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Carolyn Hax Live: Advice Columnist Tackles Your Problems

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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 19, 2009; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Friday, June 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.

Past Carolyn Hax Live Discussions

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Housewarming parties?: I bought my first house in December. At the time, my coworkers were bugging me for a housewarming party, but I didn't have one then because the house was NOT in order. Now, it's mostly organized and clean, and it's barbecue weather. I'm thinking of having a belated housewarming party in August.

Now, housewarming parties are completely new territory for me, so what's the deal with these things? Is eight months later too late for one? What kind of food/drinks do I serve (I'm still low on funds from buying the house)? I do NOT need gifts--still got a garage full of stuff to sort through from the move--but a couple of coworkers mentioned registering somewhere (I thought that was just for babies and marriages?). Should I, just in case? Augh! Help me, I'm clueless!

Carolyn Hax: Have a party, and don't call it a housewarming. Ta da.

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Faux Pas : Slept with the girl after the first date. The date and the sex were both good, but I don't think I want to see her again. There are a number of reasons, but part of it, honestly, is feeling like there's not anything to look forward to anymore. I owe her a call today. What do I say?

Carolyn Hax: You have two choices. You can either get your head out of your [dark place] and realize that a good, thoughtful, interesting, compatible person can provide you a lifetime's worth of things to look forward to, far beyond but also including a lifetime of good sex--and you can take this opportunity to find out if she is such a person by saying, "I'd like to see you again. How's Thursday?"

Or, you can leave your head in your [dark place], and deny yourself a chance to find out if you've found a good person. For that you say, "I don't want to see you any more, because I lack both the imagination necessary to see past the fact that we had sex, and the sensitivity to give it a try in spite of myself."

Your call.

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Northern Virginia and Exhibitionism: Hi Carolyn---

What do you do with a friend who is becoming increasingly exhibitionist? For example, sending you emails that she and her husband are about to go and "get it on."

I don't know why she would do this except as a grab for attention.

She tells me she, "Likes to freak me out."

Huh? Of course, I don't want to hang out with her as much anymore, but is there anything else I can do

Carolyn Hax: "You're not 'freaking me out,' you're alienating a friend. Please stop the exhibitionism." That way, if she doesn't stop, then you're clear to disappear. She'll have been given the reasons, which makes it essentially her choice to end the friendship.

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Maryland: Hi Carolyn,

Please help...

I have a young son (2.5 years old) who ADORES his uncle, my brother. The problem is that my brother, while he loves my son, he doesn't make the time to see him. I tired of always inviting him (with or without girlfriend) to come over for dinner, play mini golf, whatever - just to see his nephew. Recently my brother and I got into a fight because he doesn't think that he is doing anything wrong. My problem comes in that he makes time for his girlfriend, his girlfriend's family, etc. and he can't make time for me and my family (for even an hour every other week). FWIW...we only live about 30 minutes apart and are more than willing to come to him. How do I get him to grow up and spend some time with my son? Or do I just ignore it and let him develop the relationship when he is ready?

Thanks for your help.

Carolyn Hax: I wish I could program this discussion page to spot the phrase, "How can I get him/her to ...," and automatically turn it into bold red flashing text.

Drop it, please. Clearly, you have already made the case to your brother that you want to see him more. Now, just let go and love the brother you have, not the one you want him to be. More important, teach your son to love the uncle he has, not the one you want him to have.

In other words: Invite your brother whenever the spirit moves you, and treat it as an -invitation,- not an obligation, which means he can say no whenever he wants. Then, when he does say yes, take it for the pleasure it is, no more, no less. Enjoy his company. Say bye, see ya next time. Then don't pout, complain, mope, apply pressure, say anything about your disappointment that your son can hear, or wear it on your face for him to see. If a closer relationship is meant to happen, then it will have a better chance of taking root in this much more hospitable environment. And if it isn't meant to take root, then you won't also be planting expectations in your son that are destined never to be met.

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First Date vs. First Hookup: Hey Carolyn, I'm curious about your answer to "Faux Pas." If he had had a "nice first date" but hadn't hooked up, and wasn't inclined to have a second date, would your answer be the same? Or does the hook-up raise the responsibility?

