Carolyn Hax Live: Oops, Forgot to Tell Mom I Had My Baby, plus Teen Daughter Wants to Date, Mistress at a Funeral, Quitting Smoking and Updates from Past Chatters

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 13, 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, March 13 taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

A transcript follows.

E-mail Carolyn at

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

Carolyn's Recent Columns

Carolyn Hax Live Archives


Today's Cartoon/Caption: Hi Carolyn-

No question. I just wanted to say that I thought that the cartoon/caption for today was great. I would tell Nick, but he's not taking our questions/comments at noon today.

Thanks for a great discussion. It really does make my Friday.

Carolyn Hax: Will pass it along, thank you! We are due to have Nick and Zuzu on again, come to think of it (for the under-initiated, that would be Nick Galifianakis, the Advice Cartoonist, and Zuzu the world-weary pit bull, who does his typing for him when he comes online).


Providence, R.I. : Dear Carolyn,

My boyfriend proposed on Valentine's Day. I declined because the logistics don't make sense for us right now. I love him very much, but our relationship has become strained and hostile since then. He says he understands and that his feelings aren't hurt, but I think they are. Is there anything I can do, short of accepting a ring I'm not ready for yet?

Carolyn Hax: No. The best thing you can do is hold your course, show your love and wait to see how he, and your relationship, weather this.

Obviously you've thought about this and feel confident you made the right choice. Obviously he's hurt and wishes you had made a different choice. If you can both be honest about what you're thinking and feeling, as well as both cognizant and supportive of the other's position, then you're giving yourselves the best chance you've got. If instead one of you is saying things that don't match up with what you really feel, then it doesn't look good.

Since it's not your job to run his life, you can only run yours, and set the example for thoughtful, and loving, dissent.


Arlington, Va.: I introduced my girlfriend to my friends for the first time. The venue was happy hour and my best friend, who is a great guy but had been drinking, said something uncharacteristically rude and insulting to my girlfriend as we were leaving. He meant it as a joke, but it was in poor taste and she didn't think it was funny at all. Now I don't know what to do. My girlfriend thinks my friends are boors and my best friend since childhood is embarrassed about this but doesn't know what to do or say. Is there such a thing as a first-impression do-over?

Carolyn Hax: No, but there is such thing as not closing one's mind after a bad first impression. Because you care about these people, because you believe they're better than their recent behavior, and because your girlfriend presumably cares about you, the grown-up thing for her to do would be to give these friends another chance.

Now you get to find out whether you're dating a grownup.


Update: Hindsight is 20/20: I wrote in some time ago about my boyfriend who would hassle me for sleeping in on weekend mornings.

We resolved that issue, but a dozen more cropped up in its place, and I broke things off last weekend. The breakup was messy. And, by messy, I mean I changed the locks, blocked him all over the Internet, gave his description to my landlord, friends, neighbors and employer, and endured a midnight series of harassing text messages and shouted accusations of cheating (which weren't true).

There's a lesson here: if someone doesn't respect your boundaries from the very beginning, they never will.

I'll be fine, my friends were incredible, and I'm sure I'm safe, but none of it would have happened if I'd just seen the signs and gotten out. Next time, I'll listen to my instincts.

Carolyn Hax: From your keyboard to our permanent mental files, I hope. Thanks.


Oops: Hi Carolyn,

How mad would you be if you didn't find out you had a new grandchild till said grandchild was almost two weeks old? I gave birth by C-section eleven days ago, and my husband neglected to call anyone on the call list from my side of the family. I was groggy and in pain for a long time, so it didn't occur to me till a couple days ago that my mother hadn't called yet to schedule her first of many visits. I asked my husband and he realized he never called anyone from my side of the family. Now I'm scared to death because I can only imagine the hellfire I face when Mom finds out I'm calling with a ten-day-old baby in my arms. What do I do?

Carolyn Hax: Get on the phone, tell your story, and be sure to include the part about your wondering why no one from your family had called.

To answer your specific question, I would be really really hurt, but I'd save "mad" for finding out there was a delay or cover-up attempt after you realized your mistake. Just get on the phone.


