Carolyn Hax Live: Bridesmaids Out in the Cold (in more ways than one), Stretching to Afford Day Care and Hurt My Husband Doesn't Do Something Special for Our Anniversary

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 24, 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, October 24 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

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

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Des Moines, IA: Every year on our wedding anniversary I end up in tears because it is just another day -- nothing special. Through tears I tell my husband that because he knows it is important to me and yet makes no effort that I feel like he is knowingly being hurtful. This leads to him feeling blamed, which he is, and us in a fight. I know that blaming doesn't work, but what do you do when you really do feel someone is to blame for being hurtful?

Carolyn Hax: This is serious, not snarky: What have you done to make your anniversaries special? Bought gifts, made dinner reservations, planned trips, done interpretive love dances ...


Last kid picked for dodgeball: Hi Carolyn,

I will confess that I used to roll my eyes at the bridesmaid drama questions -- that is, until my friends started getting married! A girlfriend is planning her wedding and asked everyone in our close group to be a bridesmaid... everyone, that is, but me. Apparently I got bumped for the groom's big sister. I'm trying to be supportive and take the "it's your wedding, it should be how you want it to be" attitude... but feeling more than a little left out and a lot like she doesn't feel as close to me as I do to her. Am I being unreasonable? Any tips for dealing with it gracefully?

Carolyn Hax: I know, intellectually, that trying to project how funny this will be in 10 years will come as no consolation. However, it's just this kind of horrid, thoughtless behavior that softens us up and teaches us not to get our hopes up about much. In the short term, as you have identified already, it also teaches us who our friends are, and who we can trust. This here bride, not really your friend.

To this hurtful message, though, I think I can safely add a buffer: Just because she's thoughtless enough to do this to you now, and just because you're apparently 8th on her list of 7 friends, that doesn't mean it's all over for this friendship. Something else that always seems to come out 10 years later (as you're regaling your current friends with the tale of the Great Wedding Party Dissing of 2008) is that everyone else can tell a story like this, too--from the other side. If anyone claims to have made it to middle adulthood without being able to cite a moment when s/he, wittingly or not, treated someone cruelly, then that person is either delusional or a saint.

So do as you're doing, square up and take it. That alone could improve your standing with the bride, if that's what you want. And if all you want is your freedom not to have to deal with her again, then you can shift into a civility-only mode with her, and let time take care of the rest.


Boston, Mass.: Posting early... this morning's letter from a woman whose half sister is failing to share care of an elderly aunt struck a chord for me. I cared for both of my parents through their terminal illness, my mother's to cancer and my father's to Alzheimer's disease. My siblings (both older than me) did very, very little to help. I felt angry and abandoned. And I've seen the same problem play out in ways the divide many families.

The writer should realize that it is her choice to do right by her aunt, or not... as it is her sibling's choice as well. When you choose to be a loving and responsible caregiver you will reap the burden of care but you may also reap benefits, such as knowing them deeply, sharing emotional closeness, and bearing witness to the profound experience of death. My life was enriched greatly by this experience with both parents.

We may hope and pray that our siblings (and others) will rise to the occasion and help out, but they are not legally or otherwise compelled to do so. I decided to accept what limited help my siblings offered and reassess our relationship after our parents had passed. I realized they had let me (and our parents) down, but not due to malice. They had done the best they could, with the limitations they had at the time. That's really all we can ask of anyone. And if we can avoid judging them for their choices (sometimes I'm better at this than others), and take responsibility for our own, these relationships can survive such disappointments.

I also found that there were others outside of the family circle who could help, including social service organizations, friends and neighbors, etc. Sometimes when you are open to love and support, it comes at you from surprising places.

I wish the writer the best, and thank her for her service to her aunt.

Carolyn Hax: Nothing to add, thank you.


Anonymo, US: Long story short, I broke off my engagement to my boyfriend of 5 years about three months ago - I realized I wasn't ready to get married. We decided to stay together - we hadn't fallen out of love, just not ready to take that big step forward. He said he would wait until I was ready. There was some awkwardness at first, but we were working though it and things were getting back to good.

Recently we went to a wedding of a close friend of mine. At a few points during the wedding, I got slightly depressed because everyone around me seemed so happy (which is to be expected because everyone is happy at a wedding). And though I'm not unhappy with my BF, I'm not as happy as I used to be before the engagement/non-engagement (which is also to be expected because that was a huge thing to do).