I agree with your answer, I'm just not sure why.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, that answer could go in all kinds of directions with even the slightest change to the facts. The two main facts I used to answer it were that they had sex, and the sex was the writer's reason for not wanting a second date. The only fact you could change that would bring out the exact same answer would be to make it, "Slept with a boy on the first date."

To answer your question more specifically, I think the hook-up does raise the responsibility. Still, I would have answered differently, in tone, mostly, even if the writer had just given a different reason for not wanting a second date. Say, it wasn't sex that turned him/her off the first date (not making any gender assumptions here), but instead that, in the light of morning, it occurred to Writer that the date wasn't that great after all.

I would probably still suggest a second date--chaste, please--just so both parties could walk away thinking it fell apart because they didn't get along, vs. "Wow, it would have worked if I didn't blow it by having sex." Why? I guess I just believe in leaving as little wreckage in one's wake as possible. The writer may have to hurt the person by not wanting to go out with her any more, but there's no need to leave someone feeling cheap or stupid when you have a chance to prevent it just by rallying for one more date.

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Exhibitionist? Not Close: Telling your friends you're about to "get it on" is exhibitionist and alienating? Context, please. Simply being open about your sexuality with your -friends- is far from exhibitionist. For Pete's sake, her friend even used the wet-noodle euphemism "get it on"! How is that alienating? On the other hand, I have a friend who, when she got out of a 3-year relationship, became very occupied with all sorts of sexual adventures, and talked about them constantly. It got annoying, and I told her I missed talking to her about something other than sex. She scaled back the sex talk. Problem solved. However, if this woman simply refers in passing to her and her husband's sex life, what the hell is the problem? Sex is something we all do and should be allowed to talk about with our friends without running the risk of "alienating" them. Lighten up.

Carolyn Hax: I disagree. The writer described "a friend who is becoming increasingly exhibitionist"--meaning, this is not a onetime thing, but an escalation.

And the question included: "For example, sending emails that she and her husband are about to go and 'get it on'"--meaning, this isn't one thing she said once, this is the kind of thing she says, with increasing frequency or intensity (see "escalation.")

And, "She tells me she likes to freak me out"--meaning we also know the writer has voiced concerns, only to have them dismissed.

These things are called "context." It's ongoing, it's getting worse, and expressing discomfort hasn't fixed it. So, I advised the next step, and I stick to it. Just because you see this friend's behavior as within -your- comfort zone doesn't mean the person who wrote in has to see it that way, too. We're all entitled to our limits, to voice where they are, and to walk away when they aren't respected. if it makes the letter writer prudish in your eyes, or even in the world's eyes, then that's the LW's prerogative. None of us has to stick around for a friendship that has outlived its pleasures.

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For the guy with his head up his....: As a girl, reading stuff like this makes me want to check out of the human race. Guys, it would be great if you could try to stop thinking of sex as a destination, a conquest, or something that the woman "gives up," as opposed to what it actually is: a physical act (a fun one!!!) in which you and your partner are equal participants. I mean, dude, you were THERE, were you not? If having sex somehow diminishes a person's value in the grand scheme of the world, you're in some pretty serious trouble yourself.

Carolyn Hax: A memo just to the guys who don't get this, since so many do. Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: I ended a relationship VERY badly. Essentially turned it into a yoyo for three months while I was making up my mind. I've apologized but I can't seem to get past it in my own head. It's not the kind of person I like to think of myself as and I hate that someone is walking around with bad feelings toward me. How do I move on?

Carolyn Hax: Figure out why you behaved the way you did, what you could have done to prevent it, and what you can do next time not to repeat it. Most people do something rotten eventually, something that can't be undone, and so almost all of us--if not all--have to get used to the idea of living with something forever.

Having something on your conscience presents you with a choice: let it define you as a net loss to society, by carrying it around with you wherever you go; or let it redefine you as a net gain to society, by using it as motivation to be a better person every time you get a chance.

You like to think of yourself as a better person than you were at the end of this relationship, and while that's a lousy feeling, no doubt, to know you can be a jerk, it can also be a productive feeling. Now you know yourself a little bit better. A more accurate, realistic picture will make you better at anticipating yourself, and better able to work around your shortcomings.

