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Carolyn Hax Live: For Better or for Worse -- Really?! plus Cyberstalking, Reforming Interrupters and Birthday Babies

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 18, 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 18 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.

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Detroit: Hi again -- Please explain how to make good manners triumph over bad manners.

Our family reunion is coming up next month. For the most part we all get along great, except my sister finishes everyone's sentences and answers all questions, directed at her or not. I have tried to respond with loving jokes like, "You sweet thing, you didn't have to go to all that effort. I was going to finish that sentence myself, honest," and "Okaaay, there's one answer. Dexter (to whom I directed the question), what were you going to say?" But my family accuses me of being testy. That's just her way, they say. Well, finishing my own sentences and deciding who answers my questions is "just my way," so I think that puts us at an impasse.

My family insists that I go along to get along, that it's only for a week, etc. They laugh her off in public, then complain bitterly behind her back. My sister and I were estranged, but have grown very close via phone and email, and this reunion week sets our progress back every time. How can we make good manners triumph over bad manners for a week?

Carolyn Hax: I'm with your family on a lot of this--what you describe as "loving jokes" sounds pretty testy to me. And, the fact that you're doing it to (unsuccessfully) mask your genuine disgust and irritation betrays that it isn't in fact a loving joke. You're angry.

So I think the only way to handle it that has a chance of being effective is one that acknowledges how much it gets to you. Either say, as nicely as you can, "Please let Dexter answer the question," or acknowledge that this isn't just your sister's issue. It's your issue, too.

Just because your sister's on the wrong side of good manners doesn't mean you're automatically right, or that even being right means you'll eventually get your way. You won't. Your family will gather, your sister will interrupt, you will get angry. Each element is as stubborn as the others. That means the only solution you will ever find to this has to have all three elements as immutable facts.

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7/13 column re Mormon "non issue": I agree mostly, but having grown up in what I'm guessing is the town where the Mormon gal goes to school, I can tell you that the pressure to marry before 20 is incredible, and I cannot name one friend who in retrospect was marrying out of true self-knowledge. The dating scene is nuts -- my niece is there now and just had a guy tell her on the first date that she seemed to meet every little box on his Ideal Wife Checklist (he really had a list), so....? (She ran like her hair was on fire, good girl). I know I know I know, there's an exception to all this and a million Mormons are going to tell you this isn't true. My brother got married at 20 and is one of the happiest guys I know (neither he or his wife were or are still Mormon, however, and they are what I consider the exception to the rule). I ate that pressure and culture every day, and I think it is nice that the friend is at least offering some sense of possibility that other types of living exist outside a rather meticulously-protected, singularly-visioned bubble.

Carolyn Hax: But the only way she can do it effectively is to try to see through her friend's eyes. I tried to answer that very carefully, by saying the New Yorker might be right that her friend is unhappy--she could even be right about the reasons--but she won't be able to know that for sure, much less help, until she challenges her own biases first.

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Chronic Interrupter, Maryland: Hi Carolyn

I'm a chronic interrupter and no matter what tactics I try, I can't seem to stop. I get in the moment and it's the pattern I'm used to (in trying to stop, I've noticed that my family and co-workers do it too, so apparently aren't bothered by it). It is driving my husband clearly crazy and I want to change - badly.

I've seen you address this before, but could you reiterate some of the underlying reasons and do you have any concrete ideas to help me stop?

I've asked my hubby to give me some kind of a signal when I'm doing it, but he typically just lets it go until he's really bothered by it, so it's on me to make the change...

Help! Thanks in advance.

Carolyn Hax: When and how do you interrupt? Do you finish his sentences (impatience), do you join in with agreement (excitement), do you blurt out non sequiturs (ADD), do you struggle to get a word in edgewise (living with a conversation hog/bore/control freak)?

If you find this is an issue only only only with your husband--meaning, never in the past, and not now with anyone else--then it could in fact be about him. But you're right to look to yourself first.

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Anonymous: So I have a cyberspace stalker. I've asked him repeatedly to stop contacting me. I've explained that his behavior is unacceptable. I've told him it's not personal, I've made the same request of other people who have behaved the same way he has. I've blocked his email address, but he's just creates new ones and emails me. I block those as well. I've cancelled my social networking accounts (MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc) because he's using them to contact me.