And now since the wedding, I've been questioning my feelings for my BF. I realize this may have been a unique situation given the broken engagement and wedding in close proximity.

I guess I really don't have a question per se, would just like another point of view on the situation. Or maybe you can bring to light something I haven't thought of.

Thanks in advance

Carolyn Hax: Milestones, and for some reason weddings in particular, have a way of locating all the little emotional stuff you shove to the side, gathering it up into a heap and throwing it out on the table. What they don't do is pitch in on the cleanup.

Unfortunately, I can't be of much help, either, because the job of interpreting what your buried emotions mean is one only you can do. (If you have a close confidant, then that person might be helpful here, if only in giving you an opportunity just to hear yourself talk.) All I can do is reinforce what you already suspect: Yes, these difficult and confusing feelings matter. Be as patient with the process as you can and see where the feelings take you.


Newton, MA: Carolyn,

Long-time reader, first-time submitter. Supposed to meet up with two exes this weekend (separately) who are both in from out of town. I know the relationships ended for a good reason which I'm cool with, but why can't I shake the sudden sickness in my stomach about seeing them? I'd like to see them to fortify the strides I've made since they ended, but are these two situations I should avoid? For the record, they were the ones who reached out to me.

Carolyn Hax: Two in one weekend! That's like testing your willpower after dramatic weight loss by hosting a bake sale.

I have a feeling if you avoid them just as a way of alleviating the dread, then you will come to regret it. If on the other hand you'd be dodging--one, the other, both--due to a history of getting teased, abused or reeled back in, then dodging might make sense.

It's really a matter of how toxic these people have been for you--that's what tells you how much you stand to gain (or lose) by agreeing to see them. This might be a good place to draw the line: If their behavior with you was decent, then push through the dread and go. If they treated you badly, then going could end up feeling like yet another capitulation, right when you thought you had finally gotten your strength back.


Chicago, IL: On-line only, please--


Love your column and chat. Here's my question: Last year my family learned that my dad, who always held himself as a big family man and honorable person, had been cheating on my mother with various women for more than 15 years. My mother has decided to stay with him and he has vowed to be faithful.

The family was devastated by his unfaithfulness and his hypocrisy. I can barely have a conversation with him, although I hide it when other people are around. (No one outside the immediate family knows.) The holidays are coming up and I am dreading spending any time with him. I don't want to upset my mother, though, and feel like, for her sake, I have to act like everything is normal.

I also want to confront my father (we were told of his affairs on the phone last year and have not discussed them with him since because he was basically had a nervous breakdown when he was caught) but don't feel like the holidays, with everyone in the family home, are the place to do it.

What do you think I should do? Be honest or put on a happy face?


Carolyn Hax: Speaking of capitulation ... I'm going to suggest you talk to a reputable therapist, ideally one who specializes in marriage and family. You have every right to be furious at your dad for his lies, both the small ones necessary to covering multiple affairs, and the big one of his professing to be someone he wasn't. Because that anger is so big and so justified, it's not uncommon for people to stop there in their analyses of such situations.

However, you're looking at, probably, many more years with your dad as part of your family, and if you want to be able to view your family (and the relentless march of togetherness holidays) without overwhelming dread, then I think you have to take your analysis further and try to understand your father for the very complicated, very flawed man that he apparently is. That means sorting the good from the bad--there is good, clearly, since you are so tight with your family--and then putting it all back together into a working image of your dad that is both more honest than your old one, an quite possibly more sympathetic.

Since so many people get comfortable in their anger, it might actually be to your emotional advantage, long-term, that your mom forced your hand on dealing with this by not leaving your dad.


Southeast: Carolyn, My MIL is a widow in need of a place to live. She can only take limited care of herself. My wife, oldest of three siblings, wants to take her in but I do not want to. I am happy to contribute financially but DO NOT want her in my home. I need our space with my wife and my children. My wife and I are coming apart over this like it's a game of real life chicken, and the endgame scares me. I might add my wife has other siblings who have not offered to help in any way. Not asking for a solution, but can you help us with a framework on arriving at a solution?

