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Carolyn Hax Live: Current Girlfriend vs. Stained Glass Art from an Ex, Engaged But Not Yet Planning the Wedding, Dinner with a Racist Relative and Should I Get a Puppy?

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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 7, 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, November 7 taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

A transcript follows.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

Got more to say? Check out Carolyn's 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.

That's all.

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Reston, Va.: Any advice for ending a relationship with a live-in girlfriend? It's just a skill I don't have much experience with. I typically stay in relationships way too long and then they implode. I'd like to be an adult for once. This relationship has just gone flat and we don't seem to be compatible anymore. It could go on forever like this and that's what I'm afraid of.

Carolyn Hax:"I feel like the relationship has gone flat and we don't seem to be compatible anymore. Is this just what I'm seeing, or are you seeing it too?" The only real complication is picking your moment, but there's no magic to it. All you have to do is make sure it's not a time when either of you urgently needs to focus on something else that day.

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Carolyn Hax: Sorry for the slow start--I started reading a question and it turned out to be a novella. Will pick things up ...

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Ohio: Carolyn,

Over the past year, I met a really great woman and we have become very close friends. Nothing romantic has developed between us because she was involved with a guy I knew (but was not friends with) and although their relationship was completely dysfunctional, I kept my nose out of it and simply told her that I really hoped things worked out between the two of them - even though I started developing some strong feelings for her. Long story short, that relationship has ended and my feelings toward her are MUCH stronger now - I've really fallen for this woman. My problem is that from the very beginning, she has made it very clear that she's only interested in me as a friend - period, end of discussion and has given no indication that she could ever see me in any other way. SO, am I destined to be that sad, pathetic guy who's forever stuck in the "friend zone"? More importantly, is there a way out?!?

Carolyn Hax: Not to encourage annoying persistence, but is there any chance the we're-just-friends insistence was linked to her already having a boyfriend?

In other words, if she hasn't fired a back-off missile since her breakup, then I think it's okay to use the breakup as an opportunity to find out if this is indeed a case of zero romantic interest, or if it was only zero romantic opportunity. Don't ask twice, and don't be annoying about it even once--just say something along "just checking" lines.

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Stained Glass Crescent: I have a stained glass crescent over the fireplace in my house. The SG is on loan from a former girlfriend, is quite beautiful, and has been there for 3 years. My new girlfriend of a little over a year wants me to replace it with something else because she's bothered that it's from a former girlfriend. I've explained that I don't hold a flame for old GF or think of her when I look at the SG, but just plain like it and want to keep it there. New GF has put her foot down and won't come to my house until I replace it with something else. I think she's being ridiculous but of course don't want to hurt her feelings. If it helps, I'm 37 and she's 25, and she's generally reasonable about most -- other -- things. Any advice?

Carolyn Hax: Sorry, I'm not buying that she's "generally reasonable." This is the work of a seriously immature person, so, however you choose to deal with it, deal with it knowing this is not an aberration. It's foreshadowing.

Which of course you already know, because you chose to say she's reasonable about "most" other things--meaning you have noticed other indications of immaturity but you want to believe your 25-year-old isn't too young for you.

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Odd dilemma: As a fellow mom of toddlers you might appreciate this. I have exactly 23 minutes to myself each day, usually early in the morning. What I like to do with that time above all else is sit with coffee and a newspaper. The problem? My newspaper is rarely delivered on time. It's supposed to be there by 7 am weekdays and 8 am weekends. At least 30% of the time it's not there until 8 or 10 am. I've spoken to the very friendly and sympathetic driver directly to no avail. She promises to deliver it on time, but doesn't.

In this economy, though, I feel really guilty complaining to the paper. It's a lousy job, especially in a city with tight parking, and I don't want to get her in trouble. On the other hand, delivery rates just went up, and I'm missing out on my favorite time of the day. I can't get the paper from a nearby.

Am I being a wuss for not complaining? Should I suck it up?

