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Carolyn Hax Live: Should I Propose To My Peace Corps Volunteer Boyfriend? plus Dating a Widower, How to Change Therapists and The Sex is 'Eh'

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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 29, 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, August 29 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.

Interested in the ALS Association's Walk to D'Feet ALS on October 12, 2008? Make a contribution at Carolyn's page or sign up to walk with the Hax Pack.

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: Hi everybody. Good to be back just as people clear out for the long weekend.

Speaking of long weekends--the next one, Columbus Day weekend, is when the ALS Association is holding its D.C. fundraising and attention-getting walk. The Hax Pack is walking again, and the families who are dealing with ALS need all the help we can give them. It occurred to me that if everyone reading this 100 percent free online discussion kicked in 5 bucks, we'd smash the fund-raising record. Since that seems to work only in theory, if people who were moved to act decided to give a little more than that, we could still make an enormous difference. Think for a moment what money and noise have done for AIDS treatment in the past two decades, and you'll get an idea how much events like these matter.

For people who aren't familiar with the horrors of ALS, it is a fatal neuromuscular disease that weakens voluntary muscles, eventually leaving the sufferer completely immobilized--yet the patient's mental faculties and senses remain intact. It is imprisonment in one's body, until death by suffocation. I will post a link to the description I wrote last year of my mother's experience. Please forgive me for not taking a shot at updating it; this is a difficult exercise for me as it is, since I have missed Mom terribly every day since her death in 2002.

Finally, I would like to invite anyone who'll be in town that weekend to come walk with us. I'll provide coffee and snacks (yes, snacks!) and a free Hax Pack/Zuzu T-shirt, which I hope will have a sharp new Zuzu image this year, courtesy of Nick Galifianakis. (Nick is the column's cartoonist, when his work as Zuzu's publicist permits.)

Thanks for anything you can do.

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Carolyn Hax: Sorry for the slow start--I kept tweaking that and couldn't seem to let it go.

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Regarding Busy Busy Mom: She's part of the problem that everyone complains about. Okay, her children are autistic, which is a major problem. But, when she signs off as 'Busy, Busy Mom' she seems to make it all about her. This tells me she's not too concerned about the people around her. And that is what generates the looks and comments. As far as minding our own business, we would be more than happy to, if the behavior and noise didn't disturb our 'business'. You have to manage it. And, if that means you don't bring these kids to a nice restaurant because you can't manage their behavior, so be it. If they can't behave in a movie theater, don't bring them to one. Get help in managing their behavior if need be.

Carolyn Hax: I absolutely have no idea how you extracted so much judgment out of one signature. Who even said she takes them to movie theaters and nice restaurants? If there were ever an argument for a little self-reflection and compassion, her letter, to me, was it. Talk about being all about oneself. Wow.

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Washington, DC: I think I'm falling for a friend of mine. We already have a close relationship and all of the usual interest "signals" e.g., casual touch on the arm, showing interest in what he has to say and what he does, etc. aren't going to do anything since we do all of those already. I think he might have been interested in me in the past but it sort of came and went and neither of us did anything about it. Are my only options to stay in friends territory forever or to do a full-on confession, or is there another, more subtle way? Or does the fact that nothing's happened so far mean there's nothing there?

Carolyn Hax: You can invite him to join you on more conspicuously date-y things, and get a little less casual about your arm touches, but just seeing these in writing will, I hope, inspire you just to say what you're feeling.

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Philadelphia: I have an ex of six months who really would like to be my friend. When we broke up, I asked him not to contact me, but instead he did and asked me to forgive him, citing 'friendship'. I now feel somewhat obligated to try to forgive him, do I need to? I have a great group of supportive friends, and frankly, barely feel a loss. Am only sad about the breakup because he treated me terribly. The bigger question, why should I stay friends with an ex? Or should I even?

Carolyn Hax: I'm not sure what the issue is. You don't want to be friends with this ex, so, say no thanks to his overtures of friendship.

If it's a matter of what your obligations are here, then please be assured his request for forgiveness and friendship carries with it zero obligation for you. At least, no obligation beyond the one we have to any fellow human. Don't lie, don't mix your messages, don't do deliberate harm, etc.

If it's a matter of whether you have to return a call, then that depends. If you stated in no uncertain terms that you didn't want him to contact you, then that stands as your final word, and you needn't return a call. If you weren't that clear, or if ignoring his overture seems needlessly cold, based on the tone of your parting--and if you're confident you aren't at risk for inadvertently encouraging him to be persistent--then it's fine to call. Make it clear that it is a onetime call, and tell him you aren't interested in being friends, however, you are grateful to him because you are in a better place now. (Cleanse of cliches as needed; I'm on a clock here ...) Then reiterate that you prefer not to be in touch, you wish him the best, buh bye.