Ellicott City, Md.: Hi Carolyn,

I need to make a decision and it has been weighing on my mind for over a year. Over a year ago my boyfriend proposed, and I had mentioned that I wasn't ready to get engaged about 3 weeks before he proposed, but he did anyway. I said no and we are still dating over a year later. I feel pressure every day that I have to decide. I feel like he is my best friend, however, what is lacking is the chemistry I think should be there. We rarely are intimate and it drives me crazy although my sex drive is almost nonexistent right now.

I feel I know the answer about what to do but I wanted to see if you could shed some light or offer a fresh point of view. He has a daughter and I love her too. I just wish all of the pieces fell together.

Thanks! -- needing to make a decision

Carolyn Hax: They didn't fall together, at least not the way you wanted them to. So, look at the pieces you have, and make up your mind.

If you didn't know what you wanted, I'd encourage waiting, since answers come not when we want them to, but when they're good and ready. The time we invest in waiting for them to come is difficult, but almost always reflected in the quality of the decisions we make.

In this case, though, it sounds as if your answer has been good and ready for over a year. If that's true, waiting longer is making things dramatically worse. I can't shake the image of fruit--takes a while to ripen, but then you have to move, or else you're stuck with rotting fruit.


Re: Oops: I think "mad" would be reserved for the husband? How inconsiderate, self-centered and just generally ignorant would someone have to be to forget to call ANYONE from his wife's side of the family?? Please...there's got to be more there. That can't be an accident.

Carolyn Hax: Did wonder about that myself. You still there, Oops?


re: oops: So she had a c-section (which I have to assume wasn't planned). Her mother must have known she was at least close to her due date, but she hasn't heard from her mother in almost 2 weeks? My mother calls a lot more often than that, and I'm not even pregnant.

Carolyn Hax: Plus the fear of anger, not hurt feelings/sadness, which suggests this relationship with her family is at arm's length at best, possibly for a good reason?


For Oops: Don't be afraid to call your mom. If you have a brother she may just understand because this is how guys think. (I have 3 brothers and a Dad.) Guys tend to focus on just one thing, especially in intense situations.

And besides, he's the one who has to do the apologizing.

Carolyn Hax: In other words, was this an emergency, how big was the emergency, and how strong were the drugs ...


For Arlington: Has your friend apologized to your girlfriend yet? If not, why not?

Carolyn Hax: Funny, I just assumed so--such a duh. But if not, then the "duh" is on Arlington and his friend. Tx.


Oops: Oh... well, it's irrelevant now, but in my husband's defense, there is a rift on my side of the family that has caused some drama, and my husband wasn't sure specifically who I'd want to inform when. We'd had the idea that I would make the calls, but that was before we knew I'd be having emergency surgery that would put me out of it for days. By the time we got home, there was so much going on (we already have a 2- year-old) that it just slipped his mind.

Carolyn Hax: Explained, and ...


Oops again: Update: She wasn't mad!! She squealed delightedly for about thirty seconds straight, then immediately hung up to call Amtrak.

I'm grinning from ear to ear here.

Carolyn Hax: Resolves! This has to be a first.


Carolyn Hax: d! ResolveD.

How anticlimactic of me.


Falls Church, Va.: When you have an "adapted from a recent online chat" column, is there any new material or is it all word for word from the chat? I normally don't look at them because I follow the chats, but I wonder if I'm missing anything.

Carolyn Hax: I write through all of it. Some material changes quite a bit, and I even include comments (admittedly, not too often) from the outtakes if I have room and there's a good one that advances the argument. Some material does appear pretty much as it did online.

Even the exchanges that don't change much will--or, I guess, should--be more polished. While I am admittedly slow for a live session, my answers are fast for issues that do require some thought. In the adapted columns, I try to round out the thinking so that my answers are thorough, and not just the 2-5-10-minute blasts I do here.


Update from Baby-ville: Last week about informing semi-estranged family... My sister: thrilled, shattered glass with squeal, already planning showers, etc. Promised to support me against mother-take-over (mom took over after her birth). My parents were subdued and asked if they were allowed to "visit for a while" after the baby was born. So no insisting (yet). This may change as things sink in. Glad we'll be 2000 miles away. His dad: general vague congrats (my spouse told him). No real enthusiasm, but no accusations of producing an heir to take his money. Better than expected. Of course, he then launched into detailed desciptions of how he was in the room for his stepdaughters' kids births (he's raising 3 step-grandchildren). Umm, yeah... His mom: can't find her phone number, don't know her address, but are looking for it. Spouse is planning to send a letter (that, knowing him, will be a birth announcement).