It also helps to remember, I think, that this works the other way, too: Just as we all do bad things, we all have bad things done to us, and getting hurt puts us at a similar crossroads as hurting someone. Do we let it hold us back, or push us forward? So while you rightly took responsibility for hurting your ex, it's your ex's responsibility to choose the right road now at that crossroads. There may be someone out there with bad feelings toward you, sure, but those feelings could also transform in countless ways.

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Exhibionist writer again...: Thanks for these comments on my issue.

To add more context, these often comments do not occur within any kind of conversation, which would make it more understandable.

For instance, regarding this last incident, I received the random email about her and her husband earlier in the week. It was a totally random email, not in the context of any conversation/thread and involved no other information. Just one line about her and her husband "getting it on." So, it wasn't just "in passing" as the other writer said--that, I agree, would not be as odd. Also, she's not 24. She's 35 with two kids for what it's worth.

If I express discomfort, she tells me I'm being a prude. I'm not, but feel like I'm being pushed against a wall and manipulated. I think she says odd things to me sometimes just to see how I will react. BTW, other mutual friends have seen this behavior from her, too.

That said, I'm willing to look at all angles of this, in case I'm off. But friendship shouldn't be this annoying to manuver through.

Do these details change anything?

Carolyn Hax: Not for me, since that's how I took it originally, but possibly for the follower-up? Thanks for rounding things out.

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For Exhibitionism: A friend of mine does the same thing- she often reveals way too much to me and other girlfriends regarding sex with her boyfriend. The stories are often about how great the sex was last night, or how she plans on doing X, Y, and Z with him all weekend long when they go on vacation. Then when we're one-on-one I hear about the problems they have, and how it's usually make-up sex. Your friend talking about her sex life with her husband could be her way of making a bad home situation appear good to those on the outside. Since you think it's a desperate cry for attention, perhaps you should ask her "Now that you have my attention, what do you really want to talk about?"

Carolyn Hax: Interesting idea, thanks.

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SIL Help: Husband and I are having dinner with SIL and her boyfriend tonight. Boyfriend mistreats SIL verbally, emotionally and most likely physically. SIL knows how husband and I feel about the boyfriend. She refuses to talk about the issues and wants to marry him.

I am so frustrated with the entire situation that that if anything happens that is even close to mistreatment I might just start screaming at the boyfriend.

Any advice to get through dinner or going forward in general?

Carolyn Hax: The guy is a problem, yes, but the one who needs your attention more is your sister. If she is indeed hanging on to someone who is abusing her, and if she is indeed refusing to open her eyes, then she is in an emotionally precarious state. Please stop mentioning him, deliberately, and address her in terms of your feelings. "I am worried about you. I feel sad when I see you [withdraw/apologize/whatever signs she's exhibiting of being an abuse victim]." Please call 1-800-799-SAFE for specifics on how to handle situations like your upcoming dinner.

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BYOS : My three best girlfriends and I take an annual summer trip to New York to party and see a Broadway show. We are all 28. We each have one sister, and have decided this year to bring our sisters along. My sister is only 19, and cannot drink alcohol or hang out at bars, so that will be somewhat limiting, which I made clear when we were making the plans. GFs said it was okay and that we'd be creative about filling our nights.

Yesterday, though, I had an e-mail in my inbox, from an account I didn't recognize, anonymously asking me to reconsider bringing my little sister because it would be "more fun" to "honor the traditions of boozing it up" and "meeting guys." These things have been major elements in our previous trips, but I thought we had agreed we'd make an exception this year to include sisters. Mostly, though, I am terribly hurt that one (or two, or all) of my best friends chose this weird anonymity instead of just coming to me directly. I don't know whether to confront them en masse or just let it go, but I am certainly thinking I will have to forgo this trip. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: Wow. I would forward it to all three of them, with a note that if anyone has something to say, you'd prefer that she'd come out and say it, thanks. What comes of that will tell you whether you want to go or cancel.

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Olney, Md.: My best friend recently had a baby. She is having a hard time adjusting and I'm worrying about her. Her husband says she just needs adjustment time, but I really think she is showing signs of PPD. Is there a resource I can look into? And how do I bring up the subject with my friend without alienating her further?