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Washington, D.C.: This is a silly question - how long is the walk. I can't find anything on the website that says whether it's 2 blocks or 26.2 miles.

Carolyn Hax: It is short and in fact optional. We just walk in circles around a lake? pond? on the Mall. You can also just stand around in your zippy new shirt and drink free coffee and meet nice people and get inspired.

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Shirlington, VA: Hi Carolyn,

Recently my parents tried to take control of my grandfather's finances. He is almost 92 years old and lives with his 82 year old wife 9 hours away from my parents. They involved him in the decision but he didn't comprehend what was going on until the final day of their visit, when he lashed out. He has since told the bank that my father is abusive towards my mother (complete falsehood) and has stopped talking to my mom. My parents are very upset with him and my father refuses to go back to visit him. I live about 3 hours from my grandfather and visit him 3 or 4 times a year. I told him I would come back this summer, but I haven't because I don't want to be in the middle of this argument. What should I do? I don't want to miss out on the last opportunities to see my grandfather (he is 92, after all.) but I don't want to get into this drama.

Carolyn Hax: First thing that comes to mind is talking to your parents about it. I would hope they'd encourage you to go, since you have your own connection to him.

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Embarrassed: My wife and I are in our early 40s with two young teenagers. We have had a good marriage, friendship and sex life up until six months ago when she received a promotion at work. Her new position requires her to travel a day or so each week and usually with her boss who is our age. Our sex life has gone to nil and the friendliness has also disappeared. I didn't at first suspect that it was anything more than being tired and under stress from the new job requirements but I am not sure anymore. I have tried to talk to her about it but she gets angry and defensive. I tried to be funny by joking that her libido seemed okay because we needed new batteries for a marital aid but that made her furious. I probably have had the wrong approach but I am embarrassed and confused and don't understand why our relationship dried up just as new responsibilities and a new person came about.

Is there some other way I should be talking about this? Do you have any clue what's going on here?

Carolyn Hax: This might be the most volatile combination in couplehood: serious issue plus "I tried to be funny by ..."

You have something to say, so please say it. Don't mince or joke or backpedal, just, speak. Emotional honesty or bust. You also don't want to accuse, of course. And, don't pick a hectic or symbolically charged time, and don't escalate things when "angry and defensive" is the way she initially reacts. It makes me think of the line we use on the kids, "Use your words." When she gets defensive or has some other unproductive reaction, say its name, calmly: "Please don't get defensive/go silent on me/turn this on me. I'm not angry, I'm just trying to understand what has changed."

And did I mention not to accuse? Do not accuse. She still could just be distracted and tired.

Even if that's all it is, she does owe it to you to say that out loud to you. Being the shut-out spouse is really really hard, and it's common for a harried spouse to see only the harriedness, and wonder why the shut-out spouse is choosing this harried time to make life difficult, and to get angry. If you can see that side of it, that will actually help you make your case for your side, that you're feeling really lonely these days. Communication can't fix everything, but this is a case where it can come pretty close.

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To Shirlington: Taking away an adult's checkbook or car keys is a huge deal; imagine if your family took away yours. It may be in Grandpa's best interest, but it's still a devastating loss of control and dignity for him. There are ways to do it without provoking such hard feelings. Talk to a geriatrician or a social worker specializing in eldercare issues. Don't stay out of this to "avoid the drama". These are the first steps into a very hard chapter in your family's life: the decline and loss of grandparents. Don't check out; you can help.

Carolyn Hax: Good stuff, thanks.

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washingtonpost.com: Passing along a request from our Food Section friends -- Do you love food but your significant other doesn't? Or vice versa? Does it cause frustration/arguments when one of you wants to eat in a fancy restaurant or cook a monumental dinner and the other would be just as happy with a pizza? The Food section is working on a story and is looking for D.C.-area locals who face this problem. If interested, please email your story, name and contact to food@washpost.com.

Carolyn Hax: Why fight when there's a clear compromise? A monumental pizza.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

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when has a widower moved on?: Dear Carolyn,

My boyfriend lost his wife in childbirth 10 years ago, leaving him a widower with two small children in his 20s. He has had one or two relationships since then and has said he would like to remarry and have more children. In the nine months we've been serious, though, I've noticed that he thinks about, talks about, and takes his wife's opinions into consideration during decision making many times each day. While he is warm and caring towards me and we have a good relationship, I think he is still very actively in love with his wife.

