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Carolyn Hax Live: Whose Home for the Holidays? plus Good Flirting and Bad, My Fiancee's Gaining Weight, and My Boss Could Do Better Than His Wife

 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 26, 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 26 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.

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

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Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody. Will try to generate enough drama to compete with the news this week, but can't promise anything.

But first ... since we're getting SO CLOSE to the end of this campaign ... I'm going to let Nick make the case for supporting the cause of ALS research this week. In response to my recent post about what I liked so much about my mom (Sept. 12 transcript), Nick sent me this:

"Your mother laughed hard, really hard and, most impressively, she was always ready to. She laughed at herself, especially when uncertain (when the basket of cash envelopes came her way at my sister Sophia's wedding, instead of putting one in, she took one, and then laughed her ass off right there in front of the priest). She was conspiratorial in a fun way--she was the adult you could whisper something irreverent to at an inappropriate moment. She was smarter than most and must have had extraordinary patience with some of the fools she encountered in work and life. [Sometimes yes, often no. CH] I suppose she seethed or at least simmered. She was honest. You once said that instead of overreacting to every wave, she mostly stayed even-keeled while her kids navigated the emotional swells of adolescence and college, having faith that you guys would even out and 'come back.' Her hospitality took on the form of actual conversation instead of offering you food and drink at every turn. She didn't try half the things she wanted to, but still always wanted to. She loved to dance.

"I could go on, I might write more later but right now, I miss her too."

ALS, this awful illness that took my mom, strikes people without warning, without any known cause, and it tortures them to death. There is no cure. Researchers are making great progress in isolating its cause, but they have a long way to go. We, meanwhile, are making great progress in financing that research. Let's keep it going.

Especially since we're in a close battle for the lead with two other teams. Not that I'm competitive or anything.

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Carolyn Hax: I would also like to thank those who have pitched in so far, and to invite all to walk with us on the Mall Oct. 12. See the link above to get information or donate.

If you'd like to buy a Hax Pack T-shirt without donating, you can buy one for $20 through me at haxpack@earthlink.net.

Thanks again for your help and your patience.

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Washington, DC: Dear Carolyn,

An ex recently told me that out of all the girls he's ever dated, I was the least comfortable with myself. How does one go about starting the process to get comfortable? What does that even mean?

Carolyn Hax: I hope you asked him what he meant.

And I hope you also point out to him that while it can be helpful to hear constructive criticism from people who know us well (assuming they aren't invested in tearing us down, ahem), phrasing does matter. By comparing you to others and finding you wanting, and then telling you so, he basically set back to the point where now you'll have to make an effort be as comfortable with yourself as you were before he said anything.

That said, I think it's a deceptively straightforward thing, peace with oneself. It really just means you have as objective a view of yourself as possible, and you're okay with it, the good and the bad. How you get there is, therefore, a two-part process: self-awareness first, followed by self-acceptance. Clearly it's an internal journey, but if you do feel at a loss even for a way to get started, a competent and reputable therapist can give you a kick start.

BTW, since your ex started this, one thing to examine in this process: How your taste in companions reflects who you are, and how these companions either improve or diminish you.

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Repentant Flirt: Carolyn, I always find great introspective value in your responses to people's questions. Thanks for helping keep me somewhat sane. Over the years, I've periodically been told that I am a flirt. In reality, I'm usually surprised that I come off this way when I'm trying to be friendly. I think that my personality is just like that: I laugh at people's jokes to make them feel comfortable, when I meet a new person, I ask them questions and listen attentively for their responses, I'm smiley--at any time of the day I'm most likely to be smiling rather than neutral or frowning... At any rate, I like who I am, that people feel comfortable talking to me, but I don't want to give people the wrong idea. Even more, I don't want to hurt feelings by making my friends feel like I'm flirting with their friends. For what it's worth, I'm a woman in my 30s, and have been accused of flirting with gay, straight, women, men...I'm apparently an equal opportunity flirt. How can I still be my bubbly self but tone it down?

Carolyn Hax: Is being told something "periodically" really sufficient grounds to change something about yourself? Full disclosure, I don't think flirting is a terrible thing, unless you come across as targeting people's mates--which, if it's true you come across as an equal-opportunity flirt, doesn't seem to be happening here. There will always be people who -think- you're targeting your mate, but if a friend thinks that of you, then she's not really paying attention. The burden of changing, then, would be hers, not yours.

