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Carolyn Hax Live: Waiting for an Empty Nest, Husband Reacting Badly to Pregnancy Announcement, Can One Change? and The Apollo 13 Table

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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 11, 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, July 11 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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Carolyn Hax: I everybody. Good to be back.

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Carolyn Hax: Okay. What do we say we make that "Hi, everybody." Seems I needed another week off to be fully wefweshed.

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Re: Thursday's Column: I have struggled for years to establish and enforce those limits with my own parents. They have told me repeatedly that my judgment is faulty, that what they want for my life is better than what I want for my life. They have even told me that I have no right to even set limits with them. One cannot hear that over and over without questioning one's own judgment. Part of the problem is that they have a built-in advantage over me, simply being my parents. Any suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: And it sounds to me as if they've abused that advantage for so long, it no longer deserves the credit you give it. It might take a few sessions with a good family therapist to get you started on detaching guilt from limits, but please know that you can start on your own, right now, by deciding which topics you will no longer discuss with them.

Then, the next time they try to raise each of these topics, you state clearly that you will no longer discuss it with them. Then don't. That's the basic formula. The therapy is helpful for sorting out the feelings this kind of (absolutely appropriate) line-drawing will invariably raise.

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Tucson, Ariz.: G-Ma

Thank you Carolyn, and others, for your recommendations. Researched and found that my employer offers work and life support counselors - I have an appointment next week. I've also contacted a former friend of my daughter who is a paralegal and she's getting city and state legal information and names of lawyers for me.

Carolyn you asked , "To what, exactly, is she being exposed?" R-rated movies, arguments between mother and Troy, being left at the playground unsupervised, foods Mom knows the child is allergic to and that kick in awful rashes on her body. Mom has yet to get her to a dermatologist to find out all of her allergies and this has been going on since she was an infant. I've asked over and over for her to do this and there is always something that comes up... for seven years! I've told her that this is tantamount to neglect since she knows that these rashes have caused her daughter to bleed.

Re: sleeping arrangements, G-daughter sleeps on an air mattress but it still is unsettling to me. Frick and my daughter, Frack, of course see nothing wrong with it. Did this person actually grow up in my house?

Thankfully my g-daughter and I have a great relationship and I know far more than her mother would want me to. No touching (thankfully) but she said he drinks a lot of beer and steals from the store when they go out. She has told me about Troy drinking and passing out (her Mom said let him sleep it off), arguments with Mom and Troy which includes shouting and his tossing dishes, Troy being drunk, taking and wrecking Mom's 12 day old new car. Mom did not call cops because she did not want him to go to jail - he is unlicensed. Their fights have not summoned the cops but it frightens my granddaughter.

My granddaughter recently asked: If they don't like each other why are they together? Ahhh... the simple wisdom of kids. She's already asked to spend the weekend so we're gonna swim, continue our learning the US map summer project, read to each other and make cupcakes. Thank you again for your compassionate advice... love your column.

G-Ma

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the update, and for staying on this. I've been worried.

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SE D.C.: Silly Question - is it normal to be invited to a bridal shower but not to the wedding?

Carolyn Hax: It's appalling. It says, "We don't care about you enough to want you to celebrate with us, but we'll gladly reach into your pockets."

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Arlington, Va.: Hello, Carolyn. I have to respectfully disagree with your column from earlier this week, where you told the 50-something woman to wait to marry or move in with her boyfriend until the kids fly the coop.

First off, I don't think adults who are, shall we say, "advancing in age" should have to wait precious years before joining their lives for the sake of their (mostly adult) children.

The other issue is that the number of years before the children leave isn't as simple as when they graduate high school, or even when they graduate college. Many young adults come home for summers and breaks during college, and can even spend significant time at home after college while they save money to move out on their own.

I just think that the age is important here. Please don't think I'm saying this couple do not have many wonderful years ahead of them together- but I think for them, the next several years are precious enough that they shouldn't spend them walking on eggshells around their grown children.

Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: I think that years to a middle-age person are certainly precious, but to prioritize that over a child's--yes, a child's--sense of home is the height of selfishness.

Agreed, there's no distinct line between having kids at home and kids in homes of their own. But any parent who's paying attention will see when a child's center starts to shift. Maybe he or she will stay at school over a vacation instead of coming home, or will enroll in programs abroad for summer breaks--stuff like that. And that's when it's absolutely appropriate for the adults running the home to start putting their own interests first.

And, of course, if one of those kids is a legal adult and still lives at home for any reason other than a disability, then the parents almost owe it to the kid to make home a little less cushy. I mean really. I hardly intended my answer to mean that parents are at the end of their kids' leash for all eternity.

But fear of that shouldn't swing things so far the other way that high schoolers are being asked to change schools and bunk with a newly acquired sibling.

It would also be a mistake to extrapolate this answer for much younger children. The details do matter.

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Alexandria, Va. : Against the warnings of my parents and friends, I moved in with my boyfriend for a month. It was a disaster and I moved back out. We love each other, but weren't compatible in a shared space (different nighttime habits, one of us is pretty messy, couldn't agree on how to separate bills).

Now that our little cohabitation experiment has failed, where do we go from here? We have planned on getting married someday, but neither of us knew we would be such terrible roommates. Do you think that means this is as far as we can go?

Carolyn Hax: So much here we don't know. How old are you both, how long have you been together, to what specifically were your parents and friends objecting?

On the surface it does seem as if your lives together have gone as far as they can go--love is by no means all you need. However, I type this knowing plenty of couples have found bliss through all kinds of incompatibilities.

That's because the success of a relationship isn't determined by how much you have in common, but on how much of each of your needs for commonality is satisfied. Some people want to be part of a couple that moves in lockstep, and some prefer the airiness of leading all but separate lives. There are all kinds of ways to fit, and only you can know whether you and this person will ever fit.

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what are you talking about?: OK, I'm confused. If I have teenaged children, I shouldn't remarry, but if my kids are elementary school age, I can? A five year old can accept a stepparent but a fifteen year old can't? A college freshman gets to be the "decider" when it comes to her parent's path in a relationship? Where's the harm?

Carolyn Hax: It's nowhere near that black-and-white. I was simply saying that you have to consider where your children are in their development before you choose for them a dramatic and -elective- change. Bringing in a stepparent for a very young child, just as with moving a very young child, is a completely different animal than it is for a late-adolescent. Obviously if the child responds badly to the person, you wait till things improve, but as long as the incoming step-parent will contribute to a safe and loving home, then a 2-year-old will adjust relatively easily; people at very young ages are particularly elastic. Plus, maintaining separate homes for another 16 years is significantly more to ask than the mere three or so that were at issue in the column.

As for your example, I didn't refer to a college freshman as a decision-maker. I simply don't see anything wrong with recognizing that a college freshman has different needs from even a high school freshman. In fact, that's a parent's job. The high-schooler is stuck going to school where the new marriage says s/he does, and coming home from school to the marriage every day. And why? What need is satisfied here that displaces a kid's sense of home? Who isn't aware that this is an emotionally precarious time, even for teenagers who aren't being displaced?

The woman who wrote in gave not even a nod to the needs of the children involved, except a resentful one. Nothing but bad news there.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: Hi Carolyn, I've been feeling unhappy in my marriage. The problem is, I can't articulate - even really to myself - what is wrong. It's just a general feeling of discontentment and I am not sure what to do about it. I want to talk to my husband about it but I am just not sure what to say. I imagine the conversation many, many times, but I don't know what to say if he asks me what he could do to change, or what he has done wrong... He really hasn't done anything wrong, he is just not the person I want to be with. I feel awful for having these feelings and thoughts and feel that it's unfair to my hubby, too. We've been married for 6 years and we don't have any kids. We are thinking about a house and kids and all I keep thinking is "I have to get out now, before it's too late." Am I crazy?

