washingtonpost.com
Carolyn Hax Live: Gift Etiquette, Promise Rings and Being OK With Being Single

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 13, 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, June 13 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

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Wonderi, NG: Hi Carolyn. I don't know how to phrase this question exactly but I do hope you take it. I've never dated a guy before and there has always been so much going on that I didn't really mind it until now (I'm in my middle twenties). The thing is -- these dating rules and etiquette -- I'm not interested in playing dating games with men. But everyone tells me I need practice and I must go through a lot of dating to meet the One. Is that true? Do we really have to date, date, date to get there? I don't even know what the alternative is.

Carolyn Hax: Be social. Know a lot of people. That can accomplish as much as bulk dating.

The date date date approach has its merits--foremost among them, I believe, is to make the whole setup feel routine instead of stressful and freighted with expectations. However, it also has a clear down side, in that it establishes romantic relationships as this separate category, and potential dates as Other. People are people. Getting to know someone on those terms, vs. "Ooh this could really have potential!!!" terms, puts the whole business on more rational footing.

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Alexandria, Va.: My fiance and I are planning a small wedding, and plan on emailing the invitations and posting a website for the specifics. However, both of us don't want or need gifts, and would like to say "In lieu of gifts, please consider making a donation to a charity of your choice." However, I am told this is very tacky, but I can't see why. What are your thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Very tacky is telling people you want cash gifts only. Charitable suggestions are only slightly tacky.

The problem with gift directives is that they assume there will be a gift, when of course a gift is strictly voluntary. (That's right, strictly voluntary.) So if you want to put the word out about gifts, the only polite channels are the ones that address only those who express an interest in giving a gift. In other words, you tell only those who ask. To be sure your wishes get expressed to the most guests, the megaphone of choice is usually the couple's closest friends and family. Let them know you're asking for gifts to be directed to charity, and to please say so when anyone inquires about a registry.

That said, an e-mailed invitation is pretty informal. If you're close to everyone on your small list of guests, then you might not have to worry about people taking offense. (You also need to expect that some people will buy you gifts anyway, because they want to.)

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

My friends met my new boyfriend for the first time recently. The evening went well for the most part -- except for the fact that he drank a bit too much and was insulting some of my guy friends. He claims that he was just joking around with them and that he didn't mean anything by what he was saying. I told him that it was too early to joke around with them because it was only the first time he had met them.

A few days later, I spoke to a couple of friends about that evening. They said that they thought the new boyfriend was a bit of a jerk. My friends are an important part of my life and I'd like for them to like the new guy. Should I talk the boyfriend and subtly let him know what my friends think of him? Or do I give it another chance and hope that he makes a better second impression? Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: How about: 3. Consider that your boyfriend might be a jerk.

Don't you think it's a little strange that this isn't on your list? The two possibilities you offer are to ask your boyfriend to change (but only because your friends are looking), and to hope he changes on his own.

He is who he is. he drank too much, insulted your friends, and brushed off the responsibility for his actions. The only issue here is whether this was a onetime slip or a peek at his real nature--and even if it was a onetime slip, if it happened because he was nervous, then you'll have to be ready for his nerves to factor into other situations in other ways. I also doubt the blame-shedding can ever be a onetime thing.

The only plans that ever work are the ones based on the facts you have. Look at the context and take it from there.

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D.C.: Any tips for moving in together when it's into his space? He owns a house that is pretty complete as far as decorating. I'm used to my space my way. How do you navigate the logistics and make it an "our" space?

Carolyn Hax: Um. Have you discussed it? That would be my first tip. Anything subsequent would stem from that conversation.

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"Pre-Engagement" : Hey Carolyn,

Last week, my boyfriend gave me a "promise ring" and told me to put it on my right hand. He was very clear on the point that we're not engaged, but that he wants me to know we're "headed toward something permanent."

My friends and sisters are calling me an idiot for buying this load of bull. One has taken to calling it a "please-don't-****-anyone-else" ring. What's your take on this? Aren't they being a little harsh?

Carolyn Hax: Deja vu, man.

Have you discussed it with him? What do -you- think you're headed for with this guy? Do you trust him? Yourself?

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Charity warning: Consider also that you're basically politicizing your wedding or guest list with a request for charitable donations. Unless it's something thoroughly innocuous like the SPCA, some of your guests will object to being asked to contribute to a cause they don't believe in, and they may wind up donating in your name to a cause that you don't believe in.

