good or else I wouldn't have suggested it.

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Rockville here: FWIW, I am a stay at home dad. My wife and I decided that since she can make more money than me and that paying for daycare would just eat up any check I would make it'd be much more prudent for me to stay home. (even if she didn't work the OT she'd still make more than me so she's not working it to pay the bills, it's just the nature of her job) So, while she is working all the time, so am I. We don't have much family or backup childcare so I am with the kids pretty much 24/7. And I did ask her if she'd rather not go. She shrugged and said we had to. She always says this as a sense of obligation. Anyway, just wanted to clear up any question about my part in all this. I can see that assumptions are still made about men but I've gotten used to it.

Carolyn Hax: Now now. You got called a great spouse, too, and that's up against only one assumption (remark that you should take over the child care).

I would like to use this as an opportunity to reintroduce the issue of your kids. How about this as a talking point w/your wife: Do they need mellow time with both parents, sans a 12-hour round trip, more than the relative needs the visit? Or will the lesson about caring for extended family be a good one for them right now? In other words, which duty needs the family's attention most right now? One conversation, not prolonged, don't make anyone fight anyone--just lay it out there. Then accept the result and make it work.

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NO: Is it just me or do so many of these dilemmas stem from an unwillingness to utter the simple word "no?"

Carolyn Hax: Indeed.

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dogs: Carolyn, what if, instead of not liking dogs, it's children you don't like? Is that a whole different story, or are people similarly out of line for getting defensive if I mention in passing that I don't really like kids? (I would never say anything about a particular kid, of course.)

Carolyn Hax: I think so. As with a dislike of dogs, cats, or turkey and Swiss, it's best kept to yourself unless relevant, but if you speak your mind in an appropriate context, it really is your business and your prerogative to find kids obnoxious.

What isn't okay, since you didn't ask, is to give people dirty looks just because their kids are acting like kids and you don't like kids. If you're in an R-rated movie or four-star restaurant, okay, but in general we all have to have realistic expectations of each other, whether we like each other or not.

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Syracuse, N.Y.: A close friend of 20+ years has suddenly and inexplicably stopped communicating with me. I've initiated the last three visits with her, and each time, she's been cold and distant. So, about 3 months ago, I decided to back off and give her some "space". I am baffled by her behavior, but don't want to impose myself on her. It may or may not be relevant that her coldness toward me started soon after I learned I was pregnant. I am hurt and surprised that she has not once called or emailed to see how I'm doing. My baby is due in a month. Do I send her a birth announcement, like I'm planning to do with all my other friends? Or respect the fact that she is apparently no longer interested in in maintaining our friendship?

Carolyn Hax: It probably is relevant, but you can't assume, of course; who knows, she may be baffled/hurt/surprised that you haven't asked whether she's okay.

I would lean toward respecting the fact that she's not interested in seeing you, but with one tweak: If you haven't tried to get this all out in the open, you need to. It looks like you took the three chilly visits as final without saying, "What's going on?" And 20+ years are worth at least a what's-going-on.

Be careful, though, about going in upset about her not checking on her pregnancy. If something happened to give her the impression that you were caught up in your news and not being sensitive to her, then having your dukes up about what a bad friend she has been wouldn't help.

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for the kid-hater: and, unlike dogs or cats, everyone -WAS- once a child... so it seems a bit harsh to dislike an entire class (group? age cohort?) because they lack your preferred social skills. They'll gain them, eventually, and more so if the adults around them can model them. By, oh, I don't know, treating them with kindness or tolerating their presence or things like that...

Carolyn Hax: Obviously you have to accept the fact of them, as well as having been one, and I'll even throw in that when you get old these kids you resented in a restaurant will likely be charged with your care.

But if you're not a kid person, you're not a kid person. You don't -have- to like them.

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Anonymous: Really? Even if their kids are acting like really ill-mannered kids? I can't shoot a dirty look to the woman in the post office who lets her four children scream at the top of their lungs while she stands idly by and pretends not to notice? Or, more likely, who doesn't notice because she's used to the incessant shrieking? If anything, maybe my dirty look reminds her that just because she's learned to tune them out, the rest of us haven't.

