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My Stepson Smells, My Roommate is a Slob, How Do You Turn Away Tacky Gifts? Tired Of Getting Conservative Spam From My Aunt, and Much More

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 17, 2009 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Friday, July 17 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.

Carolyn's Recent Columns

Past Carolyn Hax Live Discussions

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Carolyn Hax: Hey everybody. Listening to Belly today, in keeping with my musical nostalgia for the 90s. Hope all is well with you.

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Arlington, Va.: Carolyn, please help with my dilemma! My (much) younger sister's boyfriend called to tell me that he is planning to propose on her 21st birthday. I was horrified by this news. They have only been dating for a year and a half, and my sister still has a year left of college. Neither one has ever lived on their own - they both are living with their parents in our small hometown. The boyfriend, while he has a college degree, only recently took his first full-time, salaried job-and it's certainly not a job anyone would want to make into a career. His mom (a realtor) pressured him into immediately buying a condo in our hometown.

Now, I realize that everyone has a right to live their own life, but I can't help but feel that as the older sister, I need to have a heart-to-heart with my sister about the fact that there is so much to see of life and there is no rush to get married! Obviously, if I talk to her, I will have ruined the "surprise" engagement. I know the chances of it changing things are slight, but I feel like I have to say something to her. I've already given my opinion to the boyfriend who further convinced me of his immaturity by telling me that "marriage will just be changing the title on their relationship." My mom told me to back off but I think her opinion is weighted by empty nest syndrome and grandbaby fever. What do you say? Do I have a right/obligation to at least give my opinion to my sister?

Carolyn Hax: You have a powerful right/obligation to keep your mouth shut. In other words, I'm solidly with your mom here, despite having a full nest of my own and complete disinterest in your family's next generation.

This is your sister's business. It's her surprise to enjoy (or suffer--we don't know how she'll receive the news), and her decision to make. If she makes a mistake, it will be her mistake to overcome.

When the time comes for your sister to seek your opinion, that's when you offer it. Don't worry if she doesn't ask you for it explicitly; it will be all over your face, body language, sleeve, and maybe a few other pieces of clothing.

The main thing to worry about here, I believe, is the risk of having such a strong opinion. While I, for example, am disposed to agree with you that there's no rush for these two to get married, I'm also humbled on a daily basis by the complexity of outcomes in life. Even if your sister does say yes (you don't know that she will), and even if she does go through with the wedding (you don't know that she won't change her mind), and even if it does result in an unhappy marriage (you don't know that they won't grow together), that marriage may end in such a way that matures her, awakens something in her, and even brings her path alongside the path of someone really good for her. (more)

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Carolyn Hax: In other words, this proposal will take your sister down a different path than the one she's on now. That's safe to say. What you can't say--what no one can say--is where this path will ultimately take her. With the exception of certain known pathologies--alcoholism, abuse, a few others--you can't assume life has a linear course to a predictable outcome.

Your sister will have to find her way. If she asks your help in doing that, great, tell her your opinion--but make sure you do so with the full awareness that mistakes can age and weather into blessings, just as that perfect person one marries at just the right time in the perfect arc of life can get hit by a bus.

Humility goes a long way.

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Shirlington, Va.: My best friend from college is getting married in a couple of months. I truly adore her and we had such a great time in college, but she's terrible at being in touch and not such a giving friend. We've had our issues in the past (her saying she would do something, not doing it, etc), and I have pretty much given up on the friendship and moved on (we speak once every couple of years besides being Facebook friends which adds no value...). I'm torn as to what to do about this wedding. I would love to go and be there to support her and enjoy her wonderful day and see old friends, but worry that it won't change anything, and I'll end up with expectations too high and be hurt. It also doesn't help that the wedding is a 3-day affair with an 8-hour drive and the only two hotel options are $300 a night. Help?

Carolyn Hax: Eh. Don't go. If you're 1. counting the money; 2. counting the miles; 3. seriously entertaining the idea that appearing at the wedding will set this friendship on the course to becoming the friendship you have always wanted but never gotten from her, then you'll be wasting your time and money.

If, however, you can come to see it as a kind of mini-college reunion, a fun trip with people you like that will probably not change your life in any significant way (at least, not in any predictable way--see above), and if you can achieve this mind set without lying to yourself, then go for it.

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Young Marriages...: I married too young, to the complete wrong person, and wound up divorced less than three years later.