So, overall, no tears or screaming (except my sis). We'll see how the next six months (and lifetime) plays out...

Carolyn Hax: In all, not too bad--thanks for checking in.


Need to make a decision FAST: Carolyn --

My husband and I are supposed to drive 8 hours today to see some college friends for the weekend. We really want to see them, but we aren't sure we're up to the trek. His father is dying, which is something we haven't told these friends. It's been a rough few weeks and we're just tired. On the other hand though, we really want to see our friends, and I HATE the idea of being "those friends who bail". We need to make a decision about whether to go or not asap. In your opinion, should we suck it up and go, or bail on our friends?

Carolyn Hax: Full disclosure, I've been in this position myself, and I know the impulse to stay put. I did give into it quite a bit.

But also knowing the relief available both in a change of scenery and in really great friends, I'm going to suggest you go. An 8-hour drive is huge for just a weekend, and so if you're tired enough to be a hazard on the road, then that trumps any emotional needs you might have. However, if there's a way to make this weekend work, there might be great restorative value in it.

This may be completely impractical if the trip is for a specific event or something, but if there is a way to get the friends to help you, like meet you halfway, then I hope you'll consider that.


Anywhere: When does it make sense to stay with an alcoholic who is trying to quit?

Carolyn Hax: When the trying is both genuine and showing results, and when you aren't standing in the way of progress.

But there's SO much room in that answer for delusion and deceit. Please consider getting into Al-Anon so you have a steady supply of guidance through this.


Glen Burnie, Md: Hi Carolyn, out of touch widower dad here looking for some guidance with something. My 15 y.o. daughter is interested in dating and has asked several times to be allowed out with a certain boy. He is two years older with a driver's license and access to a car. I haven't been 15 for a long time so I expect many things have changed, but I don't remember my sister being allowed on one-on-one dates till she was older. However, I don't want my kid to be the odd one out at school for not being allowed to do something perfectly natural that other kids are doing.

I'm having a hard time figuring out whether I'm being overprotective by not letting her see him alone so far. This is the kind of thing her mother would have known exactly what to do about. What do you or your readers think about this one?

Carolyn Hax: What the readers and I think will be off the mark, because we don't know your daughter, and this has everything to do with what kind of kid you have. Is she strong enough to stick up for herself, does she make good decisions, does she recover well from bad decisions, does she choose her friends well, does she have a knack for deceit or does lying make her flush to the roots of her hair?

And, now, about you--do you know enough to answer these questions, or does your out-of-touchness extend to your relationship with your kid?

If you don't feel like you can answer any of these queries with confidence, then your first step in solving your problem is to get to know your kid better, and the first step in that is to start listening to her, carefully. Detachment isn't not something you can fix in a day, but you can fix it with a sustained effort over time.

If detachment isn't the issue and you're just wondering what the trends are, then I would suggest talking to other parents--surely you know your kids' friends parents, at least to say hi? But even then, don't give the info they supply any more weight than you do your own impression of your kid. That's where the core of your answer will be; the external stuff just gives it all context.


Carolyn Hax: Oh, and, good luck ...


Chicago: Hi Carolyn - I've been lamely "quitting" smoking for a year now. Is there anything you can say to inspire a better effort/stick to it ness here? I don't want to be a smoker -- but it's far too easy to let myself slide in the moment. I'm at a loss.


Carolyn Hax: If it's a medical/addiction issue: You're the one who controls whether you get help. So, take control and get help.

If it's not a medical/addiction issue, and it's a matter of comfort: You're the one who controls who you are. You don't want to be a smoker, so start acting like a nonsmoker. Yes, it really is that basic. Stock whatever gum and grapes and carrot sticks you need to get it done, and get it done.

Then, reward yourself for milestones in ways that advance your cause: New exercise gear, tooth whitening, etc., paid for by putting your daily cig money in a jar. Having a tangible way to mark daily progress can be a powerful motivator.


Been there, not by choice: Having grown up with an alcoholic parent and a parent whom I prayed would leave him and take us with her, I can say it is hell and "quitting" can be worse when it is empty promises and lies. Also, please note, there are certain personality traits that become ingrained in addicts that often linger after the addiction is controlled. These (manipulation, denial, inability to truly apologize or see flaws in oneself) can be just as hard to live with as the drinking. Please, do call Al-Anon. You need that objective insight to see if you are enabling and/or being taken advantage of. It took me therapy and several years of painful adulthood to get over the effects of being in that environment, so please don't put pressure on yourself to stay or to think it is easy.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for weighing in.