I'm one step away from canceling my email account and changing my cell phone number. I haven't done this yet because I'm afraid it may escalate the situation to face-to-face contact since he would have no other way of contacting me.

So before I do that, is there something more I could be doing to get my point across? Should I threaten to get a protective order, should I be more disrespectful, should I start swearing at him, etc.? I'm at a loss for how else to deal with this. Help.

Carolyn Hax: You need to stop responding to this person; he has no reason to believe you mean it when you say, "Stop contacting me," because his efforts to contact you are always rewarded. You keep replying. You've told him to stop, so stop replying now. Let him know with your silence that his every effort to contact you will be for naught.

Next, you need to start documenting everything this person is doing. And you need to contact the domestic division of your local police and let them know what's going on. Get a very specific checklist of what to do (and what not to do) next. Find out what usually happens in these cases. Find out the limits of what the police can do, too, so you know exactly where you're responsible for your own safety.

While you're doing all of these, read "The Gift of Fear" so you know when to recognize 1. when you're unwittingly contributing to the problem, and 2. how to differentiate between nuisance behavior and dangerous behavior.

Get this information ASAP, and start being very, very careful.

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Green-eyed monster: Hi Carolyn, sure you hear this all the time but I'm a big fan of your chats. My question is this: my boyfriend is on the verge of getting a really good job with his Dad's new company. He's about 90% sure he'll take the offer (better money, higher position, more perks) and although I feel supportive of him, I also can't help but feel jealous. A bit of background: we're both in the same industry and have been at about the same level career-wise for a while. Is it normal to feel jealous of your partner whom you love dearly? I struggle really hard with myself to squash the green-eyed monster, but I can't help feeling that if he takes this job, then it'll bring him so far ahead that our lifestyles might no longer be compatible (e.g. if he wants to go to expensive restaurants that I can't afford). To make things worse, I'm also not a big fan of his parents and think it's a mistake to take a job with his Dad - as they are already very involved with his life and I panic when I think that this is yet another part of his life they can now interfere in. What's wrong with me?? I have never felt this way before and really think I should just be happy and supportive of his life choices, but I can't stop my nagging doubts. Thanks

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the kind words.

Re your concerns about the family business job--which is it? Do you wish you could be taking this job yourself, or do you wish he wouldn't take it because it's not as good as it seems? I'm not sure your two concerns can logically coexist.

So I'll put it to you a different way: Is this job offer upsetting you because it's going to bring changes to your life that you don't want? If so, that's certainly a legit concern.

Which would then bring up this question: Are the changes avoidable if BF says no to the job, or are you just now being forced to accept that your boyfriend is not who you thought he was/were telling yourself he was?

I say this because, even if he doesn't take the job, your BF's parents will always be his parents, and if they're too involved then they will remain too involved unless your BF chooses to do something about it. I would concentrate on those fundamental things; the job issue sounds as if it's just the messenger here.

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Cyber Stalking: This happened to a friend of mine and when she called the police they blew her off. Luckily, she had not deleted the 20-30 emails a day he was sending her every day, so she printed them off. When the police saw the volume of contact and the vague threats, they took her seriously and paid a visit to the guy. So don't just document, but keep everything and print as much of it as you can. Good luck.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the anecdote. I think it's important to go with the possibility in mind that you'll get blown off, and to be ready to say, what kind of documentation will you take seriously? Often the police can't do anything unless you have X or Y in hand, so the point of the visit has to be to achieve at least the minimum of receiving informed, concrete instructions. Ask them about this, too:

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to: stalked: Call Verizon, or your phone service provider. They have staff who deal with this. What the did for me was let me starXX the call (like dialing -69, but instead or dialing the person who just called you, it sends a record of that call to the police). You never get to see the #, the police use it as proof of harassment. I spoke to the Lt. in charge of my case and he called the guy, told him the police had the record and that he'd better stop if he didn't want to be prosecuted. He stopped that day.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. This is new to me but will check it out after we're done here.

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Cyberstalker: Shouldn't you contact the Facebook etc. authorities? Explain that you've tried to block this person but that he keeps creating new accounts to contact you, and provide evidence; I believe that these services can block someone if this kind of behavior is documented.

Carolyn Hax: Certainly the health of these communities depends on enforcing their various guidelines.

