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Carolyn Hax Live: Health Issues and Family Clash at the Holidays, plus Asking About Money, Online Dating, Surprised I Enjoyed My Maternity Leave, and Boundaries, People!

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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 19, 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, December 19 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: What say you all talk amongst yourselves while I finish my Christmas cards.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

I'm interested in hearing your thoughts about online dating. I'm getting a bit frustrated at my inability to meet women and was considering giving it a try. Is there still a social stigma attached to it?

Thanks

Carolyn Hax: Nah. But there are still the problems it always had, which are: forced circumstances, high expectations, more opportunities than usual for deception, suppressed consequences for bad behavior. Not that any of these is unique to online dating, just that online dating seems to bring them all together in one place--a place that also happens to attract a lot of people who are particularly vulnerable. Proceed with eyes open.

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Washington, D.C.: I think you've probably answered this question a million times, but how do you know if you're forcing a relationship and just talking yourself into why you "should" be happy, or whether what you have really is more than enough? I've only been with my boyfriend a few months and most of the time I'm very happy. I can't say enough good things about him and he always makes me smile. But once in awhile I just get this awful feeling, like I'm pretending. I tend to have commitment issues anyway and I've never been in a relationship where I haven't panicked frequently about whether I've made the wrong decision. I actually panic about him less than the last few guys I've dated, but I just worry that I'm going to wake up one day and realize this relationship is very, very wrong and that I was horribly unfair to him in not getting out of the relationship sooner. He's such a good guy, I feel like he deserves someone who can really love him. Most of the time I feel like I can be that person and like I am that person, but I just worry about the times when I'm not sure.

Carolyn Hax: If I didn't re-answer questions, I'd have to close up shop.

But I'm not going to answer the question you asked anyway. Instead I'm going to ask you: Have you ever looked into your "commitment issues"? Specifically, have you tried to figure out the source of your panic?

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Palm Springs, Calif.: Thoughts on saying "I love you" for the first time to my boyfriend of 3 months in a Christmas card?

Carolyn Hax: I'd save it for when you can say it.

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Online dating: I agree with all the caveats about online dating, but I think it's really important to distinguish the types of interactions one can have in that environment. My understanding is that the best strategy is to exchange 2-3 emails with a person before meeting up for coffee or similar, which fairly closely approximates more traditional methods of meeting up. The caveats you listed seem to be most relevant to the people who engage in extended communications prior to meeting in person and starting a "normal" dating cycle, which can give people an unnecessarily (in my view) negative perspective on the medium.

Carolyn Hax: I agree with the suggestion to meet early on in the process, but that doesn't really mitigate the problems I pointed out. When you're online, you're meeting someone outside the societal vetting process, so your histories are obscured, and you're meeting with your motives out in the open. Under older-fashioned conditions, it's the exact opposite: Your histories are wide open but your motives are obscured. I haven't seen anything to budge me from my belief that this stark reversal needs to be accompanied by a just-as-stark adjustment in participants' expectations.

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Maryland: Carolyn,

When I went home over Thanksgiving, it became apparent that my younger 25-year old sister is heading towards alcoholism. After work she drinks before dinner cocktails, hard liquor with dinner, after dinner cocktails, and nightcaps. Weekends are spent at a bar starting at 10 am to watch the British soccer games, she says, but she drinks cider all day there, before switching to beer in the afternoon.

My parents and her siblings have all asked her to cut back, but she insists she's fine. No one believes her, especially since after an argument she shouted, "This is why I drink!" and proceeded to down shots of whiskey.

Do you have any advice/support groups/recommended books to read on how to deal with this? She claims she's ok because she doesn't get drunk and because she continues to hold down a good job.

Carolyn Hax: She's not going to do anything about it unless and until she sees the need to, and she's not going to see the need just because her family tells her it's there. This is the subplot to almost all stories of someone who drinks too much. To help you get more informed, I suggest the very straightforward Web site, http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/, of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. There's also, always, Al-Anon, which is a household name for a reason.