Carolyn Hax: I am a fellow mom of toddlers, as well as a newspaper employee and consumer (and, yes, a Hair Club for Men client). Call circulation directly and lodge your complaint. The only way the paper can provide good customer service is when it is alerted to bad customer service. Thanks from all of us here at your friendly neighborhood MSM outlet.

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San Francisco, Calif.: Hi Carolyn,

I'm planning to marry my boyfriend of 5 years in six months. He recently decided that he wants to apply to graduate schools, some on the opposite coast. He also thinks that I should look for a new job. His motivation: I think that he doesn't think my job is "good enough" for me. (It's at a non-profit research group; he's said repeatedly that I could be doing more. I wonder if he just doesn't understand the nature of non-profit work, and that sometimes it's just easier for me to do somewhat menial tasks, like setting up interview appointments, rather then delegating them to our unreliable support staff.) I feel like he's sending decidedly mixed messages -- he encourages me to apply for jobs here, even as he sends applications to schools on the East Coast. When I pointed out the discrepancy, he said "It'll all work out." But I don't see how it can work if I switch jobs, we get married, and he's accepted by a school across the country a few months later. (I am not okay with the idea of staying here for two years while he studies elsewhere. Particularly not with the cost of airfare.) It feels intellectually dishonest to apply for new positions when I know I might be moving in six months. He's not that confident about his ability to get into some of these schools, but I don't want to make plans based on his pessimism. Yet he was upset with me when I told him this morning that I'd canceled a job interview (I only applied so that he'd stop bugging me about it). I'm so very confused at the moment, both as to what he wants and what I should do.

Carolyn Hax: The clear answer on the job issue is for you to keep your job until you know where he's going to school. No-brainer.

Too bad this isn't a job issue. The far bigger problem is that you and your fiance have a vaguely drawn boundary between your business and his. The only say he has in your career is where it affects your joint quality of life. For example, if you have a baby and then take a job where you end up traveling some part of 48 weeks of the year, he has every right to say, "Enough," and ask you to get a new job. If you were bringing home very little money and the family was having trouble making ends meet (for a non-extravagant lifestyle), that would also be grounds for his asking you to look for other work.

He would even have a right to speak up if you professed to like what you were doing and weren't neglecting house and home, but came home crabby and miserable every day.

But if all he has to complain about is that your job isn't upscale enough for his tastes, then you need to draw that boundary very clearly: Let him know that you like what you're doing, and that as long as you're carrying your financial, emotional and domestic weight, you believe he has no grounds to pressure you to change jobs.

How he reacts to this is really, really important to note before these pre-wedding six months evaporate. If he believes he has a right to tinker with your essential selfhood, just because it pleases him to do so, then I think you'll find this was the first of a lifetime of intrusions--that is, unless you deal with the problem now.

By the way--the fact that you "think that he doesn't think my job is 'good enough,'" and "wonder" how well he knows nonprofits, means you don't know. Which means you and he haven't even really talked about this, which means you haven't openly stood your ground with him yet.

Doing so could solve the problem right there, before you ever get into the much bigger problem I laid out for you above--however, the fact that you haven't plainly spoken what's on your mind is a big problem unto itself. You applied for a job to get him to stop bugging you, which seems like an awfully long way to go to avoid dealing with someone. The consequences of avoidance are far worse than the conseqences of disagreeing.

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"on loan": umm..maybe I'm immature too, but I don't keep stuff from old boyfriends on display in MY house, no matter how nice it is. Besides, who loans something that nice for that long? What's going to happen when she wants it back?

Carolyn Hax: Uh, he'll give it back? Try all you want, but sometimes, there's just no scandal to be found (says the person typing this in front of three framed pieces of her ex-husband's artwork).

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Washington, D.C.: Re: "Just a friend" in Ohio

I've been there, almost exact same situation, except that in my version, during and after the breakup with jerk boyfriend, she asked me out to dinners and spent a lot of time on the phone with me. Knowing all the while that I was interested in her. When she was over the breakup, she became too busy to get in touch with me with any regularity.