Of course if this is something you don't like about yourself for your own reasons, I'll be happy to suggest something. I just don't want to be a party to pathologizing charm.

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Alexandria, VA: What are some methods to combat loneliness?

Carolyn Hax: The specifics are best tailored to your personality--for example, if you force an interest just to meet people, you'll wind up feeling even lonelier than when you started.

However, the general idea is the same: Get out of your own mind, and out into the world. It can be literal, in the sense of just getting out on a daily basis. Even riding the Metro and going to buy your dinner involves human interaction. Shallow, but it's something. It's incentive to exercise, buy your dinner fresh every day, etc.

It can also be figurative--in the course of my daily work, for example, I may not use my voice once but I'll dip into, what, 50 different lives, even for a couple of minutes? Just having your mind on something other than yourself is helpful in both the immediate term, and over the long term, since you'll have more to contribute when you do get into conversations that aren't just online/on paper/in your mind.

Either way, eventually, your efforts will have to bring you into meaningful proximity with other people, particularly those with whom you have a common interest. That's where joining comes in. It can feel artificial, but it also gives you repeat interaction with a certain group of people, which then allows you to get to know others slowly. Best method out there for establishing meaningful bonds.

Finally: those meaningful bonds. The key element of combating loneliness is to know at least one other person well, and that involves some luck--timing, location--but it also involves a willingness to let someone know you. You can have family, friends, job, causes, neighborhood, all that, and if you withhold, then chances are you'll feel lonely.

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Carolyn Hax: I thought that was going to be a quick answer. Shows you what I know.

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St. Louis: Carolyn: When my family includes me in family matters (I live in another state) there's a lot of arguing and petty fights, and when I am the focus of the petty fights or they decide I'm on the outs, I miss them, but my life with my husband is less dramatic and more calm and I am happy. Is this something everyone goes through with their family or as my husband says, "There's a reason you moved away, whether you want to admit it or not." He's probably right, but I don't know how to go about extricating myself from their drama without pulling out totally.

Carolyn Hax: I would go for a third option--try to get to a point where you have some perspective on their drama. Just anticipating that there will be petty fights, and having a coping tactic ready when one breaks out (running an errand is always useful), and remembering that your life isn't this way normally, can be enough to neutralize it. You're not going to change the way your family operates, so a more realistic goal would be to learn to override your urge to respond to them emotionally, and start responding to them instead in a more detached and thoughtful way.

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To the chat mod: Why doesn't the list of other chats appear on Carolyn's page, like it does in other chats? I like to look at a few at a time so I can avoid doing work more completely. Thanks!

washingtonpost.com: oh whoops... sorry. Either I added it wrong this week or an evil glitch ate it (both are about equally possible). I'm not sure I can add it to a chat in progress... forgive me. I'll make sure it's there next week. - Elizabeth

Carolyn Hax: Not an evil glitch! Oh no.

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Stephanie, CA: Hi Carolyn,

I am pretty much your stereotypical liberal, tree hugging, pacifist, and I've known from the beginning, that my S.O. of nearly a year is a gun toting Republican. That was fine. I have no expectations of changing S.O., and S.O. has never tried to change me. Fine. However, S.O. recently revealed that he is racist. I won't go into the horrific details but let just say it's bad.

The thing is, S.O. is a wonderful S.O. Truly. S.O. has taken care of me when I've been sick, consoled me when I've been sad, been on my side without question when I'm upset, S.O. cracks me up and we have so much fun together. S.O. treats me like gold!... BUT, it's how S.O. treats others that makes me sick to my stomach.

Anyway, I'm considering ending it over this... Am I being unreasonable? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Being nice to you does not make someone nice.

So, uh, no, you're not being unreasonable.

However, it would be nice, in an open-minded kind of way, if you let him know what a shame it is that he squanders his potential for real decency by having an indecent attitude toward those about whom he knows nothing, except that they don't look like him.

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K Street, DC: I really feel for my boss. He's just a wonderful man, kind and generous, and doesn't deserve the home life he's suffering. He rushes in by 8:00 AM, doesn't go out to lunch, and rushes home at 6:00 PM to feed his two preschoolers & put them down to sleep. He gets up at 4:00 AM (!) each morning, including WEEKENDS, to get enough work done before the little ones wake up. He then takes care of them ALL weekend as his wife is "exhausted."