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Life is often unfair: Reading today's column about the hubby who is being childish about "pursuing his dreams" was really disheartening. Why is it that so many people feel that they should be able to pursue their dreams with someone else supportin them and picking up the tab? Many people pursue their dreams in a realistic fashion to support themselves and possibly others. To appropriately pursue your dreams, you need to find a way to make it financial viable otherwise it isn't fair. So, the supporting wife needs to be encouraging and suggest that husband needs to bring in X amount of income per month (or per year, whatever works) and have husband come up with a financial plan to do that. This means that either he needs to be able to get financing backing (like a business loan) so that he can draw a salary from the business while starting up, or he needs to take another job that allows him the freedom and flexibility to pursue his dream. Say, a job where he works part-time while still leaving him time to pursue the gardening business. Either way, he needs to have a firm plan, including a source of income.

Where these people get the idea that they deserve to have a dream and have someone else pursue them while they relieve themselves of any financial obligations (including his student loans and contribution to supporting his family)?

Carolyn Hax: I don't know. I'm sure he has a side to the story that makes his desire sound more reasonable, but the fact remains that this problem remains.

I think one of the interesting twists to these stories, too--though it may not apply here--is the gender bias that underlies a lot of them. In general, I've found that there's more resentment of men who want women to support them while they chase a dream than there is of women who want a man to pay the tab.

Again, not that that's happening here--and not that I agree, since I believe in chucking all those stereotypes and deciding division of labor based on each couple's specific circumstances--but it does jump out at me, how often that bias creeps in.

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Rockville, Md.: I need advice on getting my wife a Christmas present. Did I come to the right place? Any good ideas?

Carolyn Hax: Since I don't know your wife, I won't have any good ideas. The best ideas are the ones that say, "Yes, I really do pay attention to who you are, what you care about, what you always want but never let yourself have, and what makes you smile." Have fun!

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Chicago, Ill.: Hi Carolyn, love the chats! I apologize in advance for the length of this post. My boyfriend gets very depressed and basically drops off the face of the earth. His mom took it very personally when he did this a few months ago (around his birthday) and wouldn't respond to her invitations to dinner. I tried to get him to call her, but he finds her very difficult to manage in the best of times, and doubly so when he's depressed. His parents have since invited us to the family Christmas Eve get-together, but when I called them about it, his mom harangued me on the phone for a half hour about how rude it was that he wouldn't call her back. I'd already agreed to drive his sister to the Christmas Eve party so I can't back out now. I'm mad at both of them and don't want to be involved, but I'm not sure what to say that won't just p*ss mom off. I've already told my boyfriend that I think a half hour call won't kill him, but in this case I can see why he struggles with her!

Carolyn Hax: To the mother: "I understand your distress, but I am not the one you need to talk to about this, as I am not making these decisions. He is." Repeat as needed. The mother is wrong to dump her anger on you , but you are wrong to receive it. It is not your job.

To the boyfriend: "Your family is your business. I will no longer be involved in making plans with them; whether you see them, and what you tell them, are up to you." You will also stop lobbying him to see his family. You are not his secretary, and you are not his family's agent.

To anyone who resists the new, absolutely appropriate arrangements: "I wish I could help, but you'll have to talk to X directly."

And now, finally, to you: If your boyfriend is not taking any steps to treat, manage or otherwise combat his depression, then I would urge you to think carefully about staying in this relationship. While it's hard to think this way when you love someone, even two people in love can get to a point where they're bad for each other. "Enabling" is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but what it describes is real: It's when two people's frailties match up just right, and you each allow the other to avoid dealing with those problems. If he's avoiding his issues and you're avoiding yours, the arrangement you have with him is perfect: He doesn't have to deal with his hangups because you absorb all the consequences for him with your heroic rescues, which effectively distracts you from having to deal with whatever it is you're avoiding. And this is where another overused term comes in: Boundaries. Start drawing some. No more rescues.

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Office hooch here: I wrote a few weeks ago about my boss who runs home to his wife & kids. Well, my boss & I had occasion to go away on business last week. After meetings all week, on Thursday evening for dinner I got dressed up in my "knock 'em dead" outfit. He was a gentleman, but cut out early because he said he wanted to talk with his wife & kids, as he desperately missed them.

So you know what happened? I went to the bar, and met this adorable SINGLE guy there. Turns out he lives just a half-hour from me, and we're meeting again this weekend! Can't believe I was so blind; my boss really loves his wife & kids and that's how it should be.

Carolyn Hax: Now you're just yanking our chains.