I'm not jealous of her or bothered by their life together. To be honest, I care about him enough that I'd happily change the situation if I could, even if it meant we'd never have met. My question, though, is whether this amount of focus on his wife is "normal" a decade after she passed away, or am I ignoring a giant flashing sign that he hasn't moved on? I'd feel like a jerk if I said "I know you say you want to remarry, but I think you're still hung up on your wife..."

I'm in my 30s and dating with an eye towards marriage and children. I worry that we'd go on like this for another few years only to find out that he won't commit, or perhaps worse, that we'd marry but he'd never feel our relationship was as good as his first seems in retrospect.

Facing ghostly bigamy

Carolyn Hax: Why would you feel like a jerk if you said that? It seems like the kind of honest statement that a potential husband and wife would make. Just because his life was shaped by a traumatic event doesn't mean he has a no-honesty bubble around him. In fact, he may be better positioned for honesty than most people, since he has clearly been through far worse than a blunt girlfriend.

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Make it easy for me to donate: You said, "It occurred to me that if everyone reading this 100 percent free online discussion kicked in 5 bucks, we'd smash the fund-raising record." Tell me how to donate and I'll do it. I might even kick in ten bucks.

washingtonpost.com: Please see the links at the top of the page, in the chat introduction section. - Elizabeth

Carolyn Hax: Thank you! If it is anything but blissfully simple, please let me know and I'll find a way to make it blissfully simpler.

I forgot to mention, there's a Zuzu T-shirt in it for those who donate $50 or more. I had to raise the minimum donation this year because you guys cleaned me out last year (I say this with great joy) and I didn't get the last of the shirts in the mail till January.

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Shirlington, VA--again: I have talked to my parents, and they give me mixed signals. My dad has said that since they can't get my grandfather out of the house, they are just going to leave him there until he dies or doesn't resist the move (yikes!) My mom has recently started to say that my grandfather has been emotionally abusive towards her all her life and that she was concerned for his wife because he was cleaning his gun the other day. I've always known my grandfather to be a bit rough, but he's been consistently kind to my sister and me. I guess I should just go and try to stay out of things as well as I can. Thanks. Sometimes it just helps to type these things out.

Carolyn Hax: Okay. But please be careful--and do consider the enlisting the help of a geriatric specialist, as your fellow chatter suggested.

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Washington DC: Regarding the ALS walk - last year I tried to sign up and join your team. On the registration form there was a list of "why are you walking" questions -are you a patient, family member, physician, etc. I felt like a fraud because my reason was "it's for Carolyn and her family", so I didn't sign up to walk after all, since you aren't friend or family. sooo, maybe you could remind folks that it is in fact a social event, and all are welcome, even those of us who don't have a personal investment in the disease?

Carolyn Hax: It's a social event for a great cause, all are welcome, and please feel free to click "family" if you find yourself at that crossroads. The wider we can extend the family, the better it will be for future families. Thanks.

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A little town in Costa Rica: Hi Carolyn,

I met someone on a vacation and we had a wonderful, amazing time for two weeks. I felt like I made a real connection with another human and he said he wanted to say in touch, was sad when I left, and vice versa, etc. He and I talked for hours and did activities together, cooked together, etc., and we got along so comfortably. There was some small amount of "intimacy" at the end of the trip.

I emailed a week after the trip and asked if he wanted to see each other on the next leg of his travels, and he said he'd let me know. He wrote again to reiterate he'd let me know, and never did. I wrote again and sent him some photos, and said I hope he is having a magnificent time. He has been out of touch for about 18 days now, though he is still traveling. I do not think anything happened to him b/c he updated a blog once.

I sort of know what to do - maybe write a while later, accept the result if he stays out of touch, etc. The thing I do not know is how to deal with my feelings that I made a bad choice or was deceived. I am feeling very hurt by this situation and can't quite get my head around why. I am also not sure what I would have done differently. All of my judgment said, "This person is kind, generous, and upstanding who is sincerely interested in me." I am 30 years old, not 17. Is the solution to go back and change my judgment? Like I said, I am having trouble understanding the strong emotions I am having, and how to act next.

Carolyn Hax: There's a lot of room between staying in touch forever with this guy and having been deceived. You and he could have had a very real connection. Not all of those go anywhere, and certainly they aren't proven retroactively by your staying in touch. Yes, sure, maybe he did use you and maybe you were fooled. However, for all you know, he's got happy memories and a slow-to-dawn conviction that staying in touch would never work for X, Y or Z reason. Maybe he's hoping you'll see too that your fortnight was great for what it was.

BTW, since the ball is so clearly in his court, I wouldn't write again.