Meanwhile, his wife sends the kids to preschool EVERY day. She goes off to the spa and the gym, yet she's about 15 pounds overweight so I don't see it working.

My boss is the ultimate catch, yet he wound up with this. When I asked him about this, he says, "I love my wife and kids. I can't be there during the workday, so I want to be with them the rest of the time."

I just don't understand. I look at the guys out there who hit on me (including my bf), and think, "he's so much better than them, and he could do SO much better for himself." What can I do to help him see things more clearly?

Carolyn Hax: Wow.

You can stay as far out of this man's personal life as your job permits, and if that still keeps you involved, then you can find a new job. By the end of this brief letter, your ulterior motives are screaming out so loudly that I can't ever remember what the overt motive was to begin with.

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Re: Today's Column: That could be my sister. So let me give you the other side of that coin. My sister has two lovely little boys ages 3 and 6, but she's never met a person in the world who knows more about parenting than she does. She refuses to ever take advice and is actively hostile when one attempts to give it to her. Years ago, I suggested she read a book called "The happiest toddler on the block." (I have two kids of my own and loved the book). After enduring the ballistic tirade she unleashed, I vowed never to give her advice again. Recently, in an order to keep the family peace, I had to advise Step-grandma to stop giving her advice as well. And though I love her kids, they are out of control. Every time she brings the kids over, we hide all of the good toys because they're completely out of control. And every time after they leave, it looks like a tornado hit my house and at least one toy is broken. There are many other examples of her kids poor behavior (No consistency with naps of bedtime, using TV as a babysitter, etc.) but it's not worth the agita to try and discuss it with her. I do think that 'it takes a village' and frankly I have been astonished where good advice comes from. But by keeping my ears open and my mouth shut, I have learned a lot. I wish I could say the same for my sister. That's not to say that LW does not have difficult parents and in-laws, but there might be a nugget or two they can pick up if they are willing to listen.

Carolyn Hax: I actually tried to walk a very careful line with that column, to make sure the advice applied equally well if the writer and kids were fine and the grandparents were out of line, which is certainly possible, or if the writer and kids were out of line and the grandparents were fine, which is certainly possible, or if everyone were out of line, which is certainly possible.

I do have an opinion on which is true, as I usually do, and that came through in my first draft, which is as it usually appears in the paper. However, I came to think this was one of those cases where leaning one way or the other would undermine the point I was trying to make.

The reality may be, though, that my efforts to be even-handed undermined the point. Ah well. But at least now you know what I was thinking. Thanks for the chance to explain.

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To flirt or not to flirt: As someone who is very social, the organizer, and a sometimes flirt, you need to pay a little attention to your social skills. Although there is a fine line between just being bubbly and friendly and flirting, it does exist. The things that many people recognize as flirting have to do with the way that you socialize. Watch body language. When you are leaning forward to express interest in your conversation partner, be careful how far you lean. In general, there is a "pocket" of personal space between people...you may need to increase that space between you and another person when you talk. You need to think about those moments when you do touch a person, where you touch a person, how you touch a person and how often. Although it may seem second nature to you to caress someone's hand to show concern, that can come across wrong.

Try to imagine how you would react to someone in the workplace vs someone in a social setting and you will probably find that you have very different body language and gestures. That should give you a start on how to moderate your actions so that you come across as bubbly and friendly and less flirty.

Carolyn Hax: Good points, thanks. Also I would add that it matters how you address each person when you're all in a group. If you're concentrating your attention on one person but not others, that can come across to observers as intent. Another thing to watch is the time. Even if you're an arm-toucher when you're talking to friends and colleagues, gay and straight, male and female, if on a regular basis you monopolize one person's time, even if it's a different person every time, you flirt with (get it? flirt?) a bad reputation.

BTW, these aren't guidelines just for outgoing people, they're general boundaries we all should have at least in the back of our minds.

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Questioning: Are you and Nick a couple? And is Zuzu your dog? (There is a little Mexican restaurant nearby named Zuzu.)

Carolyn Hax: Nick is my ex-husband, good friend and the column's illustrator; we share "custody" of Zuzu, though Nick has her now full-time.

So, yes, that opening statement was by my ex-husband about his ex-mother-in-law.