However, when someone is approaching you in a persistent, frightening way, I think the key is to document while receiving informed, professional, one-on-one guidance before undertaking specific moves. Just consider, for example, the common response of insisting someone stop contacting you. It's a fairly intuitive response, to keep saying, "Stop bothering me!" But in fact it is known to make things worse in stalking situations.

So, instead of undertaking the next natural, intuitive mistake, it's best to put your energy into finding a competent, concerned and accountable source of guidance who is in a position to hear each detail from you and respond in a way that suits the specifics of your case.

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McPherson Square, D.C.: I've been having a pretty rough time lately. The problem is that my friends hassle me about wanting to stay home instead of going out - apparently they count on me to organize stuff and be fun.

Am I really obligated to go out if I just plain don't feel like it? I never bail on set plans, I've just been avoiding making plans in the first place. All I want is a little more time to curl up and heal.

Carolyn Hax: If you have a close friend in this crowd, then approach him or her one-on-one to ask that the hassling mob be kept at bay. The word of a third party can carry a lot of weight.

If you don't have a close friend in this crowd, then it might be time to reconsider what you want out of your friendships, and start shifting your attentions accordingly. It's normal for this to happen as your priorities change anyway, so don't feel you have to add it to the pile of things that have gone wrong for you lately. You can save it for after you feel better, when you start feeling ready to circulate again.

Necessary depression disclaimer: If you ever get a sense you're sinking deeper, vs. healing, then please consider getting some help (if you haven't sought it already).

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Probably needing another ride: Weird one for you, Carolyn: I recruited a friend of mine to join a local writer's group. (I get a ride over with him.) As it turns out, he's a terrible writer. And at the last meeting, the other people in the group told him as tactfully as possible that they didn't think they could help him, as he has been turning in very difficult to read pieces for about a year now without much improvement. They suggested he take remedial writing courses.

He's not kicked out, mind you, and he didn't show much reaction at the time, but I can imagine he feels kicked in the gut. I didn't want to ask him about it after the meeting, for obvious reasons. And luckily we have a bit of time before the next meeting. But I am wondering if he wants to drop out - and if I were he and had been told that, I probably would.

Question is, what do I do in this situation? How do I handle it best and as tactfully as I can?

Carolyn Hax: The most tactful thing might be not to do or say anything. It's entirely his decision whether to stay or drop out, and in fact it would be weird/presumptuous of you to step in uninvited to help him make his decision.

And when he does make his decision, the onus is on him to let you know whether you have a ride or not. I would just say that, if he does drop out and inform you that you need to find a new ride, you should let him know you're sorry it didn't work out. Who knows, maybe it'll turn out that he's grateful for the feedback and looking into remedial courses.

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Another interrupter: Hi, my name is Bob (well, not really) and I'm a chronic interrupter.

My wife used to think it was me, until 10 years ago when she came to meet my family for the first time. After that and later meeting my very large extended family, she realized that there was a cultural aspect behind for us, a very Chinese way of speaking (for example, see the very funny movie, "The Wedding Banquet").

For a compromise, I try to be more aware of my problem and try to cut back and she tries to give me more of a break. But some tactics that work: for me, if I interrupt and catch it quickly I say "I'm sorry, go on..." if I don't catch it quickly, I finish the thought and then turn back to the person and say "I'm sorry, you were saying?" If the other person has not stopped speaking (usually if I catch it in the first word or two), then I just stop, and acknowledge that they should continue (sometimes a nod of the head). Just being more aware of what's going on and trying to compensate is appreciated by others. Another tactic I've tried to develop is to take an extra beat/second before I start speaking. Often that gives me a clue whether another person is done speaking or not and whether I'm interrupting. I know that due to my family speaking patterns, my conversational speed is much faster than my wife's. She waits much longer (3-4 beats instead of 1-2) between speakers. That's how I often end up "jumping" on her in conversations. She wasn't done, but I read the pause as she was.

Just a few thoughts for those of us like this...

Carolyn Hax: Good thoughts, thanks. (Great movie, too.)

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

I'm curious how you -- or your readers -- would handle the following situation. There's a mother who leaves her infant child in the car while picking up her older child from a local summer camp. She's typically inside the building for five minutes or longer so it's not just a dash in, dash out kind of deal. Some days, as you know, the temperature has hovered in the mid 90s. But on top of the heat, this seems unsafe on a variety of levels. Is this something I should report? If so, to whom?