Carolyn Hax: These are always hard for me to call, because my bedrock on these close, emotional, marital issues is that the veto always wins. You can't move someone into the house that your spouse doesn't want there, you can't have a baby your spouse doesn't want, you can't relocate someplace your spouse refuses to go. Obviously, you -can- do these things, but the veto means you have to decide whether you're going to do this spousally-vetoed thing, or leave the marriage.

And this is the problem that stems from it: As a philosophy, I think it stands up, but as a negotiation strategy, it is right up there with the ultimatum in its ability to alienate and divide.

So since you are vetoing the MIL move-in, and since you have standing (just my opinion, of course) to say no, then I think the focus of your diplomacy should be on what you -are- willing to do. Add an in-law suite with a separate entrance? Move to a duplex? Pay for (and research) assisted living? Hire a home-care aide so your MIL can remain where she is? The framework for arriving at a solution being, you may have a limit past which you won't go, but you have unlimited flexibility (and creativity) up to that point.

And also, of course, in private, before you reopen this discussion: Examine your own position one last time to see if your original logic still holds up, or if you're now just digging in for the sake of digging in. That's a risk in any standoff, no matter how valid each opening position may be.


Hagerstown, MD: I am the mother of two boys, ages 21 and 19. Their father and I divorced three years ago and their father quickly remarried and quickly had two more children. As a very "family oriented" person I was devastated by the divorce. My wish was always for the family to be close - especially my two sons. Right now my older son lives with his father, while my younger son lives with me. My older son has chosen to push me out of his life as well as his brother. My younger son reaches out to his older brother, but his brother won't engage with him. My younger was difficult with his temperament while growing up, but he has really matured a lot the last couple of years. He really wants to have a good relationship with his brother; but he keeps getting pushed away. What advise do you have for my younger son? What can I do to help the situation? Right now I feel like if I do anything other than try to coordinate family events where they both will attend comes off as me being controlling and manipulative when I just am a caring mother.

Carolyn Hax: That is a lot of change for one family in a very short time. My instinct is to say that, while it's important to stay in touch with the older son to let him know you aren't giving up on him, you need to give everyone time to process all these changes. New and confusing emotions (and the defenses they trigger) are responsible, in my unscientific opinion, for about 90 percent of the rash and hurtful things people do to each other.

It also wouldn't hurt to put extra patience into your relationship with their father. Your devastation is real, but the loss of your husband is a done deal; at this point, your focus has to be on not losing your son, too. Ultimately that is up to him, of course, but your ex-hsbd can be your strongest ally here. You want him gently but actively discouraging your older son from severing ties to half his family.

Backing off and giving people room to make their own decisions--even those they may come to regret, and especially those that will end up hurting you--also happens to be your best defense against charges of being controlling. I'm sorry.


Charlotte, NC: Has someone else taken over your keyboard?

I've always agreed with you about wedding silliness. Now, you're telling someone who is feeling hurt that her friend didn't ask her to be a bridesmaid that the bride must not be her friend? That a bride mercifully drawing a line is cause for that level of hurt? Maybe the bride doesn't feel as close to her as the others, maybe including the sister-in-law-to-be was reaching out to her new family, maybe she didn't even realize this person cared one way or the other, especially if she's on record-as her comment about how she felt about said silliness before it touched her seems to suggest--that these things get out of control. As I read the question I fully expected your response to be along the lines of "instead of adding more drama, offer to help out some other way, go to the wedding, and have a great time." I'm not being nasty, truly I'm not, I'm just genuinely confused at your response.

Carolyn Hax: She was the one excluded friend among a group of friends. That's terribly cruel--and for what? That's not "mercifully drawing a line," that's failing to recognize that it's better to be one bridesmaid closer to appearing ridiculous than it is to single someone out to hold to an arbitrary number. THAT is wedding silliness by definition: when the planning serves the cause of the wedding itself, and not the cause of the people involved.


Silver Spring, MD: For the woman caring for her aunt, without help from the half-sister:

My husband's father is dead, and he has a stepmother who never cared for him, although she married his father when he was 6. She ignores our family and declined to have any sort of special relationship with our son (I'm not THAT CHILD'S grandmother!). Yet my husband makes sure to send her flowers on her birthday, as his father always did, and we buy her thoughtful holiday gifts. She is invited to all family gatherings, although she never comes. I am amazed at my husband's generosity toward her, because she was pretty hateful to him when he was a little boy and later. He sees it as a way to honor his father's memory, and of being the person he wants to be.