What I remember most is that only one friend asked if I was sure about what I was doing. I wasn't hurt by her question, and went ahead with the wedding anyhow. That same friend was abundantly there for me to pick up the pieces three years later.

You can bring up concerns about a wedding, if it's done in a loving way, vs. with butt-clenching withering disapproval. But you also have to recognize that people make their own mistakes, and, as family, you'll have to be there for her whether the marriage works out or not.

Carolyn Hax: Well said, and I don't just mean the "butt-clenching withering disapproval," which is now the newest item in my lexicon. Thanks.

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Good Neighbor vs. Push Over: During the last school year I helped my neighbor out by occasionally taking care of her child in the morning so her husband could go to early meetings for work. As the year progressed this went from occasional to daily and from 10 minutes before the bus to a 6:15AM drop off. For a variety of reasons this will not work for my family next year. I have told her that we would not be able to watch her kids (both our youngest are starting Kindergarten) in the morning. My neighbor is extremely irritated and has asked me again to do her this favor. I want to say no but I do not want to have to deal with her hostility either. Should I give in to keep the peace or be strong and deal with the repercussions?

Carolyn Hax: Oh my goodness. I'm going with "pushover." Her totally inappropriate hostility is a reason to hold firm to your "no," not a reason to reconsider it. (The one exception would be if you were worried about the child and wanted to offer even this small shelter from a stormy parent. But, still ...) If you can't do it, you can't do it. Even if you just don't want to, that's good enough, too.

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Tijuana, Baja Calif.: Dear Carolyn:

How do you change a pattern of behavior that you learned during childhood that you know is not healthy emotionally? Lately, I find myself reacting to my husband in the same ways my mother used to react to my father -- which never resulted in a happy home. But even though I consciously know i need to change my reactions and thought patterns, I genuinely have no idea how else to react to him sometimes. Its almost as if the things I observed and learned in childhood are so imprinted in my mind that its hopeless to try and change them. can you offer some advice?

Carolyn Hax: What you're asking for is exactly one of the functions of professional counseling: Lay out your triggers, spell out your reactions, describe the nasty effects this had on your unhappy home as a kid. Then, ask the trained professional to help you figure out some more productive responses to these triggers, including ways to anticipate and bypass the triggers before they happen.

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Bethesda, Md.: Silly problem - but could use some help. I am meeting some old friends from my very small home town for drinks and appetizers...only I just found out I'm pregnant! How do I have "drinks and apps" without making it obvious or a statement (verbal or nonverbal)? It is still way too early for John Q. Public to know.

Any thoughts?

Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: If you weren't pregnant and choosing not to drink, then you wouldn't think twice about it. If anyone noticed, you'd just say, "Idunno, I don't feel like drinking." Or, "I don't feel great today," or, "I'm driving," or, "I've lost my taste for it," or "I'm still getting over last night," or, "I'm on medication," or, "I'm in recovery," or whatever the reason was and whatever degree of sharing these friendships permit.

It's the fact of withholding something that causes the discomfort. As such, you'll probably end up broadcasting "I HAVE A SECRET" no matter what you say, but I would still suggest just looking at it as a non-issue. That's your best chance that everyone else will, too.

Congrats.

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Arlington, Va.: I think that one of the biggest transitions from college to adulthood is understanding and accepting that the terms of friendships change. When you're in college, your best friends are right there, in close physical proximity, you share the same college life and experiences. Then you graduate and move apart. Sometimes people think that that the dynamics of the relationship will continue on exactly as they did in college. But more times than not, they won't. Your lives are separate now, you have separate jobs, maybe separate cities, you have boyfriends/girlfriends/husbands/wives. Your "inner circle" of daily life involves the people and things that are in close proximity to you, that you do/see everyday. It doesn't mean that your old college friends are no longer friends....it just means the friendship is different. Maybe now it's just a special occasion friendship - you see or talk to each other for major events or holidays. It doesn't mean you're not friends just because you don't talk every day or know everything that's going on in each other's life all the time.

Carolyn Hax: Well argued, thanks. I'll even take it one step further, and suggest that a college "best friend" (CBF) often turns out to be a particularly memorable proximity friend. You may never feel as close to, say, a colleague as you did to your CBF, but just like with that colleague, the commonality is on a shared-day-to-day-business level, not on a soul level as you may come to believe at 3 a.m. in the throes of debate about Life. When you change jobs, you're much less likely to dwell on why you and the colleague no longer connect the way you used to. It seems obvious--you're no longer spending 9 hours a day 5 feet apart. But that's often the same loss for the same reasons as when college friends part ways: You're no longer feeding at the same dining-hall trough twice a day. It just takes more of an emotional leap to admit that's what's going on.

