Carolyn Hax Live: Canceling Plans, Role Model Moms, Too Judgmental and a Few Good Wows

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 30, 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 30 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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Today's Carto, ON ...: was either way too subtle for me, or the caption was missing. Please tell me the caption was missing.

washingtonpost.com:"I'm making a difference, doing what I love, and torturing my social-climbing parents. Worth every cent of the pay cut." It's fixed online now - thanks to those who alerted us!

Carolyn Hax: What she said.

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"Unwed" Parents: For the mother from Wednesday's column: what exactly does she think that having an earlier wedding is going to accomplish (besides "saving face," which is WAY up there on the list of Worst Reasons to Make Life-Altering Decisions)? Does she really believe that her son and his fiancee are going to be any more committed to each other and their family unit the day after the wedding than they were the day before it? Marriage isn't something that happens in a day -- it's a state of mind that develops over time. The rest is just paperwork and party-planning.

Carolyn Hax: Actually the paperwork is very important. Just to give you an example, if something terrible happens to the mother, her parents will be her default medical decision-makers, not the fiance, even though it's his child who could be affected. If a couple doesn't plan to or can't marry, a trip to an attorney is worthwhile to figure out which of these protections can be obtained by other means.

I don't think that's what the letter-writer was worried about at all, especially since the last line of the letter indicated the wedding had in fact been moved up (which is one of the reasons I didn't get into the issue of marrying earlier). I also agree with you on the state of mind. It's just important not to minimize the contractual end of it as just paper, particularly where there's a child involved.

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confused, me: Can you please expand on this from this morning's column -

First, make sure you distinguish between "only viable option" and "only option that I am equipped to envision." You want your misery to be in service of a worthy goal, not just in service of limited thinking.- I'm not sure what you mean. An example of the different options would be greatly appreciated!

Carolyn Hax: Well, I don't know what the person's job was, so examples would be difficult. I'm simply addressing the fact that people often bring limited imagination to job/career issues. I was that way; when I was a college senior, I couldn't think of anything besides teaching, law school, journalism. There are countless funky niche jobs out there, and while anecdotally it seems that people mostly just stumble across them as they travel more mainstream paths, there's no reason someone couldn't actively seek one out. Particularly, anyone who sees a long slog through a hated job as necessary ought to enlist the help of someone who has experience helping people find these niche careers. Some people have to slog for a while--doing their time for something they know they want. But people who aren't sure of their goals would be smart to consider their misery as a sign their goals need some attention. That's all I meant.

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Bethesda, Md.: I'm a 28 year-old professional woman, good job, nice BF, doing well by any standard. But I'm too judgmental, know I'm too judgmental, in fact it's driving me crazy, but I'm not having luck trying to change. I don't think heavy people should eat 3000 calorie meals; I don't think single women should keep having kids with different fathers; I don't think anyone should drive a Cadillac SUV (minor tiff w/BF after his brother bought one). Last night at a minor league baseball game a family with 3 enormous kids bought them enough junk food to feed a small country. I kept quiet, but it was hard.

I realize that, other than living my own life according to my rules, and perhaps some volunteer work, there is very little I can do about any of these problems. So how do I let go of this? I realize I need to focus my energy elsewhere, just don't know how to go about this. Thank you very much.

Carolyn Hax: Other than the people who do these things, I'm not sure anyone thinks it's a great idea to do these things. At best you'll get, well, it's their prerogative/business, with a "lighten up" thrown at you for good measure.

As long as you realize that you're entitled to your opinion but aren't entitled to run people's lives for them or assume things about them that you can't possibly know--and, accordingly, you don't even shoot disapproving looks you're not informed enough to shoot--I don't really see where you're doing anything wrong.

The one element that I think might help is a little humility, a there-but-for-the-grace-of-[your deity here]-go-I attitude. You may not be stuffing junk food into any children at the moment, but we're all a fate-twist or two away from something, if not immersed in something already. never hurts to keep that in mind.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Hi

My girlfriend of two years recently broke up with me. She's agreed to go to couples counseling to try and work it out, however, she just told me the other day that she was going because I guilted her into it.

She said that wasn't entirely the reason, but there it is, and I don't want her to do it if she doesn't want to. I want her heart to be in it, like mine is. But if we cancel our appointment and don't go, then this is over. What should I do? Thank you.