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Sex and Marriage: Hey Carolyn -- Love your chats and advice. I hope you can address this question. I'm soon to be engaged to a man I adore. He's funny, smart, strong, sensitive, and wonderful to/for me. I love him, and I'm in love with him. The problem is that the sex is "eh". So how important is that? I mean, I know sex is important. And I know you've said that problems that seem small now have a way of growing over time. But I really honestly love him and want to spend my life with him. Am I being an idiot??

Carolyn Hax: Dunno. How sexual are you? Since some people would really be fine never having sex again for the rest of their lives, and some people would find that unbearable, there can't be one answer for all people.

You really have to ask yourself some miserable questions, such as: How prepared are you to handle it of one of you loses all interest, and the other doesn't? That happens plenty anyway, and couples with "eh" sex are particularly susceptible to that. Or, assuming you have had a big steamy attraction to someone and remember well what it feels like--what do you plan to do if one of those hits you after you've been married to "eh" man for a decade or so?

Then again, it might be one of those cases where if you have to ask yourself if you can live with it, then you can't live with it.

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Lansing Michigan: About taking care of your parents finances. Seek out a good attorney. My father had a stroke 10 years ago and my mother has been in charge of the finances since then. Two years ago she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. She asked me to go to an attorney with her so we could take care of things before she got to goofy. The attorney suggested a "Q_tip" trust. They can still write checks and use debit cards but they are never allowed to spend more than 5% of the trust without my signature. It allows them freedom to live their daily lives but prevents them from being fleeced by televangelists and other con artists.

Carolyn Hax: Interesting, thank you. Another great argument for enlisting the help of specialists (reputable ones, always, of course).

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Embarrassed -- me again: Thank you. I try to be calm -- I really do -- but I think my frustration with the quick speed of this new friendship comes through in our conversations. I feel like yesterday's news but I try to tell myself it's the workload that's the problem, but I don't have a lot of luck convincing myself.

Carolyn Hax: When you hear your frustration coming out, then stop, take a deep breath, and, again, call the problem out by name: "I'm sorry, my frustration is coming through, and I don't mean for it to. I just feel like yesterdays news and it's hard for me to talk about it." You can do it.

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Centreville, VA: I lost my job, and the new one I found was 3000 miles away, on the east coast. I was thrilled, because I like eating regularly and having a roof over my head.

In addition to having a spiffy new job, I also had a "friend" that I wanted to see more of. We had been friends for about 5 years, but nothing ever happened because we were on opposite sides of the continent.

Well, here it is 6 months later. The job isn't what was promised. I never liked the east coast -- people are just different out here and I don't fit in. And the guy I'm dating takes all of his moves from the passive aggressive handbook.

At times, I want to chuck it all and move back home. Other times, I want to go to bed and hide under the covers all day. I'm not sure what to do. My friend says he cares, but doesn't seem to care enough to return my calls.

Honestly, I don't know what to do, but I've got to do something. Any advice on how to get my life back?

Carolyn Hax: Bit by bit. Tell the guy that you like him a lot but it doesn't seem to be working. Pick 1 or 2 activities that meet or happen regularly that you think would be productive, fun, rewarding, or just what-the-hell ways to spend your time. If you have a local alumni association, get involved, see if there are other fish who've relocated out of their water.

There's really no way to trot these things out without sounding like a cheerleader, but that's the frame of mind you need to force yourself into, at least for a while. And besides, it's not often we East Coasties break out the pom-poms in public.

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"eh" sex: Assuming that some effort has been made to improve it...

I just wanted to note that -- especially when not a matter of a variance in libido -- sometimes "eh" sex improves over time as you get to know one another. Maybe gets looser over time as inhibitions lessen.

On the flip side, great sex often becomes "eh" sex if you fall into a rut. And already bad sex might become no sex and almost certainly will have a negative impact on the relationship over time.

I wouldn't marry until I had a better sense of which way it was going to go. As awkward as conversations about it to your fiance are... it's better than dumping an otherwise good relationship by either not marrying or leaving this elephant to trample it.

Carolyn Hax: Well said, thanks.

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washingtonpost.com: As promised - Carolyn's account of her family's experience of ALS is at the bottom of this chat transcript from last year.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, Elizabeth.

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Re: Washington, DC: Does "Say what you're feeling" equal "full-on confession"? I hope not.

Carolyn Hax: If a full-on confession (which I will shorten hereafter to FOC, my new favorite acronym) means detailing that you've daydreamed a life together right down to the nicknames of the kids, I'll say no, but if by FOC you mean admitting you're developing feelings for the person, then, yes, "Say what you're feeling" does equal FOC.