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Denver: Hi Carolyn. S.O. has a wedding that he wants me to attend that requires a flight in order to get there. His family also lives in the city of the wedding, so he sees it as a family visit, and thus, justifiable to ask me to pay my way. I don't think I should have to pay for myself to get there, since I don't ask/expect him to go to my friends' weddings on his own dime, nor do I ask him to pay to get to my parents' house. On the flip side, the weddings of my friends and my parents' house have been within driving distance, but I have picked up the tab (of gas and hotel) every time. Any thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: This one's goin' the distance!

If you don't want to go, then don't go. If you do want to go, then go. The rest is incidental.

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Little Ferry, N.J.: I really love my boyfriend, but I'm sick of waiting for him to grow up. He's 27 years old, but I can't get him to stop going out and drinking excessively, sometimes missing work because of it (although he works with his dad, so there are no serious repercussions). I am ready to settle down and get married, and he says he wants to marry me, but how much longer can I wait for him to mature?

Carolyn Hax: Please, listen to yourself. He is who he is, and he isn't the one you want. Time for you to grow up and recognize that.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Over recent years I have suspected my husband of cheating on me which he hotly denies and tells me that my jealousy is damaging our marriage and that I wouldn't worry if I really trusted him. However, after a bit of snooping the evidence is mounting.

Given that he is a good father to our kids and, at this point, I really don't want to divorce him, my question is this: do I just carry on as normal, or do I hire a detective and get some hard evidence? My point in doing that would be to stop the lies and dishonesty. I wonder if presented with evidence we could possibly get to the root of all this and really work on repairing our marriage. Am I nuts to think this might work? Any advice would be so appreciated.

Carolyn Hax: 1. What do you want from this marriage.

2. What are you getting from this marriage.

3. Realistically, is anything going to change?

4. If you were standing outside your life and looking in at you, what would you tell yourself to change?

From here, it looks like you're so caught up in the is-he-cheating question that you've lost all perspective on everything else. Get the everything else back in perspective, please; you won't feel good about anything else until you do.

In particular, I would revisit your idea of marriage and what you want out of it. Often we chew up our lives day after day after day without ever stepping back to see where we're going, and don't even realize that our idea of marriage, family, success and happiness is pretty much intact from when we were 15. Maybe that's not true here, but it never hurts to ask yourself if it's true.

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It's not you, it's me: Carolyn,

I'm sure you've heard this one before. My ex and I broke up because he insisted he NEVER wanted to get married, didn't believe in marriage, etc. Seven months later, he's engaged... I just got the wedding invite. I know this happens all the time, but how do people get through this? What is it about some women that changes the minds of the terminally single? Or how do I get around the fact that, obviously, it was me that was the problem?

Carolyn Hax: No, it wasn't you, it was what the two of you created when you were combined. Just because you to formed something he didn't want doesn't mean you did anything wrong.

For the sake of argument: Let's say you had a lot in common (appearance, demeanor, whatever) with someone he associated with his decision never to marry. That kind of thing happens all the time--say, you reminded him of his mother, which is why he was initially drawn to but ultimately put off by you. Is any part of that your fault? Is any of it a sign that you need to change?

That example oversimplifies, of course, but it's in service of a larger point: We have these big brains, but we're also animals, and so any time something goes wrong, you have to account for the primal stuff as well as the cerebral. While it's always possible you talked or nagged him to death or undermined him or whatever, and that's why he wouldn't marry you, it's also possible it was something even he can't explain.

Maybe he and his fiancee just lined up surprisingly well. It could also be his fiancee pulled something on him that you would never have considered to get him to agree to marriage.

It all points to asking yourself, would you or should you have done something differently? If so, then take that to heart and try to do better from now on; the rest, you just have to learn to shrug off.

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Momville: I'm sitting here at the computer with the 6-month-old finally asleep in my arms and the 3-year-old making music with his blocks on the carpet. The last thing I'm thinking about are MRIs and HMOs (I'm a radiologist when I'm not being a mom) and I am in no hurry to end this one-year sabbatical and go back to work. Am I missing something? How is it that so many women get so frustrated with their lives as stay-at- home when this is the happiest I've been since college?

Carolyn Hax: This sounds like a rhetorical question, but I'm answering it anyway. Temperaments. Some kids are easier than others, some adults are easier-going than others. Sometimes both of those aren't even enough to make it work when the other parent adds to the stress or workload instead of taking responsibility for a share of it.