Maybe you could see your relationship with you aunt as something you do for your father and yourself. You still bear the brunt of the work, but you feel better about it.

Carolyn Hax: Another nice way to look at this, thanks.


Re: Last Kid Picked for Baseball: This happened to me too, a few years ago. Not only this, but one of the bridesmaids disliked me so much, that she excluded me from all female-only celebrations. I took a 'eh, what can you do attitude.' And used it to recalibrate my friendship with this woman. Caveat - I had already asked her to be one my bridesmaids - so had to go through with that. But since then we just grew apart. The bride lost her closest friend, as a result, who could not forgive her, her treatment of me.

Carolyn Hax: Now -that- is my fairy-tale ending, when people are held accountable--not in a punitive way, but in an, "I witnessed poor treatment of someone else, and I need to stand by the person who was mistreated," way. Thanks for the injection of hope.


Atlanta: My daughter is marrying the man of her dreams next weekend in the nation's capital, where they now live, and she really wants to have pictures of the wedding party taken at the monuments. But the weather forecast for that night is about 40 degrees, too cold (I think) for a bride and bridesmaids in strapless gowns. What do you think? She won't listen to me but thinks you're wise. Help!

Carolyn Hax: Shivering lasts only a few minutes, but a photo of a clutch of women shivering in their strapless gowns is forever.

Probably not helpful.

One try at getting this shot at one monument is excusable and could be fun, especially if you go with blankets at the ready for between takes, but only if it doesn't require a major detour while guests cool their heels (get it? cool?) waiting for the wedding party to arrive. Making an extended attempt at getting this shot is self-indulgent and rude to the strapless troops as well as the guests.

How's that.


St. Paul MN: So I had an affair with a married man. Wrong, I know. He and I were best friends for years prior to the affair (I actually was his 'best woman' in his wedding), and after for that matter. He eventually had a guilty conscience and told his wife, which I understand. One of her conditions of taking him back was that he end all contact with me -- understandable. Sucks for me because I lost a best friend, but still, I know what I did was wrong. Haven't spoken to him for around 8 months. Found out he is being deployed to Iraq in December. Is it wrong of me to request a moment before he leaves to say goodbye? How should I go about this?

Carolyn Hax: Don't do it. The wife is in enough hell, capping off an effort to save her marriage by sending her husband to a war zone. You have feelings too, of course, but they are secondary, and the consequences of the affair are that you lost the right for those feelings to be considered.


DC: Monument pictures... the park police do not allow pictures of this sort without permits anymore. Ridiculous, I know, but they are on the lookout for wedding dresses.

Carolyn Hax: Enough of you are sending this in that I'm going to post it without checking. Thanks. Solves the problem of the picture, which leaves this problem:


re: Atlanta and cold DC wedding: I think Atlanta needs to back out of her daughter's life and let her make her own decisions.

Carolyn Hax: Alas. Thanks.


Bridesmaid stuff: I was in a similar situation, but the big difference was the bride cowboyed up and talked to me about it first and directly. She explained her reasoning, and asked for my understanding. I was really relieved, because I had a lot going on and couldn't really afford the time or money to be a bridesmaid. The point is, she honored the friendship and acted like an adult. That meant a lot to me. I responded in kind, attended the wedding joyfully, and that meant a lot to her.

Carolyn Hax: For those keeping score at home: Brides cannot take group photos at monuments, but they can cowboy up.


Carolyn Hax: Sorry for the delay--there was no water in my espresso machine. (Now you know the secret of the three-hour chats.)


did someone steal your keyboard?: you're typing awfully fast today

Carolyn Hax: See above.


Hagerstown, Md.: Mom with two sons again... I have asked their father to be my ally with no great success. My younger son, even though a young adult, feels a lot of neglect from his father so that fuels into this whole issue too. Divorce is complicated and it does hurt a lot of people unfortunately. I'm sorry for the whole thing too. I never imagined my family being broken. I am giving my son space and it hurts. But it hurts worse seeing him push his brother away who really needs his family more than ever.

