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Carolyn Hax Live: Interrupters, Various Sister Issues, Baby Hunger and Whether to Tell the Ex about the New S.O.

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 20, 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 20 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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Wedding Invite Importance: The wedding invite that is sent is so important. I would encourage brides to get it right. WRONG is tacky ordinary stamps and misspelled guest names and bows that are dirty and poorly tied. My cousins have sent some especially low-rent invites so I feel like I have seen it all. Show some pride. My parents spent a tremendous amount on mine and they were gorgeous. More importantly, the guests knew that they were tops.

Carolyn Hax: Well then, count yourself lucky you had parents with sufficient time and means (so often intertwined) to make a big deal of your invitations. Other couples have to pick their priorities, and surely you agree that the top priority is the quality of the relationship between bride and groom. I'm more than happy to celebrate that kind of union, even if I'm invited by email.

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Post-baby visitors: Another practical suggestion for the wonderful single guy planning to visit his new-mom friend: Especially if the baby's still very young, if you see things that need doing around the house, skip the "what can I do to help?" question and just do them. Load the dishwasher, sweep the floor, whatever. I had lots of offers of help after my baby was born last summer, none of which I felt comfortable saying yes to. But my one old friend who visited from out of town just -did- -- and it was so nice, I can't even tell you.

Also, can we clone you?

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. Someone wrote in to remind me of another suggestion I'd like to add--to offer to take the baby out for a walk in a stroller. The specifics of this are important. Often someone with no prior baby experience is scared to offer help with a newborn. And, often parents of newborns are scared to hand their babies over to rookies (even though parents of firstborns were usually rookies themselves a few weeks ago, but I digress).

The stroller allows the equipment to do most of the work, and if the "sitter" just goes around the block or up and down the street, then he can buzz Mom to come out if the baby needs her.

I'll look into the cloning.

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Carolyn Hax: I'm here, but there are some unusually long questions to read through today. I'll do my best.

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Somewhere: Whatever happened to that project you were doing where you wanted people on both sides of a disagreement to write in?

Carolyn Hax: I'd love to get back to it, if anyone's volunteering a two-sided story. I got a lot of really interesting scenarios, all of which were way too ... unwieldy for the purposes of a newspaper column. A lot of background information just to explain the problem, a lot of technicalities to the disagreement, stuff like that. Thanks for remembering, and if anyone has a straightforward s/he said, s/he said, I'm your g/hirl.

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Wrong?: Tacky ordinary stamps? Dirty bows? I can understand some irritation at a misspelled name but come on. It's not like they dipped your invitation in pancake batter and then mailed it to you. Wedding Guestzillas can be a problem too I suppose.

Carolyn Hax: I think that will be my rock band: Tacky Ordinary Stamps.

And we'll open for the Dirty Bows, if they'll have us.

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Re: interruptions from today's column: I think you were right on to encourage the writer to reflect about why the interruptions are such a big problem for him. My father cannot stand to be interrupted (he will glare, yell, or punish in some way anyone - particularly my mother- who interrupts him). I find it to be extremely controlling, narcissistic behavior that results in him delivering long monologues that no one has the interest in responding to once he is finished. He also interrupts others whenever he pleases.

I'm curious to know if this writer offers others the respect he demands for himself.

Carolyn Hax: Great look at the other side, thanks.

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Another sister: Saw your column today on the sister who expects favors, punishes with not-speaking when favors are not delivered. I l o v e your answer "her not speaking trick is her way of controlling you."

I have a sister just like that. The difference is -- she withholds her children!! I have no kids of my own, and I adore her children. There have been times when, if I did not babysit or promise to carry screaming baby in hallway outside concert, etc., not only would she stop speaking to me, she would cut off contact with her children.

They are older now, and we barely speak. But in that sort of case, I don't know how I could have continued to stay in her children's lives without being her personal slave.