Being used isn't a great feeling, but sometimes people do it so that they don't have to go through a tough time alone. I hope your situation turns out different than mine.

Anyway, good luck.

Carolyn Hax: Little Mary Sunshine here: Your situation actually turned out really well. I'm assuming, of course, that her so blatantly using you finished off your last lingering hopes that you and she would ever be a we.

If you're still pining, then I regret that I can't grab your shoulders to shake you out of it, a la "Airplane!"

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Bay Area, CA: My boyfriend and I got engaged about two months back. We finally picked a ring we both like which I am now happily wearing. We are not, however, actively planning a wedding. I'm fine with telling friends that we don't have a date yet, but with my family constantly asking about it, I'm beginning to feel that we're odd because we didn't jump into wedding planning. Is this really that strange?

Carolyn Hax: No, it's not, but it would be strange if you and he haven't talked about it, or even just formed a quiet consensus. There is a reason neither of you has jumped to set a date, right?

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San Francisco, Again: My catalyst for writing was that we had a long conversation last night, and that I told him that I didn't understand why he wanted me to find a new job so badly. He replied that he didn't want to feel like his career choices were somehow holding me back, and that as long as I was advancing and learning in my current job, he'd been fine with it. As to why I applied for the job I just declined; it was a few months ago (ah,the slow process of government hiring), before his b-school decision. At the time I figured "why not?" -- especially if it would get me some breathing space.

Carolyn Hax: Cool. If the conversation didn't get around to it, then I think it's important for you to point out that while his heart seems to be in the right place about your "advancing and learning," his actions crossed a line. Pressuring -you- to change jobs so that -he- can feel better tramples all over your autonomy, and superimposes his professional judgment over yours.

From now on, if he's worried that he's holding you back, the most loving and respectful approach would be to express just that to you: "I'm worried that I'm holding you back." To which you can respond, "Thanks, but I'm happy where I am," or, "Thanks, but waiting makes sense, and I have no objections to waiting," or even, "Thanks, but I feel no pressing need right now to be advancing or learning." As I said, unless you're coming home with an evening's worth of complains every day, it's not really his business how far you're advancing at work. Contentment is a perfectly legitimate goal. The best partners trust each other as individuals, and that includes respecting their goals.

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Stained Glass again: I hear what you're saying, but given that this is a relationship in which we're both happy and looking toward the future, how would you advise that I speak with her about this and attempt to resolve the situation? Sure, I could take the SG down, but I like it and feel that would be caving to unreasonableness which is always a slippery slope. We've been able to reach a compromise on other things where we've disagreed, but have discussed this one ad nauseam and not been able to resolve. FWIW, part of her digging her heels in seems to be based on her friends having told her that she's right. Can you provide any talking points?

Carolyn Hax: "I have lived 37 years of life, gone to several different schools, lived many different places, done many different jobs, befriended many people, dated some of them, and loved a few of them. Anything you and I have now has to be based on your accepting all of these things about me. If you can't trust me to love you without expunging every trace of past girlfriends, then you don't trust me, period, and that's the end of that. The stained glass stays. I hope you do, too."

Edit as needed to suit your voice.

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Carolyn Hax: oh, and good luck!

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things from former relationships: When my wife and I married and moved in together, I wanted her to get rid of her mattress set because she had owned it when she was dating her ex. The set was still good, so we compromised and put it in the guest room, buying a new set for our bedroom.

A year or so into the marriage, we slept in the guest room because we were painting upstairs. Long story short: the mattress in the guest room is much more comfortable than our new one. It is 5 years later, and we still get compliments from guests on how comfortable it is! My wife doesn't say anything, but in hindsight, I realize I may have overreacted -- and I was 39, not 25 when we married! A mattress is a mattress, not a sign of a lingering flame.

Carolyn Hax: You either have switched it back or are about to switch it, right? When your pure marital mattress is in the guest room, that's when you can claim enlightenment.