Carolyn Hax: The message your younger son might need to hear most right now is that people do things for their own reasons, and so often they don't think through the consequences of their actions. For someone in his position, the natural question is, what did I do to make my own father lose interest in me? The more apt question, though, may be, what story line of my dad's life could explain why I've been reduced to a subplot?

It's a tricky thing, sorting through such massive and emotionally fraught decisions. In similar situations, I've been the one to advise examining one's own contribution to a situation, where here I'm advocating the examination of someone else's. It's perilously close to assigning blame.

However, there are times when it is appropriate to recognize that you aren't responsible, just as there are times when it's essential to recognize that you are. Often the difference is just what the person is already doing in response--the one who is internalizing might need advice to think about what others' roles might have been, and the one who is blaming might need advice to internalize a bit.

It's also about (as in this case, clearly) recognizing when you're central to the cause of a problem, and when you're collateral damage. Both sons are collateral damage, and both probably need to hear that out loud.


Portland, OR: This is a follow-up to the woman who was excluded from the bridal party and had the mutual friend, thereby end friendship with bride. That's great --loyalty and all, but what about those of us who have been dumped and yet still have friends who didn't stand up to bridezilla?

One of my best friends dumped me not just from being maid-of-honor, but from the entire wedding party when I became pregnant and was unmarried. She claims it was to let me "figure things out and that God told her it was the right thing to do" but I think we all know it's because she wanted a princess day and my pregnant form wasn't going to lend itself to perfection. We had a great mutual friend who highly disagreed with it (was also in the wedding) but never said anything to her. Another one of our best friends was asked to replace me in the wedding party. To her credit, replacement friend called to see how I would feel about it. I said go for it. Trying to be bigger person, yada yada.

Anyway, I've been in two more weddings with bridezilla, she brought me stuff after my baby was born and she's tried to play nice since. Everyone has moved on, but part of me wonders, at the end of the day, am I wrong to feel that our two mutual friends by not wanting to make waves, actually demonstrated a similar lack of caring because they didn't stand up for me?

Carolyn Hax: It does sound as if they're weak, both of them.

It also sounds as if you have at least a cordial relationship still with Bridezilla. That tells me you made your social calculation, too, and decided that flipping her the bird would cost you too much. So, it might be a reasonable assumption that these other two women did the same, which would turn your house to glass.

The more constructive line of thinking might be, what is it about her that has you all cowed?


Freezing Wedding Photos: I was the frozen bridesmaid five years ago - the bride and groom wanted outdoor photos when it was 40 degrees and windy. We were wearing chiffon, while the groomsmen were in lovely, warm wool suits. Needless to say, the photos took far longer than planned. The guys kept clowning about, the photographer kept fiddling with his camera, and it took ages to rally all the family members. The photos looked like the bride was standing with a row of grumpy blue Popsicles. Totally not worth it.

Bride, don't freeze your friends!

Carolyn Hax: But totally worth it when you factor in the amusement it brought all of us. Thanks.


Des Moines, IA: Yes bought gifts, made activity suggestions, everything except the interpretive dancing...and it's really more about how to deal with hurt feelings because it happens often.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, it's really really more about recognizing that this particular guy is not going to meet this particular need of yours. Hurtful? Sure, I can see how--though the seriousness of the wound depends on context and intent, two things we out here in the ether (whoa, my hands ... they're ... HUGE) can't discern.

Is he someone you could reasonably expect to dote on you on special occasions? Don't think what's -possible-, since, of course, anyone can make dining or travel arrangements. Think what's in his nature.

Does he openly scoff at holidays, and people who care about them? Does he forget where he just put his keys, much less what day it is? Does he have a general, principled, but maybe not specifically stated bias against doing things by the book, and is he more one to show affection in offbeat ways? Is he uncomfortable talking about feelings or shopping for girly stuff?

These are just some of the larger ways to explain why someone wouldn't produce the anniversary you wanted no matter how hard you cried. Certainly, some of these reasons are crap; if someone scoffs at packaged celebrations, for example, and claims to show affection when the spirit moves him--but then the spirit never actually does move him. There are also people who seem to remember everyone else's special occasions with gifts, but still stiff the one person who'd be hurt by being ignored. In cases like that, you certainly have grounds to call the other person on it, and give some thought to your overall treatment.