It hurts to be less in their lives than I would have been if I had been willing to cave to her demands. Even with the babysitting -- it was never enough hours, whatever I did for her, she would only remember what part I wouldn't do.

So how to stay connected to the kids of someone who does this?

Carolyn Hax: Thank you.

Just as your sister controlled access to her kids, and therefore left you little recourse, the kids themselves can now determine your access to them, and therefore leave you little recourse. I say this not to discourage you from trying, but to remind you to be realistic about the possibilities.

That said, you can reach out to them by the usual channels and see if any of them is receptive. You can visit, if they still live at home; you can call and send cards on their birthdays, holidays, when they accomplish something. You can ask your sister to share their game/performance schedules so you can come watch.

This sounds almost stalker-y, even though the main reason I advise using the "usual" channels is to avoid the appearance of harassment. But I think if you space out your approaches, and if you follow the course of your natural interest, it won't come off as weird or unseemly.

Anyway, your interest in them isn't the only reason I think it's a good idea to try. If they've been raised by a manipulative mom, then they might be grateful for someone they can look to outside the immediate family, but also familiar to the family. Good luck.

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Washington, D.C.: In fifteen days, I am moving across the country to finally get rid of the 1200 miles between me and my fiance - we have been long distance for almost three years and have never NOT been long distance. I am excited for us to finally be in the same place, but am ready and expecting some "growing pains" as I will have to slowly give up my SSB (secret single behavior). Have a nice two bedroom apartment (so lots of space if we need it) with two TVs and we seem good at talking about things that are bothering us.

That said, any other advice on taking this next step?

Carolyn Hax: Why do you have to give up your SSB? I mean, if you like yodeling to greet the dawn, that might have to go, but if your idea of a rockin night is to put on a pore mask and watch ESPN, then it's for the best if he knows that.

Really, the biggest growing pain I think you should expect is that being "excited" for "day-to-day life" is a naturally contradictory mind-set. My advice for that would be to abandon, to the best of your abilities, any expectation of how things will be, and try just to be yourself. Incredibly difficult, especially at first, but if you keep that in the back of your mind as a mantra--"Be yourself, Be yourself, Be yourself"--then there's a good chance it'll permeate the behavior level eventually, at least after the first happy/weird days are behind you.

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Storkville: I just realized I want to have a baby... like, yesterday. My SO and I already agree we want to have children. He knows I want them earlier rather than sooner. The general consensus has been that the timing is not right right now. But today it hit me like a ton of bricks: I want to start a family now.

What do I do?

Carolyn Hax: Why isn't the timing right? Specifics are everything here.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Carolyn:

One of my best friends constantly complains about her job, specifically about how her supervisors and coworkers don't show her much respect lately. She has a baby and has spent most of this year working three days a week from home, so she has to communicate with her team mostly in writing.

Well, I recently received an email from this friend from the first time, and I was blown away at how AWFUL her spelling, grammar and sentence structure are. If this is the way she expresses herself when she writes to the boss, I can see why they would think her less intelligent than she is. She literally reads like a child.

They say you should never correct an adult on these sorts of things, but as her friend, I know this is probably a large part of what's holding her back. What's the most sensitive, productive way to bring this up with her, and what can a grown woman do to improve her writing skills, anyway?

Carolyn Hax: First thing I would do, next time she complains about not being taken seriously, is advise her to talk to her supervisor--not to complain about about the disrespect, but instead to review with him/her how the new arrangements are working, what's going well and what could be better. That would at least give the right person a wide opening to mention that her written communication skills are lacking, if in fact that is the problem.

The problem with your addressing it yourself is that 1. You don't know that this is the way she communicates with her colleagues (though it's probably a decent guess), and 2. You don't know that her colleagues care. In fact, they could be even worse than she is.

I realize that friends do serve an important function as both outside observers and as trusted intimates, and the overlap often translates into an obligation to point out difficult and unflattering things.

