Carolyn Hax Live: Why Hate the "Hooch"? plus Anger Management, Deciding to Take a Break and When Parental Nudging Becomes Overbearing

 Carolyn and her mother, Liz Hax (family photo)
Carolyn and her mother, Liz Hax (family photo)
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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 12, 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, September 12 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.

Submit your questions and comments any time before or during the live discussion. Other mail can be directed to Carolyn at

Carolyn is raising money to treat and defeat ALS, the disease that took her mother's life. If you'd like to make a contribution to the ALS Association, click here. Or, spend time with Carolyn and your fellow peanuts at the Walk to D'Feet ALS in Washington on Sunday, October 12. Click here to join the Hax Pack.

Got more to say? Check out Carolyn's discussion group, Hax-Philes. Comments submitted to the chat may be used in the discussion group.

Carolyn's Recent Columns

Carolyn Hax Live Archives


Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody. As of today, we're one month from the Walk to Defeat ALS, and many of you have come through for the cause. Thank you for that.
Since I always risk repeating myself with my weekly pleas this time of year, I've decided to repeat myself openly and re-use my pre-Labor Day rallying cry: 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. Here is a link to the description I wrote last year of my mother's experience (scroll to the bottom of the page). 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 Washington over Columbus Day weekend to come walk with us on Sunday the 12th. 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.


Pittsburgh, PA: RE: Carolyn's Mom

Carolyn, I loved the photo that you posted last week of you with your mother. And yes, it did inspire me to donate to the ALS cause. It also made me wonder, off and on all week, what in your personal opinion, made your mom so very special? Many of us reading your column have difficult and sometimes downright unhealthy relationships with our parents, but want very much to rise to the occasion for our own children. What is your advice? How did your mom pull it off?

I have a little girl and I want to do my best by her.


Carolyn Hax: Oh, great, now I'm going to get all emotional just as I'm getting started. But it's a great question, and it's something I have in the back of my mind often, but it would probably be good for me to bring it to the front.
Things I really liked about my mom:
She was there. She listened to our stories, knew our friends, came to our games.
She had a sense of humor that was sly, whimsical and ever-present. She single-handedly started a spaghetti fight, a salad fight and several water fights in our house. The salad fight started when we were all hanging around the dinner table talking and picking at the leftovers, and someone must have said something ridiculous, because she took a handful of salad and threw it at the person. That was the end of that.
She hated overheated rooms, self-important people, chit-chat, knickknacks, dumb television, makeup, phonies.
She was engaged with the world around her, and didn't seem out of place in a library or at a concert or at a sporting event, in pursuits high and low, so she was in a position both to encourage varied interests in us, and enjoy them with us.
She didn't just let us grow up to be whoever we wanted to be. It was clear she enjoyed the process of watching us become those people. When we asked for help, she gave it, but otherwise stepped back and let us grow (even though it was obvious it was straining her very being just to hold herself back).
She was as flawed as anyone and, while she made an effort not to inflict her flaws on us, she also didn't withhold herself from us. She could, for example, hold a grudge longer than I think ever recorded in human history. If you told her someone was mean to you in school, she hated that person forever, no matter that the person was nice again the next day.
I could go on all day here. I started this at 11:45 and oh, look at the time.
Thank you so much for the donation.


DC: I was just reading an article about Cindy McCain's addition to Vicodin and other painkillers. I was prescribed some of these from time to time for back pain I had. All they did was kill the pain (for which I was very grateful and craved the pills), and when the back trouble subsided, I had no desire to keep taking them since I was no longer in pain. I'm wondering, where does the addiction come in? Am I missing an obvious point that all these people who are addicted are also in pain? or do some people get other effects? I also hear about teenagers stealing and selling or taking their parents' prescription meds. Here again -- what is the appeal? I couldn't discern that the drugs did anything but dull pain.

Carolyn Hax: This is turf better held by experts, but I think it is important to note that research into addiction indicates that different brains have different vulnerabilities to addiction. It's quite possible you don't have the biology and/or psychology to get hooked. Since you're interested, you ought to read a bit on it; it's fascinating stuff.


ZuZu shirt question: I will not be able to walk (live out of the area) but I would like to donate/purchase a shirt. Bit confused by info on the site... do I email my credit card info directly to you? Is that secure? And is the shirt purchase price $20 or $50 (line about "$50 minimum" confused me)? Thanks and good luck with the walk!

