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Carolyn Hax Live: The Story of a Player Named Stuart, plus Raising Interfaith Kids, Friends Making Bad Choices and The Last Person Who Never Heard of Sex and the City

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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 27, 2009; 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, February 27 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: Hey everybody. Just got here--parent-teacher conferences ran long--so I'll try to get something up soon. Thanks for your patience.

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Houston, Tex.: Hi Carolyn -- I'm intrigued about your perspective on a different side of the "other woman" issue from today's column. My roommate and good friend is the other woman to a man who's in a long distance relationship. From what I know, the girlfriend thinks it's a serious, committed relationship, and I've heard the guy say things like "this is just what men do" and other thinking along those lines. I have no respect for this guy, and am wondering how to handle the fact that I'm losing respect for my roommate through all of this too. FWIW, he treats her very well and I've seen him take care of her when she needed it, but I can't get the icky feeling out whenever I see him, and more often lately her too. How can I prevent my judgment of their situation from affecting how I look at my friend? It's also gotten tougher lately as she's been spending more and more time with him, that I hardly see her as just the fun, cool girl I used to live with.

Carolyn Hax: Question back at you: Why do you want to prevent your judgment of their situation from affecting how you look at your friend?

Certainly it's important not to be judgment-AL; you don't want to draw conclusions you don't have standing to draw, or apply tougher standards to her than you to do yourself, or deny her her humanity. Friends do look at the whole person, and not just at one choice or action.

However, it's certainly within the bounds of good friendship to use your judgment. And if your judgment tells you your friend perhaps is not the person you thought she was, and if her actions are giving you cause to question whether you can trust her, or if that one choice or action is bad enough to outweigh what you see as the good in her, then those are legitimate concerns to have. This is one reason that friends aren't always friends forever. You're allowed to recognize, acknowledge and act on serious differences--in interests, priorities, and, yes, even values.

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washingtonpost.com: A little schedule announcement -- Mark your calendars, next week's chat will be on Thursday, not Friday. -- Elizabeth

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Brookline, Mass.: In my social web, there is a guy I'll call Stuart. Stuart is well-liked -- he's intelligent, funny in a cranky, irascible way, and genuinely kindhearted. He's also, somehow, something of a player. Two girls of our mutual acquaintance -- one a fairly close friend of mine, one a fond acquaintance -- had brief flings with him, both of them with strong feelings, before he had identical epiphanies about himself being unready to be in a relationship. He had this wounded, tortured soul thing going on. They were each quite upset about this for a little while but then got over it, and everyone remains friends. The fact that this happens every time he starts a relationship has become accepted as an eye-roll-inducing aspect of his personality, an instance of total lack of self-awareness in the attitude of an otherwise good guy.

So now, lately Stuart and I have been really hitting it off. Our interactions have been fliratious, there's been chemistry, etc. He's asked me on a date, and I intend to go. I have no illusions about him, but I'm feeling like spending more time (sexy- or quality) with him is something I'd really enjoy for as long as it lasts. I'm wondering, though, whether I have any responsibilities towards my friends who have been hurt by him. I mean, I've spent time commiserating with them about his impossible-to-date-ness. They're really well-adjusted girls with better things to do than get very hung up on a guy, but I imagined myself in their situation and realized that I'd probably be unhappy if a guy I'd previously liked a lot was hitting it off better with my friend than he'd ever been with me (because although I just said I don't have any illusions, I do have a tiny suspicion that he may finally have matured to the point where his thing with me could go somewhere). Basically I'm wondering whether the "Stuart is terrible at dating" legends should be influencing me beyond me simply knowing that Stuart is terrible at dating.

Carolyn Hax: I don't think so, but your putting yourself in their shoes adds an interesting twist. If you were to go out with Stuart, you'd be doing something to others, consciously, that would hurt if it were done to you.

It also happens to be something that others might not care about as much as you do. If I were one of these friends, for example, and you asked me how I felt about your dating Stuart, I'd just wish you luck. Maybe I would be torn up about it, maybe I wouldn't, but either way I'd believe I had no right to stand in your way. I'd also be tempted to buy popcorn and pull up a chair.

In a way, you need the 24k golden rule, and not just the 14k--you can't decide based just on what's right for this or that individual, but on what serves a larger idea of Right.