However, I think that obligation kicks in when you're certain of something, not just making a possible connection, and when your knowledge affects something that is ultimately more important than your friendship. It could go either way here, for sure, but I could easily see her wanting your acceptance more than your edits.

Often the difference is a person's oppenness to constructive criticism, by the way. If you know her well enough, that's your answer, and if you don't know her well enough, that's your answer.

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Storkville (again): Timing's not right because I'm about to start a 3-year intensive grad program, and (more importantly) the SO isn't sure what he wants to do with his life, career-wise. That said, we are not fresh-faced college grads. We are just still establishing our firm footing in adult life... i.e. establishing sources of income. Also, we want to raise kids near family, but are moving away for my schooling.

Carolyn Hax: Okay. That is bad timing.

Next question: What do you think flipped the switch? Sudden change, you have to ask.

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Re. Sister's Silent Treatments: My very difficult sister used to give me the silent treatment for a month or three at a time. She realized she wasn't going to change my reactions, so she stopped. Man, I miss those days.

Carolyn Hax: Snort.

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Separation, pregnant wife: Hey Carolyn,

I wrote in last week about wanting a separation from my newly pregnant wife. I took your advice and suggested counseling as an alternative to immediate separation. She surprised me by saying she's been having some of the same feelings and that she's ready to just separate. Now, though, I've been thinking about it all week and I don't really want to be away from her, especially while she's pregnant or when our baby comes, if the separation lasts that long.

So she's not into the counseling idea but I'd really like to try it rather than see her just walk away, even though ostensibly it was my idea. Is there anything else I can do?

Carolyn Hax: A lot, but that takes you only up to where you leave off and she begins. She will always have the power to say no to getting back together, just as you do.

I'm sorry you're hurting right now. It's just a tough situation.

For that reason, the most important thing you can do right now is sort out your feelings. You say you don't want to be away "while she's pregnant or when our baby comes," so I'm wondering. Is she the one you miss, or do you feel you're missing out on your baby? Or is it both?

All combinations add up to natural and understandable feelings, so it's not a matter of divining right from wrong. Instead it's a matter of knowing your heart so you can make sustainable decisions. For example, if what you really want is to be present for this amazing time as a father, and if you try to secure that by persuading yourself/your wife that you want to be with her, then eventually that construct is going to come undone again.

You ask to go back to your wife if you miss your wife, and if you can offer her some clarity and ideas for not repeating your recent distress.

You ask to be an active and involved father if you miss being there for the incremental joys of a pregnancy, and you try to lay the groundwork for a functional relationship between you so that you can supoprt each other as parents.

Again, she can say no, but you can also give her some room to figure out what she needs, while you do the same. Continuing to appraoch her with this revelation and that change of heart and the other well-meaning confusion will only make her less receptive when you do figure out what you want.

To that end, counseling on your own is always a possibility. It doesn't have to be marital therapy or bust.

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Tucson, Ariz.: My 27 year old daughter began living with a high school friend and now ex-con last year, with her 7 year old daughter, in a one bedroom apartment (yes, he sleeps in the bedroom). Daughter has never been good with making good decisions and my concern is for my granddaughter - especially when she calls and says "Grandma, I need a break from Mom and Troy."

I spend as much time as I can with her reading and doing fun and educational activities. Friends of mine are fearful for my granddaughter because of my daughter's choices and what she exposes her daughter to. Any additional suggestions for helping my granddaughter would help me greatly.

G-Ma

Carolyn Hax: To what, exactly, is she being exposed? Is it the kind of thing where she needs a stable and educational oasis, or is it the kind where she needs a grandmother to fight for custody?

Obviously you save the latter for extremes since, if you lose, you may lose access to your granddaughter, and thus she'd lose access to her oasis. But the one-bedroom prospects are all just varying degrees of horrifying.

If she doesn't talk about it, then start asking questions--don't make suggestions, let her do the talking. Seven is old enough to get a pretty good idea what's going on. You can run what you have by the local child protective services, as needed.