Carolyn Hax: Thanks!
Here's the 411:
To donate, go to the link at the top of this transcript, which takes you to my page on the ALS Association' site. If you donate $50 or more, I will get in touch with you after the walk about sending you a shirt.
If you'd just like the shirt, you can buy it from me directly for $20 (profits go to the ALS Association), by emailing me at


Washington, DC: I've appreciated your insight for a long time, so here goes: I'm dismayed and a little embarrassed to admit that I've been with a guy for eight years, but uncertain if this is what I want for about four.

It's not as if I haven't been working on this, but I've been struggling. In some ways we have a world-class connection--we can talk for hours about almost anything, even our friends remark on it--but I worry about some of the fundamentals. His approach to work, career, and money has always been lackadaisical--he has rarely worked full-time in the time we have dated--which makes me concerned about his level of responsibility and how much I can depend on him. He also has some anger issues.

He would like us to get married and I have repeatedly expressed reluctance. I am sick to death of this ambivalence and after a particularly lame stunt on his part recently, I decided I think I want out, or at least a break to get some perspective.

Any advice on how to know whether I'm doing the right thing and/or how to get through this? Do "breaks" ever work? This is particularly hard because he wants to continue living together and feels I'm "dismantling" our life by doing this.

Carolyn Hax: Humor me, please, and talk to someone about the possibility that there's some emotional abuse/manipulation here. Whenever I hear from men and women who are in relationships they're not sure about but can't seem to leave, that's one of the first things I look for--that the other person is pulling strings and/or eroding your confidence in your own judgment. The "anger issues" and his blaming you for your doubts are two red flags here. If you're not sure whom you can talk to about this, call 1-800-799-SAFE for local resources.
Now that that's out of the way, some specifics: What is the issue, for you, with his money stuff? Are you wondering whether it's going to change, or whether it's right to want to be able to depend on him, or ... ? What is the open question that you've waited four years to see answered?
By the way, don't be embarrassed about the length of time you've put in. Paralysis does happen in complicated situations, and often it's a person's disgust with that paralysis that finally stirs the will enough to get them out of it. If this took you eight years to figure out, then you must have needed eight years to figure it out.
By the way, whether "breaks" work is irrelevant. You feel you need a break, so take a break.


To tell or not to tell...: This has been bugging me for about a year, and I'd like some outside perspective on it. My close friend starting dating a new guy -- John. This friend is an unconventional dater to begin with (super sharp overachiever type who dates guys who are nice, but just not at all what you'd expect of her). He is very outgoing and nice but jumps around job to job and city to city a lot. Still, I like him well enough. I take them to a party at my boyfriend's house, where he does well and mingles nicely. Before we walked in, he asked, "There aren't going to be any drugs there, right?" I said I didn't at all expect there to be, and he said, "Great, because I'm not into that." Previously in the evening, he mentioned that he'd stopped drinking. The next day, my boyfriend tells me that John took him aside and asked him where he could get pot, and not to tell my friend that he'd asked.

It's not the pot that bothers me, its the deceit. My boyfriend and I got into a big fight over whether or not I should tell her -- he didn't think it was a big deal and that it was my secret to tell, whereas I thought that he was putting some stupid and unspoken "man code" before our friend's well-being. I ended up not telling her because I didn't think she is in any danger with this guy, and that I want to be supportive of her choices -- presumably there is more to his choices than I can know from that encounter. Still, it bugs me that he had the gall to ask my boyfriend, who is her friend as well, to keep it from her.

What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: This happened a year ago? I guess now the moment has passed, but at the time, I think it would have been perfectly appropriate to say to your friend, "Hey, what's with John? He made a show of checking with me to make sure there 'wouldn't' (ahem) be drugs, but then asked Bob for some pot." In other words, it would have been normal to remark on something relatively minor just because it also struck you as weird.
Now that a year has elapsed, presumably you have other John data now that either supports your decision to let it pass, or has you questioning it. If it's the latter, then it's time to talk to your friend.


Suicide survivor group for young adults in DC?: Hi Carolyn,

My mom committed suicide on March 9th. No one expected her to do it, but no one was surprised, either. She was really sick and we had to be around her as she was dying. I had to spend spring break helping with reception details, and then I had to finish the last part of my senior year in college. The school had a general bereavement group, which was helpful, but I still feel like I'm two months behind the rest of my family.

I want to join a survivor group, but all my internet searches for "suicide survivor group"+"young adult"+"parent" bring up groups for parents who have lost children. I don't hate older people or anything, but I want to meet with people my own age (in general.) Also, I feel like a suicide is more specific than just a family death. Do you (or any other chatterati) have any recommendations? Having a group that meets near mass transit would be a big, big plus.


Carolyn Hax: Oh. I'm sorry. I'll put it out there for suggestions, and if I get a chance I'll check my files when we wrap up here.