Carolyn Hax: No, not at all. But while you aren't crazy, you do seem vague and confused, and that can be a nasty chaser to any bad news you deliver to your husband.

This may seem simplistic, but consider getting away on your own, if only for a weekend. Go to a touchstone place in your life, a place you remember as being happy for you. Perspective won't land on your shoulder like Tinkerbell, but the memory of different emotions--the feeling of an old kind of familiarity--can help you understand what you're feeling now a little better.

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shower but no wedding invite: Yes, it's bad form. But do not automatically attribute said bad form to bridal couple. Sometimes the shower hosts make up the guest list w/out consulting the bride.

Or even in defiance of the bride. My MIL did this, inviting all the third cousins twice removed who weren't on my SIL's guest list. (Yes, it's bad form for MIL to throw a shower. No, we could not stop her.) My poor SIL was later confronted by one of these distant relatives for -her- poor manners.

I thought MIL was trying to blackmail SIL into expanding the guest list. But no, she just wanted all those relatives to buy a wedding gift for her kid because she bought gifts for theirs.

My case was even worse, if possible. She sprung the idea on me late, and as I lived out of town, I could not possibly arrange cross-country travel to attend a shower on late notice, weekends were all booked, lovely gesture, thanks so much for thinking of me. She had the shower WITHOUT ME and without TELLING ME. Just invited everyone over, grabbed up the gifts on my behalf and sent them to me.

All those relatives thought I was awful, when really, I was every bit as horrified as them.

Carolyn Hax: For every judgment, there's an argument for reserving judgment till all the facts are in hand. Oy. Thanks.

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Small Town Oregon: Hi Carolyn, Love the chats. Concerning todays article, do you think that some people don't mature past a certain age? Older man only dates younger women because they are at the same place emotionally? I know a few people that seem to be like that and wondered if it is possible.

Carolyn Hax: I think that's absolutely what's going on. When you're having trouble dealing with someone, it can be rally useful to try to pin down at what age this troublesome person arrested emotionally. When you can lower your expectations accordingly, in many cases you'll see your disappointment/frustration level drop along with them.

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Cohabitation Girl Again: We're 29 and 27, both work for corporations. Known each other since grad school, been a couple two years. For about the past year we've been talking engagement. My family's objections were traditional ones -- "don't move in with him until you're married, you will be soon so you might as well wait" kinds of things. Also, my dad doesn't believe in joint bank accounts, which, now, neither do I.

It sounds like you think this will only work if we can both imagine a marriage in which we don't live together, or some other arrangement. Is that accurate? Sigh.

Carolyn Hax: No no, that's not accurate. I'm saying this will only work if you're okay with a marriage to someone who stays up while you sleep (or vice-versa), who cleans while you'd rather just leave it (or vice-versa) and who agrees that the best way to handle money is for each of you to do your own things.

Or, of course, variations--you handle money, he handles cleaning and you gladly stay out of each other's jurisdiction, for example.

It's about taking what you have, and, instead of trying to change it, finding a happy way to live with it. The movie image that just flashed into my head is in "Apollo 13," when the earthbound scientists stand at a table full of stuff representing everything the astronauts have available to them in the capsule. Their job is to rig something from those materials alone.

Being part of a couple is the same way--you both bring certain things to the relationship, and that's what you have to work with. Either you can rig something with it or you can't.

By the way--unlike in the movie, there are no dire consequences if you can't make it work. It's sad but it happens.