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Slllllooooow-ville: Okay, Carolyn - admit it. The REAL reason the chat is sooooo slow today is that you keep checking in on John Cusack.

Tell me about it.

washingtonpost.com: Now don't all rush out of here at 2 to chat with Lloyd Dobler himself. You can always have two browser windows open at the same time.

Carolyn Hax: If I had a way of checking in on John Cusack, I would be. But the REAL reason I am slow today is that I'M SLOW.

This might move me to create that FAQ you giys have been asking for.

1. Yes. I'm slow.

2. Yes, that's why I stay on an extra hour.

3. No, it's not okay to ask for money in lieu of gifts.

4. Yes, I did mean to say whatever it is you think I just said.

5. I wear size 8M shoes, unless they run small, then 8.5M. It works out perfectly to a 38.5 European.

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Carolyn Hax: That reminds me, if you want to harangue me about being slow, and you want to get it done before mid-July, do it now. I'm going to be off the next two weeks--have to be somewhere next Friday, and Live Online will be dark the following Friday for the 4th of July. It isn't the way I would have planned it, but since it just fell that way, I'm taking the chance for some pretty badly needed recharging.

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For Tucson Grandmother: Grandma can also look into local family law services agencies or a family attorney in the jurisdiction in which her daughter resides to get some ideas of what her options are if she does decide to intervene. Family laws can actually vary not only from state to state but the willingness for intervention from authorities can vary from local jurisdictions as well.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: Dear Carolyn,

I'll try to brief. My 33 year-old sister is pregnant. Her boyfriend wants her to have an abortion as he is not ready (financially, emotionally, etc.). I think my sister would consider keeping the baby if not for his decision not to discuss it further. As of now, she is still on the fence, but leaning toward his direction. I would like to provide her the option for me and my husband to raise the baby (we live in different cities, but would make sure the baby knows I'm his/her Aunt). We have a child already and would love to welcome another. Is this something I should discuss with her? Or will this add another level of pressure? As of now, I have let her know that I will support any decision she makes. Thanks for your thoughts.

Carolyn Hax: I think you have to offer. This is a wanted child. I also think you have to be very realistic about how complicated this could get--obviously I'm not an attorney and an attorney is the first person you need to talk to, but I do imagine the father would at least have to sign away his parental rights. I would hate to see you lose this wanted child, even years into your lives together as family, by some legal loophole that wasn't properly closed.

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To Storkville: I'm in the same position as you are. Halfway through grad school with a husband whose income can't support three.

One thing that made me feel better was to sit down with my husband and write out a five-year plan that lets me see that there's an end to all these other engagements and that at x time, we will definitely start trying to conceive.

I know things come up to change plans, but babylust is a really intense thing. Sometimes just having a concrete plan that you can refer back to really helps.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. Still looking for the explanation for the sudden-onset baby cravings, if there is one ...

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More for Tucson, Ariz.: Writing as someone whose daughter was exposed to tons of behavior at my ex-husband's and his (now former) girlfriend's house: talk to a child psychologist or counselor about how to talk w/her granddaughter without prying or making the child feel like she's "telling" if she says anything about any goings-on. I noticed behavioral changes that I chalked up at first to difficulty with dad having a new relationship, but they got worse and one day culminated in her being taken to the police station when they were arrested for mutually assaulting each other -- in front of my daughter. I wish I'd known better what signs to look for, that she could not verbalize, as well as how to ask in such a way that she felt safe and comfortable, not like she was being interrogated.

Carolyn Hax: Another solid suggestion, thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: I am falling madly in love. Just wanted to say it. Well, and also to ask if you think it's important to delay physical intimacy when you feel like "this is it." So far we've been taking it slow and I like it, so I think that's what is going to work for us. I just wanted to know if you had an opinion on it in general.