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For Bay Area and Carolyn: I'm not trying to be obnoxious, but my question is: If you aren't planning to get married, what exactly does "being engaged" mean? Traditionally, getting engaged-- engaged to be married-- meant that the wedding was in the process of being planned. Sometimes there were reasons for delaying it-- one or both people finishing school or military commitments, etc.-- but the status was a signal that a wedding was being planned.

My stepdaughter recently announced that she is "engaged" to the guy she is currently living with. As best as I can tell, all that means is that he bought her jewelry. I think that they think that "being engaged" means something independent from the prospect of marriage, sort of a "we're planning on getting married someday, but not right now." In their case, I think that living together is actually MORE of a commitment than announcing that someday, somehow, somewhere in the future you think you may get married to this person. How is that different from dating exclusively or even living together?

Full confession, though, my husband and I didn't get engaged until we were ready to plan the wedding.

Clearly I'm missing something, yes? Anyway, I think that given the traditional definition of "engagement," Bay Area should either brace herself for the obvious questions or articulate what her status means to her.

Carolyn Hax: Hmmmmmm I don't know about that. It really is their business, so she has no obligation to explain herself or their plans to anybody.

You do hit on something I was thinking about after I posted that answer--that the engagement with no motivation to plan anything often occurs with cohabiting couples. In those cases, the engagement is often an announcement of, "Just for the record, we like things this way enough to make it official." It's actually pretty pragmatic--a nod to life in a society where marriage is still regarded as the mark of when a couple is taken seriously as a couple. So, people decide they've reached that point, and the announcement of decision itself can seem bigger than the end result because they're already committed to going through life together.

Obviously it isn't always this way--there are plenty of people who get engaged just to get their mates to stop pressuring them (THEME ALERT: kind of like applying for jobs only to shut up one's fiance about your needing a better job). And there are plenty who will plan a wedding at their first opportunity but that opportunity is some months away.

If Bay Area and others need a quickie answer to get people to stop asking (without creating the impression that it's a contentious issue, as an MYOB-type answer would), they can try, "We're pacing ourselves," and then change the subject.

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Seattle, Wash.: Hey Carolyn, OK, met a great woman 6 mos ago, things are going great. I'm in the military and just got my orders for my 3rd overseas tour in 6 years. The last 2 times I left I reluctantly agreed to stay in a relationship that I knew was doomed by distance and the year long separation. Now I find myself in a similar situation except I am now wanting to stay in this relationship and see it through. Talked it over very briefly with her and she said she doesn't know how she feels about a year long separation. I'm now thinking I should just end things before I get more attached. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: Why don't you just see what she comes up with? You said you "reluctantly agreed" to stay in those past relationships, but this time--even -knowing- how difficult and unrewarding is was before--you want to give it a try. From here, at least, that says a lot about how you feel about her. Bigger feelings this time would dictate a different approach this time.

Yes, you may get your heart broken, but I think you might regret not giving this a chance.

Be careful out there.

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From the Racist Family Dinner Table: Parents called me yesterday to -warn- me about an elderly uncle we are having dinner with this weekend. He's in his 90s and has always been outspoken. Apparently nothing is holding him back now, and his conversations are peppered with racist filth.

My mom wants me to bite my tongue while at dinner (worried about his reactions to the Obama win).

I told her I'd stay mum on stuff that doesn't pertain to me, but since I have married a person of a different ethnic background and we have a child who will be attending this dinner, I told her that if he says something derogatory about my son's ethnicity, I'll have to speak up. (My son is 5. I'm considering not taking him.)

She's not happy with my compromise.

Do you have thoughts on a better solution? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Do whatever you have to do to be able to live with yourself, but don't bring your son. "She's not happy with my compromise"? So you can't stick up for your own child?! Flashy red lights and flags all over that one.

It's probably inevitable that all kids will be exposed to hatred at some point, but this isn't inevitable, so why do it? It's a tough age, too--a lot of this would fly over the head of someone a few years younger, and would be a teaching opportunity for someone a few years older. Your boy is at the sweet spot of getting it but not getting it.