Washington, DC: Carolyn,

This refers to your columns from Monday and Tuesday (taken from a previous chat).

Why does it seem like women who have been cheated on harbor such hatred to the other woman -- in this case the "office hooch"? Wouldn't the better focus of her anger be the guy who cheated on her? I'm not saying that the other woman was innocent (in this case or in general), but I've never understood why so much of the anger is/was directed at her and not him.

Carolyn Hax: It's just easier that way. Even if the cheating ends your relationship, the person you were close to--just by virtue of having been close to you--is often the vessel for a lot of memories and history and even part of the narrative you've created for your life.
Certainly some people will slam the door on that person they used to date, vilify him or her, and rewrite the narrative to fit the new information. (And so, hey, might as well hate the hooch, too.)
But more common, I think, is for people to treat their ex- or current mate as valuable, and to force themselves to find the good stuff that's mixed in with the bad, as part of the effort to recover from the betrayal. And so there's a lot of anger there that has to be held back. Where can it safely go? Right at the interloper.
Having a third party to blame also, conveniently, takes some blame pressure off oneself.
It's a theory.


Man Code: If that girl's boyfriend wanted to honor the man code, he wouldn't have told her in the first place.

Carolyn Hax: Ugh.


NY, NY: Hi Carolyn,

I hope you can answer this: What does it mean to have romantic feelings for someone? A friend of mine (whom I have also dated very sporadically over the past few years), tells me that he thinks we have great physical and emotional chemistry, we talk about anything and everything, and always have fun together; he says he thinks I'm beautiful and an amazing person, yet he does not have "romantic feelings" for me. This is very frustrating to me, not about a relationship with this one guy in particular, but as a general question - what else is necessary in order to develop romantic feelings towards someone? I'd really appreciate your insight! Thanks

Carolyn Hax: Tough to say, since there's no universal set of feelings, not even one for each sex, as we often seem to want to tell ourselves.
It could be that he's not sexually attracted to you.
It could be that he equates romantic feelings with butterflies, which of course he'd be unlikely to have with you because he has known you a long time.
It could be that he doesn't envision you as his life's centerpiece, as his kids' mom or as his daily wakeup call.
It could be that he enjoys you immensely but doesn't think about you when you're not around, which does happen fairly often and which people find difficult to reconcile.
I know you didn't want a specific answer, but it's easier to talk about it in terms of specifics--what one person might be thinking when he refers to "romantic feelings."
And of course some of these on the surface appear to be dealbreakers (sexual attraction, say) and others appear to be errors of perception (e.g., that butterfly absence is bad), but since changing someone's mind isn't up to us, they're all equal in the eyes of the beholder.


Washington, DC: Eight years, again: Thanks for the reassurance about the time length. I have been seeing a counselor about this, with varying success. Abuse is a strong word but manipulation perhaps--certainly there's a lot of "don't do this" and "let me know what I can do to improve" when I express doubts.

As for the question I've been trying to answer: I know what the oversimplistic one is, which is, "Is he fundamentally a good guy?" I don't care if a guy is more career-oriented than me, or if I make more than him, but I don't want the feeling that he's using me as a chance to take it easy. I want to feel like an equal partner, not someone who's taking care of someone else consistently. Sometimes I feel that way, but again, not so consistently that I've been able to build up conviction.

Carolyn Hax: Hm. I could be the question you're asking yourself is not only a confusing question, but the wrong one. Let's say you're able to persuade yourself that he is a fundamentally good guy. Does that mean you owe it to him to stay with him, marry him?
No. You don't owe him anything other than to make your best decision and to be caring and forthright in carrying out that decision. The issue here is what's right for -you-, and so the question I think you need to answer is, "Is this good for me?"
I also think the career issue is a red herring, in that people rarely dug through their souls to see if a woman who chose to be home instead of the workplace was in fact dependable or trustworthy, vs. parasitic. You know his character, and you know what he brings to your life. You also know what he takes out of you. These are the pieces that, when arranged in front of you, will give you your answer.


Suicide survivors: I'm sorry for your loss. My friends have recommended the group Survivors of Suicide,

I hope this helps.

Carolyn Hax: That's one of the ones in my files, based on reader recommendations. Thanks.


American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: Carolyn, get this college student to and

I think there's a DC office, but if not they are a great source for referrals. My partner managed the first Out of the Darkness walk. If the student can travel to where the next walk is, it would be a great experience. The concept is like your ALS walk, but for survivors and family of suicides.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. I have come across the AFSP but not the walks.