Carolyn Hax: No, not a general opinion. Do you know each other well? That to me is the deciding factor. If you fell madly in love before you really got to know the person, then the process will already be complicated by all the happy chemicals flying around, whether you're physical or not--but sex will add a whole other complication. You want at least some chance at seeing this person clearly, and keeping it from becoming a mini-marriage before you're even sure you can stand each other.

But if you know each other well and that's what you've -both- fallen in love with, and of course you're, you know, over 18, then well it's not like you need my permission er anything.

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Baltimore, Md.: My boyfriend and I (both 24) have been together for 5 years. I've had the same full-time job since we graduated two years ago, but he has not been able to hold down a job, part-time or full-time. I'm really sick of being the only breadwinner. Even if I wanted to kick him out of the house, he comes from an extremely abusive family and thus has nowhere to go (and no one else to pay for his living and medical expenses except me). I wouldn't want to cut him off, anyway -- I just want him to be self-sufficient. And I would like to have, you know, a savings account. We've talked at length about this, and bottom line: he needs to get a job. But the job market is terrible, and it's already been two years, and I'm REALLY getting frustrated.

Any thoughts on how to maintain my sanity? Surely, as the economy is tanking, more and more couples will end up in similar situations...

Carolyn Hax: Are you together because you love him, as a life partner, or because you feel responsible, as a parent? You need to figure that out for yourself, so this next part can be easier for you.

Because either way, you need to realize you aren't helping him in the way you seem to believe. You may be providing shelter, food and health care, but you're also insulating him from the consequences of his actions, and that stunts the growth of all but the smallest children.

He needs a kick-out schedule, a tight one. He gets a job, any job, by X; the market for jobs that demand a college education may be bad, but there are always temp agencies and hourly opportunities somewhere. He finds housing, any housing, by Y; he's out on his own by Z.

He may not believe that you are doing this out of love, but that's why you need to do it. He needs this even more than you do, and you need it pretty badly.

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33 Year Old Sister: Not her body, not her place. It's a personal decision and sister's desire doesn't even factor in. It's between pregnant sister and boyfriend, period.

Carolyn Hax: I adamantly disagree. If she were simply trying to weigh in with her opinion on whether to have or abort the baby, then you'd be right that it's none of her business. But this is an offer to welcome the child into her home and family--that is absolutely her business.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey Carolyn -

Why do exes often feel compelled to announce to their former significant others when they've moved in with a new girlfriend or gotten engaged? I see this happening from both men and women, and recently, I was the recipient of the "moving in" variety of news, preceded by a whole bunch of "I feel like I need to tell you this, but I don't know how and if you were telling me this, I'd feel like it was a punch to the gut" stuff. It left me wondering why on earth this particular ex felt compelled to be so masochistic.

Carolyn Hax: I don't think it's a compulsion so much as a, hmm-how-else-am-I-supposed-to-handle-this? There's a general belief that this kind of news becomes embarrassing if you're the last to hear it. Debatable, since if nothing else it depends heavily on the circumstances of the former sig others' breakup. Nevertheless, that impression is out there, and so people often try to do the "right" thing by delivering the news themselves. I guess it's better than the other trend, avoiding awkward conversations no matter who stands to be humiliated for it.

When you do get one of these calls, and you haven't spoken for over a year and you don't have any mutual friends left, you're entitled to say, "Huh?" But to prevent humiliating your ex, it's best to do so after you say, "Mazel tov, thanks for the heads up," and hang up.

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how mad should I be?: Just called my stay-at-home with baby husband. Phone rang at least 6 times. When he answers, he tells me he's out on the porch with our 9-month-old (in her playpen). I ask, Did you run inside to answer the phone? He says yes. Probably took 15 seconds, but still. I am at work fuming. I know what I need to say, I just can't believe I'm saying it to him and not a 13 year old babysitter. He didn't seem to think it was a big deal, I think it is. We live on a fairly busy street. At the very least, someone could call social services on us.