Carolyn Hax: Sounds like it's over already--or, at least, you need to accept that its being over is the likeliest outcome.

If you can't manage the mere idea of that, then I'm not sure a reconciliation would have a chance, if one is even possible. Living in fear of the worst case is not living. It's clinging to someone in panic.

Let go. Go to counseling on your own. Figure yourself out. If after that you think you have something productive to say to your (ex-) girlfriend, then you can lay it out for her at that time--with the attitude that anything she decides to do beyond that has to be entirely of her free will.

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Washington, DC: Dear Carolyn,

I just wanted to add my two cents to something that last week's discussion brought up: are people too sensitive and do they overreact to personal questions? I had an experience this weekend that I kept thinking; "this is a Carolyn Hax moment!"

Background. My husband and I are recently married. I am in my thirties and he is a lot older than me. He has a teenage son from his first marriage, and yes we do intend to try for children ourselves in the future, but I have recently suffered health problems that make it ill-advised at present. All in all, it is a private matter. Last weekend we went out to dinner with two sets of friends, to a quite nice restaurant and one couple brought a fourth couple as their guests, whom none of us had ever met before. The question was first asked by the wife; "when are you going to have children?" So far, okay, impolite, but I was willing to put it down to gaucheness and so I just replied "oh, eventually" and asked for more wine. But, the woman just STARTED, like a dog with a bone. "Oh you MUST have children, you MUST. You don't have much time you know, no you MUST, when are you going to start? Don't you just LOVE babies, I LOVE babies, oh, you MUST love babies you simply MUST." (incidentally, why must I?) I should add that she had had quite a bit to drink by then so I expect this explains the repetition. I was shocked, to put it mildly, and did the broken record thing saying repeatedly "well, we shall see what happens" or "all in good time" but the woman just went on with, "But you don't HAVE time. Your husband is a lot older, and you are getting on, if you aren't careful it is going to be IVF, so you must start soon, you simply MUST." Then she said "are there problems? Do you have problems? Perhaps there are problems? There MUST be problems. Why are you delaying?" Seriously. I have never experienced anything like it, and at first tried to laugh it off by saying "well I think all the rooms are booked upstairs, but never mind." But none of this worked. She just Would. Not. Let. It. Go. There were a lot of jaws dropped, I have to say. Finally, after she had gone and on and there was just embarrassed silence from everyone else, one of our friends told her that if she did not shut up then he would punch her in the mouth. All rather mortifying.

I was not offended so much, just truly, deeply amazed that someone could be that intrusive and rude. I think I handled it dreadfully. I should have said firmly that it was private and made it clear that I was not going to discuss it, but I was so taken aback by the whole situation. I think we all handled it badly... me, for trying to initially be polite enough to try and not embarrass her back by telling her it was private and to get her nose out of our business, my poor husband for being so uncertain as to whether or not this was just the kind of intimate friendly banter that women allow between each other, and the other friend who finally threatened to smack her. It was all really quite incredibly surreal!!!!

No question - just wanted to share!

Carolyn Hax: Wow. Thanks for thinking of us!

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Alexandria, Va.: I could use advice on my situation, which is kind of unusual.

My husband was married twice before me. The first time to "Cindy" with whom he had a son, "Jason." They divorced only a few months after Jason was born, and he soon got involved with "Donna." He and Donna eventually got married. Cindy also remarried. So Jason has basically known his whole life as Mom and Stepdad, Dad and Donna.

Well, Dad and Donna got divorced when Jason was 14. I came into the picture the following year and we got married and moved out of state. Jason is now 16.

So, Jason and Donna are still close. He spends weekends with her often, and it's basically like she's still his stepmom.

This puts me in an odd position because... what am I? He already has a mom and a stepmom, and it's hard for me to tell exactly what my role is. Random example - do I help him buy a birthday present for his dad or does Donna do that like she always has? When I'm coordinating visits (like a surprise for Father's day) do I make arrangements with Cindy or should I be contacting Donna too?

I get along great with Jason (I'm also a lot younger than my husband and also his mom and Donna). I also get along great with Cindy, but have basically only met Donna once (who was civil but not terribly friendly).

I just feel lost and my husband isn't much help in figuring this all out.