Carolyn Hax: Sorry, guys, just reading through a lot of questions, comments and resources here ...


Carolyn Hax: To amuse you while you wait:


Alexandria, VA: It occurs to me that my office doesn't have a hooch, is there a place to find one? I feel I'm missing out on so much...

Carolyn Hax: If you have a vacancy, word will get out.


Man Code: Ah, yes. Nothing like quoting a beer commercial to give a decision legitimacy.

Carolyn Hax: You mean they don't?


New York, NY: I am wondering if my boyfriend has an anger issue. Occasionally when he plays video games he throws the controller and screams at the tv. The first time it happened I asked him why he behaves that way - he said he realizes it is childish but video games is how he lets off steam and it is the only time he gets that worked up. Despite it happening a couple of times since when he plays video games it hasn't seen to affect any other part of our relationship or relationships with his friends/family that I can see. When we fight it never escalates to screaming and he has obviously never hit me. I am just wondering if there is something else there or if his anger could really be limited to video games?

Carolyn Hax: I'm going to have to duck after I post this to avoid some airborne game controllers, but I think someone who behaves that way even in the limited context of gaming is wound a turn or two too tightly.
So, yes, anger issue, though apparently not a huge one. But even then, his showing that kind of anger means he has that kind of anger. And while he may know enough never to lose his cool to that extent in traffic or around kids who are being obnoxious, wouldn't that also suggest he can stop himself from screaming and throwing things? The latter is speculation, but the former I don't believe is--this is not a laid-back guy.


Boston, MA: What exactly to you, "owe" your significant other in terms of commitment?

A few months ago, my friend and I realized we were in love. Crazy-think about you all the time-just want to be near you love. It's mutual; it's great and best of all it started as a long friendship. The problem is we are both in committed relationships. Neither of these relationships is horrible and they are comfortable. No marriages but we've each been dating our significant others for more than 4 years. We love our significant others and don't want to do them wrong but at the same time can't deny that we feel much more strongly about each other than we did for them even in the salad days of our relationship.

So do we just suck it up and act like adults or give into wild abandon? I feel like I'm stuck in some terrible soap opera.

Carolyn Hax: No, not a soap opera. You're just dealing with a temporarily painful turn of reality. Get out of your relationship, and hope s/he does same, and then see what happens. If nothing else, you've just been told that your current commitment is now a matter of going through the motions--and with no greater cause being served by staying, you're actually denying your mates their due if you don't leave.


Anger Issues: Maybe I am just attracted to the angry set but it seems to me the majority, maybe even significant majority, or people I know can get really angry at times - yelling, screaming, throwing things ... I would much rather have a boyfriend who lets that anger out by throwing a video game control than yelling at me ... am I just naive here?

Carolyn Hax: Well, I guess if those are the choices, then I'm going with the flying game control, too. But while I'll agree that temper flares are a fact of most people's lives, I'm hard pressed to think of any more than one or two people who have played a regular role in my life who resorted to screaming at people and throwing things.
It is not everyday behavior, and it is not okay.


Connecticut: Carolyn - Re: throwing game controllers type of anger. I used to do that, too - I would get very frustrated with inanimate objects, and throw or thump them. (Okay, occasionally, I still do - I accidentally broke a dishwashing brush by thumping it on the edge of the sink the other day. I was embarrassed, and further encouraged to change.) It bothered my husband - possibly intimidated him. I think I learned it partly from my parents, who, while very loving people, and gentle with other people, could also get violently angry with things. My husband would react gently, but let me see his discomfort. He would sometimes leave the room. His reaction to my reaction let me know that this really wasn't okay. It might have been familiar in the household I grew up in, but taking out my frustrations on material objects didn't make my tantrum-like outbursts any less childish, or my violence any more appropriate. It was hard for me to take the criticism at first, though. Like the boyfriend, I felt that I was using this as a way to destress. Husband suggested it seemed to stress me more, encouraging more anger and frustration rather than lessening. He is very un-angry, in general, and I'm learning from him.

Rambling a bit, but overall point - this is often learned behavior. React gently. It can be changed. It might not, always - it didn't get changed in my parents, but they had each other, neither of whom is as gentle and patient as my spouse. If you never see improvement, or it turns up in other places, that's a problem, but don't assume it can't be unlearned.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the testimonial. I believe there's a widespread misperception of "venting." It is widely treated as a way to release anger that if left un-vented would, presumably, come out some other, more harmful way. There is some evidence, though, that by "venting" anger we both inflate the importance of whatever is bothering us, and dwell on it longer than we would if we just got on with something else.
There are obviously a lot of drawbacks to suppressing anger, so it's a matter of keeping things in the middle--talk about stuff that's bothering you only when it's for the purpose of resolving it. If you're just telling and re-telling a negative story, you're only dragging the problem out. And if you just have this momentary urge to hit something, overrule yourself and stop, breathe, think.
(I got that last part from Blues Clues.)