Carolyn Hax: I say this knowing that scary kid accidents all seem to happen in those "15 seconds" when someone isn't looking, but I think you also need to realize that thse "15 seconds" are a fact of life with being home with small children. It's just not possible to focus your full attention on anything for that long. Would it have been better if he let the phone go, or picked her up when he went into get it? Sure on the first, maybe on the second (not if he was running).

And, he ran in to get the phone, and presumably ran back out, and the baby was in the playpen, not crawling around--would you be angry if the call was from you, from the emergency room, and he didn't pick up?

yes, I'm blatantly rationalizing, but I swear it's for a good cause: The parent who's home needs--yes, needs--the benefit of the doubt from the parent who's away somewhere. Unless he has a pattern of questionable judgment (which is a whole other massive issue), say "argh" and let it go.

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Storkville (again v.2): Thanks for the suggestion about the 5-year plan... I like that idea.

The reason for the recent babylust, I guess, is that I was visiting with an old friend who had a baby at a very young age. Baby is now a (very cool) child, and my friend is the kind of parent I always imagined myself being - young, energetic, with plenty of time ahead for her and her kid to spend together. My parents had me older, and I really don't want to wait so long that I end up having problems conceiving (may be unavoidable) and/or don't get pregnant until I'm in my mid- to late-30s (not that there's ANYTHING wrong with that).

I guess as I type this, I see that what I have to do is just let go of my pre-conceived notions of how my life would go. Same advice, different week, eh?

Carolyn Hax: Pretty much. It does sound as if you had an epiphany, which would explain the urgent change of heart.

And, why you need to heed it. That can come in the form of setting out a detailed, multi-year plan, as the other poster suggested, but please don't be afraid to re-evaluate everything, including your decision to enter the grad program. You don't want to romanticize the life your friend has with her (very cool) child, and you certainly don't want to do anything rash--but "rash" isn't just deciding to trash a plan without proper consideration. It can also include deciding to stick to a plan without proper consideration.

That consideration has to include your values, your very real timetables, and your unknowns--with kids, you never know what you;re going to get. And that encompasses everything from special needs to different personality types to which school/neighborhood makes sense.

Immerse yourself in this, think every part of it through. That's the long version of same advice, different week.

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RE: How mad should I be?: Oh man. As a SAHD, I got micromanaged all the time by my (working) wife. Fortunately she pretty quickly got over it and went back to micromanaging her staff, once she realized that I knew more than she did, given that I was the one with the kids all day every day, making all the decisions. But those first few months were...

tough.

My heart goes out to the husband, busy street or not.

Carolyn Hax: Better when you say it, thanks.

back in 5 ...

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Portland, Ore.: Just some info about an organization called Backline that helps women talk through their pregnancy options (without any agenda). Website is: www.yourbackline.org

From their website: Our Talk Line offers a confidential space for women and their loved ones to talk openly about pregnancy, parenting, abortion and adoption. Call toll free from anywhere in the U.S. or Canada.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. I haven't vetted this myself, but the timing is good so here it is. I'll check it out when I sign off.

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Re: How mad should I be: My friend's husband shut their two toddlers in the dog kennel on the front steps because they were playing "doggie." Heard the baby wake up from his nap on the baby monitor and ran inside to get him, forgot about the older two sitting in the kennel for like 5 minutes. That's when you worry about neighbors calling social services. The mom tells people the story because no one was hurt and it's so funny.

Carolyn Hax: Nothing to add, thanks.

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Boston, Mass.: I work in a fairly large office (about 1000 people total). Last year, I briefly dated a co-worker. It didn't work out but it ended well and we're still friendly. Now things seem to be starting with another co-worker. Our office is social but people don't really date each other. I don't have any problem with dating co-workers because I spend so much time at work, it just makes sense. But I have this weird sense that while dating one co-worker is fine, dating a second one would start to look like I'm just working my way through the office. Should this matter? (And, to the extent it matters, which it should NOT, I'm female. I know it still matters sometimes when it comes to "dating around," much as I hate to admit that.) Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: I'm going to rework a line from the great Gene Robinson on this one: Two office romances, and you're under a cloud of suspicion. Three, and it's about you.