Carolyn Hax: Seems to me the most generous thing you can do is not stand in the way. Be friendly, be accessible, be flexible, don't keep your husband all to yourself, and maybe keep the planning of surprises and other elaborate social constructs to a minimum. You're all adults, the usual adult gatherings will do, and when there's a hmm moment--say, when Jason graduates and you're not sure how to handle a party or announcement or something--think of the voting power each person has in terms of concentric circles. Jason is the center, Mom and Dad are the inner circle, Donna is one circle out, you are two circles out.

The details may be unusual, but it's not really unusual in its general theme: Your life is affected significantly by people and things over which you have only limited say. As long as you have a reasonable idea of your limits and a gracious attitude toward whatever lies beyond them, you'll be fine.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Carolyn - I'm the admin assistant who wrote in a couple weeks ago regarding my husband's negative feelings about my job. We have been talking about this quite a bit lately, and it turns out that his primary concern isn't so much that my job is embarrassing to him, but that I'm a poor role model for our kids. He grew up around women who thought they could only pursue typically "female" professions, no matter how smart they were, and now he thinks I'm demonstrating to our kids (both girls) that (a) women can't be anything other than secretaries; and (b) women can't balance high-caliber professional jobs with their family responsibilities. I'm not sure what to make of this - on the one hand, I agree that I'm a role model for my kids, for better or worse, in everything I do, but at the same time, it is just way too much pressure to feel I have to be the "perfect" role model in absolutely all things. I'm wondering what you, and the other chatters, think of this? Do I have an obligation to pursue a high-powered job in order to demonstrate to my girls that women can achieve positions of power without giving up the opportunity to be wives and mothers too? For the record, I want to raise my girls to be happy, confident, productive members of society - whether that involves being secretaries or President of the United States.

Carolyn Hax: Great to hear from you again, and I'm glad you and your husband are talking. I signed one of my responses in that thread as, "Daughter of executive secretary," and I'm one of four girls raised by that mom, so I think I'm in a particularly good position to speak to your husband's concerns.

And I still think he is full of [it]. Of the four girls in my family, two of us are primary breadwinners for our families. Two chose to be stay-at-home moms, both of whom have since gone back to work as their kids have entered their teens. Two of us have advanced degrees: the two who chose to be at-home moms.

As for my mom's choice to take an admin job, she would have preferred something with more "status," sure. She was often frustrated by having to follow rather than lead. But it was good money for manageable hours, so she was accessible to us even when she worked full-time, which she didn't at first. In fact she didn't work at all for years, and even with her Ivy degree the work force wasn't as kind then as it is now to women who take many years off to raise kids, and many would argue it isn't terribly kind even now.

Kids aren't complete morons. We knew our mom had choices, knew we had more choices than mom, and we knew the whole point of feminism wasn't to pack law schools and boardrooms with women, but to get rid of lingering restrictions on women (including purely ideological ones) that kept them from exercising their full range of choices. As long as your kids have eyes and/or ears, they are getting the message that women have choices.

Including the choice to remind your husband that his showing their mother a little more respect would be healthier for his girls' self-esteem than your working 60-hour weeks.

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SAHH from last week: I'm the guy who wanted my wife to stay home and rest instead of visiting the elderly relative last weekend. Well, she decided to stay home and get some rest! Needless to say she's a changed person b/c of it. Energy, planning home projects, etc. But, my MIL won't speak to me b/c we didn't go and she did. 'Nother story. Anyway, just wanted to follow up.

Carolyn Hax: Glad it worked out, but, MIL not speaking? Hm. I guess we now have a glimmer of insight into your wife's tendency to be so hard on herself.

If you're willing to share, it would be interesting to know how she came to her decision, and whether you did anything to get her there. Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: My husband has gotten into a bad habit where we'll be invited somewhere, we'll accept, and then the day of the event, he decides he doesn't want to go. Usually there's no real reason, he just doesn't feel like it, would rather work around the house, whatever. It's putting me in a terrible position of either going and making excuses for him (not fair to me) or canceling at the last minute on our hosts (totally not fair to them). I don't want to be one of those girls who disappears after she gets married. If I make him go, he whines the whole way there, puts on a happy face and then looks for the earliest escape. This happens with his friends as well as mine. Help? I don't want to be the girl who never leaves the house because her husband sucks.