Wouldn't it be funny if you and I were talking about different questions?

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For Ghost Bigamy: Weirdly enough, I'm in a similar situation, except his wife's death was less than two years ago, and I actually knew his wife before she passed away (she was a great person). Here's the thing: their marriage was one in which they were connected emotionally and spiritually. Basically, his wife is part of him. (I apologize in advance for the overextended analogy to follow). Her death was like taking blue and yellow clay and mixing it up to make green, and then taking away half of the total -- the remainder is still a mixture of the blue and yellow. It's important to understand that what I love is the green. I don't feel like I'm competing with a ghost so much as being with someone whose person was partially formed by the existence of another. It's much the same way I view his (wonderful) son -- she doesn't own him, but she's a part of him.

Also, if/when you do talk to your boyfriend about your feelings, it might be nice if you said to him what you say here, about wishing that his wife could be here for him, regardless of the consequences to you -- I feel the same way, and I know it was one way for him to know that I really got it.

Full disclosure: I sometimes still have my doubts. But knowing these things and having an honest, open communication helps.

Carolyn Hax: Maybe I'm just goopy from all this Mom stuff, but I really like the analogy. Thanks.

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Silver Spring MD: My boyfriend of one year joined the Peace Corps and left for his service country in the beginning of May. He will be back in country for ten day at the end of October for his brother's wedding. He is in fact flying out of the country the morning (6am flight) after the ceremony. All of this is relevant because I wish to ask him to marry me (when he finishes serving in the Peace Corps!) I also want to not "steal" any attention from the happy couple. This is their day and celebration. Is it socially acceptable to ask one's intended in private and delay any announcements until the other couple's celebrations have wrapped up? Or must/should I wait until the next time we are in the same country to ask my intended? Thank you for your time and thoughts.

Carolyn Hax: Oh dear. I appreciate that you're considering the feelings of the happy couple, but family and other guests do not have to put their lives under embargo until the last of the fairy dust settles. Just the fact that you're concerned about upstaging others means you're unlikely to cross that line.

Now, I could make other arguments for not forcing a proposal into this small window, but I also realize that if you were talking yourself out of proposing because of the timing, I could also make arguments for just proposing already. Please just go into those 10 days with an open mind, see how things go with your no-doubt different boyfriend, and trust the moment to tell you what to do.

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Addicted, to reading: Hi Carolyn, I have a weird one for you: I'm addicted to reading. I've always loved reading--when I was little, I'd wait till my parents had gone to sleep, then turn my light back on so I could read more. Now that I'm an adult, I still have the habit of staying up reading much later than I should.

I realize that there are worse habits than being a book junkie, and it's not like I don't make it to work in the morning, but I definitely think I should be able to stop reading in time to get a good night's sleep. It's just that I get sucked in to what I'm reading and lose track of time. It's kinda Zen-like, except that I'm missing out on sleep. Is this something I should worry about, or should I just accept that I read too much and will always be tired when the alarm goes off?

Carolyn Hax: Set an alarm for bedtime, too? Ooh, I know--put your bedside lamp on a timer to go off when it's time to sleep. I'll stop there, because anything more might involve Acme and coyotes.

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Sunny Florida for Shirlington: I work for an elder law attorney here in Florida. We frequently represent the elder family member; sometimes (too often) their children really are villains and just want the money now, now, now, and sometimes our clients' children only appear to be villains and are acting in their parents' best interests. It's impossible for an outsider to tell which side is right, and often neither one is. Maintain your relationship with your grandfather based on your own history with him, and not your mother's new-told tales.

If your grandfather is 92, you must be a grown-up yourself, so try taking a proactive approach than can help both sides. Your grandfather obviously thinks your parents are trying to cheat him, your parents think your grandfather is a stubborn old coot. It may be time to bring in a third party. If you feel that both sides trust you, you could offer to serve as guardian of your grandfather's property. If you aren't willing/able to do that, there are professional guardians who can keep your grandfather's assets safe, ensure your grandfather gets any needed care, and really be a neutral party.

You can also contact Visiting Angels (http://www.visitingangels.com) or a similar group in your grandfather's area. They have trained staff available at all hours to help elders retain as much independence as possible.

The most important thing is to act quickly before feelings of acrimony harden everyone's hearts. We have seen over and over again families ripped apart because "dad keeps losing his wallet and leaving the stove on" becomes "my kids are stealing from me" and it just escalates from there. Don't let your grandfather die miserable and alone over it. I've seen it happen and it's heartbreaking.

Carolyn Hax: Excellent, practical ideas, tx.