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Today's Column: You know, I have that problem with my family sometimes, too. They will seem a little harsh, or judgmental with my kids. They're also big into teasing, which especially one of my kids doesn't like. Sometimes I get mad and tell them to cut it out, but in my calmer moments I realize that they'll figure it out and adjust their relationships with the overly-teasing uncle accordingly; stop talking to him, playing with him, etc. And sometimes it's helpful to have one of their grandparents say no instead of me. I guess I'm a fan of the village.

Carolyn Hax: You made a good case for it, thanks. The more dysfunctional the village, though, the more important it is that your kids have you there with them as an interpreter. Or, I guess, bodyguard, but then that's when your village is Dodge and it's time to get the hell out. There are other villages.

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Gallery Place: Ah Carolyn, remember that chat about the office "hooch"? Well K Street is every woman's worst fear of the office hooch. Understandably it is up to the husband not to respond, but shoot, K Street gives our gender a bad name.

Carolyn Hax: Come on, no one gender has the corner on the market for predatory, self-serving rationalizations.

But, you're right, we do have ourselves a real live OH. The example would have been helpful when we were talking about when the third party bears responsibility for bad behavior. This case would be a "yes." Thanks.

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Correcting other people's kids: What about when friends bring their kids over to my place and they do not correct their behavior but they are doing things they shouldn't be doing? A friend brought her 2 kids over and they proceeded to open every cabinet, every drawer, and went into every room of my house. I wanted us all to stay in the rec room, and I had a bunch of toys out for them to play with, and I turned on some cartoons for them to watch. She let them run rampant all over the place and didn't say a word. Am I allowed to correct other people's kids behavior in that situation? It was uncomfortable and I couldn't wait for them to leave.

Carolyn Hax: First, you can say to the mom, I'd rather we stay out of the kitchen and keep the party in the rec room. That way, you set out a basic expectation/limits for behavior in your house.

Then, when kids open cabinets and their mom says nothing, feel free to say to the kids directly, Let's keep this to the rec room.

Then if the mom starts sniping at you for correcting her kids, you can say, hmm, you thought you made it clear at the beginning that you didn't want anyone in the kitchen. It won't go over well, but nothing will go over well with someone who thinks it's okay for their kids to misbehave at someone's house.

That's the common denominator in all this. You can be clear and non-hysterical about communicating the limits to the parents--but there will be some people who don't think limits apply to them or their kids. Which might cost you a friend eventually, but which will be their kids' loss most of all.

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In Defense of the Hooch: I can't get past wondering how she happens to know so much about her boss's personal life. Could it be that he's enjoying the attention?

Carolyn Hax: I think it's likely, if not certain. In saying the third party bore responsibility, I didn't mean to imply -all- the responsibility.

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Los Angeles: It takes a village:

I think so. And I think it's important for kids to see adults as authority figures. No, I don't think all adults should have equal authority. I'm making a very general statement.

That said, I try to correct someone else's child if (a) he or she is doing something that bothers me personally; (b) he or she is doing something potentially dangerous, and the parent doesn't seem to be paying attention; (c) I know the parents and their rules, and the parent isn't in the room at the moment.

So when I'm visiting a friend, and her six-year-old does something that I know she's not supposed to, I don't correct her unless her mother is out of the room. If her mother is in the room, she's the authority (see what I meant before?).

I guess what I'm saying is that it takes a village, but a lot of times the village needs to take a step back and see itself as being there in reserve.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. This stakes out the middle in more detail.

There's a middle for the parents, too, in dealing with the village. If someone corrects your child--a stranger in a store, say--even if you don't like it, I don't think it's appropriate to bite the person's head off, ever. The answer that maintains harmony between people with and without children is to ask, "I'm sorry, did my child do something to disturb you?" For one thing, it disarms where a defensive response would only escalate people's anger--and, it gives you a chance to find out, in the other person's own words, whether anyone in fact crossed a line. Then you can either thank the person for preventing an accident, or, alternately, say you'll take care of it, thanks, while you put as much distance as possible between you and the person. Like I said, better all around for kid/no kid relations.

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touch talkers: I completely agree about the importance of touching while talking in giving an impression of inappropriateness or not. My husband had a friend who was an awfully touchy close-talker and it made me extremely uncomfortable to see him in conversation with her. They could have been talking about unicorns and rainbows but it LOOKED very much like flirting, and it didn't really matter to me that that was how she talked with most everyone.

Carolyn Hax: Hmm, I don't know. I think that's on you, to override a bias against touchyness when you clearly know, intellectually, that this person isn't trying to steal your spouse.