I'm the cheatee that called the other woman a "hooch": I guess I'd like to clarify that my mentions of "hooch" in my original question to you don't mean that I'm directing all, or even most, of my anger and upset toward this woman I've never met.

I've spent the vast majority of my time trying to understand him, what drove his decisions, what happened between us, how I could have been so blindsided by what he did, why I chose him and stayed with him. On that last point, I've been seeing a counselor since the breakup.

Yes, I'm frustrated and angry that a third party had involvement in the end of our relationship. That's what you saw coming out in the hooch description. She may or may not be an innocent party. But please don't think I'm spending much more thought than that on her or who she is. He's not off the hook in any way, shape, or form.

Carolyn Hax: Okay.


perturbation: You wrote:

"...his showing that kind of anger means he has that kind of anger. And while he may know enough never to lose his cool to that extent in traffic or around kids who are being obnoxious...this is not a laid-back guy."

OK, so, I am a person who has anger and is not laid back, according to your definition above, which I agree with.

What am I supposed to do about this? Does it mean I don't deserve love? If I control myself in the situations you give as examples (behind the wheel, around children, in interpersonal relations), isn't that enough? I used to teach preschool - whatever happened to, "all feelings are okay"?

It's true I don't scream at the TV, but bottom line, I'm not LAIDBACK and what am I supposed to do about it? Are you aware of people who have made significant changes without drugging themselves into oblivion?

Carolyn Hax: Wuh wait a minute, I didn't tell her to dump him because he's not a laid-back guy. (If you knew how not-laid-back I am, you'd be laughing at me right now.) I didn't tell her to dump him, period, just that the throwing and screaming are a real concern. My intent was to make it clear who I thought she was dealing with, so she could make her best decision. Sorry for not getting that across clearly.
I think the throwing of stuff shows that this person who is not laid-back has failed to find a productive way to handle his stress. Some people who are wound too tightly find productive ways to deal with it; as always it's not just who you are, it's what you do with it.
So, to answer your specific question, I think it's rare for someone to become laid-back who isn't, but at the same time not everyone wants a companion who's laid back, right? To each his or her own? And so the important thing is to know your own nature and to find productive ways to manage it. Plenty of people adopt an exercise habit to ease their stress, or channel it into high-pressure jobs--or make a point of avoiding high-pressure jobs--or seek out companionship that mellows them out, or some combination of that, and so on.


Venting anger: You mean, it's not normal or okay to want to break dishes or throw things? I hardly ever do (because I'm too lazy to clean up and too cheap to actually break stuff), but I often want to. I think I do a good job of managing it, but sometimes I just want to scream and throw things and have a tantrum. I can't believe that this isn't a normal adult behavior as long as it's managed properly. That's why I run--then I'm too tired to be angry.

Carolyn Hax: See above.


Washington DC: Any advice on getting a father to let his 19 year old daughter make some of her own decisions? My (separated) husband wants our daughter to continue sports in college despite her clear ambivalence. He cites her weight (admittedly a little high), that sports are "positive and build character" and his fear that she won't do anything constructive with the time she otherwise spends practicing and playing. She's a good happy kid in a hard school in New England but she does tend to take the easiest path unless nudged. I'm worried she'll let him push her because she craves his approval. I should also add that I think part of his ego is wrapped up in attending her games. My attempts to tell him to back off inevitably wind up with him being angry at me.

Carolyn Hax: Argh. She could well be ambivalent, overweight, nudge-needy and approval-starved all because of a domineering parent. It has a remarkable way of blurring a person's sense of self and direction--and giving them an inner compass pointing toward sources of comfort.
Unfortunately, you've found out already that you're not going to get very far in getting her father to see that. You also have your own issues with her dad, so she might not see you as an objective source of guidance on his demands.
What's left is for you to become the voice of general reason. Let her know that her choices are hers to make. Let her know that it's okay to have doubts, and that making a tough choice in itself is "positive and build character." Sometimes (always?) making the wrong choices is the prerequisite to the ability to make the right choices. Tell her you have confidence in her to handle her own decisions.
Don't state these as overt counterpoints to her father's logic, by the way, but instead as standalone comments. She can connect the dots on her own, if that's what she wants to do.