As Carolyn said, only mention it to those who ask. If at all.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, the notice they were considering was "a charity of -your- choice," my emphasis, which means the guests chose the charity themselves. So, not politicizing. But I'm putting this out there for those who do plan to name a preferred charity. Tanks.

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For Alexandria, Va.: Since the couple is also setting up a website for details about their wedding, they could include a link on that web page labeled "Gifts" or "Registry" or something. People who click on it (i.e. express interest in giving gifts) would then find a short sentence about instead donating to a charity.

Carolyn Hax: Excellent, thanks.

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Dallas, Tex.: Carolyn, is there something wrong with me if I have no desire to be in a "serious" relationship, don't know if I ever will be, and am content with being in a nonexclusive but respectful relationship for now (am not in one currently, or ever have been for that matter... just seems like it could work for me)? I was in a 4 year relationship before, put my all into it, and he was a great bf too, but I realized at the end that I just wasn't willing to commit the rest of my life to him. And am doubting whether I will ever become willing to/capable of committing to anyone down the road... I'm 28 y.o., if that matters at all. (Does it? Will I change my mind as I get older?)

Carolyn Hax: Certainly there are people who never want to be in a serious relationship, along with those who go through phases in which they're not interested in being anything but alone. (Actually I think everyone goes through those phases, to the point where it's normal to feel that way at times when you -are- committed to someone. Therefore, it's important to account for the possibility that the solitude craving will pass, and to get your breathing room in ways you won't come to regret. But I digress.)

From the sounds of it, your feelings now may be part of the recovery from the four-year relationship, but it may also just be the way you are. So the real question is, do you think there's something wrong with you? Are you worried about anything specifically?

If not, I'd say roll with it. A good life takes more forms than most of us are capable of envisioning anyway, especially at 28.

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Bethesda, Md.: Carolyn,

I have finally reached a point in my life where I feel happy and content with being single. That shouldn't suggest that I'm now CLOSED to the possibility of a relationship! Rather, I've just found the peace and comfort with my own company and my own life that I no longer feel the "woe is me, I don't have a girlfriend" weight.

That being said, though, I have a hard time convincing my parents of this -- because I'm an only child AND because I'm now entering my 30s. Since I'm an only child, I'm their only hope of being grandparents, and since they were married at such a young age (my mother was 19 when she got married, my father was 21), I don't think either of them can relate to living a single life, let alone being content with it.

How do I get them on the same page as me?

Carolyn Hax: I guess you need a copy of the chat bylaws.

1. You cannot "get" anyone to see, believe, understand or agree to anything. "Trying to convince" someone is to trespass on someone else's beliefs.

2. See 1.

Your beliefs are yours, your life is yours. That's your turf. Your job--and, conveniently, the limit of your influence--is to run your turf to the absolute best of your ability.

In this case, that includes being at peace with your choices. It means owning your choices. It means recognizing that your parents can make their own choices, too, about the way they view your life.

That still leaves you plenty of room to deal with your parents. It is within your turf authority, for example, to explain to your parents that discussing this further is not going to change your mind, that you'll get married on your terms and only on your terms, and that you'd appreciate their not dwelling on it any more. You can politely decline to discuss it further. You can gently change the subject when it comes up. You can excuse yourself and leave the table/room/whatever if they fail to appreciate that you mean it.

Actually, anything you say is under your jurisdiction, so feel free to express what you want most of them. "You're entitled to your beliefs, and I, too, am entitled to mine. I hope you can respect that mine are the ones I have to live by."

It might not be the same as having them "on the same page," but establishing and enforcing your limits will eventually show them that you're serious about their staying on their turf, and not trying to cultivate yours.

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Pre-Engagement again: Well, we're both in our late twenties, both second-year lawyers. I figured our ducks were in a row and that we'd be getting engaged now. The promise ring was actually a response to my bringing that up. When he gave it to me, I assumed (wrongly) that it was an engagement ring.

Carolyn Hax: Then you need to say so to him. Not as an accusation, but as a "please speak to me in complete truths, not symbols" appeal.

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RE pre-engagement: Doesn't the whole concept of "pre-engagement" strike you as, well, stupid? If you and he have agreed that you will get married, you're engaged. If you haven't you're not.

Carolyn Hax: That's how I've always seen it, though I once got in big trouble for saying that to a friend who was "engaged to be engaged." (So, no, I'm not just like this professionally.)