Carolyn Hax: Have you talked to the mom, ideally with printed facts about how quickly a hot car becomes lethal? If that isn't practical or hasn't worked, then, yes, you do need to act to stop this. Let the person in charge of the camp know this is going on. And, for good measure, call child protective services to find out exactly what to in these situations.

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For Detroit: During the reunion, a couple of things will likely decrease your irritation level.

Without "avoiding" your sister, try to spend some time with your lesser-seen relatives who want or need to talk - especially any older/lonely/sick/going-through-a-tough-time relatives. Especially if you have to sit down for a little while to talk to them.

When you spend time in a group with your sister, ask -her- questions about herself. Forget about asking Dexter a question for a minute. In a serious way, ask for her advice about some (minor) issue that you're having - preferably one that is on neutral territory (not, for example, how to get your annoying co-worker to shut up). Bonus points if you can ask her to recount a story to the relatives about something she's done that she's proud of.

Volunteer to help in the kitchen/wash up/set up/clean up. Offer to run any errands that come up.

Assuming the usual caveats (you're of age, you aren't pregnant, you aren't on driving duty, you don't have a medical condition, you aren't an alcoholic, etc.), have a glass or two of your favorite adult beverage before you see her.

Good luck and have fun!

Carolyn Hax: Good suggestions, thanks. Though if there's any aggression to your behavior when you're all adult-beveraged up, then I would keep the count low.

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Arlington, Va.: Carolyn: My husband recently got very upset with me and exclaimed I am too negative and I used to be such a go-getter. Since we've met, my father died, I got a master's, we bought a house, and numerous other real-life situations have left me drained and not as happy. More recently I even broke my arm and it affects my ability to work. I thought I was hanging in there considering but now I feel like my husband only wants to be around be for better and not for worse and I have no idea how to handle his feelings on this much less how I feel now... not supported.

Carolyn Hax: I can appreciate that, but it also may be that he feels unappreciated--that he's been supporting you through the loss, the degree, the move, the everything else and now the injury, and he's starting to wonder when this stops being a set of temporary dramas and starts being a way of life for you. Which, even you have to admit, would really be tough on a partner. Life can be a seemingly relentless series of challenges. Part of the value of a marriage is to have someone who bolsters you during those challenges, who helps you look at them from different angles, who distributes the weight of it all. Has he been that for you up till now? Have you seen your recent trials as a free pass on being this for him?

It may be that he isn't unsupportive, he's just tired and frustrated. It may be that you need to find more constructive ways to handle pressure on a day-to-day basis.

To be fair: It may be, too, that he has let you down, that his unrealistic expectations of grownup life are making you the bearer of all difficult situations. It's not clear from your question which of these is true.

So I would suggest that your first step be to force yourself out of poor-me mode, and get some perspective on the whole situation--from the beginning. Then find a way to articulate for your husband what you've taken away from it, whether it's an apology and a vow to find more constructive ways to handle stress, or an appeal to him to recognize that he has essentially asked you to bear a marriage's worth of pressures on your own. Or, an appeal for him to help you sort out which it is.

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Ithaca, N.Y.: About the mom who leaves the infant in the car -- if she is at all approachable, please please talk to her first, or even leave a note on her car, if you prefer to be anonymous. The camp personnel may be mandatory reporters -- that is, by law they may have to report any questionable activity to CPS. Contacting CPS should really be a last resort, as once you get in their system, you are at risk of having your child/ren taken away from you. There is so much red tape that can make your life hell and have you looking over your shoulder for the foreseeable future. I know that the original poster is right to be concerned about the infant, but it sounds as if this mom may just be naive, not abusive.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. I should have made clear that a call to CPS can be an information-only call, a, "What do I do in this situation?" There is also a help line that might be a less fraught alternative, Child Help USA--1-800-4-A-CHILD. It's more for abuse cases, but I believe this is within its scope.

Two general comments about calling CPS, though, one of them obvious: Red tape is unfortunate, but is surely preferable to a seriously injured child. Injured is injured, be it by malice or naivete. And, second, CPS usually has more than its share of serious cases, which means it is (again, I'm speaking generally) not going to be inclined to take kids away from a parent who's merely naive.