Family Reunions: My octogenarian, recently-widowed, not-in- good health grandmother wants a family reunion this October over the Columbus Day holiday. My folks have generously offered to pay transportation and lodging costs for my siblings and our respective families, as they really want to make sure our grandmother gets her wish.

My brother said he's not coming to the weekend as they're "too busy". Busy would be the "general" busy - nothing specific was cited. He would have to travel via air halfway across the country - which is admittedly a hassle these days - but my folks are taking care of that for them.

Any way to impress upon him that his and his wife's presence would be greatly appreciated by our grandmother? We don't have these reunions very often at all.

Carolyn Hax: Please don't "impress" anything. If he's brushing this off in a way you're afraid he might come to regret, then you can call him to -ask- him to reconsider, while also noting that if it's too much for him then you'll understand, assuming you would understand.
But if your call sounds like a guilt ploy; if you're angry that you're busy, too, but you're rallying; if you're sick of the way your brother always does this and no one ever says anything; if you secretly think his wife is behind this and you're sick of her driving a wedge between your brother and his family--i.e., if there's a bigger agenda here, then I think you either need to come clean with him or just accept that he has made his choice.
Not that family reunion issues ever come with backstories or anything.


why "the hooch"?: There's also, I think, a bit of a "woman code" at issue here. If we acknowledge that it's hard enough for two people to stay on track in a monogamous relationship over years without outside factors piling on, and that there will be times when our relationships are foundering - then, perhaps we hope that other women will be good enough not to step in and add another facet to the problem, just as we'd stay far, far away rather than capitalize on somebody else's troubles.

Carolyn Hax: That's not "woman code," that's "person code."


anger: "You mean, it's not normal or okay to want to break dishes or throw things? I hardly ever do (because I'm too lazy to clean up and too cheap to actually break stuff), but I often want to."

I would not think it's normal to "often" be so angry that you want to throw or break things. What in the world are you people walking around so angry about all the time? That's a serious question, btw. While there might have been once or twice in my 20+ years of adulthood where I have been so angry about something that I felt that way for a minute, it certainly hasn't happened more than that. I can't really comprehend being that angry on a regular basis, and not changing whatever it was about my life that was causing all that anger. Why would you want to live that way?

Carolyn Hax: It is an excellent, excellent question.
There are definitely ranges here, just as there are in all other facets of our makeup. The addiction question from earlier is one example--it's in some brains to seek a high while others can't see what the fuss is about, and it's in some people to have sharp mood spikes while others sail calmly by.
Still, any time someone is dealing with -regular- anger, that's a signal to have a hard look at what's going on in your life. Some questions to ask: Have I always been like this, are there specific triggers, is this what I grew up around, is this the way I am or is this just what I've come to know? And then there are specifics that can follow these up, like, is this person/job/location/goal right for me, or would a different path make more sense?
It's the same with any regular, undesirable emotion--including jealousy, sadness, anxiety, stress. These are installed in us to flag a problem, and they're not supposed to be part of our emotional resting state.


Making changes without "drugging oneself into oblivion": Carolyn, I'm surprised you didn't comment on the poster's concluding remark. It sounds like he's pre-emptively dismissing psychiatric medication on the misguided assumption that it turns people into zombies.

Carolyn Hax: In getting an answer out there before Saturday comes, I often either forget to flag something, or choose not to flag everything. If that's what he did mean, then, hey, guy, don't take your stress out on all psychiatric medications, please.


I was a "nudged" kid: Sometimes parents nudge their kids so much to not take the easy path, to be extraordinary so that they can go to "hard schools in New England," that we're just burnt out and need a break. I feel that I spent so much of my youth doing all of the things that I was supposed to do that I wasn't really able to develop the "real" me and was only able to do that when I quit everything else and let myself have happy afternoons of nothingness without guilt for the first time ever. It was then that I could really think, hmm, what would I really enjoy doing?

Carolyn Hax: Mom, can you show this to your daughter?


Falls Church, Va.: You've never yelled at a football team on the TV? Really?

Carolyn Hax: And meant it? Flying spittle and all that? Not just, "THAT WAS NOT PASS INTERFERENCE YOU MORON"? No.


too much information?: Help! My sister walks her kids to school every day. It's a short and direct route. They walk by a neighbor who gives her the creeps and the feeling is intensifying. She finally decided today to investigate and she found him on a sex offender list. So her fears have some validation, but now what? His crime was kidnap and rape, so warning the kids to stay away from him does not seem very adequate. Clearly, she wants whatever she does to be enough to keep her and her kids safe, but she doesn't want her life to become unbalanced by fear of what could happen. Plus, what realistically CAN she do? This seems like a really hard call. Any suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: Have her seek the advice of the local police. She needs facts, not opinions.