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Charlotte, N.C.: Even though the first question in today's column-shaking down invited guests, whether for birthdays, weddings, showers, whatever - has been asked and answered by you and pretty much every advice or etiquette columnist in the country, and always with the same answer - don't! - you chose to use column space for it anyway. That suggests to me that it's still a big enough problem, or one you hear often enough, that it warrants space. So why is the message not getting through? Why does the idea of telling guests you want money persist as appropriate? I'm as appalled as you are, and wonder if you have any thoughts as to why it just won't go away?

Carolyn Hax: I don't know. I get it ALL the time. I try to space out the occasions where I address it, and choose the more egregious ones to entertain those who already knew the answer well before they started seeing it in my column 2-4 times a year, but it Will Not Go Away. So I actually do make a point of getting it out there, especially during high season.

Why does it persist? Who knows. I can only float theories: It's probably as old as humanity to go ask Mommy when Daddy says no, so a certain percentage of the letters I get on any subject are people looking for someone, anyone to say "yes" when they already know the answer is "no." I also think our society, with its stuff-centric, celebrity-centric, self-centric emphasis in recent decades, is coming down with a nasty case of entitlement, which only compounds the problem. A massive generalization and also not a new one, but there it is.

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Houston, Texas: Ms. Hax,

I feel like a complete jerk. I've been married five years and had just decided I needed to insist on a separation for a number of reasons when my wife announced that she's pregnant. She knows we've had our problems, but has no idea I was ready to take such a drastic step, and now I feel like the timing prevents me from telling her. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: Instead of asking for a separation, admit to her that you were about to approach her with these serious concerns when she gave you the news. You and she need to get this stuff out in the open so you can deal with it, before you expose the kid to a screamfest/stony-silence-fest/peaceful-fraud-fest.

If the issues included her unwillingness to deal with serious issues/tendency to punish you for airing anything but the party line, then you may need to be more judicious in your approach. E.g., explain to her that you'd like to get into marriage counseling to shore up some things before the baby comes.

If that suggestion alone is enough to set her emotional hair on fire, then you're dealing with a broken enough marriage that I would suggest getting counseling on your own. Ask specifically for ideas for getting through this in the way that does the least harm to the environment your baby is about to inhabit. I'm sorry.

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Friday the 13th: Since this chat is on Significant Other relationships today I might as well add in my pickle. So last night my boyfriend of five years and I were discussing his fear of getting married. We are both in our mid twenties. I want to be married he isn't ready yet. Well he goes on to say that he doesn't get the same feeling he has with me as he did with his first love. But he still loves me more than her. How do I interpret that? He is my first love so I don't quite understand. He made it seem like the butterflies in the stomach were better with her and that doesn't seem right to him. To me this screams of bad news for myself. I don't want to overreact but I feel very upset over this.

Carolyn Hax: I can see why. But I think it's bad news for a different reason--he's still measuring love by volume of adrenalin. If that were the way it worked, everyone would be pining away for the person they kissed under the bleachers in high school.

I think the only way you can interpret what he said is, he's having doubts. Painful, but not always the worst thing. It may actually help the situation if you save him the trouble of finding a way to say it, and just express it for him. You're having doubts."

Then, pay careful attention to his response. If he agrees, then you've got your answer, obviously. But if he denies it, give his denial the BS test. Does he mean it, or is he trying not to hurt you, or is he afraid of breaking up, even though that might be what he really wants? It's not mind-reading you want, it's person-reading. You know him, and you'll know the truth when you see it.

If he does deny it and you don't believe it, then I would suggest giving him some time apart to be sure. Label it that way, even. As long as it's said lovingly and not spitefully, it can be an extremely effective way of getting an outcome that's both unforced and free of regrets, whether you ultimately stay together or split.

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Gifts of Money: When my parents threw me a big birthday party, they told me people were asking what I wanted. I said "gift cards" to make it easier for people, because I had no real needs, though I like shopping. Was that rude? I didn't perceive it as such - I just didn't have a prepared list of what to tell 50 people to get me.

Carolyn Hax: No, because it came from your parents, who were hearing from people who wanted to buy you a gift. The system worked exactly as etiquette would have it.