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D.C.: I used to be a chronic interrupter (and still have occasional flare-ups from time to time, truth be told), but I made a conscious decision a few years ago to attack this and try to change it. So I started monitoring and realized that it happened mostly when I was I wasn't listening to the other person. I mean I was listening -- I could tell you what they were saying -- but the whole time I was trying to figure out what -I- could say next. I was becoming more interested in what I was going to say than how their story ultimately turned out.

Yuck. This is not a pretty thing to discover about oneself.

Since then I've gotten much better. And the reward is not just not annoying people by being The Interrupter, but also because now I finally get to hear the ends of some pretty darn interesting stories.

Carolyn Hax: Great point, thanks.

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For Better or For Worse?: Thinking about this a lot lately -- at what point does the "worst" become a viable reason to bail? Does "the worst" mean you have to stay and support a spouse through anything?

Carolyn Hax: Of course not, since "worst" can be crime, abuse, addiction--though I don't think it even has to be that bad. If the decision to "stay and support" will end up making you both unhappy, there doesn't seem to be much sense to it. If your spouse is making his or her own hell, and it's preventable, then I don't think you're under any obligation to get dragged down with it.

In a way, though, my listing all these is a cop-out, since they're black-and-white to an almost unrealistic extent. Let's say you're with someone in a mutually loving relationship, and then accident or illness strikes and you're looking at 30 years of becoming caregiver to an invalid spouse. Is that a viable reason to bail? I doubt anyone would think so, even though some do; and when someone does bail, doesn't that in itself say the spouse wasn't equipped to handle it? Was too selfish to provide good care?

Now shift it a bit, and say the injured spouse suffered a kind of trauma that affects personality, and becomes verbally abusive. Does the spouse still have to stay on as caregiver for the next three decades?

What if the injury was the fault of the injured. Would that matter?

Don't beat yourself up if you can't come up with a clear "point" where you'd bail. If it ever becomes relevant, life will probably outmaneuver you anyway and leave you with a wholly unanticipated set of facts to sort through anew. Just another reason to get a good fix on who you are and on who your spouse is (or, at least, as good a fix as you can) before you go promising anything.

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Arlington: Hi, last Friday's column had a question from an older guy who tends to date younger women and most of the responses to his issue tended towards arrested development issues. Well I'm in a May-September romance and was wondering if you thought all of them involved some sort of arrested development in one or both parties. To be more specific in my case, I was not actively seeking a younger woman and mostly avoided putting myself in those situations. I've had a lifetime of generally successful relationships with woman roughly my age even though they have obviously not worked out. I met her via a common activity that allowed us to become friends first and as we found, amazingly, that we were very compatible it turned into more. She is actually the love of my life. Any thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Many well-documented thoughts, both touched on in last Friday's column and laid out more extensively in the years prior both online and in print. Adults are free to date other adults, and I don't care one bit about age as long as you don't. A onetime thing doesn't say anything in this area.

Patterns do say something. Friday Guy was finding all older women bitter, all attractive younger women appealing, and [tee]ing off all women in his orbit with whom he wasn't sexually involved. (Of whom there were none who were there by his choice: family, colleagues, wives of friends. In other words, he only dealt with women if they were there by accident of birth, if someone else hired or married them, or if he were sleeping with them. No issues there!)

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Update regarding pregnant sister: Dear Carolyn, Thank you for your advice regarding whether I should offer to raise my pregnant sister's child. I let her know of this option, and other options (help financially, babysitting, etc.), but all within the framework that I would be supportive no matter what. She did have the abortion, and is recovering physically and emotionally.

Husband and I are sad, but understanding and supportive of her decision. I think this situation made us realize that we're ready for a second child, just not sure of the route yet.

Thank you again for your advice. You were right - I would have regretted not offering the option. And I think it made us even better and closer sisters.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you for the update. Your child is lucky to have you and your husband as parents, and your next one will be, too.

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New York, NY: I'm being a baby. I turned 32 two weeks ago. Celebrated with my BF, figured I'd celebrate with friends separately, one-on-one over dinners, etc. (Last year he threw me a surprise party and catered it for 25.)

Tomorrow is a friend's birthday dinner -- she's having it a restaurant and decided on a prix-fixe. Reasonably priced ($40), but I'm suddenly enraged that I'm expected to pay that (and cover part of her meal).

Money is tight, and I just realized that she did nothing for my birthday... except to say she knows she stinks because she only texted me to say happy bday. All my friends did -- not one sent a card, gave a gift, asked me for drinks, etc. One is pregnant, and the other blamed her four-week old baby for the distraction.