So either make this one work, date outside the office next time, or let about 10 years go by before you start OR3.

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Here and there: I think that the sister of the pregnant 33 year-old should also consider what (if any) other tangible support she is willing/able to give her sister. Is she willing for her sister to move in with with her, as well as the baby? Is she able to help financially support her sister if her sister choses to be a single mom in her own city? If the sister chooses to be a single mom but wants to move to her sister's city, will her sister help her financially, or if not financially, by helping her out with child care, finding a job, finding an apartment, cleaning the house, being her birth coach, etc.? If she wants her sister to make her choice based on all possible scenarios/information, alternatives in the middle should be part of that consideration.

Carolyn Hax: Great point, thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: How does one person who is extremely frugal (while also just out of school/first job/not a huge budget but good enough) begin to start dating someone who has a lot of money and enjoys doing expensive things? This seems like such a ridiculous reason for not being able to date someone. Also, I should mention that while I am female and am speaking of dating a male, I feel very uncomfortable expecting or thinking that a man you are dating would pay for things. It is nice when someone makes that offer but I do not like to go to something if I do have the money to pay for it. Also this is very very new and to bring up a discussion of money feels out of context at this point.

Carolyn Hax: I trust you that the context hasn't allowed this yet, but I do think that the situations you describe will present some openings. Such as, "I'd love to go to X, but there's no way I can afford it. Can we try Y instead?" Then, if he says it's on him, do thank him--and even accept, if that's what you want to do--but also realize this is your opportunity to say that it's important to you to ... whatever. Pay your own way occasionally/half the time/every time? Alternate with plans you can afford?

It may feel premature to state your philosophy, but since you also feel weird not saying anything, it might be better just to speak up--and even admit, "It feels premature to say this, but humor me."

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24 HOUR NEWS WORLD:"fuming mad" needs to realize also that scary kid incidents are still VERY rare, despite what we hear on the news. The US has 300 million people, and even if CNN beat us over the head with a new awful tragedy every single day, that would mean only 1 in every 200,000 kids was the victim.

Her child has a greater chance of being hit by lighting while dad watches helplessly, than of being randomly snatched when he runs in to get the phone.

Carolyn Hax: Yes, yes. And I'm grateful for the opportunity to rant about this, since it has been bothering be for about 5.5 years now: It's not just the news cycle that breeds needlessly jittery parents. It's also the disclaimers plastered on even the tiniest, least significant bit of baby paraphernalia, that MISUSE OF THIS PRODUCT CAN RESULT IN HIDEOUS INJURY OR DEATH OF YOUR CHILD OR ANY CHILD WHO COMES UNDER YOUR CARE, AND EVEN IF IT DOESN'T THE ENTIRE VILLAGE WILL WITNESS YOUR INCOMPETENCE AND SHUN YOU, AND YOU WILL BE HAUNTED BY YOUR INADEQUACIES FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, OR UNTIL YOU FINALLY FINISH PAYING OFF COLLEGE, THAT IS IF YOUR KID EVEN GETS INTO COLLEGE.

That's from the trial lawyers, not CNN.

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New York, N.Y.: Thanks so much for the money suggestion. I feel like my last three dating partners were totally turned off by the fact that I (a woman) wanted to pay my way on pretty much everything. Once I'm in a relationship, I feel comfortable taking turns (I'll get the movie tix, you get the ice cream afterwards, etc), but when things are new I really don't like the feeling of "owing" a person for anything. One dating dud actually told me "Girls like you kill chivalry" over this!

Carolyn Hax: An argument for speaking up early, if I've ever seen one.