Carolyn Hax: That's not a bad habit, that's behaving like a toddler. The one exception would be if he's depressed; bailing on things at the last minute b/c he can't face the idea of them is a classic sign of it. Does he have any other symptoms or indications of depression? Changed sleep or eating habits, for example? You can look up more at www.depression-screening.org, or at http://nimh.nih.gov/

If he's not depressed, then, really, he is being astonishingly rude. The only--only only--etiquette-sanctioned excuse for backing out of established plans is to do so in favor of something you want less than you wanted the other person's company. For example, to stay home sick, or to take someone to the ER, or to wait for the plumber to fix the pipe that flooded your basement.

When you're invited somewhere, you can always say no, but once you have accepted, you can't just stay home because you;d rather be home, or blow it off because you got a better offer.

I realize you may know all this, but since you're asking me and he isn't (pity), I can only offer things that you can do, and one of them is to explain how courtesy works, and how he's being rude.

Ask him what's going on--if he's okay, if there's any reason he's started doing this. Start with your mind open to the possibility of a bigger story, given that it's bad habit he's "gotten into," vs the way he has always been.

If he gives you nothing of substance there, then please don't enable his rudeness in any way. Explain to your husband that you won't no-show with him, you're going, and you won't lie to cover for him. If he doesn't want to see friends, then he can choose not to accept, but once he accepts he needs to put his friends' feelings above his own. Be very clear about this.

If he doesn't care, then you have a problem bigger than having to make excuses--you have, as I said, a toddler for a mate. Sulking, whining, punishing you, asking you to cover, going against his will and then leaving early? Wow. How does he treat you, if he really is just dismissive of others?

This is all, again, if you have no other signs that he's struggling in other ways. If you do see those signs, focus on those; you can tend to the friend stuff later.

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Live-and-let-live Liber, AL: Carolyn, one of my friends has decided that we as humans (but probably especially USAers - thanks Gene!) use too many soaps/fragrances, and has gone to using only water on her hair. No shampoo. She is really pleased with it and all, and says her hair is much healthier and better looking. She is wrong. Her hair looks oily/dirty/greasy/stringy to me, seriously so. What exactly can I say to her when she asks how I like her hair? BTW, I am a terrible liar. Seriously terrible. So how can I not feel like a hypocrite. No, I am not planning to end our friendship because of her hair!

Carolyn Hax: Ew. I guess you have two choices: 1. "More important, how do you like it?" or 2. "It looks like you've stopped washing it." Since I could trot out examples to support both--including people who think it's your duty to choose one or the other, and people who would prefer to hear one or the other--it really has to be your call.

Surely there are some organic/unscented products out there.

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Fairfield, Ohio: I'm 32, have been happily married for 6+ years, and was surprised and upset to recently discover that a fair number of my family and friends don't much care for my husband. At a family gathering, at which he was not present, someone made the offhand comment, it's not as if he's terribly ambitious. Others jumped in with other criticisms, nothing about the way he treat me (very well, nor does he drink, play around or have other major flaws), just that I "could have done so much better" and the infuriating (to me) comment, oh well, as long as you're happy... I said, I AM happy, and PLEASE, you're talking about my husband! Their reaction was, gosh, we're not saying anything you don't already know! In fact, I disagree with much of their criticism, and said so, but not extensively and we moved on to other topics.

So now I'm wondering, where do I go from here? I've pretty much decided not to mention it to my husband, but I'm going to feel funny being around people who I know hold these negative views. We live a couple hours away so don't see them all the time, but do so on a fairly regular basis.

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry, that's no fun. I'm sure, though, that while these comments seemed out-of-the-blue at the time, there's a benefit to letting time and context do their jobs. What do you know about the people who made these judgments? Do they have a history that would explain such a superficial set of opinions?

What may seem like the end of your good times with a group of people often is just the end of your delusional times with a group of people. Especially when it's a longstanding relationship, like with family, childhood friends, even colleagues, it's common to form your opinion of your crowd and then not revisit it a whole lot. They just are who they are; there's a lot of comfort in that.

But imagine if your initial impression was off in any way--which it usually is, if you think about it, since a long relationship would mean, by definition, that you were a child going into it, or a rookie, or just a lot less-well-traveled than you are now. In that case, you'd likely still be carrying around this misguided opinion of everyone. And that usually comes out when you get blindsided by their true selves.