Is it wrong that I want to bail out of plans tomorrow and say, "Look, when did people start expecting others to cough up cash and pay their own way for your birthday?" Please help me be nicer, because I feel abandoned, broke and mad.

Carolyn Hax: You're under no obligation to go to people's expensive birthday dinners, unless you already said you would--but I do think you're due for an admission of childishness that isn't just for the cameras.

Seriously--who gives a [bleep] about anyone's birthday, -including one's own,- after the age of, I don't know, 18? Sure, you want your nearest and dearest (and I'm talking one or two people, tops) to be partners in making your lives mutually a little more special, and so you spoil and hope to be spoiled by this special person or two, on the occasion each of you values most--be it your b-day or anniversary or name day or Christmas or whatever.

Beyond that, though, it gets a bit silly to keep track except in extreme cases--for example, when someone throws herself a lavish, guest-paid restaurant dinner annually while stiffing everyone else. Then, okay, you need to take note--but only long enough to decide this person isn't someone you want as a close friend.

In general, people pay attention to you on some b-days and forget you on others, and warrant a big hoo-hah for themselves some years and do nothing much on others (as you did this year and last). To keep track of every little in and out of who acknowledged whom and how not only verges on ridiculous, but also virtually guarantees you will feel perpetually slighted.

Kiss your BF, let it go. Happy birthday.

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30 years of caregiving: Maybe I'm evil, but I'm surprised to hear you say that the prospect of 30 years of caregiving is not a reason to bail, and that you doubt anyone would think it would be.

I have specifically told my husband that if something ever were to happen to me to make me NOT ME (i.e. in need of permanent care, not something semi-temporary like a broken bone or even cancer), then I expect him to leave to find his own happiness - why bring down two people? Why would you want to force your spouse into a miserable existence?

Carolyn Hax: But that's a different thing, isn't it? You've made your own preferences clear, and that should be honored.

However, some people in need of care are still quite themselves--as in, absolutely lucid--but are incapable of -caring for- themselves. That's one different situation. There are also cases where the family doesn't have the money for high-quality care; then it's not going to be a pert, "See ya later" situation. Your husband may not be capable of doing as you wish, be it financially or morally.

I'm actually right there with you on freeing someone to get on with life without me. I'm just saying it isn't necessarily a black-and-white issue.

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Anonymous Too: I was about to not submit this question, but after seeing a string of comments on cyberstalking, I thought this was in the same league.

I've recently discovered that I am the victim of identity theft. Sadly, it appears as though it was someone that I know -- someone close to me who had been in my house and had access to my personal information. I have one friend who I think might have done this. How do I confront her? If it's not her, the friendship is damaged, because she'll know that I think she's capable of such a thing.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, the friendship is already pretty much over, isn't it? Because you do think her capable of it?

Before you do anything, I would suggest thinking it through all over again, from beginning to end--and I mean beginning of this friendship to right now. My guess is you'll know before you say a word whether there's any friendship here. And if there is a real bond, seriously consider the consequences before you say anything. You don't want to lay that on a good person just because you don't have a better explanation.

In fact, you want to lay it only on someone against whom you have actual proof. Otherwise you keep your mouth shut and do what you must to dig yourself out of it. And, of course, you distance yourself from any "friends" whom you just realized aren't people you can trust.

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Hooh, OH: I am presuming "hoo-hah" does not mean the same thing here it does in Weingarten's chat.

Carolyn Hax: Little does.

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Arlington again: Thanks for weighing for me. FWIW, I've taken care of most things and am the one that supports us more financially. Not that I have a license to unload on my husband, but it really seems as though he's happy when I take care of everything and when I need him he's is unwilling to take anything on no matter how I ask. Most of our problems could have been easier if he had helped in the first place when I asked but instead I had to juggle it all and it spiraled out of control.

Carolyn Hax: Then that's what you need to talk about, as calmly as you can.

You also need to stop taking it all on. It's a hard habit to break, and it often involves letting go of something important--or, to use your juggling analogy, it means letting a ball or two drop. But the stress will never stop piling up if you keep taking it all on.