So, what is that? Certainly you can walk away from the Stuart offer to guarantee no one suffers anything more intense than disappointment. However, if we all lived life that way, we'd have one screen or another in our faces for most of our waking hours. (Oh, wait ...)

If it's group permission you want, to take a possibly silly risk, then there is no such thing. I'm also not going to encourage any illusions that Stuart has grown up. People like your friends fly into Stuart-ish webs exactly because Stuarts charm them into believing they're the super-special exception.

(Usually, eventually, one of them turns out to be--and whether that one offered something or saw something in Stuart that the others didn't would be an interesting research topic, since I suspect timing has a lot to do with it.)

These just come down to the same basic question: Are you ignoring or deluding yourself about the possibility for more painful than necessary consequences--for your friends, for you, for Stuart? Talk to these friends, even. If it turns out your eyes are really wide open, then, bon voyage.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

What's more important in a lasting, long-term, healthy relationship -- love or compatibility? What should be focused on and nurtured?

Carolyn Hax: Both. And probably a half-dozen other things. Your question is like asking what a person needs more, food or sleep--when deprived of either, we die.

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Fairfax, Va.: Carolyn-

I'm finally severing ties with very painful and emotionally abusive relationship. We were engaged for a time, and living together.

I'm feeling really good today. And I will probably still feel good after all my friends & family help me move this weekend.

I'm just wondering what happens next, and how do I deal with the crushing emotions that (I assume) will come?

Carolyn Hax: Start by not being afraid of them. Take, for example, life and death--specifically, the beginning and end of life, childbirth and, say, terminal illness. These are things human beings have had to deal with since the beginning of human beings. They present, arguably, the height of physical and emotional pain. And yet we carry on. Why? We're wired to.

And that wiring includes such emotional responses as numbness/shock, when it's just too much, and "crushing emotions" or pain when it certainly seems like too much. In that range is a message: Those big emotions and pains are, more or less, what your brain is saying it can handle.

So let yourself handle them. Cry, clear your schedule, call a friend, go fetal in a corner, whatever you need to do to hang on until the wave passes. Because that's how emotions come, in waves, and that's what waves do. They pass.

All of this is assuming the wave even comes. It might not, or it might not be as big as you were expecting. Either way, I hope that once you have the logistics of your move behind you, you consider talking to a pro about how this relationship came to be and how best you can avoid repeating it. That's the stuff that can catch you off-guard when you're safely out--the reckoning of who you became with who you thought yourself to be.

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"The fact that this happens every time he starts a relationship": If it happens every time he starts a relationship, and you've personally been witness to that fact-- not once, but twice-- why would you want to get into a relationship with him?

Carolyn Hax: Either because they are uniquely suited, or because this is the tallest local mountain, and everyone at its base wants to be the first to plant a flag at the top.

The fun part: People usually find out which it is only in hindsight.

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Love vs. compatibility: Wait -- can you really "nurture" compatibility? It's my understanding that either you have it or you don't.

Carolyn Hax: Not true. The base has to be there, but a lifetime of decisions can thereafter drive a couple far apart or keep them generally side-by-side, depending on the way those decisions are made.

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Anonymous: You said: (Usually, eventually, one of them turns out to be--and whether that one offered something or saw something in Stuart that the others didn't would be an interesting research topic, since I suspect timing has a lot to do with it.)

Hmm... I do think it's an interesting research question, and I suspect that it's about more than timing. There are some guys, like Mr. Big, who never put up a facade of being committed, and others who only put it up for 7-10 years while having a few kids. Ultimately I think guys stop shopping around when they think they've landed the best deal they're going to land.

Carolyn Hax: Or when they're mature enough to recognize it, which is strictly a timing issue.

And while I'm all for drawing life lessons from fiction, I'm not sure Mr. Big's commitment to Carrie counts even as empirical evidence.

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Other Woman, Redux: What if the other woman is your older sister? I'm resisting the urge to send your column to her. I'm trying to not be judgementAL, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to talk to her.

Carolyn Hax: Tell her that. Exact words. It may sound mean, but it's a favor to her.

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Alexandria, Va.: Dear Carolyn,

People always say that you have to make yourself happy. What goes into that? How does one make themself happy?

Thanks! Love your chats!