A conversation about rainbows and unicorns, on the other hand, would be legitimate cause for alarm.

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Honey, you do look fat.: Hi Carolyn, guy question here. (Do you ever get those?)

My fiancee was HOT when I first met her. She was still HOT when I proposed. I don't love her for her body, but it did have a lot to do with our great sex life.

Since we got engaged, she has gained 45 pounds. She swears it is "contentment weight" and that she isn't depressed or hiding. She has changed wedding dresses three times because of the weight gain. I am plainly unattracted to her right now and a little resentful that she hasn't done more to take care of herself headed into this marriage.

I want her to lose the weight, or our upcoming marriage is going to suffer sexually and emotionally. I want her to be healthy too, but she and I both know that's not the main reason for my concern here. Is there a way to bring this up without being the pig of all pigs?

Carolyn Hax: Well, I think you're going to be called something bad no matter what, and, for the record, it will be unfair. That's because when you do speak up (you have to), you will deserve points for honesty and for facing an issue that has to be faced before you get married. You can't forge ahead when you're no longer attracted to her. It's unfair to both of you.

Here's the thing. Weight isn't just about looks, as you said, and it isn't just about health, as you said. It's also about a general ... what's the word, trust? between two people. When she put on so much weight so quickly, she basically announced to you, "I pretended to be someone I wasn't for the sole purpose of landing a mate."

That really stinks. And it stinks even more when it is a function of weight, because if she had pretended to, say, enjoy your hobbies (as so many people pretend to do when they're dating), or to like your family and friends (as so many people pretend to do when they're dating), or had said she wanted kids when she privately doesn't, then you'd have everyone's sympathy when you complained about the bait-and-switch. But when the bait-and-switch involves physical appearance, you're the one who gets called shallow and other nasty things.

But the essence is still that she thought it okay to maintain her appearance only as long as it took for her to get engaged. And so it doesn't matter what trait she was misrepresenting in herself--it's still acting in bad faith.

And, it's the only line of argument I can suggest that gives your position the (here I go again) weight it deserves, though, I should warn you, you will still be the guy who called off the wedding because the bride got fat.

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Any old bar or club: Hello there... You look as lovely as a unicorn frolicking 'neath a perfect rainbow. Can I get you a drink?

Works like a charm. A lucky charm.

Carolyn Hax: Bonus--as a leprechaun, you can say this as you're looking up someone's skirt.

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Holiday blues already: I am soooooo not looking forward to the holiday season which bums me out for so many reasons. We trade years doing Thanksgiving and Christmas at home where my family lives and going to my in-laws' house where my SO's family lives or convenes. The last two years got muddied because of extenuating circumstances and I was so happy to be home for both holidays both years. I love hosting my family and cooking, having my kids wake up at home with their tree, etc. Turns out, though, we were to be at in-laws' for Thanksgiving, none of SO's brothers will be there so they are pressuring us to come at Xmas instead. My family has already made plans to be out of town for Thanksgiving and cannot change their plans because my SO told my mom that we were definitely going to SO's parents' house for Thanksgiving. If we go I spend no holidays with my family which sucks. Oh, yeah and the elephant in the room is that I absolutely loathe my in-laws but actually like SO's siblings and families. It is causing discord and though I know I should just suck it up and agree to go because we kind of owe them from not being there last two years, I really, really, really don't want to go. And if I do, I plan on being out of the house or otherwise mind-altered. any advice?

Carolyn Hax: Uh, yah? You don't "kind of owe" anybody anything! Just because you're getting pressured doesn't mean you have to change your plans--the pushy and the guilt-trippy are to be ignored, not indulged, lest you sign over your whole calendar to them. You made your plans. Either stick to them, or chuck them entirely and stay home again, or get creative with them.

Short version: Holidays bum you out because you've abdicated. You're an adult, you have children of your own, so make choices like an adult without apology.

One addendum: If your family routinely gets preference because they live nearby, then you do need to balance things out with your SO's family. However, that balance will only make everyone nuts if it's micromanaged one little holiday at a time. You need to think bigger and longer-range than this holiday, next holiday, etc. That invests each individual holiday with way too much significance every year.

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Fairfax, VA: The guy whose fiancee got fat is the reason why Office Hooches serve a purpose. The wife can't get lazy when the hooch is on the prowl, or she'll be out the door.