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San Diego, Calif.: Dear Carolyn,

So, I took a pregnancy test yesterday and found out I was pregnant. Great, I thought. My husband and I had been trying for a few months. But, when I told my husband, he did not have the reaction I expected. He said, "are you sure?" I said, "I think so." Then, he said, "well, I don't trust those tests." I said I thought they were pretty accurate. There was a long pause, then he finally said, "well... congratulations." That was it. We sat there for quite a while in silence, then I eventually just got up and went to work because there was nothing else to do. I am so furious at him for ruining what should have been a happy moment. He has a habit of doing this - taking positive things and always finding the negative - that he's even seeing a therapist for, but I really thought that for this occasion he might have been able to muster some happiness or at least support. It's been a day and a half and he's yet to say anything positive to me about the pregnancy. I got so upset last night that I suggested he move out for a while, and he said fine.

So, here I am: pregnant with a husband who doesn't seem to care and is ready to move out. I am also the sole bread winner because my husband is unemployed. How did I manage to make such a mess of my and my baby's life? How can I make this better?

Carolyn Hax: Such an upsetting thing, I'm sorry.

Your answer is in your question: "He has a habit of doing this - taking positive things and always finding the negative - that he's even seeing a therapist for." You knew who he was, but you hoped he'd be different when you most wanted him to be different.

That, of course, is when people "let us down"--even though it's really not that exactly. They're just being themselves, and letting us know our hopes were unrealistic.

I'm not presenting it this way to put the blame on you--you're pregnant with a wanted child and he was a jerk about it, so of course you're going to be angry. But I do think you need to see that anger isn't going to help you, or change him, or change the facts of what you have now. And you need to see that hoping is a good way to get stuck with plans that don't match your facts.

Those facts are, you're pregnant, your husband is who he is, and you have some major decisions to make. Please don't be shy about availing yourself of whatever resources you need to help you decide--including but not limited to counseling to help you understand your husband's emotional makeup, and also your own, since it led to your marriage to him.

None of it fun, of course, but all of it good for you as a mom, no matter what you decide on that front. Good luck.

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Ann Arbor, Michigan: Hi Carolyn - Glad you are back. I have a first date tonight. It's my first "first date" since 1991, when I met my (now ex-)husband. I have jitters so strong I can barely sit in my chair! Please tell me SOMETHING to settle my nerves!

Carolyn Hax: The likelihood that your only two first dates in nearly 20 years will both lead to committed relationships is minuscule. Therefore, the likelihood that this date will go anywhere special is minuscule. Therefore, you are free to make as big an awkward disaster of it as you please.

Really.

If that's not reassuring, write back and I'll take another shot at it.

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Cha-Cha Changes:"instead of trying to change it, finding a happy way to live with it."

But can a person want to change because he or she cares about the other person and wants to make them happy? I hope that doesn't sound snarky because this is something I've often debated about. Should you love someone just the way they are or if someone loves you, should they be willing to compromise and/or change things (assuming you're willing to follow through on your own things)? I don't know. I'm confused and it's Friday.

Carolyn Hax: Good thing I do these on Friday.

How much you change is up to you. If you want to change to please someone, go for it (even though I'm going to try to talk you out of it in a second). Being willing to adapt your ways because you love someone does not mean you are owed commensurate adjustment as proof the other person loves you.

Often the most loving thing a person can do is -not- try to change to please you. There's an honesty to it that allows the other person to make a free and fully informed choice on whether to stay or go. So I would say that if you love someone, and you have an area in which you aren't compatible, it's best to be emotionally true to yourself.

There's still plenty of room in that for various outcomes. If you have some growing up to do, then, by all means, use this situation as the butt-kick you needed to be more mature about your behavior and expectations. But if the incompatibility is in an area where you know you're not likely to change, it's better for all involved to say, for example, "I'm an introvert. I'm never going to take to going out a lot, or hosting a lot of people, or networking for your job." This is true even if you're willing to push yourself a bit beyond your comfort zone to be more social on someone's behalf. It's only fair for it to be clear you're not a whole new improved person, you're just the old person working really hard. Because you'll never be a natural and eventually you're going to get tired.

I hope that all makes sense.

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Hell, Michigan: Literally.