But often it's just about having different notions of what it means to honor someone. And often people get so worked up about being honored the way they want that they kill the other person's interest in coming through.

So there are countless ways to read these situations.

In the meantime, while you're figuring it all out, you can make arrangements for a standing, annual somethingorother to mark your anniversary. Just do it yourself. Pick the restaurant or book the room and start a tradition now, both of marking it the same way annually and of not expecting him ever to take over the planning himself.


re: replacement bridesmaid: It's not really fair to hold a grudge against someone if they ASK you how you feel about something and you tell them you're fine with it.

If you say you are fine with it, but expect them to read your mind and not do it anyway, you are actually not being the bigger person. You are trying to publicly appear to be the bigger person, which is not the same thing.

Carolyn Hax: Good call, tx.


Carolyn Hax: Familiar, too--this just came up in the column. It's possible that the, "Actually, no, it's not okay with me," can creep up on you later, after you've given what at the time was sincere consent. Just for the record.


Eastern Indiana: If it makes Last Picked for Dodgeball feel any better, I got UNasked to be a bridesmaid a few months ago. The accompanying explanation? "I was thinking you might feel uncomfortable because you are so much older than all of the other bridesmaids."

I can honestly say I found it amusing and enjoy having a good story to tell. I was surprised when asked in the first place. But if this had happened 10 years ago, when I was 23, I would have been hurt, hurt, hurt.

Carolyn Hax: I did an Outlook piece about 100 years ago positing that engagement causes brain damage. Wish I'd had this to back up my argument.


nowhere: So I'm pregnant and my spouse doesn't want the baby. Are you saying I shouldn't have it?!! My feeling is that it's a done deal now. I am willing to go it alone if I have to.

Carolyn Hax: I am sorry for your horrible situation. Please, though, don't extrapolate so much from my advice. It is a done deal now, indeed, but you fit just as squarely into what that answer was arguing as you did before: Your spouse vetoed something you want. Having that thing you want, because of that veto, isn't impossible now--it just means you may have to have it without your husband.

So, you make your decision about what's right for the baby and what's right for you, and you let your husband make his own decision for himself. Despite the charged nature of your specific situation, the underlying mechanics of saying no to something within a marriage are the same.


Fairfax again, unrelated to my post: I'm pretty surprised at your response to the freezing blue bridesmaid. I wasn't amused at all when I read it. My first thought was, "What a bunch of a--hats the groomsmen were, making the picture-taking take longer when people were freezing."

I do realize that my sense of humor is practically non-existent these days in light of my own issues, with the exception of cynical political humor.

Carolyn Hax: Of course the groomsmen were jerks. But for not calling these idiots out on their thoughtlessness, the happy couple got what they deserved: The thing they punished everyone to get was a complete bust.

Possibly literally, if the bridesmaidsicles all froze together into one.


Daycare Angst: Hi Carolyn,

I have two babies - one is 6 months old and the other is 2.5 years old. I have to go back to work next month. We have looked at a gazillion daycares. There are two options for us. I either put them in one that we can't afford but that I would be totally comfortable with their level of care. Or second option, go with the cheaper one which I feel so uncomfortable about that I get panicky when I think about it. We've already cut our spending back to the bare minimum (cut out cell-phones, cable, internet, to name a few things) but I still don't see how we can afford it. I want to take out a loan on our house to pay for it but my husband feels that in these economic times, it would be foolish. he thinks I'm being a little dramatic about the cheaper daycare and thinks the kids would be fine there. I am seriously - really seriously - panicking about putting them there. We have exhausted any other options and I've run out of time. Should I just go with the cheaper of the two centers? What if it's terrible and I have to pull them out? If I give up the "spots" at the center I liked best, it would be at least another year before I could get them in there. Any advice?

Carolyn Hax: Have you asked the better center for financial aid?


Anonymous: This may end up with a lot of backlash from the gallery, but here goes: I know it's breast cancer awareness month, but I am really tired of all the pink ribbons and fundraisers and such. Yes, I know breast cancer is terrible. I know people who have survived and one who hasn't. But I know more people who have had and not survived other cancers.