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Denver, CO: I had a friend who for many years I considered one of my very best friends; we stayed close after college even though we lived several states apart. However, when I got divorced she was unsupportive, and even quite judgmental and unkind. Because she had meant so much to me, I tried to stay in touch, hoping she would soften her stance, but the relationship remained awkward and has dwindled to nothing more than an exchange of Christmas cards. This past Christmas she sent a printed card without even a handwritten signature. I feel it's time to admit that the friendship cannot weather the changes I've been through. Part of me wants to just shrug it off and move on without further contact. But part of me wants some closure. That part wants to send a letter - nothing spiteful, just "I miss our friendship, I'm sorry we're not close anymore, I wish you the best." But I worry that sending a letter is a junior high kind of thing to do. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: I'm normally all for speaking one's mind, but yours sounds like a friendship that has just run its course. Writing out a formal goodbye in that case would be a bit melodramatic.

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Darnestown, MD: I have been seeing a therapist for about three months for mixed anxiety and depression. In sessions, she has gotten my name wrong. She asked me to write a list of reasons why I thought that I would not find a good relationship. She laughed at one of the reasons, saying that she though I was much too young to have such a fatalistic view. When she wants to end a session, she says 'times up, we have to stop talking.' She has been encouraging me to be more assertive and to stop avoiding conflict, so, at the end of the third session where she cut me off mid sentence, I told her that I felt that was not a particularly considerate way to end a session. I am there because I genuinely want to feel better and have sought help.

I do not want to end therapy on that note, and she participates with my insurance so it has become inexpensive comparatively to see her. On the other hand, I feel that the trust in therapy has been broken and I'm not sure if I can go forward being open with her. I'm not really sure about 'the politics of therapy' and if her behavior is normal or not. I'm not sure whether to go to my next appointment or cancel. I'm glad that I told her what I thought, but, I wish that the situation never happened that way to begin with. Do you have any advice?

Carolyn Hax: The "politics of therapy" give you full control of this relationship, in that you can end it when you want to end it, for any reason you want.

You are also fully entitled to say why you're leaving, or not say why you're leaving. It would help her to know, but her professional development is not your problem.

Finally, you can also tell her you don't think you and she click, and ask her to suggest other names of people who might be suited and who participate in your insurance. If she's a true professional (not something you can assume, but that is supposed to be the standard), she will have already recognized the personality misalignment, and may well have ideas for someone better suited. You can approach her with this at the end of your next session, if you decide you want to give her another try, or you can just call to ask for the referrals and cancel your next appointment.

You were absolutely right, by the way, to speak up about the abrupt end of the session. It may feel weird but you should be proud of that; you have nothing to regret.

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Washington, DC: I'm a playgroup w/7 women. The kid are 3.5 and we have been together since the kids were 6 weeks old. All the kids are starting preschool next week. One of the moms looked at the school my son is going to and hated it. Fine, that's why there is chocolate and vanilla. Not everything works for everyone. But, the problem is, she can't stop talking about it. Even told another mom in the group that she has to "intervene b/c I can't send my son there." Huh? It's a licensed, accredited, fully reliable PRE SCHOOL.

It shouldn't be a big deal, but it's really starting to make me mad and I think totally ruining our friendship. I've said, I'm happy with it and think I made the right choice 100 times. I even said, most children will do fine in any preschool. How do I make this nonsense stop!

Carolyn Hax: You: "Do you have some concrete reason to believe my child will come to harm at this preschool?"

She: Whatever she has to say. ["No," I presume.]

You: "Thank you. Now I need to ask that we close this issue, out of respect for each other's competence as mothers."

Sometimes you have to spell it out.

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Ex-repatriated?: I just read the biographical sketch at the top if the of your column, but I'm confused. What does "ex-repatriated" mean? You moved away and then moved back but then moved again?

Carolyn Hax: Ya. Could also be re-expatriated. With temporary repatriations. But that would get too complicated.

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San Francisco: I was living with my fiance, but we had been having problems for awhile and I felt things weren't improving, so I recently moved out. We are still seeing each other and seeing how things go. In the meantime, I've started seeing a therapist, who based on my description of my fiance, said he has a narcissistic personality and will never change. Do you know anything about narcissism? Can a relationship ever work when one person has a narcissistic personality?

Carolyn Hax: I started to type, "Sure, if you have the patience of a saint and the ambitions of a floor mat," but then I realized this is exactly why you should take this question to your therapist. Also, do a little independent research on narcissistic personalities. Your therapist can help you there, too, by steering you toward resources that are reputable and accessible to the layperson.