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Baltimore, Md.: Hi Carolyn,

I am in love with a guy who only likes me. It's not my fault. He pursued me (or so I thought), come to find out that he flirts fairly aggressively with everyone. He's so good at it that I thought we were dating and we were not. Imagine my embarrassment when I brought along a girlfriend to meet my new guy and he openly hit on her. He's so charming that she responded and I kicked her out of my inner circle. I've told him how I felt and he has told (and shown) me that he doesn't care. I do very much enjoy all the attention (up to kissing and cuddling) that goes on when we're together and I don't have anything else going on... haven't for a long spell, which is why I was so receptive to him. As long as my eyes are open and no one else is interested in me, how damaging do you think a relationship like this is to me emotionally? I am not unattractive, but I am very shy and a little chubby.

Carolyn Hax: Well, it already cost you a friend. On that alone I would count it as extremely destructive.

And that's before we get into the emotional price you're willing to pay for his attention. You may be starving, but you're not going to satisfy that hunger by begging for this guy's table scraps.

Please know that it's normal for people to go hungry sometimes, and it's also normal to get a little desperate as that hunger intensifies. But the only way to satisfy it (at least, in a way that you don't come to regret) is by receiving thoughtful, loving care from someone.

In the absence of a romantic source of that attention, sometimes you have to look to family, friends, and most of all yourself. Not the same thing, but we can't always have exactly what we want when we want (or even crave) it. Sometimes you have to be patient.

And now seems like a great time for you to be patient, and in the meantime take exquisite care of yourself.

Which, she reasoned circularly, means not involving yourself with anyone who uses people, sees you as a number, or openly hits on your friends.

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USA : Hey Carolyn,

Rough question: I'm working in another city over the summer, but I'll return home in a couple of months. Waiting for me is someone I really don't want to continue dating, but who expects our relationship to really take off once I get home. We're on a daily phone call schedule, which feels disingenuous and full of pressure for me. Is this one of the rare exceptions where it might be more decent to break up over the phone?

Carolyn Hax: Yes. Breaking up over the phone now is better than, essentially, lying to the person on the phone daily for the entire summer.

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D.C.: After reading this chat, your column, other advice columns... are men ever ready to get married? I'd hate to think it's just a gender thing. Maybe women are more predisposed to write off to an advice columnist than men are but it's all rather frightening.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I could just as easily argue that women are (socialized to be) too ready to get married, vs. that men are (socialized to be) resistant to marriage.

Unfortunately, what tends to emerge from public discussions of common problems is just a stereotype of what's really happening. There are plenty of men anxious to get married, sometimes too-, and plenty of women suspicious of it. There was a post from one of them earlier today.

Plus, there's an entire population you'll rarely, if ever, see represented in this forum, because they aren't the ones with the problems: men and women who became "ready" to get married when and only when they met someone they wanted to marry.

That's the winning ticket right there, in fact; it just takes a lot of patience, under a lot of societal, familial, peer and often personal pressure, to remain independent and unhitched unless and until that winning situation occurs. A lot of people lose patience and fix on, even marry, a less-than-advisable choice.

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Washington, D.C.: Another gift question. I am totally with you on gift etiquette, especially on gifts being entirely voluntary. Even so, there are some pretty powerful competing social norms on this point.

So I ask you: if I get invited to a baby shower (where 80% of the point is presents) and I show up with flowers for the mother and a certificate showing that a donation has been made in honor of baby so-and-so to some child-centered charity, is that annoying? I am the holier-than-thou skunk at the party? (I mean it with good will, I just can see it coming off as a kick in the teeth).

Carolyn Hax: Showers are different. They're parties for the sole purpose of having the village show its material support for the young and presumably struggling married couple/parents. If you don't want to be part of the village, for whatever reason, then send your regrets; you can also give a useful gift (diapers, say) and, privately, send an equal or larger gift to charity in the name of cosmic equity.

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Washington, D.C. : Promise rings

My boyfriend of four years told me that he wants me to get a Promise ring. I asked him about doing the engagement ring, but he is "old school" and probably it's his way of saying that he couldn't afford the other.

I basically told him that he should save his money and buy the engagement ring.

Carolyn Hax: Or, um, save his money and marry you without a ring? Or you buy him a ring? Or you get his-and-her eyebrow rings?

I get that he's "old school," but I believe there's an even older school where people who want to commit to each other actually do it.

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Men and marriage: Could be that men are less likely to be ready for (or covet) the experience of planning a wedding. My fiance was very clear that while he had no doubts about our relationship, he was dragging his heels on engagement because he just didn't want to deal with excited parents, nosy acquaintances, going to cake tastings while trying to write a dissertation, etc.