Balancing competing needs?: Both my father and my husband's father have terminal cancer. We both have jobs and a toddler. Both parents live a long plane flight from where we live, thus it is expensive and time consuming to travel both places. We are trying to equally split visits and time with both families. The problem is my mother-in-law is so lost in her own pain that she can't appreciate the balance we are trying to strike. This week she played the "he is dying immediately" card and my husband rushed across the country only to learn that she needed help with a list of chores and thought that he should visit. As a result, I had to stay with the toddler and forego a visit to my dad. How do we work this out? What do we do if she continues to cry "wolf"? This is the second time in three months that she had done this, but I don't want my husband not to be able to say goodbye. (plus I'm getting pretty resentful of the selfishness)

Carolyn Hax: Ugh. What you need are objective and informed sets of eyes in each location, who can feed you information on each father's condition. Clearly the more pressing need is for someone to fill that role in your FIL's inner circle, but that kind of recon is useful no matter how clear-eyed each of the mothers might be.

Often this role can be filled by another family member (or even a close friend) who lives nearby, and who is either not so close to the patient as to be emotionally knotted by the situation, or is particularly level-headed. If there's not someone like that, then check with the doctors in charge of the fathers' care, or the hospital serving them. Explain your situation, and that you need an advocate. If you hit a wall there, contact the American Cancer Society about family support resources.

Sorry about the double whammy.


for widower dad: Also, get to know the 17-year-old, if you can do it without mortifying your daughter. They're not all alike, even with cars. Some are still geeky little kids, others are grown-ups. None of them have good brakes, emotionally, though.

Carolyn Hax: Well said, thanks. But do it even if you mortify your daughter.


Talk to my kids' friends' parents?: Ugh. Reading your response to the widower dad, I realized I don't know any of my kids' friends' parents anymore. Kids are 10, 8 and 6 and even though I see these parents constantly at school and extracurricular events, there isn't a single one I know well enough to call up to ask their opinion about anything. My friends in the area are mostly single and childless, and those who do have kids have much older kids in their teens. Is this bad?

Carolyn Hax: Not necessarily. You like who you like. And, certainly, you can ask the parents who have much older kids; the world hasn't changed so dramatically as to negate everything they learned as parents, and they have the perspective of distance as well.

But I think it would be bad if you didn't feel as if you could call one of your parent-peers out of the blue to ask a question about something affecting your kids. Sometimes you need to find out stuff, and I'd wonder about any parent who wasn't forgiving and cooperative.


Divorced: My girlfriend told me last week that she was ready to get married. I, too, am ready despite having just gone through a divorce a little less than a year ago. But, I'm concerned of what my family will think being that I just got out of a marriage.

As a result, I'm thinking about proposing in the summer, which would be one full year after the divorce was finalized and two full years after I became separated. Of course, I haven't told my gf this because I want her to be surprised when I propose.

The problem is, now she thinks I'll never want to get married because I didn't say that I was ready when she said she was. What should I do?

Carolyn Hax: You're not 6-year-olds. Skip the surprise and talk to her.

(Typed while forehead was rebounding from keyboard.)


Schmuckville checking in: Thanks for the advice last week. We are still together, but I have made an adjustment. I call when I feel like talking, I tell her I'm busy at work if I'm busy at work.

Monday night we talked for 3 hours; other days it's a quick good-night. She understands now that just because I'm not in the mood to communicate, that doesn't mean we are about to break up. There's definitely some old baggage on both sides to work through, but we seem to be doing it.

Thanks again.

Carolyn Hax: A bulletin from Schmuckville, like an ice pack to the forehead. Thanks muchly.


Silver Spring, Md.: To Chicago -- One thing that helped me quit (and I was a "chipper" for a long time) was thinking about the noxious chemicals in cigarette smoke. Why in the world would I continue to put cyanide in my body and eat organic food? That and having to go out for secret smokes in designated areas seems so demeaning. Just hang in there and soon you will look at the sad smokers standing out in the rain and wonder why the heck you ever put yourself through that. Good luck.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks--a few more coming ...