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NY, NY: Hi Carolyn - Love the column. My issue (at least today) is that my husband and I have been paying his brother's cellphone bill since January 2007. All three of us are on one account, under my name. We originally gave him a phone and six months of bills because he wasn't working and his girlfriend was expecting a baby, and we wanted him to be able to contact people about the birth. But we're still paying, 21 months later, and 14 months after his baby was born.

This month, he racked up $200 in charges. My husband thinks we should just go ahead and pay, because his brother is working for him and he feels guilty about taking the money out of his paycheck. I disagree, I think he's a mooch (he's working for my husband because he wouldn't get a job anywhere else and his girlfriend threatened to leave him, so my husband found him work) and want to cut him off. How do you suggest approaching this?

Carolyn Hax: Split the difference. Pay this one, and give the brother notice that you're taking him off the account effective [maritally agreed-upon date]. Maybe give him time to transfer his number to a new account.

Not that you owe the brother anything, by the way--I offered the concessions just as a nod to your husband's guilt.

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For Darnestown, MD: Just wanted to add that it is definitely OK to "Therapist-shop" and many therapists will schedule a 1/2 hour intake/intro meeting with you (sometimes without a fee) so you can get to know their style a bit before you commit to seeing them. Make sure to tell the new person why you switched from the old person-- what you did and did not like about it-- because you should be able to set clear goals for what you want out of the experience. A good therapist will be able to tell you if their style matches what you're looking for.

Carolyn Hax: Good addition, thanks.

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New Marriage Blues: Dear Carolyn,

I'm a first-time newlywed a couple of months into marriage. The first month was great, and then I was suddenly walloped with a serious case of missing an ex. Couldn't sleep at night for a few days there, and still can't seem to stop thinking about him.

We ended on bad terms (with him mad at me and not speaking to me), and we still live in the same area, running in some of the same circles. So I'm bound to see him, but dreading it, afraid that the missing and anxiety will be too acute. (I'm not worried about awkwardness in speaking to him; he's likely to act like I'm invisible.) I guess part of what's bothering me is the feeling that my new marriage has made it impossible to say I'm sorry or make amends in any way that would be appropriate now that I'm a married lady.

Worst of all, I've become really frustrated with my husband, who is objectively wonderful, but it's driving me crazy that he's NOT the other guy. Completely horrible and unfair, I know.

I guess my question is how not to be such a nutcase. Many thanks.

Carolyn Hax: If you still had feelings for the ex and you hoped the guy you married would help you spackle them over, then you were a nutcase waiting to happen. That might feel like the worst case, but, if it's true, then admitting it is still better than trying to deny it.

If on the other hand you can say, without setting off even the most sensitive BS meters, that you really thought the ex-feelings were resolved, and that you were blindsided by these newlywed blues, then the ex could be a proxy for some other doubts or pains.

It sounds an awful lot like the former, but the latter has certainly been known to happen. Either way, you're going to need some room to catch your breath and sort through your thoughts. That could mean you build some personal time in your schedule to go for a walk or to the gym or wherever else you can reasonably expect to be alone without interruptions--or it could mean, if you really feel like you're losing it, that you find a good therapist to give you a safe place to talk this out.

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yikes!: I just saw the post about the Peace Corps boyfriend. As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer myself it needs to be said that everyone changes DRAMATICALLY just within the first few months, which is probably why most Peace Corps Volunteer/'waiting back home' relationships don't make it. Also, I cannot emphasize the shock of returning back to the States enough--it is sensory overload. I think the best thing for the poster to do is to give her bf SPACE... and feel out where he/she is before making any dramatic moves.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, confirms a hunch.

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Sister City: Please can I have your and the 'nuts wisdom? I recently stayed at a hotel with my sister for a couple of days. I see her periodically but this was a fairly uninterrupted stretch of time - none of our cumulative 6 kids around, etc. I was shocked. She has gotten super thin - she's completely flat chested now, her teeth are grey, you can't see her from the side. She got up at 5 am to run each day. She ate almost nothing. She looks awful.

18 months ago I called her one day and told her I didn't think she looked healthy and please to get checked out. She did and said the dr said she was fine. She looks worse now. My mom called my sister's husband (the man who once told her she could never be too thin) and he replied "this makes her happy and she's healthy."

I don't know what to do. She thinks she's in great health. She's busy, happy, incredibly organized, raising a family, serving on committees, etc. People in her community hold her up as a model. I don't think she'll listen to anyone.

Advice?

Carolyn Hax: You're probably right that she won't listen, but it looks from your chronology as if it has been a year and a half since you last said something. Tell her what you saw on this last visit (if you want ideas on how to approach her, try www.nationaleatingdisorders.org), and that you're worried about her. As always, you can't make people get help who don't want it, but you can make denial that much harder.