As it happens we have foregone cake tastings entirely, and in fact are losing so little sleep over this wedding that I'm starting to wish I could sell wedding anxiety offsets to stressed-out brides. ("Here, I'm not doing gift bags for out of town guests, that should get you out of an evening of pulling your hair out over napkin colors.") But I had to make it very clear that this was how it would go before he felt psychologically ready.

Carolyn Hax: Again, this is something that plenty of women struggle with, too; it is not unusual for me to hear from a bride whose groom is lobbying for a bigger/showier wedding than she can stomach.

Which brings us to the good part about the stress and absurdity of modern wedding mania. It can help expose cracks in the union before the union goes legal--on everything from conflict resolution, faith, values (with subcategories of money, family, compromise, consumption, etc.), standing up for one's beliefs (sub categories: with each other, among peers, among family ...).

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Columbus, Ga.: This may just be me, but I always prefer it when I get a wedding invitation with the registry discreetly mentioned or enclosed somewhere.

I hate to chase people down and I hate the phone. I don't feel I'm being poked for gifts, I feel I'm being assisted for my convenience. Am I alone here?

Carolyn Hax: No, I can appreciate the convenience while also wincing. I'm wincing less lately, too, as a testament to the powers of desensitization. The Web I think has offered the best compromise: Create a site with all pertinent info, including travel and registry details, and it's convenient without being crass. As long as the site itself is in good taste, of course (no gushing, no greed).

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Washington D.C.: I have a question I hope you'll take, with respect to being happy as an un-partnered person.

I am generally satisfied with my life. Few complaints. Good job support network, friends, family, etc. I would like very much like to share my life with someone, but in the absence of having a partner, I am generally able to get my companionship needs met through my peeps. So far so good.

But what this whole "be happy single" mantra overlooks is the fact that humans are hardwired to crave sex, sexual touching, physical intimacy, etc. I am intensely -- almost desperately -- in need of sexual bonding. Since casual sex doesn't fit the bill for me, I'm left with desires, cravings, and physical loneliness that cannot be erased by a "personal appliance" and a life well-lived. I'm not going to have or stay in a bad relationship to have these things, but I can't say that I'm at peace as a single person when I go to bed every night wishing I had someone to be intimate with and fall asleep with.

So what I am saying is, I get it that other people can't make us whole or happy etc., but I really think it's a willful denial of reality to suggest that single people can be truly happy because the fact is that we are living without something that human beings need. Yes, survival is possible without sex, but it sure does suck. I imagine the numbers of people who can be happy with celibacy are far smaller than the number of single people out there.

In short, I think the "be happy alone" advice is full of hooey and usually impossible due to the reality of human sexuality.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this since you often advise the "be happy alone" approach to single people.

Carolyn Hax: To oppose that argument, I offer the married people who would be content if they never had sex again (married, of course, to people who do still want to have sex, since that's apparently how life works). They're out there, too, lots of them.

And while "be happy while occasionally agreeing to have sex with your spouse whether you like it or not" may seem, ah, "full of hooey," since it means having sex you don't want to have, it's important to consider the context, and not just the advice itself. Whether we like it or not, we live in a world where our lives are directly affected by other people, over whose lives we really have no control.

Therefore, the only choice we have in forging a life for ourselves is to take what we want, what we have, what other people give us, and what we can reasonably hope to get in the future; and to mix it all up into the most palatable life we can.

Not everybody is going to love what they create, but any effort to improve that creation will be limited to what YOU can do about it. Call it hooey, but what exactly do you propose as an alternative? You can center your life on yearning for what you don't have, or you can learn to love what you do have. I really do think the Buddhists get this one right.

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Hartford, Conn.: How do you feel about the Carrie Bradshaw "I'm getting married to myself and I'm registered at Manolo Blahnik" type of attitude? I am single, in my 30s and have spent thousands of dollars on my friends' wedding and baby showers. If I never have kids or get married, am I right to feel a little overlooked or slighted by this?

Carolyn Hax: Remember, Carrie did that because her Manolos were stolen at a party where she was asked to take off her shoes, and the "I'm registered ..." line was for the host alone, in direct response to the attitude she got when she complained about having to eat the expense when the theft wasn't her fault.

If you feel overlooked or slighted, then you are absolutely free to pull back on the weddings and showers. There's nothing wrong with that, with just saying "enough" and sending a card from now on.