So, if you don't want to lose your connection to these people completely, but can't imagine maintaining it on the same terms now, revisit your impressions of everyone who chimed in on your husband's shortcomings. Spend some time getting familiar with -their- shortcomings. Not to use them against everyone, of course, but instead to put their comments in perspective. You may find that you still can summon even warm feelings for them--just maybe a slightly more nuanced opinion of who they really are.

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Re: Washington D.C.: To the woman whose husband bails at the last minute, it could also be anxiety. I know this is often lumped in with depression, but as someone who has panic/anxiety attacks - I have definitely bailed quite rudely because of them. And sometimes they come on even when I'm looking forward to the event. Just a thought.

Carolyn Hax: Thanky.

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Role Model Mom: Very interesting issue with the admin worker whose husband wanted her to take a higher-powered job to be a role model for their daughters.

I'm a university professor with tenure at my state flagship school and I have reflected on the same issue! Having gotten tenure, I'm not going all-out for the next promotion (full professor) because my kids (3 daughters) are still at home and that won't be forever. When they're in college, who knows.

I have wondered if I'm showing them a bad example, to have limited ambitions. But the fact is, I DO have limited ambitions! It makes no sense to me to do something I don't want to do (throw myself into work) to try to teach my children some sort of lesson, rather than actually spend time connecting with them and go on trips in the summers. It wouldn't work if I tried. They would just think, what, "Mom made herself miserable and stressed out for some sort of principle"??

By the way I have colleagues of both sexes with children who love their work so much they have no trouble doing it while leading full lives at home. More power to them! But I am not one of them and my kids have to get the good and the bad from the mother they have.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the story and the great perspective.

I really think the best parental role models, male or female, for any children, male or female, are the ones who are comfortable in their own skin. Career choices, ambitions (or not), balancing strategies--they're all small parts of that, and any incarnation of them can work. (With the two possible exceptions of two parents who are very comfortable never being home for their kids, or two parents who feel very comfortable indulging their own whims at the expense of others. I'm not sure those have a stellar track record.)

Know yourself, own your choices, and put your kids first because they didn't choose to be born. The rest is just accessorizing.

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Need advice-giving advice: Help, I recently started dating someone who is starting a new career in a field very similar to the one I've worked in for 10 years. She just sent me a sample of her work for me to check out/offer tips. I know she's just starting out, but the work is really awful. I can't think of anything good to say about it! I think she really needs to get some kind of instruction from a professional and start over again if she is going to succeed. Problem is she is essentially self-employed and the learning curve would have to take place on her own time/money. I don't want to offer my own expertise as I think that would be really awkward; she is proud of her work and I don't relish the thought of telling her otherwise. But I want to help her succeed, to the extent I can. What do I say?

Carolyn Hax: Interesting. Even if her work were great, I don't think you'd want to put yourself in the role of professional guide. It's just really bad for a relationship. Life is hard enough, even when you go through it with a supportive partner; when that partner doubles as your critic, it introduces strain to one of the few places you're supposed to be able to go to build yourself back up.

The fact that you have no idea what to do with your negative opinion just happens to illustrate, very nicely, why you don't want to be in that role.

So, I would advise you to decline to give your opinion. Tell her you've had second thoughts about being both a personal friend and professional guide, and steer her instead to a the kind of instructor you think she needs. She may protest, but, just reiterate that you don't want to be her critic, you'd rather just be a fan.

Side note, I do wonder if that's possible--to build strong romantic feelings for someone you see as not, ahem, competent. Maybe that's not an issue if this is just about her getting the proper training ...

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Switching Between Chats: The Real Estate Chat had the following question posted - it has to be a joke, right? As Elizabeth said... wow.

Potomac, Md.: My best friend lives in an exclusive neighborhood in the Northeast. After months on the market, her neighbors told her they are considering selling their house to some sort of "Internet multimillionaire". Will this person live in the house? Uh, no. Instead, this person plans to rent the house to some custodian, his day care worker wife, and their seven children (combined). My friend is beside herself, as you can imagine! It would be like if Jose, Maria and their baby Jesus plopped themselves down in a barn on River Road!!! The HOA says there's nothing they can do. What are her options to derail the sale of the house? Lawsuit? Political intervention (her husband donates heavily)? Calling INS? I'd love to provide her some thoughts and resources to help her forestall this imminent travesty.