Carolyn Hax: Short description of a long process: Figure out the things that make you feel confident/fulfilled/energized; that give you a sense of purpose or accomplishment; that tap into your natural abilities and strengths; and that -don't- put you at the mercy of any one person, and orient your life around those.

Often, this requires another step--concurrently or as a precursor--of reducing the role in your life of things that make you feel worthless/empty/exhausted; that require skills that don't come naturally; that feel like a waste of time; or that put you routinely at the mercy of others.

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Carolyn Hax: Ta da!

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Neither Here Nor There: Carolyn--My wonderful boyfriend and I have one sizable hurdle: The religion of possible future children. Every interfaith family we know raises the kids in one or the other. We want to teach them both. Are we fooling ourselves?

Carolyn Hax: Dunno. Have you gone to other sources than families you know? I would imagine the clergy of your two faiths would have something useful to say.

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Alexandria, Va.: Who are Mr. Big and Carrie??? I missed last week's chat. Is he the one with the mother-in-law?????

washingtonpost.com: Does this help? -- Elizabeth

Carolyn Hax: It helped me wish I were watching a movie, if not necessarily this one.

I'm also perversely pleased that someone doesn't know who M.B. and C are.

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Why start a relationship with him?: I was thinking this too. Why start a relationship with somebody you've witnessed failing to hold one together? Then it occurred to me, if the poster had been a man, we would've all assumed the woman had big boobs. Please tell me that something like this isn't an underlying reason - that would be fun but ultimately tortuous.

Carolyn Hax: Much as I like the image of Stuart with a rack, in my experience these romantic black holes like Stuart, male and female, have that effect not because of traditional good looks (though they're usually attractive enough to get by). It's a head game, and they're very very good at it. Usually a combination of charm, elusiveness, restlessness. It's the I'm-complicated-but-you-and-only-you-really-understand-me con.

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Anonymous: Is there a point in a close friendship where it is best to remain silent on giving one's opinion about the bad life choices a friend makes in order to save the friendship? I worry if I keep raising concerns, she will push me away and then won't have me to lean on me when her world crashes down around her. I care about her like a sister.

Carolyn Hax: 1. Have you said something yet that was rebuffed, or have you been mum so far?

2. What kind of bad choice is it, evil or just stupid?

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High Class Problem: Maybe I'm looking for trouble, but this does nag at me some in the back of my head...I've been with my fiance for 6 years, living together for 3. The problem is that there are no problems. We've never had any real issues beyond him loading the dishwasher completely incorrectly :). Given that people constantly say that maintaining relationships is supposed to be hard, are we just lucky? Extremely compatible? Extremely laid back? Don't care enough to argue? Or just have yet to hit any sort of rough patch? I sort of worry that we've just never been tested and if we ever are, I have no idea how we'd handle it. Obviously I can't hold off the wedding until something bad happens to see what occurs. So I guess my question is, how uncommon is my situation? Do most people have a lot of issues to work through before getting married? Is it naive to think that a good relationship could just be this easy?

Carolyn Hax: What's your past like--have you had any significant relationships that were extremely rocky?

If it's either "every single one has been rocky" or "zero prior relationship experience," then either one would explain why you're unsure of what you have.

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Neither Here Nor There Again: We have gone to our clergy -- mine wants to work with us and was very understanding and accepting. His was not. We're looking for another member of his clergy who might be able to talk to us.

Possible that any peanuts know of folks who've raised kids in two faiths? Or know of good books? I went looking, but found only books for a Jewish/Christian partnership, and that's not our combo.

Carolyn Hax: I don't know of a book offhand, but I'll post a few reader responses.

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Interfaith Marriage : From my own experience, it is very difficult to raise children as both Jewish and Christian. It is because the fundamental philosophies are very different, e.g., the viewpoint on who Jesus is.

I searched and searched for a God-based church that recognized Jesus as a VIP... to no avail. I took the kids to a Methodist church that my husband didn't feel comfortable attending. We attended Unitarian services, but that didn't seem "religious" enough, since we were both raised with worship being more ceremonial than Unitarianism is.

Now, we don't attend any services and acknowledge both religions. But neither my husband or I is completely satisfied with this approach either.

Carolyn Hax: More coming ...