I don't think, though, that there's anything to be gained by adding it up and feeling that you're owed. It is a lousy truth that marriage and childbearing are status changes while independence is a status quo, and it's not in our nature to celebrate continuity. But like everything else in this chat today, apparently, it's about liking the china you can afford on your own. Or something like that.

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Washington, D.C.: I think I figured it out.

I asked a question twice about working with my boyfriend's racist, sexist, incompetent, manipulative, lying jackass of a friend. It didn't work out well. (Obvs...)

I couldn't figure out how to work around this situation so everyone would feel ok. My boyfriend wanted loyalty to his friend. I wanted loyalty to me. The friend wanted me to "loyally" cover up his repeated and not-so-subtle attempts to hook up at work, so his fiancee wouldn't find out.

It hit me today, (day five of unemployment, btw), no one owes anyone anything. I don't have the right to change my boyfriend's mind about his childhood friend. His friend, well, he wouldn't recognize another person's rights if they shook hands and tipped him $5, but his friend didn't have the right to ask me to lie for him in work and personal matters, or to lie to me the way he did.

The thing is, it felt huge, but none of it was ever a big deal, really. It was just what I was willing to put up with, and what I was trying to get from other people. In both instances, too much.

I was asking my boyfriend to protect me from someone he was not inclined to question, asking the friend to be someone he's not and to accept values he's already rejected, and asking myself to do something that was pure torture. I was asking the world to recognize what a good girl I am, and future employers to realize that I quit without another job for very, very good reasons.

None of that is particularly reasonable. And that's ok.

Thanks for letting me vent, and thanks for all the columns you've written that helped me figure things out. My family didn't think in terms of "other people have rights..." I think that's something that if you don't know, you don't tend to be allowed to hang out with the kind of people who do know, and could teach you, until after you learn.

It's kind of a vicious circle that way.

Have a great day. I'm going to go apply to some job sites now.

Carolyn Hax: Cool. Congratulations.

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Asheville, N.C.: I've worked at the same school for 20 years and there's been a mad scurry to go "in" on gifts each time someone marries or expects a baby. I love that we honor people at their special thresholds, but last month we had 2 showers with hardly any advance warning. I am now enjoying a new sense of freedom: I attended the showers, had my cake, visited, then later, when I had time, I wrote each of them a heartfelt note wishing them every happiness. I've expressed my love and support more specifically than a gift can do. I'm FREE!

Carolyn Hax: This is turning into a revival. Not that I've ever been to one.

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Re: Single sex: Yay to Washington! Great post, and I couldn't agree or commiserate more completely.

So Carolyn, why didn't you answer the question? Offering "well, hey, at least you're not in a loveless marriage having unwanted sex with a troll" is like telling a cancer patient that at least she doesn't have AIDS.

I think there are a lot more people in this position--happy with single life, not happy with sexless life--than you know.

Carolyn Hax: Please re-read the answer. That's not what I said.

What I did say, with my example, is that everyone lives less than the perfect life, because everyone has to accept the price of interdependence. You can want what you want, but you can only get so much before you're relying on others to supply it. And no others will supply everything you want to your exact specifications.

Every week, with every question, someone is wrestling with the fact of having to live with the absence of something--absence of sex is just one of them. There's absence of children (because they can't have any), absence of privacy (too many kids), absence of work (can't find a job), absence of time (too stressful a job), absence of friends (too shy or isolated), absence of self (too many demands by friends). Need I go on? We are all sexual, yes, but we all need our own space, too, and a sense of accomplishment, and a sense of continuity, and a sense of self.

You can center your life on what you lack, or you can center it on what you have. I stand by my answer.

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Moral Dilemma: Carolyn, your guidance please.

My husband found a small bag on the street in front of our house. We made an attempt to contact the owner based on a name on a receipt, but were unsuccessful.

The bag contained mostly coupons and lip gloss. And gift cards from big department stores.

My question is: what do we do with the gift cards? I'm thinking we go buy some baby supplies and donate them to a women's shelter. Or do we say "what the heck" and use them on ourselves?

Carolyn Hax: Shelter! Shelter! Come on, you knew that one. You also know you will be glad you did.

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Carolyn Hax: Sorry, guys, I was trying to find a good parting shot, but nothing leapt out at me. So, this is it--bye, thanks, and type to you next Friday.

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Silver Spring, MD: Better yet, give the gift cards to the shelter so they can get what they need. (who knows, they might have a ton of baby stuff, but need shampoo... or something. )

Carolyn Hax: Right right of course. Thanks.

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