Carolyn Hax: This depresses me in so many ways, I won't even attempt to express even one of them.

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Re: Honey do you look fat: For what it's worth, it will be much easier on this girl to hate your guts for leaving her for her weight before the wedding than it will be to hate you for taking up maybe ten years of her time before finally realizing this is a deal-breaker for you.

Be careful either way, though: she may be miserable enough over the breakup to lose enough weight to suit you. Let her go anyway.

Carolyn Hax: Because, hey, she'll be ready for the next guy!

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Overweight Bride: I see your point Carolyn. However, say she gained weight after the wedding, due to children, or a health issue, etc. Would he plan to divorce her then? What if he goes bald and isn't so HOT himself? Appearances change, even if you marry a hottie, they won't always stay that way. He can dump this bride, marry a hottie, and anything can happen. When you really love someone, you are attracted to them, even if they are HOT. This guy seemed to only care about that.

Carolyn Hax: No no no! I almost went into this, but thought I was taking too long.

The things you talk about are ravages of time, or twists of fate, or byproducts of good and mutual decisions. That makes them very different from gaining weight rapidly the moment the ring is in the bag. That's why I talked specifically about bad faith: This was an issue of her misrepresenting herself--and being A-okay with that--for the purpose of landing a mate.

People will age, and they will thicken in the middle and lose their hair and all that great stuff. But if they represent themselves honestly to each other from the very beginning, then any attraction they generate will be more likely to be based in that honesty, vs. the lie of a carefully managed, and ultimately false, image.

To extend the argument with one of your examples: If he loses his hair and takes just as good care of himself as he always did, and if she gets poochy in the belly from having a couple of kids but still takes as good care of herself as she always did, then these two will not be facing anywhere near the same challenge to attraction that this groom-to-be is right now.

He just figured out that what he thought was hot was all just an act. Of course he's resentful.

And even if you disagree with all of this, there's still the matter of his not finding his bride attractive any more. Even if he's shallower than sound bite, he's still got to speak the truth.

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K Street, DC: K Street here, the "hooch". I know much about their lives because the WIFE talks my ear off. She talks about how he gets up to take care of the kids, tells me all about her suburban spa, asks me where I got my leather skirt, compliments my sense of style, etc. It's ridiculous how my boss lights up when he sees her; he just doesn't get how women swoon when they see him. He's like one of those college geeks who blossomed into something amazing, yet still thinks he's a geek. Fact is, he settled for a carnation when he could have any flower he wants.

Carolyn Hax: No, it's awesome how your boss lights up when he sees her. She's his -wife.-

I don't care if you're one of Georgia O'Keefe's flowers--he loves his carnation. Neither his late blooming nor your feelings for him are justification for getting in the way of that union.

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Spokane, WA:"Since we got engaged, she has gained 45 pounds. She swears it is "contentment weight" and that she isn't depressed or hiding."

I don't believe her. Unless they've been engaged for 5 years, 45 pounds is an enormous amount of weight to gain very quickly. Something is wrong.

Or maybe she really did do a bait-and-switch, pretending to be someone she's not in order to land the proposal.

And that's the tack I'd take. "I don't understand what happened. You say you aren't depressed or hiding, which seems like the most plausible reason for you to have gained so much weight so quickly. The only other reason I can imagine is that you were pretending to be someone you are not in order to get me to propose, and that doesn't seem to be who I thought you were."

Ask her to go to a good doctor and get checked out, then ask her which it is. Depression or bait-and-switch.

Carolyn Hax: Could also be a medical condition other than depression, which I meant to add.

But that opens up other areas of inquiry. For example, if it is depression or another medical condition, then why isn't she dealing with it? And if she is at least trying to deal with it, then why isn't she talking about it openly with the fiance, who certainly should be in on any health issues? I know we're just seeing the groom's eye view, but it does seem to come back to her showing no signs that such serious weight gain matters.

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No OH: This gets better and better! I hope she writes back a third time and tells us even more.

Carolyn Hax: We have earned it these past few weeks, haven't we?

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Columbus, GA again: At the beginning of this chat, I sent in a question regarding attitudes toward women seeking mates and how hard it is to free yourself from those attitudes and just see yourself as a person, as deserving of love as any other person.

I have to say, the other questions and responses so far have been pretty much depressing.