Maryann Haggerty: Are you serious?

Good for that millionaire for realizing that the people who work for him deserve to have a decent life, too.

Elizabeth Razzi: Wow. Old-school bigotry is not dead. All I can say is my late mother (one of seven children) would tell you to behave as if Joseph, Mary and Jesus (oops, Jose, Maria and baby Jesus) were moving into this "exclusive neighborhood."

washingtonpost.com: This Elizabeth also says wow!

Carolyn Hax: This Carolyn says wow to Elizabeth's wow and to the other Elizabeth's wow. Although with raging bigots for neighbors, the "decent life" part is debatable. Good neighbors do more for quality of life than any number of bedrooms can.

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Dayton, Ohio: Question on wedding etiquette:

My fiance's family is a military family - many people have served in the Army. His sister and her fiance (who is in the military) got engaged and set a date for September of 2008. We had set our date for November of 2008 so there would be adequate space in between the two weddings. Now it appears that their elder brother will be deployed to Iraq in October. We wanted to change our date to July or August (we're having a smallish wedding) to allow him to attend, but the sister think it's bad form to go before the September wedding. We would like the elder brother to be there. What's the etiquette on this?

Carolyn Hax: As long as no one misses the Sept wedding for your wedding, then there's nothing bad about the form. Make the effort to find out whether your date change would pull guests away from the other couple. If the answer is no, then have your fiance explain to his sister that you and he obtained these assurances. If she still protests, then he should point out that, presumably, she'd make the same choice for him herself--to have the family there, if possible. I know it would affect the whole family if she had a hissy about it, but it still really would be her problem. Weddings are about celebrating a marriage with the people closest to you, not winning the most attention from the people closest to you.

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re: Husband backing out of social events: The possibilities you mentioned are more likely, but the "we'll accept..." stood out to me, because it's usually one person or the other picking up the phone or responding to an email; she's asking him beforehand if he -wants- to go, right? I ask this as someone who occasionally will say "no" outright because my "other plans" involve taking the evening to read a book or go to bed early. It's hard to know stuff like that in advance, of course, but it sounded to me like she's someone pretty social, so if these events are taking up every night of a weekend, I could understand where the husband's coming from -- he might just need some time to recharge, and his only option is to do so rather rudely. I'm not married, so maybe this changes upon being a legal sort of unit, but isn't it okay for her to plan to go to these things by herself? -- to the tune of, "I don't know what Jim's plans are, but I definitely will come."

Carolyn Hax: It's a good distinction to make, thanks. If she's accepting for both of them without his input, then she does need to recognize his recalcitrance as a sign she's pushing too hard. Of course, if this is the case, then it would be much much better if he just said, "Please check with me before you accept these things; most nights, I'd really rather stay home." But short of that, it's the kind of thing that comes out when you start asking if everything's okay. People do often try too hard to please, even when the effort is clearly starting to break down.

And to answer your question, yes, it's also okay for one spouse to accept for herself and let the other decide. The more common approach is to run invitations by the other spouse before accepting or declining. If you both aren't meticulous in keeping a calendar, not checking can lead to conflicts, which can lead to making you seem like a jerk when you have to back out of something you previously accepted. Which brings us full circle.

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Last minute...: It could be he is really an introvert. I am often tempted to do this. See, I think going out and being social sounds like what I -SHOULD- want. So, I break out of my mold, accept invitations, etc... BUT, when the time comes I realize that inside I have not changed and being social with strangers or acquaintances does not sound as much fun as hanging with my hubby alone or reading. I DO enjoy one on one time with kindred spirits. But groups just take it out of me. It is never as much fun in reality as it seems. There is so little depth, so much politics, so much keeping your mind to yourself, so little connections.

Anyway, owing your introverted self can be hard in our extroverted world. Maybe he struggles too.

Carolyn Hax: Yes, but it doesn't make last-minute ditching okay. It merely explains the urge to do it. Better just to give yourself blanket permission to decline invitations to group outings upfront.