Alright now, VA: My husband had an office "girlfriend." She was "just a friend" (except they did kiss once). He tried to sublimate his attraction to her in a friendship. I've never objected to his female friends, but I knew something was different with this one, and he lied to me repeatedly about her.

And then she asked him out to dinner (we live in a different city) for the night before Valentine's Day. He went - which was the wrong decision. But I no longer blame him for everything because you don't invite a married person out for a romantic dinner. You just don't. My husband thinks it is unfair for me to think ill of her for this. But I was there as a younger woman. I had married male friends, and I was ALWAYS also a friend of their marriages. That's one summation of the person code, in my opinion.

But you said something about deflecting the blame from yourself as the betrayed partner. Perhaps you could explain that. I mean, I accept the blame for any problems in our marriage (which my husband says were incredibly minor). But I'll be damned if that means I need to accept the blame for his cheating.

Carolyn Hax: I think the most important thing anyone can do in these situations is not treat all of them as the same, or apply the same judgments to all parties, or draw the same conclusions, or view general statements as a detailed review of specifics. For every woman like your husband's colleague, who clearly did know what she was doing, there's some office hooch (or stud) who has been lied to or deceived into thinking there is no spouse, or they're separated, or whatever. Sometimes the wronged spouse is innocent, sometimes the wronged spouse had also crossed lines elsewhere. It's a situation that demands specifics.
Someone expanded well on what I meant by the deflected blame comment--did I post it or not? Saying that it allows you to think everything was fine and would have stayed fine if this evil person had not come along. While that may ultimately true, I don't think it's at all productive to draw that conclusion without putting in the hard thought on the state of your marriage absent this destructive force. That;s all.


Washington, D.C.: Usually a sex offender has to live a certain amount of distance away from schools. She definitely should call the police.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.


I was a "nudged" kid too: But without my mother's nudging I wouldn't have gone to college, or if I had I might've dropped out, and in any event would likely be stuck in a dead-end job.

From a more positive, self-fulfillment perspective, I wouldn't have learned to love to read, to have immense curiosity about the greater world (as opposed to gravitating to the average in our working-class neighborhood), and wouldn't have learned the confidence to make exploring my life's philosophy.

It's not always a gift to let your child be a slacker (the course of least resistance), provided you aren't totally depriving your kid of a childhood.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. As always, there's a vast middle between the extremes. Not all nudging can be called domineering, for example.


DC: My father-in-law is a hurtful, manipulative person. I would even say he is emotionally abusive. He wields his attention, affection and money as weapons of control.

My wife has recently put some significant emotional distance between herself and him, which has been a healthy thing for her. What we can't seem to work out, is what relationship he should have with our daughter, who is 2.

If the man has been hurtful to others, should we assume he will be to his granddaughter? Or should we let them have some sort of relationship of their own? My wife and I are both careful not to speak badly about him in front of her.

We are going to see him at a family event this weekend, the first time we have seen him in a few months, and my instinct is to protect my daughter and keep her away from him as much as possible, but I also don't want to deny her a chance to get to know her grandfather, if I should let her have that.

How do you know where the line is? Is it different at different ages? My $0.02: My grandfathers both were extremely flawed fathers - in different ways - one of the things I love and respect most about my parents is that they have been such terrific parents despite not having had the best role models to work from. My sisters and I did have relationships with both grandfathers. I think my parents did a remarkable job of allowing us to get to know our grandfathers while still keeping our interactions with them limited in certain ways. As we got older we understood more about what my parents experienced in childhood, which made our views on our grandfathers more complicated (understatement). Still, I have fond memories of both grandfathers. It can't have been easy for my parents but I so appreciate that they found that balance. Good luck. Elizabeth

Carolyn Hax: Good question, and thanks, Elizabeth, for weighing in.
Two things I would add, D.C.: I would regard your efforts to let your daughter get to know her grandfather as an ongoing trial period, not a commitment. You're going to need to watch carefully how your FIL is with your girl, and to be ready to make a hard decision at any time if it appears that your FIL is repeating his old ways with her. The argument that people are often better grandparents than they are parents is true, but "often" doesn't mean it'll happen here.
And, second, your wife has to watch her own health, too. I can see (and have seen) what Eliz. is saying about allowing contact and setting limits--it's a line worth walking if you can. However, if your wife finds she can't walk that line without making herself miserable, then it's okay for her to say that and to keep Grandpa at arm's length. Tough call to make, but her just knowing she tried will probably help.