Quitting smoking: I finally quit 3 years ago after watching my father die from emphysema related heart disease. Watching his final years was incentive enough for me not to want to end up like he did. I set a date to be done with it. I stopped buying cartons. Then I stopped buying a new pack until I was completely down with the old one. Amazing how long a pack can last when you don't want to go to the store. I put the money I would have spent on smokes in a visible place so I could see how quickly the money added up. Wow. But the most important part is that you, and only you, have to really want to quit more than you want to smoke. More than 50% mental in the beginning. After a week or so it is 75% and by a month it is 100% mental. You can do it.

Carolyn Hax: Go! Go! Go!


For the smoker: I quit smoking about two years ago, and I learned a few things that I'd like to share. (1) Keep in mind that everyone is different, so what worked for me, your friends, your family, or anyone else who tried to quit may not work for you. That being said... (2) There is no shame in failing. Just because today you didn't do it doesn't mean that tomorrow you can't. Every decision is its own. (3) Before you pick up a cigarette, try to think about why you want it. This helped me a lot. I was using cigs, primarily, as a crutch. Thinking about it made me realize that I was really just trying to deal with tough situations. I learned to just face the situations... it was very hard.

I wish you all the best. I smoked "full time" for only 6 years, and it took me the next 6 to quit completely. I still get cravings, sometimes bad ones, but they are getting further apart.

Carolyn Hax: And finally ...


For the person trying to quit smoking. : I smoked a pack a day for 20 years, and haven't had a cigarette since 2005. It took me three years to successfully quit. The main thing was, I kept at it--even after I slipped up, I never allowed myself to shift into thinking that I couldn't do it. And I really did want to be a nonsmoker, so I continued to try and found with each attempt, I got better at it. (I learned what my triggers were and figured out ways to navigate those situations...)

Lastly, it helped me to take up a hobby that I couldn't do while smoking. I started running and can now run six miles. (I couldn't run a half mile when I was sixteen...)

Carolyn Hax: Great stuff, thanks.

The part about keeping up the effort even after a slip is universally applicable. Trying to get back in shape, trying to lose weight, trying to leave a bad relationship--a slip means just that, you slipped. If you make your next decision a good one, then you've limited your damage to the absolute minimum. That not only helps with the bad habit itself, but also helps with the morale problems that keep so many bad habits going.


Providence Proposal Pressure: I think some guys choose "significant dates" like Valentine's Day and/or highly public proposals in order to increase the pressure for the gal to say "yes."

A few years after I married, an ex-girlfriend and I ended up volunteering together. Her boyfriend seemed very jealous of my presence, and within a few weeks proposed to her in front of me and the rest of the volunteers. My friend accepted, and then returned the ring a few weeks later.

If you get mad at the guy for putting you on the spot, that's a good indication that you aren't ready at least. Good for Providence for not succumbing to the pressure.

Carolyn Hax: That includes the pressure of the showy proposal and the pressure of the lurking hostility. So, yes, good for Prov.


New York, N.Y.: Is it OK to break up with someone over email if you think that the actual conversation will involve lots of tears? I promise to keep it really short and not to criticize him. It would not be a surprise -- we've been having this conversation for a while. I just don't think that the alternative (me bursting into tears) will be very productive.

Carolyn Hax: Idunno, might help him to see that you're not doing it lightly. You might be able to talk me out of this, but at the moment I'm leaning toward sloppy and inconvenient displays of emotion over expediency.


Carolyn Hax: I think I need to clarify that: You can talk me out of it if you can make a credible case that you're doing this to make it easier on him. If it's to make it easier on you, I'm not a-budgin'.


Nitpicker: Technically, cyanide is organic. Sorry.

Carolyn Hax: Smartypants.


re: the 15 year old: Another thing to keep in mind -- and this is from my memories of being 15, not from having kids myself -- is to think about whether you are communicating to your daughter that you don't trust her. If she already feels that you don't trust her, it will only encourage her to do the things she wants to do anyway and just skip telling you about it, but if you treat her with trust and respect she's more likely to listen. Listen to her, explain to her why you are making the rules you are, and be willing to reconsider or find compromises if she has a point.

Carolyn Hax: Very nice, thanks.