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Giving back things of ex's: Carolyn -

Why can't I be entitled to be uncomfortable with being around gifts of my significant other's ex? I understand that it is very easy for you... you're divorced... you still work with your ex... sing yahoo - we're proud of you.

However some people are not as comfortable. Just because you find something to be easy doesn't mean everyone will - or should!

It makes her uncomfortable. It's a centerpiece in his house. Everyone probably comments on how lovely it is...She's probably sick of it! Why can't they go buy something beautiful TOGETHER to hang there?

Carolyn Hax: Symbolism matters, as does context. If it were a portrait of the ex, even one by a museum-caliber artist, then I would say it's natural that a new squeeze would be uncomfortable with it and it's fair to ask that it be moved. (Unless it was like the "Rebecca" portrait, or Scarlett O'Hara's portrait in "GWTW." Then it would be really, really funny.) If he were still wearing a wedding ring from a past marriage, that would be a big deal. If he visited albums of ex-y photos on a regular basis, then absolutely a current mate would feel legitimate discomfort. Same would apply for items that aren't symbolic but are heavy with meaning. Those don't belong in prominent displays.

But the offending stained glass piece is something that he liked and that the ex is lending to him. It's not like her ghost is stalking the hallways, it's just a thing. And if this woman can't handle something just because in -her- mind it represents the ex, then she urgently needs to grow up.

When I answer these questions, I feel that I have to mention my circumstances, as a matter of full disclosure. I felt this way before I was a living example of it, as it happens, but I do believe the example has to be out there.

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re: Racist Family Dinner Table: Or could he and his wife skip it as well? Why do they have to put themselves through a 90+ year-old's rant about race? Just because he's elderly? Doesn't sound like a fun evening, especially one worth paying a babysitter for.

Carolyn Hax: Like I said, she has to do whatever she can live with. That of course includes not attending.

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The ties that unwind: Carolyn -- My BF and I lived together for a year while he finished college and I (already a grad) took a local job. He told me he would be taking a prestigious job in another state after he graduated, but I guess I thought we were strong enough to weather the distance. But now our nightly conversations are strained and he literally seems distant. He's made friends there, while I'm lonely in our old city without him. Unfortunately, I don't like the city where he's living now, so I don't want to move there, but somehow I thought we could work things out. Am I hanging onto something that's already dead?

Carolyn Hax: Maybe. One way to find out is to declare it dead privately to yourself, and to start planning your next step as if he won't be a part of it. Where do you really want to be, doing what? Figure that out, start taking the necessary steps to get there, and leave the relationship unresolved until it either resolves itself or you feel moved to resolve it.

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Racist family dinner: I'm having a similar dilema with my racist extended family. My mom has generally made my relatives aware that she does not agree with or condone their racist comments but has chosen to keep silent during family gatherings in order to "keep the peace." I, on the other hand, refuse to keep silent and listen to their racist and ignorant rants and have asked my mom to ask the relatives (she lives near them all, I live thousands of miles away) to keep politics or any other touchy subjects out of the conversation at our family Christmas get-together. I told my mom that rather than argue with them, if they go on a racist tirade at dinner, I will simply leave and have dinner somewhere else. This upset my mom, but for me, the option is either not listen to it and leave the situation, or let them know how I feel about their nasty comments, which inevitably leads to arguing and fighting. Is there some middle ground I'm missing?

Carolyn Hax: No, I don't think so. It just fills out another facet of my original answer: You have to find the answer you can live with. If you'd rather walk away than stay mum or start fights, then walk away. You're entitled to do that, just as the I'm-not-going crowd is entitled not to go, and the speaking-up crowd is entitled to say out loud at the table that there's no excuse for this kind of hateful speech.

I will add that the say-nothing crowd is also entitled to remain silent in the presence of hatred, but since that's usually the path of least courage, it doesn't get to sit in the paragraph with the statements of conscience.

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Re: Giving back things of ex's: I bet she would feel different if it was a 50" Plasma TV. Get real people. Sheesh.

Carolyn Hax: Snort.