Re: the unhappy married woman. I was a unhappy married woman as well, and couldn't put my finger on it. A good, good friend suggested I try some individual counseling before talking specifically to my husband about a separation, and I worked through a few depression/anxiety issues, and then my husband and I went to joint counseling. Long story longer, became happier and developed a stronger marriage, expecting baby #2.

Not to say unhappy wife is in that position, but I was putting a lot of pressure on my marriage to make me happy and it was an easy target when I wasn't.

Carolyn Hax: Great stuff, that last line. Thank you.

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Yes shower/No wedding: I don't know that it says we don't care about you and aren't inviting you to the wedding as a result -- you've made the point a million times that space considerations are a huge thing in terms of wedding invites. I get that people might want to celebrate with a larger number of friends than the wedding can accommodate.

But that calls for restraint, not an even more craven approach to the gift grab/shower. That's appalling, and it stinks.

Separately, though -- say you'd like to celebrate with more people than you can afford to invite to the wedding. Is it equally appalling to just throw a party at your house and say no gifts please, and make it clear that it's not an "engagement party" per se? I'd love to hang out and imbibe with my peeps but don't want to utter the W word because I REALLY don't want to be rude, and there's only so much space.

--planning a wedding with no shower

Carolyn Hax: I said didn't care -enough-. Big difference. It's about not making the cut.

Anyway, it sounds as if your best option is a party after the wedding to bring the celebration to people you care about. That way it doesn't raise expectations of inclusion in the wedding festivities, and it says, "Had a big wedding been possible, we would have loved to have you there." Nice message all around.

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For pregnant: For the pregnant woman, I actually had a similar experience (I'm 5 months now). I told my husband about it and he wasn't excited, didn't really believe it etc. But, when it was confirmed by the doctor he got more excited. No matter how accurate the boxes say they are, some people just don't trust those often faint little lines to mean that there really will be a baby. Some people don't even fully believe it until they see an ultrasound at 12 weeks. It is easy when you're in the early stages of pregnancy to get more upset about things then you might otherwise. Maybe she could give him a few days or weeks to see if he really isn't excited about the baby or if he is just being overly cautious about being disappointed or isn't showing his excitement in a healthy way.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. One more:

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Reston, Va.: For the newly pregnant poster, just a thought in your husband's defense. Most men are very caught up in the societal role of breadwinner, and most especially so when they are dads or about to become dads. It could feel very scary or shameful to him that you are going to have a baby when he doesn't have a job right now. So, instead of assuming it's all about you or his negativity, how about asking him, "Why are you feeling conflicted about having a baby? Did I misunderstand that agreed we were ready to take this next step in our lives together? How does it make you feel?" Maybe he feels like less of a man because he's not a provider. I know my husband feels some flashes of shame that he doesn't make enough for me not to work at all (I freelance part-time and love it); yet we are both very glad he chose a job with ample benefits and vacation and a truly 40-hour a week schedule.

Carolyn Hax: Another good point, thanks.

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people changing: I think a distinction should be made between qualities a person really can change (being late, being messy, etc.) and qualities that are fundamental to a person's personality and are very unlikely to change (being an introvert, not being funny, etc.). Of course, if someone is fundamentally inconsiderate, they're probably not going to be willing to work on being late or messy. But many people can and will work to change some qualities. My husband was one of them. He was chronically late when I met him. I told him it really bothered me. Now he's much, much better about it.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, the only helpful distinction to make is between the things someone actually does change, and doesn't. Plenty of tardy slobs choose not to clean up or show up on time.

Certainly when something bothers you about a mate that can reasonably be considered fixable, you can and should speak up: Your complaint about chronic lateness is a perfect example.

But then the key next step is to be unflinching in your acceptance of the truth after that. If you make a request and nothing happens, you don't just escalate to asking daily, to begging, to silent treatments. You take your answer and you decide if you can accept this person as-is, or not.