Carolyn Hax: Have you said this to the husband? You've apparently talked about it--I;m wondering if he was receptive or if he dismissed your concerns.

I'll look for your response and try to post again, but in case I miss it, the upshot is that someone, possibly you, will have to say something to your friend. There is a risk the suggestion will offend her, but, remember, you wouldn't be pointing out a personal failing--PPD is a common chemical imbalance. If that's in fact what she has.

Even if she doesn't have PPD, it's not uncommon for the adjustment to be a real struggle. Either way, listen to her, be there to help with the heavy lifting, even if it's just to bring dinners a few nights a week or hold the baby while she showers. Everything sounds better coming from someone who's there and really helping, vs, someone who drops in to offer only expectations and opinions (not that you're doing this, just that so many people do).

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Washington, D.C.: I work hard and have recently been promoted to a senior staff position. I am the youngest person in the senior staff and probably within the division itself. Additionally, I look young for my age. I sometimes hear people talking about my office, the promotion, etc. and about my age. What can I do to combat this?

Carolyn Hax: Your job, well.

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San Francisco: I'm leaving the country for three months, and rather than have my apartment sit empty, I have agreed to sublet to a friend. While I think Friend is generally a good person, she has done a few shady things in the past in terms of money (like "forgetting her wallet" when we go out to eat, then saying she'll pay the next time we go out, then conveniently forgetting to pick up the tab). We have already discussed the arrangement via a series of emails and phone calls, but we haven't done any formal "contract". I don't want to make this seem too formal or like I don't trust her, but at the same time, I want to ensure that I get paid the agreed-upon amount and don't get some story at the end. Advice?

Carolyn Hax: Don't sublet your apartment to friends who are shady about money.

if it's too late for that, then ask for a month's rent as a security deposit, and the first month's rent to be paid before you go. That way, at worst, you'll be out a month's rent (and a so-so friend). And save those e-mails you exchanged; if you handled any arrangements by phone only, put them into a "confirmation" email and send to her, so you have some kind of record of all elements of the arrangement.

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Marking Her Territory?: I found a bra (not mine) under the bed I share with my husband. I also found a Post-It note covered with a woman's handwriting stuck to the passenger door of his car. I think it's the work of someone who desperately wants not to be a secret anymore. Now what?

Carolyn Hax: Say this to your husband? I would also suggest thinking carefully about what you want your next step in life to be. Not that you'll be able to come to a definitive answer--I just think it will help you with your conversation with your husband. It sounds as if that conversation won't be about the what (hard to see how it could be anything but an affair), but instead the whys and the what-nexts. If you're in front of those, then you'll be more resourceful in getting the information you need.

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Bi-Polar: If the exhibitionist friend has not usually been like this in the past, it's possible she is ramping up the manic phase of a bipolar disorder. Dropping of inhibitions, increased sexuality, doing things for shock value, and not having a lot of control over your behavior even in the face of a friend's admission it makes her uncomfortable are definitely signs worth checking.

Carolyn Hax: Also interesting, thanks. If the context supports it, it could be a "eureka" moment.

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Question : My husband and I are an interracial couple (I'm white) living in an all-white area. We are planning to eventually have children, who will obviously be biracial. My husband faces regular discrimination individually, and we sometimes run into problems as a couple. I know he wishes he lived in a place where he wouldn't be such a stark minority. However, my whole family lives here (we are very close) and I cannot imagine living any place else. Any time we start to tentatively talk about moving, we end up deciding to stay put. I think he feels very responsible for keeping me happy and I really don't want to be away from my family. Am I being really selfish here?

Carolyn Hax: How would you like it if people treated you, regularly, like a second-class citizen?

If the answer is anything but, "I would love it!!!" then why are you so comfortable choosing that for your husband?

Obviously your husband is making choices for himself, too, but, the way you lay this out, he's making sacrifices for you. You? Sounds as if you are knowingly sacrificing him for yourself. Definition of selfish. Again, he's a grownup, and he's choosing to stay with you on these terms, but I have to wonder when he'll start wondering what's in this marriage for him.