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Anonymous: We are thinking of buying a puppy, but wonder if we are biting off more than we can chew right now. We have an 11 month old and life seems a little chaotic -- although we do have dad at home fulltime with the kids, so the dog would get a noon walk and lots of attention. But the 11 month old is quite a handful, and we are worried that with a puppy, it would not be a good mix. But our son is begging for a dog -- he is 8.

FWIW, if we make the decision to get a dog, we are committed to making it work. Our last dog was with us for 17 years before she died, so we know what this decision means for us in the long run. Just wondering if you have advice about timing. Should we wait for the baby to be older?

Carolyn Hax: If you want to wait till the baby is older, then wait till the baby is older. It's hard to say no to an 8-year-old, sure. But if you can't say no to your 8-year-old, then he's running the house, and that's not the house for a puppy.

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Houston, TX: A couple that announces themselves as being "engaged" needs to expect being asked when the wedding is. It's a natural question for people to ask (and not even remotely unreasonable).

Carolyn Hax: Of course. I took "constantly asking about it" to mean that they're being subjected to more than the onetime ...

"Have you set a date?"

"Not yet."

"Okay."

... exchanges.

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Re: Ties that Unwind: Personally, I would be horrified to think that a person I was in a relationship with could be so cold as to "declare it dead privately" just to see what would happen from there. If you are in a relationship and having doubts, don't you owe it to the other person to bring up those doubts? Even if you're not ready to break it off, they need to know so you can either work on it together, say you don't know together, or declare it dead together. Isn't that "together" part what being in a relationship is about?

Carolyn Hax: "Horrified"? That's awfully fired up over a mental exercise. It's not as if s/he doesn't love him any more and needs to run through all the options before dropping the bomb. This is someone who's still in love and plainly wants the relationship to go on. The exercise is about dealing with the information that the other person might not be in love any more, and thinking through what life might look like after that.

(This is getting pronounally difficult, so I'm going to play the odds and use feminine pronouns from here on.)

So, I'm advising her to figure out where she is professionally and emotionally, to figure out what she wants, and to take that information into her relationship in progress. It may be that he's pulling away/sounding distant because her gloom is tele-contagious. If she brings new energy to her thinking, their conversations could pick up and this whole episode will pass without event.

It could also re-orient her thinking to where she realizes -she- has moved on, at which point she can end the relationship or change the terms.

Both, I believe, are better than her declaring on the phone that he has been sounding distant lately and is there something he needs to say? I mean, why get into that grim sequence right away, when there's a viable alternative of her spending a day or two in careful thought about what she wants from her life, followed by some preliminary Net surfing to explore a couple of ideas?

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anonymous with puppy question: Boy, your answer sounded snippy. I was just wondering, since you have kids and have had a dog, if you had any particular insights on how dogs mix with babies. Don't see how you can infer from our question that we can't say no to our 8 year old. Geesh!!!

Carolyn Hax: I said "if." Meaning, IF the only reason you say yes to the dog is that you can't say no to the kid, then chaos and regrets are guaranteed. But if you get the dog because you feel it's a good decision to get a dog, then go for it. No inferences and no snip, just covering the bases.

How dogs mix with babies depends on the temperaments of the babies, the temperaments of the dogs, the temperaments of the people raising the babies and dogs, and their skill at managing all those temperaments. There's no one answer. Other than the one I gave.

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Adopt an older dog!!: Don't get a puppy -- go through a rescue group and adopt a dog with a proven good nature, great with kids, etc. etc. You won't have to worry about house training (or obedience training) and a great dog will get a great family.

Carolyn Hax: Doh. Thanks. Again, IF IF IF the parents are excited to have a dog.

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Boston: I am interviewing for a new job, which I feel I have a strong chance of getting. Even if things work out, in the best case scenario I wouldn't receive an offer for another month at a minimum. It may be up to two months. I am not generally "job searching" but this is a dream job scenario for me. If it doesn't come through, I'll stay put. January/February is the busiest time of year at my current job. How can I manage my Catholic guilt when my already-frazzled coworker makes comments to me about how hard January is going to be for "us" (knowing that if I leave, it will just be a lot harder for her!)? Is there anything, professionally, I can do to help ease a potential transition without totally giving myself away? If bosses knew I was interviewing elsewhere, they'd be angry.