Actually, maybe tardiness isn't a perfect example, since there is a highly effective follow-up to telling him it bothers you. Leaving without someone who always leaves you hanging has a good track record for demonstrating you're not going to stand for it any more. -Then- you move on to the next step.

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Marriageville, USA: Love the column and chats, been a reader since column one. I have a question about a disucssion I want to have with my husband. I have been with him for 6 years: 2 dating, 4 married. When I first met him he was having a lot of personal problems: alcohol, law, baby mama, financial. He has spent the past six years cleaning up those problems (all of the problems did not take that long to clear up.) He is now at a point that is "drama free." I love him where he is now, and I would say that I loved him and supported him throughout the past 6 years, becuase he showed constant improvement in all of his problem areas. The thing is, I was in my mid-twenties when I first started dating him and if I had to do it over again, I would not have dated him, let alone married him. As I said before, I love him where he is now and do not want to divorce him for his past digressions. But I almost feel ashamed of myself for dating someone (at the time) that I would have nothing to do with now. Should I tell my husband all this? We have pretty good communication and I don't like to feel a strong emotion and not tell him, but would it be worth it?

Carolyn Hax: No, not at this point, because you're seeing only half of the picture.

The other half is that you've done six years' worth of cleaning up yourself, to the point that now, emotionally, you would know better than to seek validation by taking on a "project" boyfriend and making him whole again. Because that's what he was, wasn't he? A rescue? And didn't that make you feel stronger, more important, more worthwhile?

So maybe now you're both "drama-free," or at least closer to whole than you were when you met, and the thing you might constructively share with your husband is that he isn't the only one his admirable efforts have helped.

In other words, maybe you wouldn't have dated him knowing what you know now, but dating and marrying him is the very reason you know what you know now.

It's a theory. What do you think?

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Dallas, Tex.: Live-in boyfriend went insecure on me on Wednesday, accusing me of being involved with a mutual friend. Not true. He demanded he see my cellphone bill and email accounts to make sure I was not lying. I showed it to him, but now, I'm not sure I want to be with him anymore.

He said he was sorry, he was feeling insecure and would not happen again. He's never had an outburst like this, so it was surprising when it happened.

I am at odds on what to do...should I stay and give him another chance or part ways because he does not seem to trust me?

Carolyn Hax: I would certainly get out of there if he ever does it again. But if your gut really says it was unlike him, I think it's okay to trust your gut. Please do ask him, though, to talk to you about what was behind it. Sounds like there's something else here--not necessarily sinister, but maybe just one of those suddenly-feeling-his-mortality moments, where ... I don't know how to describe it exactly ... but a deja vu moment can do it, or a close call, or a brush with the past. Sometimes people get rattled, and it might be good for both of you to talk about whatever rattled him.

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South Riding, Va.: Carolyn,

I had to throw a bachelor party this past weekend for a friend of mine. Then we went to the wedding. I told my girlfriend the extent of what happened and what happened during the party and the extent of what I did (I didn't think I was bad). I told her the truth when she asked what happened and what I did. My girlfriend is now upset to the point that she is considering leaving me. All I want from her is to be happy even if it is without me.

Carolyn Hax: What'd you do? You must spill; my interests aren't prurient (though I won't speak for the nuterati).

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Done him wrong, post breakup fallout.: I wrote to you a few months ago about what to do regarding a BF who I was pretty sure was going to try and play a victim once we broke up, "she-done-me-wrong" style. You called him a me-first kind of guy.

Well, I broke up with him about 6 weeks ago, and he has taken it badly. First he made up some tales about how I up and walked out on him, without ever trying to work things out. Last week he spent 2 hours crying at the feet of our mutual friend about how I won't talk to him, he realizes now what I mean to him, he just wants to work it out. This week, he is flooding me with overwrought emails, either about how he wanted to get married all along, and didn't mean it when he said he never would, and to think he was planning to buy me a ring.