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Orange County, NY: I have a problem, well, I think I do...

My husband is an alcoholic. We had serious issues involving it, I left him, he went to AA, we are working through it.

This was about a year ago. Since then I caught him sneaking a beer about a month ago. First he lied to my face about it, then gave me a sob story about some emotional crap he is going through. Fine, I choose to forgive him again.

My problem... I can't forget. I can't trust again. And to make matters worse, I looked in the garbage can in my yard and saw 3 beer cans. NOT MINE because I don't drink in my home around my kids.

How do I confront him about this? I asked him the other day if he was drinking because I thought I smelled it on his breath and he got very angry and defensive. That is his way of getting out of everything. He will scream and rant and turn it around so that I will back down so as not to start a big fight.

But I just can't do it anymore. We are talking about selling our house and moving out of state and I don't want to do that if he is going to fall back into alcohol and lies again... HELP!!!!!

Carolyn Hax: Hate to go boilerplate on you, but have you tried Al-anon? It sounds as if you need training, or maybe just a refresher, in spotting alcoholic behaviors and in dealing with them. And by alcoholic behaviors, I don't just mean drinking, I mean the lying, blame-shifting, screaming--your post is a mini-index. I'm sorry. Battling alcoholism is a long and difficult process for the alcoholic -and- for the family. Please consider getting some support.

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re: yikes, Peace Corps: As another returned volunteer, I respectfully disagree about everyone changing dramatically -- true, many do, but for others it reinforced the way we already were. I do agree that returning to the US is a shock to the system however, and the space is critical -- a typical day in the US is sensory overload for someone who has been living under different conditions (esp if rural, electricity- or running-water-free conditions).

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for rounding things out.

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So-so sex: My wife came to me a few years ago and basically told me she was bored with me in bed. She was really nicer than that but you get what I'm saying. I told her that I always found her to be reserved but didn't know how to say that and I too wished we could do more and better.

I had always been afraid of weirding her out by saying anything about changing what we were doing. She was afraid to tell me that what I was doing wasn't that great.

We took down that wall by telling each other that would give each other's ideas a 1-5 rating. There was no "yuck" or "pervert", just a "1-not for me" or "5-do we have to wait until after dinner to try this?". It created a really safe way for us to talk without being judged, which is what we both wanted all along.

I may not be Casanova and she may not be Lady Chatterley, but we both agree that things are pretty good now. It was hard for us to talk about it, but I am so glad we did.

Carolyn Hax: Cool. When you get bored with that system, maybe you can work in a start value, or degree-of-difficulty multiplier. Thanks.

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For the Sister: I used to suffer from an eating disorder, and, like your sister, I was a relentless achiever. Good grades, high scores, perfect clothes, the works. A lot of us are perfectionists, and we're extraordinarily hard on ourselves. We think we'll never measure up.

I don't think there was some great epiphany, or any real moment where I just 'got it' and decided to get better. All you can really do is tell your sister that you love her, you love her no matter what, and that she doesn't have anything to measure up to. And then hope for the best.

Carolyn Hax: Seems like a nice approach to take with anyone we really care about. Thanks.

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Minneapolis, MN: Re narcissistic personality: Don't you wonder a little about a therapist who diagnoses someone they've never met as being narcissistic? I mean, they could be right, but doesn't it seem a little...I don't know, presumptuous? to make a statement like that based only on one side of the story?

Carolyn Hax: A lot of you are writing in about this. The person who asked the question was using her language, not the therapist's, so it's possible the remarks were more measured.

While a confident diagnosis would have been inappropriate, a measured one is exactly the thing I advise people on a regular basis to seek from mental-health professionals. When someone writes in, for example, about an extremely difficult family member, I often suggest they talk to a pro to help them get a general idea whether they're dealing with someone who has an emotional disorder, and what that disorder may be. As long as it's understood that the assessment is based on one side of the story and wouldn't hold up as an actual diagnosis, it is acceptable practice. I got this from a psychiatrist who helped me in the early days of the column.

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Texas: Carolyn,

This is a fluff question, but I hope you can answer. Seriously, what is the difference between arrogance and just having a little too much confidence? Is it in the way you interact with people? Just curious.

Carolyn Hax: I think they're the same: When you're too confident (meaning, when you have more belief in your significance than your actual significance warrants), then you're arrogant.

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Carolyn Hax: That's it. Thank you so much for your patience with my ALS campaign, and for the many kind words. Have a great weekend, and type to you here next week.

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