In other words, even when all things are equal, you can still get your scene, but with none of the serenity.

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Shotgun weddings?: Hi Carolyn,

As a rule, do you feel that shotgun weddings are doomed? My boyfriend and I had never talked seriously about marriage, but when we found out I was pregnant (4 weeks ago), he mentioned it and asked if I was interested. I am, but I don't want to feel like we're only doing it because of a baby (which was a surprise, but a happy one). At this stage, though, there doesn't seem to be any way to figure out whether he would have ever wanted to marry me if I hadn't gotten pregnant, though, eh?

By the way, he's 35 and I'm 32, and this would be my first marriage, his second, same thing with the baby.

Carolyn Hax: I don't believe in many rules. The circumstances of your marriage don't really matter. What matters is, are you happy about these developments? If you are, then don't be afraid to surrender to them.

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Health stress and holidays: Hi Carolyn

I'm hoping for some guidance. I am going to see my family for the first time all year. I talk to my parents at least once a week and this past week was diagnosed with pre-diabetes. I told my parents what's going on but I know the rest of the family (in-laws, cousins, grandma etc) is going to ask.

While I know I can't keep health things a secret I don't want everyone to keep asking if I'm OK, or if I can eat this or that.

I got the results on Tuesday and today's the first day I've started to come to terms with it and keep asking myself why me. Nobody in my family is diabetic. I don't have to do shots but really need to keep everything else in check.

How am I going to make it though the holidays with everyone asking? Last thing I want to do is break down in tears since I'm embarrassed, scared, angry, etc.

My husband says to just deal with it but I'm just now coming to terms and Christmas is literally around the corner.

Carolyn Hax: When it's happening to you, a serious health issue is a staggering development, and so it makes perfect sense that you're staggered. Now think of yourself as not the recipient of serious health news, but a member of the inner, mid- or even outer circle of someone who has gotten serious health news. It is a matter of concern, of course, but it is also part of life. Everyone is dealing with something. So I would suggest, as a frame of mind heading into this family gathering, remembering that everybody is dealing with something. Make yourself a community member of equal standing, instead of the center of the community's concern.

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Momville again : I wasn't asking rhetorically, so thank you for answering. I guess what's behind my question is that I'm starting to think seriously about either extending my sabbatical or changing career directions altogether. What I'm afraid of is that there's some switch that will go off where I'll become really bored or really lonely or the kids will head off to school and I'll resent myself for screwing up my job security at a university hospital... it's just a lot to consider and I don't want to base it on my current feeling that being home with my boys has felt heavenly for the last six months.

Carolyn Hax: No one can see around corners, but if the home chemistry is working for you, then it'll probably keep working. I wouldn't worry so much about the flipping of an emotional switch as I would a sudden change of economic circumstances. Backing away from the work force to be with children is, for many parents, the best thing they've ever done. But I've also seen up close the real consequences some have suffered financially and professionally--for example, when the marriage takes a bad turn, or the breadwinner gets laid off. This is not to discourage you, just to urge anyone interested in leaving the workforce to have a rainy day plan.

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Re: Momville: It's also possible that some of the inner peace comes precisely because it's a sabbatical. If you're relatively sure that you have a job to back to and this is a "break" (a word I use while ducking), it can be a completely different experience than being a SAHM and not knowing if/when/how you will rejoin the outside the home workforce if that becomes desired or necessary. My extended maternity leaves were wonderful, but I knew at a certain point I was going back to my job and its salary, etc. So the overall stress of staying home for a while didn't have the financial aspect to it. And I could treat it as a gift. Just another opinion.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

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re: Momville: Carolyn, this is a good opportunity to restate: that's great that it works for you, but don't generalize your experience to all mothers (or all people.) I am ecstatic about my 8 month old daughter but I would tear my hair out if I had to stay home full time. To each her own, right?

Carolyn Hax: Right. Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: Speaking of Diabetes...

My mom has diabetes. Every time our family gets together, she says her diabetes is "on vacation." She drinks and eats sugary stuff that she definitely should not be eating.

It's hard to watch. Any advice? I say "Mom, you shouldn't eat that" and she says "OK," then as soon as I walk out of the room... yup.

Carolyn Hax: Her body, her decision. Obviously your feelings for her are yours, and she's being reckless with them by being reckless with her health, and you're entitled to point that out, but that reasoning always comes back around to her body, her decision. I wish I had a magic answer.