New wedding question -- I promise!: Carolyn, I don't think this has been asked before. I was originally engaged to get married last December but mid-year we cancelled the wedding and worked some things out (via therapy) mostly having to do with our approach to finances. Anyway, we had already asked the individuals to be our groomsmen/bridesmaids last year before we canceled the wedding. We have decided to get married this December. Would it be completely wrong to change any member of the wedding party? We are not really friends with two of them anymore -- no falling out, just lack of time and inclination to hang out, in a mutual way, I guess, but we literally haven't seen them in nearly a year and they live in the same city. We have grown closer to two other people during this time (both of whom we've known for a few years). We want to do the right thing here. And, no, we can't just add two more people here b/c it's not just about wanting the closer friends to stand up with us, but also feeling a little awkward that not-so-close friends are also doing so. But we'll deal with awkwardness if that's the right thing to do. Thanks, Carolyn -- love your advice.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

I would go with a no-wedding-party wedding. It's hardly a necessity to have one, and not having one would solve your problem without making even a little bit of a mess. That would officially be a new wrinkle on the wedding question.


Email Break up girl: I'm an idiot. I just thought very briefly about how I would feel if he decided to break up with me over email because he feared my tears and it put the whole thing in perspective. I can't do that to him. I'll suck it up.

Carolyn Hax: Good then.

But don't be so hard on yourself--an idiot would have gone through with the e-mail.


For Dad: And hey, talk to your sister. Ask her what it was like as the 15-year old that couldn't date.

My plan -- we'll see how this goes in 14 years -- is that if my daughter wants to date someone I don't approve of (or I just don't want her dating, yet) my plan is that she can invite him over pretty much as much as she wants. She can see him often at our home, for dinner, to watch a movie. He'll either give up or he'll stick around and that will probably make me like no matter what, if he'll put up with that just to be with her.

Carolyn Hax: Two homers on two swings, thanks.


How much to disclose?: Hi Carolyn,

My husband was laid off two weeks ago. We're in the same field, and it's one in which there are massive layoffs on a daily basis right now. To say the job prospects are bleak is to put it very mildly. I've got more work than I know what to do with, so my job is secure, but we definitely need two incomes as we have a house that we can't sustain forever on just my salary.

We're not at the point of making any tough decisions (sell, move to a cheaper city, etc.) but it's not outside the realm of possibility. And it's not just about the money -- there's my sweet, smart, high-achieving husband who is feeling really blue over being dumped by his job and staring at endless days with nothing to fill them. Yeah, we are fine financially for several months, but I'm not excited about the idea of him not working for so many months because I know it's already driving him nuts to have so much free time.

In a nutshell, this sucks. A lot. We both swing all over a spectrum from being moderately okay with it to being really damned sad. People are being very supportive and friendly, but I'm not ever sure how much to say when they ask how we're doing. Yesterday was a really crappy day, and when someone asked if we were "okay" I think I went too far in saying "we're as okay as can be expected when one half of a two-income family loses their job in the WORST JOB MARKET IN OVER A DECADE." Do I let people know that we're having a really hard time with this? Do I just give a basic "oh, you know, we're managing" and leave it at that, even when that is totally disingenuous? I just don't know. It's not that I don't want people to ask, but I'm pretty sure that people don't want to hear the truth: "I drive the long way home so I can scream until I'm not mad at the world anymore."

Carolyn Hax: Like any what-do-I-say-to-whom question, the answer is in knowing your audience. Some people will want the truth. Some people will expect the same "Fine, thanks, how are you?" they've been getting up till now.

And like anyone who needs to know his or her audience, you're going to guess wrong sometimes--especially if you're in an emotional storm (which always messes with the receptors). But since there's no serious consequence to guessing wrong, and since authenticity is not a dirty word, upsetting people with your anguish is not something you need to worry about right now.

If it helps you feel a little better--more socially stabilized--try having a stock answer ready, like, "Tough times, but we're hanging on," or whatever version of that sounds like you. Then, keep an eye on the person's reaction. You may find solace or fellowship in unexpected places.

Good luck.


Two homers, two swings: When I read this, I can't help seeing two Homer Simpsons on a swingset together, chanting "beer!" and "donuts!" at each other as they reach the apex of each swing. Awww.

Carolyn Hax: That's beautiful, man.


Mishawaka, Ind.: Is it just me, or are today's questions demonstrating a wholly unprecedented level of thoughtfulness and maturity? Where are the tantrums? Where is the sense of entitlement I have come to know and love? What is this "thinking your actions through" business? Bah.