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Re: Interfaith: My husband and I are going through this too. We received OVERWHELMING advice that teaching both religions equally is too confusing and could teach children that neither is very important. While we don't have kids yet, I think we are going to practice one religion at home, while celebrating the holidays of the other religion. We can justify this by saying we helping Mom and Mom's family celebrate. I'd love to hear other thoughts though!

Carolyn Hax: You're in luck, then ...

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interfaith couples: FWIW - as a product of an inter-faith couple and raising 3 children in one - I don't know how you'd raise a child in both -- but you can choose one and choose openness and respect for the other. In our Catholic/Presbyterian house mom and kids went to one church, dad went to another, we chatted about homilies, gossiped about gossip, went to social event, hosted candidates for dad's pastor search committee, and the nuns during summer CCD. I feel like my folks did an outstanding job showing that religion is a way and is personal by their own respect for each other's faiths.

Carolyn Hax: AND ...

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Re: two religions: Just an opinion, but it's important to make sure two religions are compatible -- or at least aren't contradictory - before asking whether you can raise a child with both. It's not about symbols and activities -- if it were just that, no big deal about having a Christmas Tree with a Menorah next to it. But if you want to imbue them with the values and beliefs of the religion, you should figure out a way to reconcile "Jesus is our divine leader" with "There is only one God and Jesus was just another person" for example.

Carolyn Hax: and furthermore ...

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For Neither here no there: We are a Christian/Hindu couple. Not hugely religious but interested in our kids having some framework... we are raising them as both in that they are exposed to both traditions. To us we felt if you stripped away the mythology around both you come to some pretty similar core beliefs and in the end that is what we want them to have... may not work if you are very religious but for us it feels right. I figure they'll either be very broadminded adults or very confused!

Carolyn Hax: But wait! There's more ...

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Interfaith USA: Being the product of two liberal hippie parents who are both in higher Education, I was exposed to both my Mother's Judiasm and Father's Catholicism from a very young age. For the record the sister and I believe that we have enough guilt to start our own religion.

That beings said, we were exposed to both and participated in "rites" of both, First Communion, Bar Mitzvah etc. Essentially my parents wanted to present us with each and let us make our own decisions.

On the short side, I have developed my own sense of Faith and Religion, which somewhat blends the two faiths, without being adherent to either. On the good side I think I have strong sense of morality and how I want to treat my fellow human beings.

It worked for me, and I am grateful for my interfaith upbringing and exposure to both.

Carolyn Hax: Is it me, or are these getting funnier as we go ...

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Re: two religions: Just as one datapoint -- my husband's parents taught their kids both religions. Sent them to Christian Sunday school on even years and Jewish Hebrew school on odd years. They raised two pretty staunch atheists.

Carolyn Hax: That should do it.

Big thanks to everybody. And if anyone can advance the topic even further, please send along your thoughts.

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Stuart: This discussion is great! I've seen so many not-so-cute girl black hole "Stuarts" around over the years, and it's always so interesting to see who they finally end up with. Often with someone younger and very pretty who could care less about their game to begin with. But if you get involved, you always think you're going to be the one to finally snag him. But how many of us can be Annette Bening? And how many of us want to be? (Because, sometimes, you end up being Denise Richards. And that doesn't look like fun.) I've overdone the celebrity references for this chat, haven't I?

Carolyn Hax: Not when it emerges as part of Today's Theme.

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Bad Life Choices: I'm the friend who's made bad life choices and is now ignored by her friends who are tired of dealing with it. At least, that's how it feels -- I used to talk to them about my rocky relationship (2 years, lived together, moved out, kept dating, still many fights), but they just stopped reaching out or responding to me. When we see each other, I don't mention him at all so I won't bore/frustrate them. They also have babies, so our conversations are ALL about that now. Still -- it stinks to be abandoned and to feel like you need to keep your feelings inside so you don't alienate your friends. I've got some great superficial relationships with decade-long friends, and oh, I guess I'm a fantastic aunt. :(

Carolyn Hax: Possibly silly question: Why don't you use the unhappy state of affairs as motivation to get out of this soul-sucking relationship? And to take your feelings to a therapist, since the amount of support you were seeking was apparently more than mere friends could take on? Seems as if you're sleeping through the alarms here.

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Anonymous: "Why start a relationship with somebody you've witnessed failing to hold one together?"