Carolyn Hax: I said "kids are acting like kids" for a reason. There's a pretty wide range there; not all of them have the same maturity or self-control as others their age, and so won't seem as well-behaved as your niece was, yours were, whatever. If the parents are trying, then consider suspending the eye-roll. If they aren't, then, sure, glare away.

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Anonymous: At what point does "kids acting like kids" become "this is worthy of some sort of reaction" begin? For instance, am I justified in at least trying to get the attention of someone whose kid is on their back, screaming in a tantrum-like manner for no apparent particular physical reason (i.e., does not appear to be hurt, was not just almost-murdered, just seems to be having a meltdown) in a public area and the parent is clearly doing nothing about it whatsoever to get them to either remove the kid from he situation or otherwise try to get the kid to knock it off? (To be fair, I'm a bit more sympathetic to parents who are obviously trying, but failing, to quiet their tantruming kids.)

At what point does "kids will be kids" end and my right as a human being to keep semi-intact eardrums begin?

Carolyn Hax: This is a great example. A parent who is trying to break a kid of a tantrum habit is told to stop giving the kid any attention for it. So while I don't appreciate, as a member of the public, being an unwilling and unwitting extra in the public drama of helping raise someone else's kid (and, if it were my own kid, I would hope to be able to remove said kid to a more out-of-the-way place for this tantrum and ignoring to then occur), it's also possible the parent can't leave--waiting for someone, has other kids there, etc. And so, back to today's theme, at least try to save a foray into this family's business as a last resort, not a first. That's all I'm saying.

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Upon Observing Today's Chat..:...I think the only topic more likely than kids and dogs to rile folks up is discussing the relative merits of Yankee fans vs. Red Sox Nation.

Carolyn Hax: Or Pepe's and Sally's.

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Washington, D.C.: Ooh. Today is fun. Dog people, kid people, non dog people, non kid people! Here's a fun one: how do I translate to people that my desire not to have children does not mean that I hate children, and that, I do in fact like them, just not enough to want them and give up the things I would have to give up to have them. I guess this makes me a selfish person, or a non-nurturing person, but not a non-kid person.

Carolyn Hax: It makes you a clearheaded person. You know what suits you, and you are honoring that. The response should be applause, period. Not judgments, not raised eyebrows, not, "You'll change your mind someday!!!," not anyone else's hard-earned and I'm sure 24-carat wisdom, no matter how tempting it may be to share it.

Now I've done it--I said "should."

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quick question : I told my best friend in January that I could fly from my grad school in Europe to go to his summer wedding in California, and be a bridesmaid. Now I am deeper in debt because of the bad euro-dollar exchange rate, and I am still supporting a partner who still hasn't found a job here (tough economy). I just told him that I can't afford to come to the wedding now, but I still feel horrible that I didn't forecast this money drought sooner. What can I do to make it up to him?

Carolyn Hax: Stay friends. That's the beauty of being good to people --if you just screw up here and there, even if it's big, you can amortize it over the duration of the friendship.

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intrigued, Chicago: Both "what to do when other kids misbehave in public" and the "how to figure out if you're asking someone a nosy question they're tired of answering" topics would be good fodder for the discussion group, in my opinion.

Thanks for the chats.

washingtonpost.com: Hax-Philes Discussion Group

Carolyn Hax: Alright then. We'll shift this over to the group. Look for it in next week's posts. Thanks!

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RE: Kids shrieking in the post office: Am I a total jerk for having no problem about addressing kids directly when their parents cannot/will not? I have, on more than one occasion, said to a child, "sweetheart, please keep your voice down." If you're mean about it, of course it's a problem, but if you're acting as a firm, but kind adult, then I think it's ok.

Am I wrong to do this? I don't have a problem with people correcting my child if it's done respectfully. It takes a village, and all that.

Carolyn Hax: If you do it in the spirit you say, I think you're right to do this--and in fact parents who have a clue will welcome it.