Note that I didn't even get to the future kids. The answer here is in the two of you, and will extend to the kids. If the answer would change when there were kids involved, then it isn't the right answer.

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Rockville, Md.: Re: BYOS and the anonymous email about how she shouldn't bring her 19-year-old sister along on the girls-only trip to New York City.

How much would you like to bet that that anonymous email came from one of the gal-pals' sisters rather than the one of the gal-pals themselves? Sounds to me like a whiny "But I wanted to get drunk and fool around with the big kids." rather than a "What do you mean we can't get drunk and fool around anymore?"

Forwarding it to the three friends is a great idea. Which ever one of them is the big sister of the whiner will be able to straighten that little sister out before the road trip.

Carolyn Hax: I didn't even think of that--it would make sense. I was just thinking that it was possible two friends had nothing to do with it and so it wouldn't be right to treat them all as guilty. But you make an even more powerful argument for calling out the guilty. Thanks.

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New York, N.Y.: To San Francisco--DO NOT, repeat DO NOT, sublet the apartment without an iron-clad agreement. You can find templates online that you can tweak to fit your situation. Also check out the tenancy laws in your area--she may have a legal right to stay there, regardless of your wishes, after a certain amount of time.

I am in the middle of a horrible situation right now where a friend of a friend stayed with us for a few weeks, then eked it out past 30 days, after promising to leave. Now she is refusing to leave and we have to go through a formal eviction process. We think she gamed the system and knew about the 30-day clause--meanwhile she's unstable and screams at us. I wouldn't wish this situation on anyone--PROTECT YOURSELF.

Carolyn Hax: Just passing this along.

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Terratori, AL: She found a bra under their BED, in her house, (not to mention the note) and she's said nothing to him and is writing in to you for guidance? He's lucky. I would have strangled him with that bra as soon it, he, and I were in the same room!

Carolyn Hax: That's why I suggested the preliminary thought process. Not just as an anti-strangulation measure, but because someone who has already opted against the, "I found this, your stuff's on the stoop, you can talk to me through my lawyer" option is actually weighing options. That's key. Everyone approaches these things differently, and it can't hurt for her to explore the way she wants to approach it before the emotions/rationales/souvenir undergarments start flying.

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For Biracial Couple: How do areas become less bigoted if people of color and quality run away? (P.S. I get looks and occasional comments about my whiter-than-me children- but I ain't leavin'.)

Carolyn Hax: That's your choice, one you make for yourself. It's not a choice a spouse should be able to make for you.

If that's why this husband is staying, then more power to him--but he should also tell his wife this so she doesn't continue to feel guilty for pressuring him into living in an unfriendly environment.

And if, on the other hand, the husband doesn't share your interest in being a crusader, then that's his prerogative, and his spouse owes him a fair hearing on the issue, not just an empty conversation about moving where she quietly chants to herself, "Don't ask me to move, don't ask me to move, don't ask me to move ..."

It's a joint, transparent decision between equals, or it's a mistake--whichever option they choose, stay or go.

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Affairs: When people have affairs the advise is usually, "Look at what's missing in your marriage. What aren't you getting from your spouse?" But what if you just want to sleep with other people, plain and simple? What if there's nothing wrong with your marriage, you just want something different?

Carolyn Hax: Then have a frank discussion of such with your spouse. Who knows, maybe s/he feels the same way.

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Friend that recently had a baby: It's me again.

I did talk to my friend's husband and her mother (I have known her since we were born). Both of them dismissed it as just readjusting. But, I think this is more serious - the baby is colicky, she is not bonding with the baby, and I think she is blaming herself for not being able to create a bond. She is not returning phone calls, not wanting to get together, and isolating herself from what has been her support system. That is why I am so concerned. I have tenderly brought the subject up with her "how are you doing/feeling," "can i do anything to help," "I'm coming over to give you some down time," etc. but she keeps dodging my efforts. I'm worried that if I keep skating around the problem and everyone else keeps ignoring it, it will develop into something much worse...

Carolyn Hax: Well, maybe she doesn't want to talk about it, or even hear about it, because it (in her mind) forces her to defend herself, her baby, etc--which can come to feel like just one more job she has to do. You've said your piece to her, to her husband and to her mom, so now it's time to shift your approach and be someone who -doesn't- probe, but instead just helps without judging.