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More bad timing: My landlord offered me a chance to buy the house that I've been renting. It's a really good deal, but even so I don't make enough to cover the mortgage. It got me feeling really down. I don't have a burning desire to be a homeowner, but I do really like the location of this particular house, and if I was in a financial position to do so, I would take him up on it in a second. I just feel really down on myself for not being at a point in my life where I can do this. I feel like I should be, by my late 20s.

Carolyn Hax: Unless this landlord really knows you, likes you, and therefore would get some kind of satisfaction from losing money, there are no really good deals. There are just landlords who want rid of the house for whatever reason, and who envision not having to pay an agent's commission. If you're not ready, you're not ready, and there's no shame in that at any age, much less while you're still in your 20s.

Since you feel bad about not being able to buy, use it as incentive to get your finances in order. There's almost always more you can do to put money aside for the next opportunity.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: Carolyn, a newish friend with children who are similar in age to mine has recently moved into my neighborhood. I had all of the kids over to my house to play for the first time recently and observed her oldest child bullying his siblings as well as my children. The child's behavior included calling names and shoving and just, well, being mean. My dilemma is: do I tell the mom that her child is a bully? Or do I just try to keep my kids away from hers and dodge the confrontation? Help!

Carolyn Hax: If the child is young enough, you can exert your influence, gently, to help teach the kids how to play together. Sometimes little kids who don't know how to act will resort to acting out. See if you can't improve the situation by doing the counterintuitive, and welcoming him into the fold.

If it's past that, then do talk to the mom--stick to the facts, and say that when X thought no one was looking, you witnessed X say Y to Z, and that you thought she would want to know. But don't do that without first running the scenario through the filter of your own childhood, and through your would-I-want-to-hear-this-from-another-mom filter, for good measure. In other words, make sure it rises to the standard of being worthy of intervention.

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Carolyn Hax:3:09. I need an intervention.

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Alabama: I was 21 years old and married when I became pregnant by another man. I decided to get an abortion (which I did) because I just couldn't face the reality of my situation. My marriage fell apart of course, but in the meantime my older sister and her husband offered to take my baby and raise it "for" me. I remember thinking that her doing that would only make things worse. It seemed at the time to be a horrible alternative that would keep the baby's father in my life forever. My sister had a really hard time understanding why I had the abortion anyway, and it took a long time for us to feel okay toward each other again. I'd say that one's sister should offer all kinds of support - emotional, financial, etc. - but once having offered to raise the baby, BACK OFF and let it go. It's an incredibly personal decision and one that doesn't just impact the unborn baby.

Carolyn Hax: It is time to go, but I don't want to let this go unsaid. No doubt it was tough just to share this, and I appreciate that you did.

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Cohasset: I'd like to continue the discussion about being unhappily single from last week. All this talk about wedding minutiae is boring and, frankly, a waste of space.

What advice can you give for those looking for romantic partners?

Carolyn Hax: To have patience with an imperfect world?

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Re: child bullies: I would have absolutely no compunction about saying "Cartman, we don't call people names," or "Cartman, we don't shove." The little bully may not be your child, but particularly if you're in your own home, you do have some authority.

Carolyn Hax: Cartman is perfect as-is, but point taken. Tx.

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Carolyn Hax: Really leaving now. Bye, thank you thank you (to cover the next couple of weeks), have a great weekend and type to you on the 11th.

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Give the lawyers a break: Oh come on, Carolyn. The freak out label language comes as the result of consumers who feel they need to sue the life out of manufacturers for bad things that happen to their kids. Yes, our country's motto has become "You can't say I didn't warn you," but every time you see notice language like that on a product, you can bet dollars to donuts the impetus was a greedy litigant, not a pile of hand-rubbing lawyers with nothing better to do.

I mean, I know we're an easy target, but I expected better of you.

Carolyn Hax: Oh fine. But let's be fair about it--both parties have a hand in it, no? And you can throw in companies who "bean-count" their way around responsibility, too.

The point remains that it still makes using a car seat, a play pen and a highchair an exercise in facing infant mortality, which is a real party when you use these things a combined 15 times a day.

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