So because I'm single and have never been able to hold a relationship together, I should be viewed as an unacceptable romantic prospect? Whatever happened to just not having met the right person yet?

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for calling attention to this--it's a part of the question I ignored, but shouldn't have.

First, the issue is not that you're about to date "somebody you've witnessed failing" at it; unless you're each other's first date ever ever, then both of you have already failed to some degree. The issue is that she has watched up close while Stuart has -hurt- two people, in a way that has emerged as a pattern.

These are very specific circumstances we're talking about, and while they don't make Stuart untouchable or even a bad guy, they do make him an emotional risk to be taken seriously.

That his exes still have Stuart in their lives actually speaks well of him as a person, and that in turn would suggest he has a good chance of breaking/growing out of his pattern. Just a hunch, but it might be a matter of his figuring himself out and learning to like what he sees. Then he won't need so much attention, and to use so much charm to get it.

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Washington, D.C.: Everybody fretting about raising kids in two religions should take a little break and read the heartwarming "Not a White-Lights Person" by the late journalist Michael Kelly.

Carolyn Hax: Many thanks.

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Interfaith: If she's in the DC area this group is fantastic: Interfaith Families Project -- even if she's not they can point you towards great resouces. Really it is a wonderful group.

washingtonpost.com: I have heard good things about it, too. -- Elizabeth

Carolyn Hax: Great stuff, thanks.

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Gchat Woes: My boyfriend and I gchat with our friends and each other all day at our desks. (We are both insanely bored with and unusually good at our jobs, so gchat is necessary to get us through the day.) It seems like every time we gchat each other, we end up getting into some sort of fight, either because I misread the tone of one of his comments or because I was offended that he didn't respond to one of my comments in a timely way. It's always my irrationality that causes these fights, and I recognize that (a) it's totally my fault and (b) gchatting is really the only arena where this happens for us. The rest of our communication is totally normal.

So yesterday, I decided to block my boyfriend on gchat. This means he can't see when I'm online, I can't see when he's online, and there's no temptation to start a conversation that will inevitably end in a spat. I had a great, productive, emotionally unfettered day - and then we got into a fight later that night because his feelings were hurt that I blocked him.

In my opinion, the fact that I recognize that gchat causes us to fight, and take responsibility for the fact that it's my fault most of the time, are enough reasons to quit chatting at work. I don't hold him responsible for that at all. In his opinion, it's ridiculous that I can't just hold myself to a higher standard of maturity when it comes to gchat, and I am needlessly eliminating a large source of our communication. What's your opinion?

washingtonpost.com: Gchat is the Gmail version of instant messenger, for any non G people out there...

Carolyn Hax: Hello, rabbit hole ... we're discussing "a higher standard of maturity" with people who natter all day at work, on the grounds that it "is necessary to get us through the day"? But it's okay because they're "unusually good at our jobs"?

Air is necessary to get you through the day. Arguably, you can add water and an absence of hungry predators. What you're both being is self-indulgent.

Until you can say to your boyfriend, "I'm going to turn off gchat while I'm working because it's distracting me and I'm sick of fighting," and say it -before- you take action so that he doesn't find out only through your sudden unavailability, you're finding an immature way to admit and confront your immaturity. If that makes any sense.

His indignation, meanwhile, is fine if he's just reacting to the -way- you cut him off, but if he can't handle the fact that you work better with gchat off, then he's falling well short of "a higher standard of maturity" himself.

Speak to each other, please. thank you.

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High Class Problem: I've not really had too many serious relationships -- and I do think that's where my concern comes in. I think a lot of the reasons that we don't have problems are perfectly healthy -- we agree on the big things and we are both our own people and happy with ourselves, therefore happy to let each other go our own way on activities we enjoy doing. And he especially is extremely laid back. But seriously, no problems? No arguments? It seems a little weird. Maybe it's just me being too pessimistic but I feel like I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Carolyn Hax: If you're holding back on a big part of who you are, or if you get the sense that he is doing that in an effort to please you, then the other shoe probably will drop. But there is such thing as a couple who don't really fight. Give yourself the am-I-rationalizing-something-big test; the more brutally honest you are with yourself, the more you can trust the results.