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Denver ?: What did you mean by what you said to Denver, the person who's S.O. doesn't want to pay for her plane ticket to visit his family and attend his friend's wedding? Clearly, if she doesn't want to go, she shouldn't, but were you suggesting that the relationship is doomed if they're fighting about this kind of stuff? I'm not Denver, but I'm still confused.

Carolyn Hax: It had the air of bean-counting about it, where people who work well together tend to make being in each other's company their top priority. In this case, that would mean the one inviting the other would pay if he could afford it, and if he couldn't, then the guest would pay, and if neither could afford it, then the guest would reluctantly stay home. Not even close to a fight.

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Arlington, Va.: Maybe I am being insensitive here, but I am a little confused why women with pre-diabetes thinks this is going to ruin her holiday and cause her to break down in tears of embarassment. More than 50 million people in this country have pre-diabetes. The recourse is eating healthier, losing some weight and exercising and with these actions, some people never even end up developing diabetes. Will it be that awful to tell family, "Well I got some less-than-wonderful news at the doctor recently, nothing serious, I just need to watch what I eat a little more carefully. Pass the vegetables!" I can appreciate that a diagnosis of anything is difficult, but I think it deserves an objective look and a realization that this is something that is a) not a death sentence and b) entirely treatable. I would just make sure she gets it in perspective, especially since you never know when another family member or friend is suffering from something much worse and may take your "end of the world" attitude about your condition as an insult.

Carolyn Hax: What I was trying to say, from a different perspective, thanks.

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RE: Christmas Cards: What if we do your Christmas cards and you answer questions? You could assign each person a card (old friend from work, mother-in-law, etc) and we'll compose a short, heartfelt note. That way the cards won't suffer from the note fatigue any normal person gets after writing 10 or so of them, the kind of thing that leads me to write, "Hope you have a wonderful holiday and get lots of socks" in cards toward the end.

Carolyn Hax: This is brilliant. But, then, I think, "Hope you have a wonderful holiday and get lots of socks" is brilliant.

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re: "speaking of diabetes": You may think you mean well by telling your mom not to eat sugar, but nobody wants to spend much time with a friend or family member who acts like their personal policeman.

Some of the problems in our lives would be lessened if we realized what in a fellow adult's life isn't our business to be into.

Carolyn Hax: Wasn't this the first issue of the day? The depressed BF?

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Shotgun Weddings: I disagree - she could be perfectly happy to be married to him, but have it all blow up in her face years down the line when the resentment for the sacrifice he made "because that's how he was brought up" implodes and leaves her juggling newly single motherdom with an ex who has a lot of built up resentment.

Not saying that this WILL happen, or couldn't happen even if he does really want to get married to HER - but she's smart to ask if he's as equally happy (or just happy, it doesn't have to be equal) going into this, and to want to know that he's not just doing it for practical considerations. Getting hung up on his answer or obsessing over it would be a problem - but failing to look realistically at a situation and ask the questions it poses is equally a problem, and I'm very surprised to see you encourage it.

Carolyn Hax: Interesting--I had to go back to reread my answer b/c I didn't understand your objection. I had in mind "you" as the couple--"if you are happy"--but now I see where it looks like an encouragement to be oblivious.

Which it isn't, I swear. Since we're in the third person now, I can say: What matters is, are they happy about these developments? If they are, then they shouldn't be afraid to surrender to them.

Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: Speaking of diabetes, my boyfriend was diagnosed last winter and has taken remarkable steps to control his condition. In the process he's completely changed his eating habits and has lost 40 lbs. We only recently started dating (we've known each other for a while) and I'm overweight. I'm now self-conscious about what I eat in front of him, even though he hasn't made any comments about it, which is a problem I've never had before. How do I get over it?

Carolyn Hax: Are you okay with the way you eat, look and feel, or do you feel self-conscious because you think you should be doing better? The answer might come if you ask yourself whether you want to make the kind of change your boyfriend did, for your own reasons, or whether you're right to stick to the course you've chosen.

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Alexandria, Va.: I work for the American Diabetes Association. We have lots of resources (online diabetes.org, telephone 1-800-DIABETES) including information about how to deal during the holiday with diabetes and pre-diabetes for you or someone you love. Please reach out.