Seattle, WA: If possible, please provide EIN info for the ALS chapter - helps with matching gifts. I made a donation, but then wanted to apply for employer matching, because, hey, free money for your organization. I -think- I found your organization in our database, but without an EIN, it's hard to know for sure. I looked on your chapter's website and it's not there. They say to call for more info, but I don't have time today. Just a suggestion. Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, will find it and post it next week.


Annoying kidville: My best friends have a cute, precocious 4-year-old. While he's generally a good kid, he is incredibly annoying. He talks non-stop, interrupts conversations, and generally demands everyone's attention and must be constantly entertained or praised. They think this is cute. They take him everywhere, and I can't remember the last time I saw them without him. It's impossible to have a conversation with them while he's around, and they think that everyone finds him as charming as they do. I don't mind him in small doses, but I'm not interested in socializing with a 4-year old for an entire evening. Should I just write them off until he's a sullen teenager who has no interest in grown-ups?

Carolyn Hax: I will post this as a PSA to all parents who take their children with them everywhere, who let their children interrupt, and who (gah!) think other people will be as impressed with their children as they are: Assume NO ONE will be as charmed by your kids as you are, until someone actually insists that you bring your kids--and -then- spends time interacting with them.
For you, Annoying Kidville, I don't know what to say. Either make it clear an invitation is just for adults, or ask them outright for some adult time, or invite them to something and then say you can be flexible on the date if they have trouble (ahem) finding a sitter. Whatever suits your sensibilities, and theirs.


I know I'm just asking for it but...: "Why would you want to live that way?" Just shut up. I'm angry. I'm angry a lot. My family is angry, my wife's family is angry. We're an angry bunch, angry that people won't take 2 seconds to think about what they're doing and how it affects other people. Angry that people vote against their own interests because they hate gays or want someone as dumb as themselves to run things. And yes, angry that those Damned Patriots keep winning. You know what else? I'm happy, too. Over the effing moon happy when my 4 year old tells me she loves me or steps in to help a friend who is being pushed around in a little kid scrum. Happy when my wife tells me that I'm the best thing that ever happened to her. Angry isn't a forever feeling and it's not inherently a bad feeling. I can turn bad quick depending upon what it's based upon and how you react. So I work on it. So all you people who are even keeled and never have to face yourselves and your bad intentions just please judge us silently and shut up.

Carolyn Hax: I laughed.
The shot at my Pats was low, though, considering.


St. Paul, MN: My neighbor's buzzer alarm clock goes off for at least 2 hours every morning, complete with the vicious snooze-button-hitting cycle, before he finally shuts it off. I live below him so I hear this clearly, even on weekends. My neighbor unfortunately suffers from chronic back pain so I figure he's either too doped up on painkillers or in too much paralyzing pain to get up, which understandably puts the alarm in a lower priority.

Given that the guy obviously has it harder than me, is there any way I can ask him to adjust his morning alarm routine a bit without seeming selfish? I feel for him and he is an otherwise great neighbor, but I haven't had a full night of uninterrupted sleep since I moved in.

Carolyn Hax: Buy him, as a gift, one of those clip-on alarm clocks that vibrates vs. buzzing--they're for the hearing-impaired, but there's no reason your neighbor couldn't use one. If you ask really nicely.


Washington, DC: I didn't realize there was a universal moral law that prohibits individuals from being romantic with married people. Presumably they are all adults who can make their own decisions, good, bad or both. To me, the office hooch is allowed to assume that the husband is making his own decisions just as she is. I don't think she has a responsibility to the wife. The wife has a problem with the husband, not the hooch. Period.

Carolyn Hax: I agree there's no universal law, but I also don't think the Other Man/Woman is so cleanly off the hook. People have a responsibility to make their best decisions based on their best information, and, when they screw up that part of the deal, to take responsibility for and clean up their mess.


But isn't nudging what parents are for???: Aren't parents supposed to be constantly encouraging and forcing challenges on you, instilling certain obligations (like getting good grades, being involved in activities in your community, etc), and doing everything they can to make sure you take advantage of every opportunity?

My parents knew every single thing going on in my life as a child because they were involved in every aspect of it. They encouraged and pushed me at everything. But I didn't become an overweight kid who doesn't have their own feelings or beliefs. I went to a top college, have an excellent career, and a great relationship with my parents. Aren't there just some personalities, or just some kids, that can't handle being the over-achieving, involved-in-everything type of person?

Carolyn Hax: We need to take this up again, to work on the middle. Next week?


Carolyn Hax: I have GOT to GO. Thanks all, and type to you next Friday.
I have other reader-submitted resources for the suicide grief counseling, if anyone would like more.
Bye and thanks again.



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