If she won't even see you, then drop off meals they can freeze. That tells her you're there when she's ready. If she will see you, listen without offering advice. Advice to a new mom is like water on a witch--the person offering it sees it as plain harmless ol' water, but boy can it burn.

The problem may still develop into something worse, but sometimes that happens despite the best efforts of others. Again, you've mentioned depression to the people who have your friend's ear. Now, just concentrate on being her friend.

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Biracial couple: Wow. Carolyn, you were way too nice to the wife of the biracial couple.

Oh please. We, too, are a biracial couple as well. I am first generation American born Asian and my wife is descended from Mayflower immigrants, so about as white as you can get. There are very few towns in American anymore which are so totally and utterly monolithic that you can't find a mixed culture part of town. You can't imagine living in another neighborhood maybe 20 minutes from your family instead of in the same one, just to save your husband a lifetime of frustration and pain? That -IS- really selfish. We selected the upscale neighborhood that we live in, in part, because we love that it is very mixed culture. We have some gay families, some hispanic families, and several other biracial families. And we're BOTH comfortable here. Look around. I bet there are neighborhoods that are close to your family that would be comfortable to both of you. If you can't, you should let your husband go so he can find another partner who does think highly of him and treats him as he deserves to be treated. Personally, I would view this as borderline emotional abuse. Anyone who has suffered under regular bigotry would understand.

Carolyn Hax: I see your point, but I can't discount the fact that the husband is a sentient adult who has choices of his own.

Still, it's nice to know I have room to be meaner than calling her the "definition of selfish."

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Housewarming parties: LOL, ok, fair enough. :-) But I really am curious about the etiquette for these things, since I expect a lot of my friends (20-somethings) will be having them in the next few years. I'd probably bring a bottle of booze as a present. Good?

Am I right that registering for a housewarming party is tacky? Just curious about that one. I promise not to be rude if anyone I know develops a housewarming registry.

Carolyn Hax: Good, if it's a booze you know they like.

Registries are a convenient evil that solve the very narrow problem of helping guests from afar buy appropriate gifts to acknowledge major milestone events to which they're invited. Extending the definition beyond this narrow one is among many culprits in the commercialization of feelings, and presumably you're not inviting your Aunt Whosie to come from the opposite coast to celebrate your housewarming, so I would say yes, ixnay on the housewarming registry, thanks.

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Then have a frank discussion of such with your spouse: Carolyn, with all due respect, I think your answer is overly idealistic and not practical in the sense that the questioner asked. If it were practical, he/she probably would have had that discussion. In all likelihood, the spouse is not willing to entertain that possibility (who would?).

Perhaps what he's asking is "How do I choose between a good marriage to someone I want to grow old with vs. an unfulfilled sex life?"...the latter of which is something which will pass.

This is a more complex question than can simply be answered with "talk it over with your spouse."

Carolyn Hax: Well, no, with all due respect, it isn't. It's not a choice you can make for your spouse without your spouse's consent, is it? To have him or her sleep with you while you are, unbeknownst to him or her, sleeping with other people?

So, you either choose to forgo the sexual variety, or you choose to ask your spouse's blessing, knowing full well there may be consequences.

If you're right that the question is really, "How do I make peace with having no sexual variety," then that is a different question--but I'm still not sure it comes with a complex answer. There is no shortage of examples in these discussions of people who have to do without something profound: having children, having a mate, pursuing a dream. The interracial couple offered another good example today--they both face the prospect of never feeling at home.

And there's no real answer there. You make your either-or choices, and find a way to live with them by focusing on the things that do fulfill you.

Eh, you got me, it's now a longer answer.

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Hawaiian Hell: My best friend is getting married in Hawaii next year. I (as well as the rest of her friends and family) am located here in the continental U.S. Is it so rude of me to call her out on how expensive this is going to be for those of us who are in the wedding party but do not have mommy and daddy footing the bill? She is requesting that all of us show up a week prior to the actual wedding day. FWIW all of our friends are 26, all have decent jobs, but a week in Hawaii?! Am I being a jerk/selfish/brat for feeling some sort of resentment towards my best friend for putting us through this financial hell?? Thanks Carolyn! Love your advice!