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Dirt City: Hi Carolyn,

I need your help with a gross and awkward question. I live with a girl in my med school class who is not much fun to live with. Don't get me wrong, she's great to talk to and hang out with, but I wish I'd never agreed to live with her. She's messy and careless, is careless with my stuff, and our place only gets cleaned when I clean it (which, needless to say, is a disgusting and frustrating experience). This home is not in any way a sanctuary. So I mostly live with my fiancee and come here from time to time to switch clothes and hang out when I know she'll be gone.

The reason I'm writing is because I just went to take a shower and saw my razor on her side. When I looked at it it was obvious she had used it (GROSS!). Part of me wants to confront her, but another part of me knows she will just deny it and then there will be tension. The lease runs through next June and I am fine with hiding at my fiancees place, but I realize I am avoiding a difficult conversation that I should have the chutzpa to have. Help?

Carolyn Hax: I know a lot of people are going to disagree with me on this, but I'm not convinced there's any value in confronting her. I mean, if you have to tell someone not to use your razor, do you really think it's going to work? And do you really want to go on the honor system here? Instead, I would suggest just keeping the things you care about tucked/locked away. If you have to start taking a bucket of your stuff to and from the shower, dorm style, then so be it. It's just a year in the life.

The cleaning is a little different. For that, when it's time to clean the apartment, you can just say something like, "When you get a chance, would you mind cleaning the bathroom? I got it the last couple of times, and it's starting to get gross again." A totally normal thing to ask of a roommate--and maybe this roommate situation is not totally normal, but it's still worth a try.

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Anonymous: How do I gently tell my mom that her constant questions about my budding love life is really making me feel stressed out and bad about myself. My relationship is just starting, and I'm not sure where it's going, if anywhere. My mom is anxious and is constantly asking about it, along with the "you're not getting any younger" line. Adding to the problem is that my mom is not a native English speaker so I am not even sure whether my side of the discussion, in English, is being understood by her.

Carolyn Hax: The problem is not that the discussion isn't comprehensible, it's that there's a discussion at all. You may say you don't want the barrage of questions, but when you take the time to respond to them--even if it's just to detail why you don't like responding to them--then you're sending the message that her questions will be answered. And so, she keeps asking.

Instead, now that you've tried the explaining route, you have to move on to the your-questions-will-get-you-nowhere route. Example:

She: "How's your relationship going?"

You: "Great, thanks."

She: "Great how? How often do you see him, where does he take you, have you met his family yet, is this serious ...?"

You: "It's all fine. So, Mom, how is [something about her life]?"

She: "You're not answering my questions. This is important, you know, you're not getting any younger."

You: "Yes, thanks for your concern. Is [someone you both know] still [something you know about that person]?"

She: "[presses relationship issue]."

You: "Okay, mom, gotta go. I'll see/talk to you [time in the near future, to show you and she are still close, you're just not talking about your love life with her today]."

This isn't a script, it's just an example, but it's an example of NOT yielding an inch of turf and letting the other person know, lovingly, that they need to step back off said turf. Plug in the words that suit your style, and hold that ground.

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Arlington, Va.: There was an unexpected death in my family several months ago, of a second cousin, whom I had not seen in years. I did not call my aunt and uncle to offer my sympathy right away because I was told they were quite shaken up, and as we're not extremely close, I did not want to intrude. I did not go to the memorial because it was out of state and I couldn't make it. I fully intended to call my aunt and uncle a week or so after this happened, but I just didn't. I also didn't send a card. I feel very bad for not offering an expression of my sympathy. But now, several months later, I'm not sure how to do it. Any advice on how to proceed?

Carolyn Hax: Write a letter. Write that it never seemed like the right time and that nothing you wanted to say seemed like the right thing to say. But really all you wanted to say was that ... well, that's where you take over. Something always beats nothing.

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Going Only to the Wedding Reception?: Hi Carolyn--My fiance and I invited one of his work colleagues/friends to our wedding. He recently called my fiance and said, "We're (he and his wife) only going to go to the reception; you know how church ceremonies can be long." My fiance, said nothing in reply. My question is, do I just let this go, or do I or my fiance say something to this guy to express our disappointment/surprise? I've never heard of anyone rsvp'g just for the reception!