Carolyn Hax: Thanky.

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Momville: Moms, Please try not to say things like "If I had to stay home I would pull my hair out, be bored to death, etc." It denigrates what SAHM do and implies that what we feel is a noble task is somehow benethe people like you. Word.

Carolyn Hax: No, it doesn't. It says s/he doesn't have the temperament for it. Just as someone shouldn't presume one's own experience applies to all others, one also shouldn't internalize the experiences of others. The whole point of the exercise is to pick what's right for you and your family. The end.

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Diabetes commenter again...: Not saying anything is easier said that done.

It's akin to watching your mother slowly kill herself. Would you not do or say anything?

Carolyn Hax: I would practice what I'm preaching. At a certain point, you know what isn't yours to control, and behave accordingly.

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Re: Momville with 8-month old.: The original Momville wasn't generalizing, in fact, she was asking why she enjoyed being home when many don't.

I had an extended maternity leave that I just loved. I do believe, however, that the temporary nature played a big role. Until that point, I worked too many hours each week and was desparate to spend more time at home. The extended leave (i.e., temporary situation) allowed me to see it as the gift that it is. There was no sense as I repeated the same tasks day after day, that I would be cleaning up spit up non-stop for years to come.

So, I respectfully disagree Carolyn. I think once the situation becomes permanent it is possible for the enjoyment to change.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. A useful extension of the maybe-it's-just-the-sabbatical-talking post.

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Re: Momville: Wow.

So today's letter writer in your column gets a break because her husband just up and decided he hates his field where he got an expensive graduate degree and now he wants to start a gardening business. But Momville has just decided she doesn't want to go back to work and may never work again and this is somehow okay to unilaterally decide that? Does her spouse get a say in this too?

Carolyn Hax: Wow back atcha. Are you looking for things to get upset about? Had there been mention of a money issue or spousal protest, I would have happily addressed it. In the absence of such a mention, I urged the generic careful planning.

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Tampa, Fla.: "people who work well together tend to make being together their first priority"

Playing off this, I have a friend visiting the state not so far away from where my S.O. and I live. I want to go out and visit said friend tonight, S.O. wants alone time. The holiday season is a busy busy time so I can understand the need to catch a breather. However, visiting friend is bringing his soon-to-be-fiancee (question will be posed this weekend) and wants us to both meet her for the first time. Money isn't the issue, I would be paying for all expenses. And as I said, I understand the need for S.O. to have her alone time but I just feel disappointed in her decision to pass on this special occasion. I'm upset because I feel like she is being self-centered and rude to my visiting friends. Am I overreacting here?

Carolyn Hax: Sounds like it. Unless there is a pattern of her bagging out on things you care about, but demanding your presence at things she cares about, it seems as if both of your long-term interests are better served by your just taking no for an answer.

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Re: Momville: My sister is a journalist, and has to spend every day talking to strangers on the phone. I would pull my hair out if I had to do that -- I hate talking to strangers on the phone. But I really respect that she does it and is good at it.

Different strokes, and all that.

Carolyn Hax: Great example, thanks.

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re: It's not you, it's me...: My former boyfriend subscribed to the "significant emotional event" theory of change. That is, nobody changes until they have a significant emotional event (SEE) that forces the change. I thought he was kidding, until I saw it myself. (I wanted to move downtown, he didn't. Within a year of breaking up with me, he had moved downtown with his new girlfriend.) Maybe you just provided the SEE for him to change his mind about marriage.

Carolyn Hax: Or after the breakup, he learned someone was dying, or nearly got hit by a bus, or ...

I.e., I like the theory, but would broaden the application.

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New Mexico: I am grieving the loss of something I never had, which is the option to have kids with my wonderful soon to be husband. For many reasons I go into this marriage knowing it is not a possibility. I am terribly sad about this, and have pangs every time I see a pregnant woman, etc. I imagine it is much like what couples facing infertility feel. He and our relationship are worth the sacrifice. I am trying so hard to be appreciative of what I do have rather than upset about what I never will, but this is terribly painful. I know lots of women don't get to have babies with the men they love. Is this one of those "time heals" things? Ideas on how to "get over" it?

Carolyn Hax: I think the most important element in your case is not forcing yourself past the grief. There will be a time when it's important to "[try] so hard to be appreciative of what I do have rather than upset about what I never will," but if you're trying to do that without even letting yourself be sad, then the sadness will stick around much longer.