Carolyn, I have seen him turn tears on and off at the drop of a hat. He can be very manipulative, but most people have not seen that side of him. I tried to talk to him rationally for the first couple of weeks, and I've told him that it's not OK for him to keep doing this. Recently I've just started saying, when he tries to suck me in, that I'm not going to have this conversation anymore, and I won't reply to his email entreaties.

So far, when people have reported interesting stories to me, I've just tried to say, "OK, do you believe that?" or, "Do you think that sounds accurate?" I don't want to have to defend myself when I didn't do anything wrong, and I don't want to talk trash about him, either. I have a few close friends who know all the sordid details, but they are not the gossipy type.

This is a small, close-knit community, and there is no way to avoid him completely. I'm getting tired of having friends and family say that it's really awful that I won't even talk to him, clearly he misses me, blah blah blah. They were not in that relationship, and they don't even know half the story.

Do you have any suggestions? What else I can do but keeping trying to hold my head high and live my life, and hope this fades away sooner rather than later?

Carolyn Hax: It sounds as if you have exactly the right approach (though I think you're overdue to back up your threat not to have this conversation anymore). People close to you know the whole story; people a little less close get a reminder that there are two sides to every story. Mere acquaintances and bystanders get to think what they like--but of course they forget the two-sides thing at their peril.

It's one thing to share a cluck-cluck over some poor guy whose evil girlfriend dumped him. It's quite another to use that under-inquisitive approach with people who have an actual bearing on their lives. In this case, your ex's manipulation is giving them some good gossip; next time, the manipulation will come from someone closer to home, and will thus hit closer to home, and missing the truth will come with real consequences.

I realize I'm preaching to the choir, but maybe a refresher will help you feel better about not speaking up when you're dying to. It's the busybodies who lose out in the end. When it seems appropriate, you can even feel free to point out--especially with friends and family--that they know his side only because he's telling everyone who will listen. So they -are- seeing the manipulative side of him.

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Huh?: nuterati - I read that 'noot-er-at-i' - meaning neutered. hmmmm.

washingtonpost.com: nuterati = 'nuts = peanuts = peanut gallery = y'all

Carolyn Hax: If you become the neuterati, I will adjust my spelling to reflect. Just let me know.

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South Riding, Va.: Hey Carolyn, this is the guy who submitted that response... First off my girlfriend is a big fan of yours and I wanted to post it on there so she could read it and see that I really do care about her. She forgave me and took me back. What happened was I ordered 3 strippers to come and entertain us. I went in this showing thinking to myself that I have a loving girlfriend at home who cares for me and loves me. Things got out of control (it's too graphic to tell) but what I can say is that my involvement in the activities was a lap dance and consumption of whipped cream off one of the girls (in a non private area).

Carolyn Hax: I feel so used.

Believe it or not, I think the porn/bachelor party/strip club/etc. issue belongs on the Apollo 13 table. It's a reflection of pretty fundamental values. Glad you two got it out there--assuming you weren't looking just have your Reddi-Whip and eat it, too.

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San Diego, Calif.: Thank you for everybody's comments. They are helpful. I know what Carolyn said was true: I should have known this would be his reaction based on his past behavior, and if I couldn't deal with it, I shouldn't have gotten pregnant. But I did. I know that hoping all this time he would change, wouldn't work, but hope has this annoying way of springing eternal.

I'll admit that my pride and my anger just want to stay angry with him, but I have to give him a chance to come around, because I want him to be involved in the baby's life, no matter what happens in our relationship. Maybe it is some male pride about being unemployed or he just can't believe its real. I don't know.

I will try my best.

Carolyn Hax: Could be a bit of all these, too. Complex feelings for complex times.

Just one more thought and I'll butt out: Instead of giving him a chance to come around, it might be more productive--and ultimately more rewarding--if you give yourself a chance to find good in who he really is. You've spent a lot of time hoping, which means you've spent a lot of time not seeing/hearing/knowing him, which means you've both spent a lot of time frustrated. That's going to affect how both of you see each other, and are with each other. Maybe now with this upsetting discovery behind you, your better selves will have a chance to get to know each other again.