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"failing at it": I'm someone who used to think that this was as simple as it was -- that when I saw my friends' marriages not working out, or heard about an old frenemy's divorce, I stood in rank judgment of these folks, assuming they just weren't persistent enough, married the wrong person, were shallow, what have you. This was my M.O. right up until this fall, when I kicked my husband out, after 18 months of marriage counseling around his mental illness issues. We've been in marriage counseling another 6 months since then, and I think he will be coming home soon. Not only has this process been grueling in examining my problems in the marriage, but I have had to come to grips with the fact that I judged people who, just like me, were trying to get by in the world and make their intimate relationships work. I'm not really proud of having been that person, but I'm glad that I'm becoming someone different now.

Carolyn Hax: Well said, thanks.

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Anonymous Again: Bad Decision-making Friend: 1. I was very clear in expressing my opinion that she should not marry her husband several years ago, but told her I would be there to support whatever decision she made. He's an alcoholic and self-centered (redundant, I know).

2. Not evil, by any stretch. Just deluded. They have a baby and are trying for a second, while they are in a very unhealthy marriage where his drinking is still a large concern. My instinct is to say, "what are you thinking bringing ANOTHER child into this situation," but I am worried about how that will be received.

Carolyn Hax: Wow. Okay. I think you can (and have to) say you're very worried for her, for her child and even more so for any child-to-be, since the work doesn't double with the second one, it does what bacteria does in a petri dish.

Then ask her if she'll come with you to an Al-Anon (or even AA) meeting.

It's really a fine line between, "What are you thinking!!!" vs. "I'm really worried about you," and someone who is already on the defensive might read the same thing into both, but for some people it's the difference between cutting off the concerned friend and listening (or just tuning her out, but without punitive measures).

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Nattering all day at work: Oh the irony. That you would accuse as self-indulgent the only kind of people arguably who participate in your chat. Because the rest of the people, the mature and responsible people, as it were, are otherwise busy working. It kinda makes me giggle. Well, back to nattering.

washingtonpost.com: Well, *I* am working during this chat. -- Elizabeth

Carolyn Hax: Me too!

And, really, if we all did this 8 to 6, M-F,* we'd deserve to be called whatever names we called ourselves.

(*Arbitrary hours, no objections necessary.)

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For GChat Woes: Some advice I heard about taking things the wrong way via email/chat, since it's so easy to misread tone when you're not face-to-face or hearing a voice: imagine it's being spoken in Kermit the Frog's voice. If you're still offended, then it's probably valid offence. Obviously this doesn't solve the larger issues, but I've found it helpful advice.

Carolyn Hax: Not just an interesting idea, but also bringing needed green felt to today's celeb hijack. Thanks.

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please, try: I wish someone had asked my mom "what are you thinking" when she got pregnant with my sister and brought another child into an abusive alcoholic household. She now has two screwed up adult kids who won't visit her or our still-alcoholic father. Childhood too awful to describe and miserable adulthood.

Carolyn Hax: Channeling Ann Landers, perhaps the friend can print this out and hand it to her friend.

I'm sorry.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

I have always firmly believed that you make your own luck. But lately I feel like I can't catch a break. Accidents, major injuries, dying pets, dying employees, other people's personal problems becoming my problem (I'm a manager and when people don't show up to work I have to find subs). At the beginning of this year I thought things were looking up, I started doing yoga, I was all healed from my major injuries. But in the last week I sprained my foot in a totally freak accident, which means I can't do yoga, and my cat died (2nd pet to die in six months.) If I were religious I might think God was out to get me. I think I'm a really good person and I'm trying to have a sense of humor about all of this, but it's wearing me down, despite the fabulous support of my family and friends, and especially my wonderful husband and kids. I don't know if I'm looking for advice or what, I'm just trying to get some perspective. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry it took a freak accident and pet deaths and (!) employee death(s), but your beliefs might have needed a tune-up anyway. It's but a short hop from "you make your own luck" to "you brought this [name suffering here] upon yourself," or, for example, telling depressed people they need to buck up, or a grumpy cancer patient that positive thinking will save their lives. It's a short hop to victim-blaming.

This isn't to promote the cause of victimhood, either, since that's just swinging too far in the other direction. In the middle is nuance: Hard work and a positive attitude are really, really important--when it comes to handling the things in life you can't control. It doesn't work without both halves of the philosophy.

Short version: Stuff happens, and so the measure of a life isn't what stuff does or doesn't happen, but what you do with that stuff.