Carolyn Hax: You haven't gotten the job, so anticipating that you will be at your current job in January/February is not a lie, it's a practical necessity. At the very moment you do get word that you have a new job, that is when you can give your guilt a free hand for as long as it takes you to tender your resignation.

good luck!

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Puppy - COME ON!!: I really can't believe that someone actually wrote into you to ask if they should get a puppy. Here's the answer you should have given. If you need to write into an advice column to ask, then no, you shouldnt get a puppy. Do these people just want attention? Don't they have a friend they could ask? UGH. I hate when you post lame questions like that.

Carolyn Hax: Even when people get angry at my answers?

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I will add that the say-nothing crowd is also entitled to remain silent in the presence of hatred, but since that's usually the path of least courage, it doesn't get to sit in the paragraph with the statements of conscience. : This statement gave me a bad feeling in my stomach. I am a "say nothing" when it comes to my in-laws. They don't go on tirades, but they do occasionally make a racist comment. I do not agree with their statements, but I do not respond to them for several reasons.

- I don't feel like getting into a fight with them when we only see them a few times a year, for a couple days at a time. - They are not horrible people. - I don't think anything I can say will change their views. - I have several friends who are of one of the races they make comments on, so I think they already know how I feel.

I don't think I'm lacking in courage just because I don't want to take this issue on with them every time they make a comment.

Carolyn Hax: I said "usually." Yet you felt a bad feeling in your stomach. I think you do feel that you were busted.

I won't agree or disagree with your argument, except to point out that you seem to want to hear that it's not a rationalization. So, I ask you: Do you think you're rationalizing?

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Yikes: I don't get why people ask you for advice and then jump all over you when they don't like what they hear. Especially when they didn't take time to fully read and comprehend your answer.

Carolyn Hax: Idunno. Did anyone read about that study where people responded better to things when they were feeling, literally, warmth? As in, after a handshake, responding better to someone with warm hands than to someone with cold hands? So maybe there should be a disclaimer to read this chat while eating soup, or holding a puppy.

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Bay Area, CA again: I suppose I do feel like getting engaged is a step along the path towards getting married, but there is so much more to marriage than planning a wedding, and it's the other stuff that is taking precedence right now. What seems to fill our conversations is financial stuff, what/when to buy a house, car, looking for a new job, finishing school, etc. rather than the ceremony itself. It's one piece of a larger puzzle and all of it is in the process of coming together.

Carolyn Hax: That makes way too much sense. Buy the heaviest bridal magazine you can find and we;ll have your priorities good and misplaced by Sunday.

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remaining silent: I'm very very introverted, and therefore spoken words don't come to me easily. I tend to remain silent in those circumstances because I fear that I can't come up with the "right" response and would end up in an argument that I wasn't capable of handling with my somewhat limited skills for thinking on my feet. Just a thought.

Carolyn Hax: Thus the "usually." There are other exceptions, too, but you make an excellent case. thanks.

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So, I ask you: Do you think you're rationalizing? : Carolyn, pretty please go the old-school psychoanalyst route for all future chat answers. "Do YOU think you're rationalizing?" "Do YOU think you should get a puppy?" I guarantee, you'd be able to answer more questions than ever before!

Carolyn Hax: Do YOU think I should go the old-school psychoanalyst route for all future chat answers?

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Carolyn Hax: Oh wait. You just said you did. Will need time to get the hang of it.

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SG/artwork...: My ex is a fairly well-known artist, who in the course of our relationship gave me a ton of artwork (too cheap to buy me anything, ha ha), including this great portrait of me he gave me for my birthday one year. When I still was dealing with the loss (we are still friends but it was a big change in our lives), I had to keep that thing tucked away in the closet with the face to the wall. When I was able to hang it again, and discuss it (there's all kind of romantic crap going on in that portrait) without a bunch of charged emotions, I knew I was really done with that time in my life and well into this next, awesome one... SG is so clearly not into his former flame...but ya know, when you've got someone who says "my friends all think I'm right" and who lets her fears walk all over the truth as spoken by a person she is professing to trust... well, you have someone who doesn't trust you.