Another thing to consider before you get into it--are you leading the right life for the husband you have? In other words, now that you know you're the "adult" in the house, are you still taking on responsibilities that require the efforts of two adults? A big mortgage, for example, or a fixer-upper, or a lot of land, or a big commute, or a baby, or a lot of extended family responsibilities--a lot of these are part of a couple's marching orders, when in fact their dynamic would suggest they'd be better off downsizing the features of their shared life, not expanding them.

In other words, don't aggravate the situation by taking on more than you can handle alone. It may seem that, because your husband "should" be doing X or Y to help you, it's wrong to make yourself accept anything less than the life/lifestyle you want. But "should" isn't "will"; all of your choices should reflect the way you actually function as a couple.

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Carolyn Hax: Argh. I just lost an almost-finished answer to a slip of the keys. Pls be patient with me while I try to reconstruct it.

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Re: When bad is worst: Recently the BF and I had the "pull the plug" conversation. We both heartily agreed that if either one of us becomes permanently incapacitated, we want the other to end it for us in as humane a way as possible. Talking about this conversation with a friend who was HORRIFIED that we had already discussed this. We live together. We're planning to get married. I thought this was a totally normal thing to discuss with the person who someday would make that decision. Her whole gist was that until I'm his wife, I get no say, and I should just stay the heck out of it, because it's his parents' decision then and we should discuss this after we're married/engaged. Huh? Really?

Carolyn Hax: Until you're on paper as having some say, you do have no say. You can relate what you talked about with each other's families, as needed, but you don't get to decide.

Everything else about your friend's argument is ridiculous, except where it's outright wrongheaded. Who wants to wait till they're married to find out that a spouse has completely different beliefs on end-of life issues? Every couple should talk about this. Every family should talk about this. If we spent a tenth of the cultural energy on death that we spend on weddings, then maybe we'd have some public conversations--or, egad, policies--that make sense.

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fluffy but serious: This morning, before I got up, I let one rip. It was really loud, and long, and funny.

My husband told his friend about it later.

How mad should I be?

Carolyn Hax: Not even remotely?

If, next time you see the friend, you ask him to pull your finger, you will become a folk hero.

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Carolyn Hax: I guess I overstated the differences between this and Weingarten's chat

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Washington D.C.: Am I being a birthday-baby too? My husband is totally not into holidays, birthdays, etc., whereas my family makes a very big deal of these events. I don't expect him to throw a party for me every year, but I was really upset recently when he failed to do anything for my birthday other than suggest an impromptu dinner at low-end restaurant. I got mad that he couldn't put a little more thought into it (like buy me a card, at least), since he knew birthdays are a big deal for me, and he responded that I was being a baby. I think part of what upset me so much is that I always plan something nice for him for his birthday, our anniversary, holidays, etc., and it's totally unrequited. But I guess I am setting myself up for disappointment, since I knew going into this that he could care less about "special" days? So the solution seems to be: don't go out of my way to plan something for him, because he could care less, and then I won't feel bitter when I get nothing in return. But that just makes me sad that I can't "celebrate" him on his special days. Or the other solution: do something special for him simply because I want to, without expecting anything in return, and just stamp out that babyish birthday girl in me?

Carolyn Hax: I don't think you're being a baby in this case, just unrealistic; I did say explicitly in my big-baby answer that it's fine to expect your closest one or two people to care about the things you care about. That's because those are the people you can reasonably ask to care about things just because -you- care about them.

Unfortunately, your husband isn't one of those people; he's not going to care just because you care. Tho, fwiw, it couldn't hurt to let him know, once, in a non-fraught situation, that you'd like him to care about your birthday for no other reason than that you care about it.

You may be disappointed all over again, but then you can move on. Another suggestion about what to do when you do get to that moving-on point: make a fuss over him because you want to, -and- make your own fuss over yourself. Not as much fun, but more fun than giving up, I would think.

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Letting 'em rip, D.C.: But did it smell, and did you Dutch oven your husband while he was still sleeping?

Carolyn Hax: Always nice to end on a practical suggestion.

Bye everyone, have a great weekend, and type to you next week.

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For the sulky birthday girl: Carolyn - you didn't even address the "blamed her 4 week old baby for the distraction" comment. Does she really expect a friend with a 4 week old baby to remember her birthday? When my son was 4 weeks old I had trouble remembering where my shoes were in the morning. She sounds awfully bratty to me...

Carolyn Hax: Thought I covered it with the tone. Ah well.

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