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When you're invited somewhere, you can always say no, but once you have accepted, you can't just stay home because you'd rather be home, or blow it off because you got a better offer. : Huh? I absolutely disagree with that. I've blown off previously established plans before, although never at the last minute. Example: agreed to a dinner date for Friday night on a Monday, had an insanely hard week at work between then and Friday, canceled Thursday night so that I could catch up on sleep, laundry, my sanity. Why is there something wrong with that? That is called giving yourself a break.

Carolyn Hax:... at someone else's expense, which is called self-absorption. If this is a good friend and you have the kind of relationship where you can just pick it up another time, or if it was just a casual group let's-all-meet-at-happy-hour gathering at which you can guarantee you won't really be missed, then okay. Stay home, be tired, do laundry.

But if someone took the time to plan a party and was counting on guests to show up, or if you're leaving someone without plans who was counting on getting out, or if the gathering involved tickets purchased in advance which you expect your friend to re-sell (to someone s/he actually wants to be with), then you're granting yourself too much license. Maybe the person throwing the party had a bad week, too. There is absolutely such a thing as an obligation to rally.

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RE: Fairfield: After reading her posting, I immediately thought of Marge Simpson. Smart, sweet, loving, and married to Homer. To whom, incidentally, she is 100% devoted, in love with, and adored by. So the family is snippy... after 6 years, they should accept that their lovely daughter/sister/cousin has put true love as the cornerstone of a relationship.

Carolyn Hax: Fairfield, Springfield ... suspicious indeed.

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RE: Etiquetteville: Hi Carolyn,

Quick etiquette question. My four year old was invited to party A. We accepted. Then we were invited to party B on the next weekend. Again, we accepted.

After this party A moved the date to the same time as party B. My wife and I decided that we had already accepted party B's invite for that time so we had to decline.

The mom of party A is now not speaking to us. I feel that we followed proper etiquette. What do you think?

And does it matter that party B has live lizards and snakes (a favorite of my son) and party A had Cinderella (less than no interest on the part of my son)?

Carolyn Hax: No, snakes and Cinderella don't matter (to the etiquette gods, at least), but the moving of the party is everything. When A moved the party to time and date you had already promised to B, then Mom A's only grown-up choice was to understand your position and tell you that you'd be missed.

Not speaking over a 4-year-old's Cinderella party. What are people smoking.

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SAHH from last week: She arrived at her decision on Saturday morning after she'd been asleep for nearly 15 hours. (she came home the day before, went to bed at 4:30 and didn't wake up again until 7:30. Fortunately the kids decided to sleep in). I got up around 8:00, went downstairs for coffee and asked her what she wanted to do. She just rubbed her eyes and said she thought perhaps since we weren't packed, the kids were still asleep and she was still tired that we shouldn't go. I just gave her a hug and told her I'd take the kids out for the day and she could just be by herself and rest. She did and the rest of the weekend was great for our family. The kids really loved having her home and even to themselves for a few hours on Sunday so I could have some guy time. So, bottom line, I shut up and let her make the decision. Worked out great for everyone (except my MIL of course).

Carolyn Hax: Nice. Thanks for writing back. BTW, it worked out even for the MIL, who would ultimately have been worse off for her daughter's emotional and physical hyper-extension, even though she's too selfish to see it.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn, I'm depressed about my three-year marriage and wonder if you had any advice. When I got married, I was hoping to find someone who shared some of my goals, etc. and would make me feel good about myself. Instead, my wife has definite opinions on how she wants things and it's been hard for us to make decisions on the big and small things affecting our marriage (baby names, color to paint a room, where to vacation, etc.). It seems the only options I have are to give in (which I do sometimes) or compromise with her - which never seems to satisfy either of us. We're open about discussing this with ourselves and a marriage counselor, I just don't think my wife wants to change. I married a sweet person who I love, problem is the "ever after" part, i.e. the day-to-day stuff. My questions: Is it wrong to look for some validation in a marriage? Is it legitimate to expect or ask a spouse to change her ways? Thanks

Carolyn Hax: It's certainly legitimate to ask a spouse to listen when you say you're feeling irrelevant. I also have more than a minor quibble with the "sweet person" assessment; sweet people allow those close to them to be themselves.

We could go back and forth on the issue of whether a person can both mean well and be controlling, but the end result is that you married someone controlling. She will not change unless she wants to--and she may not ever want to, but counseling will at least give you a chance to state your case that you're unhappy having so little say in your day-to-day lives. That's not about validation, per se, that's about freedom, autonomy, being yourself. (Which is a little nicer, sure, when your spouse says, "Great idea, let's do that instead.")