When the fundraisers were coming around at work this month, I didn't give anything because I donate my money to charities that support other causes (like pancreatic cancer, of which 4 people I know have died in the last two years). I then get dirty looks and comments like "you're a woman, how can you not support breast cancer?". But I don't wish to go into a lot of personal details to explain.

You went through a rough illness with your mom, do you ever feel that way too? (congrats on your ALS fundraiser, btw) It's hard not to be bitter about how one thing gets all the attention, when there is so much more out there that needs focus and donations too. How do I not feel like a horrible person?

Carolyn Hax: I think the issue of causes demands the long view, both from the hitters-up and the hittees. Every one of us is entitled to our causes, and there are more legitimate causes than any one person can support. So, the people with the cause have to recognize that by embracing this cause, they are at the top of the pyramid of people who care. That means just about everyone they solicit will, most likely, care less than they do--maybe a little bit less, and maybe a lot less. It is absolutely essential that the solicitor recognize that the people who do care less can care less without being bad people. Anyone who gives dirty looks to non-participants is actually hurting the cause and should get out of the fund-raising business.

The solicited, meanwhile, have an obligation to be polite, and they too need to recognize that the people who solicit them are at the top of the caring pyramid--people who've lost someone close, or who themselves have suffered. They do not have an obligation to give, however. If you have a stock rejection phrase handy, that might make it easier to say no when you need to: "I understand this is important to you, but my money is pledged to other causes."

As for things getting all the attention, I just figure, if they find a way to get all women to survive breast cancer, then maybe there will be more $ for the smaller causes like ALS.


Abortion, adoption, or divorce?: Hi Carolyn, You write "You can't have a baby your spouse doesn't want . . . the veto means you have to decide whether you're going to do this spousally-vetoed thing, or leave the marriage."

So if a woman in a marriage gets pregnant accidentally and the husband doesn't want the child, her only options are having an abortion, giving the baby up for adoption, or getting a divorce? Is this actually what you mean? If so, I am shocked you would hold such an uncompromising view.

Carolyn Hax: What would you suggest she do--keep her husband in the marriage at gunpoint?

Certainly if he's willing to change his stance, remain married and be a willing and engaged father to the child, then that would be the ideal outcome.

You are completely misreading my words. I am saying that when one spouse decides s/he doesn't want something, and won't budge on it, then there's not much the other spouse can do. It's merely stating the fact of the power of "no." It's not advocacy of any outcome, or encouragement to be rash, or whatever else you're making it out to be.


re: day care angst: If paying for daycare is so difficult you are thinking about taking out a home loan is it really worth it to go back to work -- i.e. are you working just to pay for daycare? Are you going to clear enough after paying for daycare that it will actually help your household budget? From the post it sounds like daycare costs are tougher on the household finances than not working. Just a thought... (FWIW I'm a mom with a baby in daycare)

Carolyn Hax: Worth looking into, though it sounds as if they've been thorough. Part-time work can make sense in these situations, too, as can care-sharing.

BTW, to the mom worried about the day care: Have you talked to other parents with kids in the center you don't like as much? The director should be happy to give you names of parents who are willing to answer your questions (and if not, that's another reason not to be excited about this provider).


For daycare angst: Don't just think about the money this year, think about your career over the next 5-10 years.

Good quality daycare that lets you focus on your work CAN be worth downsizing everything else, or even going into debt for a couple of years. We had a baby in grad school. Paid a lot of money and went into debt for daycare that would let me focus on my studies instead of worrying about the baby--and it paid off in a much higher paying job afterwards.

Carolyn Hax: Another perspective--and, apparently, one precocious baby.


Cannot win: How do you cope with somebody who dwells on what you didn't say instead of what you did say? This is not the real example, but if I said, "Your eggplant parmesan is the best," this person would take that to mean that all other meals stink. How do you tell somebody that a compliment is not a subtle way of insulting everything else about them?

Carolyn Hax: You don't. Your opening says it: You cannot win. You just compliment the eggplant knowing it's going to touch off a guilt riot, or you phrase your compliments carefully: "You're always a great cook, but this time you outdid yourself."

Then you go home and collapse with emotional exhaustion, and ask yourself what is it about you that seeks out such needy friends.


Daycare Angst-Daycare Spending Account: Any chance this couple has access to an employer sponsored DSA that would fund up to $5000/year PRE-TAX?