In fact, think carefully about marrying before you've gotten past your grief. That's when you'll know you aren't just saying he's worth the sacrifice, but instead believing it.

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Stepmom-ville: My 8 year old stepson lives with his mother 2 states away, so we don't see him all that often - a long weekend here and there, a week or two in the summer, a week over the holidays. He's a nice kid, but there's one issue that I have a difficult time dealing with - he still wears pull-ups to bed every night. He's not with us long enough to be able to do anything about it, so my husband says to get over it, it doesn't seem to bother him. But I think this is akin to child abuse that his mother hasn't made an effort to fully potty train him - he's in 3rd grade for goodness sake! Is he still going to be wearing diapers to bed when he's in high school? Am I overreacting or is this really ridiculous?

Carolyn Hax: Have you done any homework on this? According to "Seven Steps to Nighttime Dryness," 1 in 20 10-year-olds still wet the bed. It's physiological, can be inherited, and can last into the teens.

There are ways to approach it, but I don't think it's fair to say the mother "hasn't made an effort to fully potty train him." There could be a good deal of thought and effort going into the way she's dealing with it. If you want to help, find out what approach she's using, if any, by saying you're willing to keep things consistent during your stepson's visits. If there's any tension between you and the mom, have your husband deliver the message of cooperation.

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Washington, D.C.: I think it's rude to ask someone how much they paid for their house, condo, etc, but my boyfriend thinks it's fine since it's public record.

What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: Way rude. There are also price tags hanging on things at stores, but it's still rude to ask people what they paid for their clothes. You don't pry about money, period.

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Cleveland, Ohio: Loong story short: Husband of 8 years (together for 12) announced that he wanted out this year -- shocking me and all our closest folks. After a summer and fall of horrible pain, I have started feeling like myself. I expected to be single for a long time while becoming less damaged and twisty. Now I've met someone and am head over heels. My head is saying "isn't there a warning about rebounds and such?" while the rest of me is practically floating around in a haze of kind, sweet, sexy attention and conversation. Is this nuts? Doomed? It feels better than any relationship I've ever started.

Carolyn Hax: Great! Enjoy. Just be sure to treat it like a high--don't operate heavy machinery, etc.--until you have reason to believe it's an enduring connection. The most reliable measure of one is time; if you're still feeling this connected and happy after a couple of years together, then you needn't worry about rebounds.

The rebound issue is real, but it's an issue for the following reason: After a relationship ends, your feelings can go dormant, from disuse or from pain-avoidance. When that happens, they can come back in a big rush at the first opportunity that saunters by. It's not necessarily a terrible thing; these feelings just burn hot then burn out. The real risk is when you invest in them as if they're going to last. It's really just a matter of being patient.

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Washington: My new girlfriend is a slob, and it's keeping me from getting serious with her. I do love her, but I can't imagine sharing a home or a future with someone who sleeps with crumbs in the bed, doesn't take care of her things, et cetera. Is this wrong?

Carolyn Hax: No, it's smart. As annoyances go, crumbs now are mountains later. Either you find a way to work around each other's ways, or you're looking at love-sapping conflict later.

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oops.: I wouldn't ask what someone paid for their house, but the other day I asked my friend what the interest rate on her mortgage was (we are trying to decide whether to refinance). Was that rude?

Carolyn Hax: I don't know, but hard to see how it's relevant, unless you're offering to refinance her home. What you can get is what's being offered; given the current climate, if she locked in yesterday, that's still not useful information for you.

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Christmas Letter: So, I just learned that my parents included the information that I am pregnant in their annual Christmas letter. This information was recently disclosed by my husband and me to a "medium-sized" circle of people, including close family, and friends, so all the people I care about personally telling already know. However, I am furious. Heart-pounding, enraged furious. I am a very private person, and the fact that they took this information and plastered it all over their stupid, superficial letter really really upsets me. Am I just off-base?

Carolyn Hax: No. You are not, and I'm really sorry you've been put in this position. While there's nothing you can do about it now, I do think you are well within your rights to ask your parents to try to understand that this was a piece of you that was yours to distribute or not. They owe you, at minimum, a real effort to put themselves in your shoes, and also the logical result of that effort: an apology.