When you do get to counseling, two suggestions: focus on what you need -for- yourself, not on what you need -from- her (since you can only control the former); and, listen listen listen when it's her turn to talk. You feel she's the problem, which she may be, but refusing to budge on the grounds that you've budged too much already will quickly make you the problem, too. Good luck.

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Never Okay to Bail: Hold on--you agreed with Rockville, MD that it was okay (even preferable) for his wife to bail on a planned visit with an elderly relative, because wife was worn out, but now tell someone else that bailing on an engagement because they are worn out is "self absorbed." Is the difference here that Rockville's family included children who would benefit from the bail? Or is there something more subtle I'm missing?

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for bringing this up--it lines up so neatly in my mind but I can see why I might be the only one who sees that. I regarded the cancellation of the trip as the equivalent of canceling because you're sick, which is sanctioned by etiquette. The husband made an excellent case, I thought, for his wife's being run down beyond the point where the trip was advisable. It wasn't, "I'd rather just read and do laundry," it was, as it turned out, falling face down upon arrival at home and sleeping 15 hours.

To illustrate it beyond this one example with one from my life--I recently encouraged a friend not to go to an RSVP'd-yes party b/c said friend was on three hours sleep (not good to have on the road, for starters). What makes the difference often is that the person backing out really does want to go, and would go if it were realistic to. The standard I cited in today's first acceptance-etiquette answer really does cover it--you're staying home for something you have to do or would rather not do, vs. something you'd rather do.

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More etiquette for ya: Imagine you have a friend who often makes tentative plans with you with the caveat that she might have cancel because of work and won't be able to confirm with you until late in the evening on the day for which you've made plans. And then someone else asks you to go out that night. Do you:

(1) Tell person B that you won't be able to confirm with them until person A confirms with you, which will probably mean that you won't be able to see them;

(2) Tell person A that you've made plans with person B, and that if she can join you, she is welcome to; or

(3) Never make plans with person A, because she is never able to confirm in advance.

I live in New York, and maybe it's a NYC thing, but this happens ALL THE TIME.

Thank you!

Carolyn Hax: Eesh. I guess just tell A, when s/he states the conditions, that you might go ahead and include others, too. maybe?

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CB in VA: My GF's ex-father-in-law just died, she is doing a reading at the funeral. Do you think that is kind of odd?

Carolyn Hax: No, not if they were close. Just because it didn't last with the son doesn't mean she can't have a non-threatening place in her heart for the father.

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re: Washington, D.C.: I found this comment a little odd:

When I got married, I was hoping to find someone who shared some of my goals, etc. and would make me feel good about myself.

Maybe there is a typo in it but I thought he should have known the person he was marrying shared his goals, etc. before they got married.

Carolyn Hax: No, I thought the same thing, but got distracted ... by the time! Cheez. I gotta go.

anyway, I was trying to figure out how to phrase that these are issues best dealt with pre-vow, but that seemed mean and moot, and then I moved on to something else. Thanks for the catch.

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Re: Washington, D.C.: Carolyn, I read the post (about the "controlling wife") completely differently. He says the only options he has are to give in or compromise. Okay, I understand that she needs to give in too sometimes, but isn't compromise what a marriage is? If my husband likes the name "Mary" and I like the name "Janice" and we each hate the other's choice, wouldn't we need to compromise on a third alternative? Why should I give in on this (or him for that matter)? I guess you reacted more strongly than I did. I actually saw HIM as being controlling of HER and wanting things his way all of the time.

Carolyn Hax: I saw a little of that, which is why I threw in the last part about his having to be willing to budge. But if this marriage is such that he never is the one to think of or decide anything--not the color of a wall, not the destination of a trip, meaning nothing that is his suggestion ever comes to fruition--that can really wear a person down. I feel for him.

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dude.: Those four-year-olds have busier social lives than I do.

Carolyn Hax: No kidding. And they play with lizards and then eat cake and then go home. Talk about the life.

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Carolyn Hax: Okay that has to be it. Thanks all, thanks Elizabeth, bye, see you next Friday (unless I decide I'd rather read a book).

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