Carolyn Hax: Good point. I'll see what I can turn up.


Minding My Own Business...: I have a family member who is behaving in a way that I and other members of the family find somewhat appalling. She is looking for a job and making demands of potential employers that we find surprising in the current economic environment, especially considering that she needs a job. For example, she gets an otherwise perfect job offer but finds the 45-minute commute too far, so is demanding to work from home despite having no commitments at home that would necessitate this, other than not wanting to commute that far. But that's very mild compared to how she has been treating people she cares about. She is getting married soon. Her future mother in law had been saving a family heirloom engagement ring for years for her son to give his future wife. This family member refused to accept the ring because she doesn't want an engagement ring. Her mother loves weddings more than anyone I know and has been looking forward to her engagement for years. She recently bought her wedding dress without including her mother at all because it was on sale, totally missing that saving a couple hundred dollars deprives her mother of a priceless opportunity that she's been looking forward to and really hurt her mother's feelings. I'm of the mindset that adults make their own decisions and don't need unsolicited advice in making those decisions. It's getting more and more difficult to make non-committal and non-judgmental statements like "good for her" or "isn't that interesting." I just want you to tell me that I and other family members who are doing our best to say nothing are doing the right thing.

Carolyn Hax: So she's supposed to take on a long commute, a ring she doesn't want and extra expenses for a dress (um, when she doesn't have a job?), because you all think she should?

You'd be doing the right thing if you stopped judging her and wishing you could run her life for her. But, short of that, I suppose biting your tongue is a start. Not nattering about her every move with "other members of the family" would be an excellent second step.


Carolyn Hax: That was for you, Misha.


London: So my father had a mistress towards the latter part of his life, which my mother was aware of but didn't know what to do. My father is dying and my mom worries that she will turn out for his funeral and will make a big scene (like crying uncontrollably)... What could we children do?

Carolyn Hax: Assure your mom that you'll all keep an eye out for her, and if she does show, one of you will box her out. You can even assign a family friend to do the honors so you won't get taken away from the funeral yourselves. Your mom has enough to worry about, so assume this one worry for her.


good work: that was a doozy of self-involved issues in a question! I didn't know you'd be able to find one so quickly!

Carolyn Hax: That was all Elizabeth.


Re: Wedding: But what if she WANTS a wedding party? I know there's a movement to tamp down the industrial wedding corporation, but can't we leave just a little bit of room for people to have the wedding they want, even if that wedding -- horrors! -- includes bridesmaids?

Carolyn Hax: (Ow! Ow! Ow! Forehead already sore.)

I'll happily wave the ruched silk flag for wedding parties, but in this case, the wedding they want has been overtaken by events--which include a postponed wedding and a change of heart about their choice of attendants. Grown up people do not keep demanding to have what they want when faced with evidence that it would come at the cost of needless mess or hard feelings. It's just not that [stinkin] important to get one's ceremonial druthers.

Good match, good marriage. Everything else is just so much buttercream on the cake.


Mishawaka, Ind.: Much better, thanks.

Carolyn Hax: We're here to serve.


Still hot after all these years: My sister (45) is constantly bragging that she can still fit in to the cheerleader outfit that she wore in high school. I am pretty tired of hearing about it at every family event. All someone has to say it "hi Susie -- you look nice today" and she is off and running about her figure, hair, face, etc. If I walk away while she is talking she will chase me down and create a big to do and tell me I was rude. I can't stand there and listen to it every time. Everybody in the family feels the same way and does the same thing. She chases them down too. The only people who get stuck listening are strangers who are then appalled at her behavior.

Carolyn Hax: Sounds as if you all could use an update to your strategy of walking away in a huff. Such as, "Really? We'd love to see you wear it sometime." Or, "So, really, no improvement since high school?" Or, "Ooh, I love this one, tell it to me again." Or whatever--surely you can do more with this blank canvas of opportunity than you've been doing so far?


For London mistress: What do you mean by "box her out?" This mistress is, presumably, close to the father. It's obviously not an ideal situation, but the mistress should be allowed to grieve, too.

Carolyn Hax: No, I strenuously disagree. When she chose to love someone else's husband, she chose a situation where her grief would be on her time. She has no place at that funeral.

Had the wife shown even tacit approval or acceptance, I might say otherwise, but it broke the wife's heart. Mistress is out.