For your part, you also need to put yourself in their shoes--excited grandparents-to-be? and try to slow down your heart rate a bit.

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Re: home costs: Since its public information anyway, the polite thing to do is to go home and look it up on the internet yourself, duh! Then you can feel jealous/superior all in the privacy of your own home.

Carolyn Hax: Zackly.

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D.C.: Way rude. There are also price tags hanging on things at stores, but it's still rude to ask people what they paid for their clothes. You don't pry about money, period. I totally agree but what about with good friends?

Carolyn Hax: The whole point of etiquette is to establish ground rules for those who don't know each other well enough to know how they'd respond to a what-did-you-pay type of question.

Therefore, friends who do know each other well enough can follow the code they've established between them. Partners in real-estate coveting will share prices, just as partners in shopping will share prices, and so on.

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Grieving about no children: Be aware that even after the grief has passed, it will return. Perhaps not as strongly, but it will come back. I wouldn't say don't marry until the grief is gone, but more like, don't marry until you and your fiance are both okay with the grief.

Even now, pushing 50, there are still times when I tear up seeing a new baby, and my husband still reaches out and squeezes my hand when it happens. I wouldn't change the decisions we made, but I'm not going to pretend there was no cost. We each pay our share of that cost. I tear up, he is comfortable with my tearing up and offers comfort in turn.

Carolyn Hax: Well said, thanks.

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Denver again: Hi. I'm not sure this is a problem of bean-counting - more of an issue of his asking me to do something I wouldn't ask him to do. Or vice versa - my unwillingness to do something he would very willingly do for me. It is the reconciliation of this that has me confused - not the $250 of the plane flight.

Carolyn Hax: This is important, you're right to want to reconcile it--and it is bean-counting. The issue has migrated from the very valid ones you raise, to who pays for what. Please talk to him about what's confusing you, a la: "It's not about the money. It's that you're asking me to do something I wouldn't ask you to do, and it's not sitting right with me."

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Boundaries: Learning to set our own boundaries is the one of the best things we can learn to do for ourselves, yet I see examples regularly of people not setting boundaries because they don't think it's polite, acceptable, or friendly. This has been cropping up in today's discussion and it makes me wonder if I'm way off base in my approach to the world. I think that I just set boundaries, but today I am doubting my strategies. Am I being rude to decline cookies at work or at family gatherings? Does it matter that I don't state my reasons for refusing, thinking that it's only my business? Am I rude for discussing (politely, privately and cordially, I think) my concerns about my mom's health? My boyfriend's? If my boundary is that I'll cook healthy food at home and if he wants sugary, fat-laden foods he can prepare them himself (without any snide comments from me) or eat them elsewhere, am I disrespecting him and his choices? I really consider myself to be reasonable, polite and kind, but I am seriously doubting now. Please help explain the nuances.

Carolyn Hax: Looks to me as if you just did. You make your decisions about what you will and won't do--in other words, about your own behavior; you locate the point beyond which you don't think others' behavior is your business; you give out only as much information about these decisions as you deem necessary for people to be able to understand you, anticipate you and adjust their expectations of you; and you comport yourself with kindness in living within those limits. What else is there?

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Columbia, MD: Hi Carolyn,

My uncle recently passed away and his funeral is next week. Prior to this happening my husband and I were going to Richmond for the holidays. Now I am not going, but my Husband says that he is still planning on going to spend time with his family. Is it unreasonable for him to stay here with me?

Carolyn Hax: There are two attitudes one hopes to see toward something like this: 1. He can say to you, your circumstances are taking you from the Christmas we planned, so I'll stick around with you and together we'll make the best of it; 2. You can say to him, just because my Christmas got derailed doesn't mean yours has to be.

Theme alert! In 1 and 2, you both have each other's backs.

In your scenario, neither of you has the other's back. I think that's a real conversation starter, if you can point it out to him without just pointing the finger at him. It's a problem that needs attention from you both.

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Boston: Hey everyone -- I know it's late but my fiance and I are trapped in a motel in the middle of Connecticut on our way home for Xmas in D.C. -- any fun ideas for ways to pass the time?? cause this sucks.

Carolyn Hax: Seriously?

That's it for today, and for the year. Thanks everybody, have a great time waving goodbye to poor 2008 (did it ever have a chance?), and hope to see you next-next-next Friday.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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