That of course leaves you to deal with the wrath of parents sans clue, but that's probably what you were dealing with already, just in a different form.

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Maryland: I thought I didn't want kids. It turns out I just didn't want kids with the abusive boyfriend, but at the time I couldn't admit how horrible he was.

Now I'm married to a great guy and we've got a little boy... and I have to endure a ton of mockery from people who heard me say I didn't want them. I feel like I've done a major disservice to all the women who really, really don't want them.

Oh, by the way, if the kid haters could stop glaring at me WHILE I AM REMOVING THE SCREAMER, I'd appreciate it, we're leaving the scene of the crime as fast as we can. Instead of glaring, hold the door for me so I can wrestle the stroller, the diaper bag, and the screamer out faster...

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry. I hope the people who knew the real reason (probably before you did) are cutting you a little more slack.

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Jersey shore: My husband and I have been very fortunate to purchase a comfortable beach house as a second home. The only problem is that I get multiple requests, from both sides of our families, to use it free. I have no problem letting our parents use it, because they have been respectful and left it in good condition, but my brother and husband's brother have both spend time there and left their messes behind. In light of this, I would just rather not have to deal with the problem of different people and their levels of responsibility, and just not let people, other than our parents, use the house. My husband thinks that we should be more generous, and let them use the house while stipulating that they should pay for a professional cleaning service to clean it once they leave. I think it's more of a hassle than it's worth. Are we required to let family use our house for free, and if so, under what conditions. (I also see no need to make a pattern of subsidizing their vacations for them -- upkeep takes money, and all these people using it does increase the wear and tear on the place).

Carolyn Hax: First, I think you should codify the cleaning requirement. Have a contract with a service, and make anyone who uses the house pay upfront for the service.

Second, yes, you can tell everyone no. But you have to be ready to measure wear and tear on the house against wear and tear on the family bonds. If you're being used, that's also wear and tear, certainly; I'm suggesting only that you factor all these things in.

Third, your husband wants to be generous, so maybe a compromise would be that each wearing-and-tearing family member can use the house once a year. Explain that you need to do this to get a handle on all the traffic through the house.

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Tokyo, Japan: Carolyn,

I have been looking to end a relationship of just under a year. Though a great friend for years prior to dating, after a fair amount of communication, I feel we are simply emotionally incompatible. However, the pain I will cause and the uneasiness of the task are holding me back from actually breaking it off. You have clearly stated that it is a trouble sign if you place another's happiness over your own, yet I still delay. Any other words to kick me into action?

Carolyn Hax: The longer you delay, the worse you're making it for the other person. Really. Pull the plug.

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Carolyn Hax: Speaking of ... apologies to Elizabeth, and bye to all. Thanks, have a great weekend and type to you next Friday.

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Carolyn Hax: Two good afterthoughts on the Rockville issue, before I go:

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Re: Rockville, MD: If he doesn't want to go because he's been stuck at home alone with the kids 24/7 and wants a nice relaxed family weekend instead of a hectic one with the in-laws, he should say so. Pretending he's canceling the weekend "for her" when it's not just for her isn't cool.

I think he does have the right to say "I don't want to do this" and decide to stay home, though you'd hope it wouldn't come to that.

Oh, and as a SAHM, it's not something your spouse can make you do -- if he doesn't like being a SAHD he should say that too -- putting it all on her isn't fair.

It sounds like they need to sit down and talk.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, and:

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Washington, D.C.: It's fine to check the Rockville stay at home dad for his gender assumptions, but I have to say he has a point. As the children's primary care giver, his wife is asking him to do the care giving all the time by not taking time for herself. This doesn't sound like a one-time weekend thing and it's not fair for her to over commit/extend at everyone else's (kids, his, hers) expense. I do think he's actually concerned for her and wants her to rest and has her best interests at heart, but I would also ask him if he has some resentment simmering over a long-term situation that should be talked about versus controlled. E.G. calling the relative to get the result he wants. Then again, this could just be about what he says it is on face value. Just typing out loud ...

Carolyn Hax: What do you think I'm doing?

Thanks, and bye for real.

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