RE: Minding own business -- Fairfax, Va.: What??? I'm sorry Carolyn -- I didn't agree on your advice on that one to tell the writer to stop judging. Someone needs to tell the woman to stop being self centered, ungrateful twit. No, you shouldn't have to live your life to please other people all the time -- but would it kill her to accept the ring as a token of history -- take the time to share the wedding dress choosing memories with her mom (mothers aren't permanent and she will miss hers one day) and be grateful she has a job interview and potential job in this economy, let alone to b!tch about the commute. It's just seems ungrateful when you can't do simple things for others when it clearly means so much to them. Just my little opinion.....

Carolyn Hax: How is she ungrateful or self-centered? She is who she is. If she doesn't want an engagement ring, she shouldn't pretend she does. Would you have her accept it and not wear it? Wear it and hate it? Shouldn't some other family member who does cherish it have an opportunity to own it instead?

And why does the mother's love of weddings have to be satisfied by the dress-shopping expedition, and ONLY the dress-shopping expedition? Surely there are a hundred other things they can share?

As for the job, unless she's living off the people who are judging her, she's under no obligation to take the job they want her to take, period. It's her life, her 1.5 hours per day she'd be burning on the road.

To me she is keeping her integrity under significant pressure to act like someone else. But even if I got the wrong impression and she's a twit, these are her decisions and the writer is still in no position to judge.


Tacit Approval: "Had the wife shown even tacit approval or acceptance, I might say otherwise, but it broke the wife's heart."

Doesn't "Not getting a Divorce" consitute "Tacit Approval or Acceptance?"

Carolyn Hax: I don't think so. That can just be resignation, or even ... what's the word ... paralysis.


mistress: What would be a kind and classy thing to do, but would also set a boundary, would be to send mistress a memento with a note saying 'since you'll be unable to attend the funeral we thought you'd like x as a memory'. This should be done by a friend of Dad who also knows mistress.

Carolyn Hax: I like it, thanks.


re London: I have been a funeral director for 30 years. Have a conversation with the funeral director, and explain the situation. This is NOT an uncommon situation and can be handled in a graceful manner if the correct steps are taken beforehand.

Carolyn Hax: This, too, if the boundary note doesn't work. Thanks.


Don't laugh: Are three kids REALLY harder than two? Is it worth it?






You become outnumbered. You switch from man-to-man to zone. Yes, it is really harder.

Yes, it is worth it, if being a parent is something that brings you joy, and if the work is something you regard (in your moments of lucidity and perspective, and even in some of your more desperate moments) as a privilege.


Carolyn Hax: Okay, must go. Thanks everybody, have a great weekend, and hope to see you here next week.


Refusing to settle: I agree with your conclusion on the woman who doesn't want the long commute, etc. It frankly sounds to me like the poster is a little jealous that this woman doesn't toe the line and settle for less than what she wants.

It's also interesting if you look at those three situations from a different perspective: her future mother-in-law is so caught up in her own to need to create a family heirloom that she hasn't thought about whether or not her future daughter-in-law would be happy with it; her mother is so caught up in her own wedding-mania that she can't be happy if her daughter finds something she loves without her; and the potential employer is outraged that this woman chose not to take a job with a commute she would resent, even though that resentment would likely breed job dissatisfaction and lowered productivity. In all cases, it's this woman who would have to live with the consequences of each choice, but she's being asked to ignore her own preferences.

Gracious me.

Carolyn Hax: Indeed. Thanks.


Chicago: Wait. One person is allowed to want what they want because it's who they are despite it hurting someone else's feelings (woman who didn't take mom dress shopping) and another person needs to give up their desires if their choices hurt someone else's feelings (couple who want wedding attendants but changed mind about whom). And if you say it's about money in the first instance...a couple hundred dollars? That won't leave her on the streets, I'm guessing.

I'm sure the difference between these is clear to you, but it's not to me. Please clarify.

Carolyn Hax: The dress-shopping and the wedding party are not parallels. The dress grab "hurt" the mother based on the mother's own expectations, generated independent of the bride and her preferences.

The forced-out wedding partiers would have been hurt based on expectations the bride and groom created by inviting them into the (first) wedding party.

Apples and oranges.


TOW the line: not "toe" No, it's toe

Carolyn Hax: Ya.

And yes, I am signed off, I just couldn't help myself. Bye. Really.


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

© 2009 The Washington Post Company