FWIW, at least no man will ever be able to accuse me of betrayal during an engagement. I've been overweight my entire life, and a strict diet, multiple medical checkups and working out diligently have done nothing over several years to change that. I am sort of starting to wonder why on earth I gave up pasta, though. Pasta doesn't judge you, bring you into its family dysfunction, call you a hooch, or accuse you of flirting with other foods.

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, but it doesn't light up when you walk into the room (unless you're storing it next to your plutonium stockpile).

Maybe there's encouragement in all these discouraging posts. You deserve love as anyone does ... and, lo, you struggle with it as anyone does. There are not only plenty of people here who are in happy relationships, be they marital or platonic or professional--there are also plenty of people (equally as many, I might venture) who got to this point only after going through hell, walking through fire and flirting with people for hours only to learn later on they had spinach in their teeth the whole time. Welcome to humanity. Do something nice for yourself, for someone else, doesn't matter, and give it another chance.

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Denison, Texas: RE: Holiday blues

What about another option? There came a point in our lives where going "home" for Christmas became too difficult to do. We only had one child, but as he grew older, his gifts got bigger (bicycles, gaming systems, sports equipment, you get the idea). Hauling them to and from was ludicrous.

We made the decision to make Christmas "ours." Anyone was welcome to come to our house, but we stayed put.

However, we didn't give up family togetherness. We just shifted it to other occasions. Memorial Day weekend was a big deal for my in-laws, so our plans always matched theirs. July 4th was a big deal for my family, so again ... we were there.

It worked for us.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. This is what I meant about thinking about it creatively. The important thing isn't what you do with each holiday, but how you regard all the holidays as a whole--and even some weekends that are just weekends.

It makes a lot of sense to start by planting a flag on the issues that are important to YOUR very own little nuclear family. From there, you can then distribute fairly whatever celebrations are left.

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Holiday blues follow up: The discord it is causing is between me and SO. He wants to go and is the one pressuring me. His siblings don't check with us when they decide not to be there for Thanksgiving--we aren't asking them to change their plans? We do tend to swap every year. It turns into a match where SO is dissing my family (parents are divorced, sibling is pretty detached, so it is not traditional but works well). I am the holdout on the Christmas situation which has led to the discord. Must also mention that things have not been a field of daisies in our marriage so this is another issue to argue about. Wow, seeing all that written makes me even more depressed (seeing therapist but whole notha story).

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry. Given the mess elsewhere, it might be good for your own peace of mind to plot out on a calendar--just for your own use, for now--how often you and he spent time together with your family last year, and how often you and he spent time together with his. The fact that your marriage is strained means it's possible you're seeing the holiday distribution through the lens of the strain, meaning you're trying to protect what's yours instead of looking at the whole issue--the whole calendar, the whole marriage--objectively. If it turns out that you've spent a lot more time with your folks than with his, it might be a loving gesture, toward the cause of the marriage, to change your Xmas plans so you can see his family. If you feel you're always the one to give in, then that's something to bat around with your therapist--how to be part of a couple when you feel protective of what little self you think you have left.

BTW, a practical thought: I don't know what your geographical constraints may be, but have you considered having Xmas at home--nice for the kids regardless--and then traveling that day to join your husband's family? It can be an easy day to travel.

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Petworth: And don't think you need a child, or a partner, or whatever. No, telling the parents you're not coming "home" for the holidays is not easy. But it is part of growing up. Or at least, the ability to do so is part of growing up. If you still WANT to go, that's cool.

Please note that I also have issues with calling your parents' house "home" when it is no longer your home. I think if you can learn that where you live is your home, it makes dealing with the parents and their "Come home" issues a LOT easier.

Carolyn Hax: Nice thoughts, thanks.

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No City, No State: Dear Carolyn,

How do I know if I'm being stalked? Where is the line drawn? There are a lot of resources out there for women being stalked by ex-boyfriends, but very little out there that has to do with a person being harassed by a family member from whom they have been estranged. Please help me.

Carolyn Hax: Without details, the best advice I can give is for you to read "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin deBecker. It's not limited to threats from an intimate partner; in fact, GdB made his mark professionally with his expertise in helping people handle threats from strangers, drawing in part from his life experience in facing a threat within the family. Dangerous people are dangerous people. Read it this weekend, and let me know what you think.

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Carolyn Hax: I really do need to watch the time more carefully. I'm going, I swear. Thank you everyone, have a great weekend and I'll type to you here next Friday.

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