We've had 3 children through grad school and post-docs and the DSA's along with federal tax daycare credits kept our budget (barely) above water.

Carolyn Hax: Tis the Open Season for this, too, for many. Tx.


Day care dilemma: This is why people need to REALLY LOOK at their finances before having kids. Or before even having one kid.

I know that doesn't help the poor woman who wrote in, but it sure helps me -- the next time someone asks my husband when baby #2 is coming (nevermind our first is only 5 months old), I'll point them toward that woman's question.

My usual answer to them is, 'When you feel like footing the bill.' Sure, it's a smartarse answer, but with merit.

Carolyn Hax: True, but circumstances also change. Just one personal example, we had inexpensive, in-the-neighborhood, flexible, thoroughly vouched-for care lined up well before our kids were going to need it. Then, the director abruptly decided to retire, and closed up shop. The replacement care was excellent, too, but cost double. I think judging people in these situations should be undertaken with more care than can be given and more information than can be gleaned in this forum.


Carolyn Hax: Sorry for the second delay--I was reading my old clip that Elizabeth dug up. Painful.


I'm so glad the subject has changed to day care: I was getting depressed with the willful misunderstanding of your Veto Power positions. I was about to charge in and yell BACON PANTS! to lighten up the tone of the room, but now people are being helpful about day care, so I don't have to.

Carolyn Hax: I think it's against the law to yell BACON PANTS in a crowded online auditorium. (Let's blame the Park Police again.)


Washington, DC: How does a 30-something woman react when her father tells her she is the reason her parents' marriage is strained? My dad has never forgiven me for moving out of state and not calling every day/visiting more than 3-4 times a year. My mom, while is disappointed, tries to talk my dad into opening the lines of communication, and being closer to me. So I see that his relationship with me is what's straining their marriage, but I don't blame myself for their issues. However, the few times I talk to him I get an earful. What's the proper way to react?

Carolyn Hax: Your father is insecure/controlling/something in that family of difficulties, though I have far too little information to be specific; your mother is an enabler, in that she indulges his fits of pique by trying to reason him out of them--i.e., by treating them as reasonable and therefore acceptable (which they're not). Any problems in their marriage are an extension of this dynamic.

When you get an earful, you patiently and calmly remind your father that this is your life, you've made your decision, and therefore the issue is closed--and that if he chooses to pursue the topic you're going to have to hang up and call him back another time. And if he pursues it, you say, "Goodbye, Dad," hang up, and call back another time.

It's really hard. But be gentle to inoculate yourself against guilt, and be firm to inoculate yourself against getting sucked in, and you'll come out of it as well as possible.


Gifting landmines: I have what seems on the surface to be the opposite of Des Moines - my boyfriend tries very hard at gifting - not because I've ever expressed dissatisfaction and a desire for him to change. He's a generous gifter, and makes a true effort. He's given me, over the years, some 'extravagant' gifts: high-end camera, laptop, full snowboarding gear, bike, and lots of jewelry - the most recent of which was a diamond-encrusted ring that I later realized was prominently displayed in the town's most prestigious store. Well, that ring is now back in its prominent display. It wasn't my style - not that it wasn't totally stunning and beautiful - but it wasn't my style. So the problem is that, when a gift is very pricey - if I know I'm not going to use it - I let him know graciously and gently and, really, I want him to get his money back. He's now grown a 'complex' around this gifting process and stresses out over the big occasions. So - after reading the Q&A - am I supposed to now 'feel bad' because he returns the gift and then doesn't "follow up" with one of his other potential choices at the jewelry store, perhaps?

Carolyn Hax: I would argue against feeling bad about anything you don't already feel bad about, unless it involves inflicting pain on innocents.


Carolyn Hax: Gotta run. Thanks, byeeee--oh, and I think I have to change the time next Friday, to accommodate Halloween. Keep an eye on the schedule, but I'll be on either Thursday or later Friday. Sorry to be vague, but this is a conflict-in-progress.


Washington, DC: Carolyn Hax: I think it's against the law to yell BACON PANTS in a crowded online auditorium. (Let's blame the Park Police again.)

You mean, the Pork Police, don't you? Sorry. I couldn't resist.

Carolyn Hax: Ouf. Horrible! On that note ...


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