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. Please just tell her you love her and wish her well, and won't be able to go to her wedding. If she puts you through the ringer for it, then any regular in this forum will know what I think that says about your friendship and your friend.

Or, you say "Whoohoo! A chance to go to Hawaii!" and mean it. It's either-or.

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Small towns: "There are very few towns in American anymore which are so totally and utterly monolithic that you can't find a mixed culture part of town. You can't imagine living in another neighborhood maybe 20 minutes from your family..."

This sounds like someone who has not lived in a small town/rural area. Many small towns do have a mixed culture, but many don't. And many of them do not have neighborhoods 20 minutes away -- you're well out of town by then and living on a farm. I'm willing to bet there are many all-white, monolithic towns not all that far from DC in PA, MD, WV, and VA.

Carolyn Hax: Yeh, I stopped at that, too, but your "not all that far from DC in PA, MD, WV, and VA," for example, allows for a lot of cultural variety a not-too-long-drive away.

I also have a problem with the idea that all-one-race equals all-intolerance-of-other-races. The question becomes, how do you spot a friendly place from scratch? Trial and error is a non-starter.

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Dramaville, USA: So let's say Jack, Jane, Betty, and Susan are all mutual friends.

One day Betty offends Susan enough that Susan decides to end the friendship. Susan says some nasty things to Betty and both get mad at one another. Jane and Jack didn't think Betty said anything all that offensive in the first place, but are able to mediate enough so that the two are cordial if at the same event. Their friendship does not continue.

Fast forward four years. Jane is catching up with Susan, when out of the blue Susan tells Jane that she is still upset at both Jane and Jack for still being friends with Betty and says "if we were real friends, we would have stopped speaking to Betty".

Jack's Hax-alarm indicates this is controlling behavior and thinks Susan needs to let go, but recognizes that saying this probably wouldn't go over so well. What can Jack say to clearly indicate that he has no plan to follow Betty's passive aggressive ultimatum without coming off as an insensitive jerk and becoming the next person on Susan's black list?

Carolyn Hax: "He has no plan to follow Betty's passive aggressive ultimatum"--you mean Susan's, right?

If so, I'm having trouble seeing why Jane and Jack are still close to Susan. She sounds childish and annoying at best.

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Housewarming gifts: One of my favorite housewarming gifts is to buy a platter, bowl or other serving dish and put something in it. Brownies on a china serving plate. Fruit salad in a glass/crystal bowl. Then serving dish and food are given to the host/hostess who can choose to share or put it aside for themselves later. I've been to later parties at some of these places and seen my gifts being used again. And I have several items like this that were given to us and I think fondly of the friends who gave them to us every time I use them to host.

Carolyn Hax: It's even better if you're open to the idea--and say as much to the host--of having the dish used for a similar purpose in the future. Meaning, the host can keep the dish if it's useful, or use it to bring food to someone else's home, where that next host can then keep it or regift it accordingly. These pass-arounds are great for people who may have more dishes than they can ever use.

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Atlanta, Ga.: My 17-year-old daughter is pregnant and for religious reasons will be keeping the baby. My husband and I were very disappointed at first but have adjusted to the idea and are looking forward to having a grandchild so close by. My question is, given that my daughter has no experience with babies while I've raised three of them, how much involvement is appropriate from me? I don't want to cripple her growth as a new mom, but I also can't imagine letting her screw the baby up just to keep up my hands-off approach.

Carolyn Hax: You've both got a lot of learning and adjusting to do, so start if off by setting the precedent of openness. Tell her what you're thinking, and ask her opinion of how she'd like you to handle it. She may be a minor, but she is also, already, a fellow mom, and the sooner you see her that way (i.e., the sooner you remember that you were a rookie, too, with your first), the more receptive she's likely to be to your input.

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Carolyn Hax: That's it for today, and for the next two weeks. I'm off next Friday, and Live Online will go dark the Friday after that in observance of the Fourth. Thanks for stopping by, and if you have something to ask in the meantime, I'm at tellme@washpost.com. See you in July.

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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.

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.

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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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