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Chapel Hill, N.C.: Belongs on the Apollo 13 table? What does that mean? Is this the new bacon pants?

washingtonpost.com: Scroll up, amigo

Carolyn Hax: It's a Friday thing.

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Idiotville, Ohio: Right now, as I sit here, the neighbor down the street is using his very noisy leafblower to blow all the leaves and garbage from his yard and sidewalk onto his neighbors' yards and sidewalks. Then he considers his job done. He's been known to blow it all down to my yard.

This reminds me of when my parents' next door neighbors used to scoop all their large dog's poops and pile them next to my parents' house. Well, it's off their land, then, right?

What goes through people's minds, Carolyn? If anything?

Carolyn Hax:"[Bleep] everybody." I think of it as being emotionally feral. Good thing is, few people manage to be subtle about it, and easy to spot means easy to avoid. (Living next door to it stinks, but that's still better than marrying it.)

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New York, N.Y.: I hear what you're saying about accepting that some people just won't change, even if they could. But what I'm wondering is: Is it always unproductive nagging if, after pointing something out once, you then continue to flag it for your partner when they keep doing the thing that you want them to stop doing? I've been married for 5 years, 2 kids, and none of the stuff that bugs me about my husband is stuff that I'd even remotely consider getting divorced over. But some of it does really bug me. He learned some bad communication skills from his parents, and I think he wants to improve them, but his improvement so far has been slow. So fairly often I end up giving him specific feedback (nagging?) about how he could have made our lives smoother by telling me something in advance, explaining his actions, etc. Is this unproductive nagging, or a productive way to help him make changes that I do think he wants to make?

Carolyn Hax: Dunno. Does he appreciate the assist, or is he feeling resentful and browbeaten and just not telling you so (thereby flexing those bad communication skills he learned from his parents)?

The distinction is everything. One makes you partners in bringing out each other's best, the other makes him your dull pupil. Obviously your manner will matter, too--certainly if you're kind about it, you should feel free to ask, "Would you please call me next time you X? That will save me from having to Y. Thanks." But the fact that his problem is with communication means you have to be aware in all such exchanges that he might not be expressing what he really feels.

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Money: Just so I have them quick on the draw, can you suggest a few ways to decline invitations due to financial reasons? These are instances where you really do want to go, and you CAN afford it, you just shouldn't given your current financial situation and goals.

Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: You don't have to give reasons when you say no, you just say no. If it's face-to-face stuff, vs. send-your-reply stuff, then you can say, "I won't be able to do [expensive thing], but if you'd like to do [free thing] another time, I'd like that."

Is it me, or do those bracketed things seem dirty.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Hi Carolyn,

My girlfriend and I of two years started out with a very passionate relationship -- we couldn't keep our hands off each other. But for the last 6 months (maybe more) it's petered out to almost nothing, and it's making me miserable. I've tried talking with her about it and it hasn't really worked -- she feels stressed out, I feel unhappy, nothing changes. My question is, how can I talk to her about this? This is my first long-term relationship, and I love her more than I'd ever imagined I could. And I just don't know how to talk about this effectively. And, in the end, is this really something that can be fixed? It's not just the sex, I also miss the way that she used to look at me, and I'm afraid that if we don't start being intimate on a regular basis, that it will seriously damage our relationship. How can I start the conversation, or what should I do?

Carolyn Hax: Bleah, I wish I had seen this at the beginning and not the end. If there isn't some clear external (and temporary) thing to explain the dropoff in affection--major stress of some kind, usually--then you have to see this as the natural course of the relationship. Things start big and cool off, and it's the post cool-off temperature that you can expect to be enduring, not the temp when it's all new and exciting. I'm sorry.

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Carolyn Hax: Gotta go. Thanks all, have a great weekend and typo to you next week.

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