Carolyn Hax: Weeping with the beauty of the logic. Thank you.

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people need naps or a time out this afternoon: I love your column and your chats but today is a nuthouse! people are (again) asking you to make decisions for them. You are offering your opinion. People are taking this all too seriously and need to think about the fact that you are offering your perspective, YOUR opinion and they are interpreting it with THEIR perspective and opinions.

Carolyn Hax: Eh, it's my fault, for posting this stuff.

But you encapsulated something so very useful for people who are willing to challenge their own way or seeing things (big if, obviously):

So much of the anger I come across originates in the emotional transaction in your last sentence: taking someone else's opinion (or behavior or moods or habits or whatever) and interpreting it with THEIR perspective--and, I would add, experience. It's seeing something they don't know, holding it up against something similar that they do know, and then reacting as if it's the thing they know.

Everybody does it, I think--part of growing up. But staying that way is part of needing to grow up (stars of the Stained Glass saga, take note). Stepping outside that reflexive emotional behavior and looking hard enough to recognize the differences can take all the heat out of a moment, almost instantly. Very liberating.

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RE: prejudiced/hurtful comments: One reason that I make an effort to speak up when I hear racist/sexist comments is that I think of the 'target' of the prejudice, and how much more difficult it is for the person(s)being targeted. I figure it does make a little difference if I pipe up. Minds aren't changed just because one person says something. Minds are changed over time. I want to contribute to that.

Carolyn Hax: Nicely put, thanks. A soft-spoken, "Please don't talk about [target group] like that; I find it offensive," is less likely to start a battle than other, more in-your-face challenges. It's also a remark that can be followed up by a quiet exit--again, avoiding a fight but still making a point.

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Quick Question: My wife is a very beautiful, very charming, but VERY romantic born-again Christian, I am more mainline WASPy. I only say this because it gives you an idea of where she is coming from. We have been married for 3 years with a daughter, we are 28, both lawyers, the whole professional deal.

Anyway, she hasn't spoken to me for 2 days because during a conversation I said that I definitely loved an ex-gf who my wife despises. I said that there should be no problem with that, that all of my past experiences molded me into the man she loves and that she and I are lucky to have a strong and blessed marriage. SHE FLIPPED. In her view, you can only truly love one person, everyone has one soul mate, and that marriage is pre-ordained. She has read into this that we have different values and says it kills her to know I felt such deep emotions and passion for someone else.

Any help?

Carolyn Hax: Unfortunately, most of the hard work is hers to do. Your responsibility is to live honestly, and hers, now, is to figure out if she can live with that.

I do wonder how this is coming up only after 3-plus years, and by extension what other values clashes are hurtling your way as we type--but, then, this doesn't change the answer now, except that you might owe her an apology IF (I'm being extra cautious now) you misrepresented yourself to her as Mr. One True Love.

Because of the faith angle, there might be some value in seeking counsel from a trusted (by both of you) clergy person. Christianity is an institution invested in keeping couples together, so its representatives are often charged with reconciling just such differences in ways that appeal to the faithful. Maybe that would help her recognize not just that she has immature views, but an immature way of declaring them. Silent treatment for 2 days? Oy.

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For the Introvert - : No need to argue - there is no point in arguing. All you need to say is you don't like it - no one can argue with that (and if they try, walk away).

But these aren't defensible positions that are being taken - you need not worry about having to respond "correctly," because it's unlikely you're going to convince anyone, anyway (unfortunately - only time and experience will, if they're lucky, do that) - so the point is only to say, hey, someone's listening, and they don't like it.

Carolyn Hax: Sold. Thanks.

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Carolyn Hax: Yikes, time to go shopping for a stained-glass crescent. Thanks all, type to you here next week.

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