Since you're doing your best to handle all the stuff that has hit you lately, the final piece might just be to give yourself a break (emotionally, not in another body part--just to be sure). The formerly smug "failing at it" poster is a great example of how that can translate into a softer position on the whole business of getting by in the world.

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Second child workload: Now that I have a baby and am hoping to plan for a second in relatively short order since I am over 40, I keep wondering how having two children increases the effort load by much more than double. The way I see it, I've already learned a bit of how to be a mother and have obtained baby clothes, equipment, have researched child care, etc. Basically, I feel like I finally have some of the legwork down for parenting. Am I deluding myself about how challenging having a second child will be?

Carolyn Hax: How 1 + 1 does not = 2:

1 first child

1 second child

1 reconciling needs of first child with very different needs of second child

1 finding time for self/mate when # of children equals or exceeds # of adults

+ 1 doing so while sleep deprived again

----------------------------------------

+ 5, and I could probably keep going but it's nearly 3 pm

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WashDC: "Give yourself the am-I-rationalizing-something-big test..."

What, specifically, is this test and how do we administer it?

Carolyn Hax: Okay. Try this: Is there something you're afraid to say out loud to your mate?

That usually takes you right to the sweet spot. For some people, it isn't a breakup-worthy issue, but if there is a breakup-worthy issue you're trying not to face, this is where it's hiding.

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Washington, D.C. : Ahh, Stuart. I had a Stuart. Steam-rolled me even with my eyes wide open. But, I'd do it again.

Carolyn Hax: This is funny.

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Stuart-Magnet: Any tips on how to avoid Stuarts? I'm getting old.

Carolyn Hax: As is this. Not sure I have an answer, though, since the answer is immunity--when you're sick of it or it just doesn't impress you any more.

Which, as a poster pointed out a while back, is when you get a Stuart's attention. But it has to be real disgust/lack of interest, can't be an act.

Games, games, games.

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Re: Second child workload: I think the word you're looking for is EXPONENTIAL.

Carolyn Hax: Yeh, I almost typed that, but it's so often used incorrectly that it seems to have lost its impact.

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Rockville: Call me weird, but I actually find having 2 kids easier than just one. Maybe because I spaced mine by 10 years. My 10 year old plays with baby, helps, and is delighted to do so. To her, it is like having a real doll-baby. Thus, I now have more time for self, husband, etc. than when I had only 1 child.

Carolyn Hax: No, that's not weird, that makes sense. Having a helper is ideal (though I've seen that kind of help overused, so watch for signs that she's losing interest/feeling imposed upon).

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NY, NY: I had an abusive, a-hole of a father & a miserable childhood. I've had a fair amount of therapy & I still go now, in my 30s. But s***, I'm def glad I'm here. I had to re or unlearn a lot of things, but I like life. Just saying... it's complicated whether or not this woman should have a child. I'd just focus on her & her relationship.

Carolyn Hax: Great counterpoint, thanks.

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1 + 1 = 5: Oh God. I have a 12 month-old and another due in 3 months. Tell me something to keep me from looking into adoption.

Carolyn Hax: They eventually start playing together, and talking about you to each other, which is funny as hell. How's that.

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Washington, DC: Carolyn,

Relationships are scary to enter into because you have no idea when the other person can just change their mind about you. How do I get past this fear?

Carolyn Hax: Understand that you can change your mind, too? The other person isn't Other, it's just someone else in the same general predicament you are. It can break either way.

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I've overdone the celebrity references for this chat, haven't I?: Yes!

I don't understand the references to Annette Bening and Denise Richards.

Please explain.

In return you get a funny story:

In our electronics factory, we had three instrument hookups for testing three instruments at a time in the heated chamber. The hookups, instead of being numbered, were called Larry, Curly, and Moe. There was a picture of the real Three Stooges near the test station.

A technician from another country asked, "Are those the technicians who designed this test station?"

Now, please explain.

washingtonpost.com: Annette Bening married the notorious womanizer Warren Beatty and they are still together.

Denise Richards married the notorious womanizer Charlie Sheen and they are not still together.

Carolyn Hax: On that note. Bye bye, thanks, and type to you next THURSDAY. Bumping the chat up a day, just for next week. Have a great weekend.

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