Carolyn Hax: You know what, there are just too many things in life that are worth our attention to give attention to something/one like this. Just put a mark in the "doink" column and enjoy your wedding.

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New York: My dear aunt, whom I have always had a good relationship with, is fond of sending email forwards of a religious and politically conservative nature (my sister and I refer to them as "Jesus emails"). You know, Jesus's picture showing up in a bowl of cereal or things like, "Obama wants to kill babies!" and "Refuse new dollar coins because they don't say 'In God we trust'!" Although they are often good for a laugh (I very nicely pointed out that the phrase was on the SIDE of the coin), I also find them annoying and preachy and wold prefer not to receive them. But how does one "unsubscribe" from a personal mailing list like that? She tends to be easily offended and I don't want to cause a rift, but at the same time I feel like she should know me well enough to know that stuff isn't my cup of tea. Do I speak up or just continue to press delete?

Carolyn Hax: (b) Continue to press delete.

This is turning into a long argument for non-engagement today. Just right for a hot hot day in July, I guess.

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Virginia: In the spirit of today's discussion of changing friendships...

A couple days ago I had a phone conversation with an old friend of 15+ years where she spent a significant amount of time ripping into another friend and generally being a really unpleasant person. At the time I nodded and told her to chill, but as the conversation settles in my mind, I am getting really upset with her. The entire conversation was obnoxious and rude and is in line with a change in behavior I've witnessed over the past year or two. We don't speak that often, so I am torn between calling her again and confronting her or just letting it go and taking note of a changing friendship (aka one I don't enjoy too much). When you're dealing with old friendships like this, how much do you owe the person? Should I say something?

Carolyn Hax: Actually, this fits into the non-engagement theme, too. I would give this friend a pass for this conversation, and have the next conversation at the normal interval for the normal reasons. If she starts ripping into someone/getting negative again, first try taking the conversation somewhere else. E.g., "I;m sorry you're having such a hard time with X. On another note, how's Y going?"

If she doesn't bite and keeps ripping, then point out, gently, that you get so little of her time as it is, you'd rather not spend it dwelling on [negative thing].

If -that- doesn't work, then you're really at a crossroads. You can decide this friend isn't worth any further investment, and say, "Well, hey, great to catch up, gotta go," and essentially extract yourself from the friendship on all but a surface basis. Or, you can decide these 15 years warrant a real effort, at which point you say, "I've noticed recently that you seem angry--at first it seemed to be aimed at this person or that person, but now it's starting to seem like anger at life. Are you okay?"

At which point you'll either get an honest glimpse of your old friend, or you'll be staring down the barrel of her anger yourself. Either way, you'll have given it your best shot, and she'll know where you stand.

As you can see, I've left the answer to your question up to you, about what you owe her. But I think the preliminary steps of trying to redirect the conversations will tell you what you need to know about your own feelings for her and about her willingness to drop her dukes--which will then tell you whether you want to keep trying or ride off into the sunset.

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Young Marriage: I am bemused by the attitude of so many that 21 is "too young". I met my now-husband when we were 18, we married when we were 25, and I know of several couples in our social circle (mid forties, Fairfax County, ridiculously over-educated academics) who began their relationships when they were teenagers. It's both more common and more successful than you seem to think.

Come on, Carolyn, you don't magically meet the "right person" (gag) when you are the "right" age. Some folks can build a great, long-lasting relationship starting when they are 16 -- some, never.

The older sister needs to advocate a long engagement, shut her mouth and open her mind.

Carolyn Hax: Um--okay, but i think you may have misread that part of my point. I wasn't suggesting there's a "right" age, I posed it as a hypothetical to show that any idea of "rightness" is an illusion. (See, "bus," above.)

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"A hot hot day in July": Have you been listening to Raffi?

Carolyn Hax: No, but I did get into an unwinnable argument yesterday with a certain unnamed 6-year-old that it was in fact five green and speckled frogs, not three.

Unwinnable, even though I was RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT.

Now you see why I'm listening to the Eels and Belly whenever I get the chance. (actually, I've moved on to the Cranberries.)

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Washington, D.C.: I'm feeling lonely lately, and I think that's partly because most of my friends live out of state (the problem with moving away from everyone after grad-school), or are local, but married. I'm a bit of a shy homebody to begin with, and I'm easily the youngest person in my office by 10-15 years. Any suggestions on how to meet people and make new (local) friends?

Carolyn Hax: I wish I had a magic answer to this, but there's really no reliable solution other than putting yourself out in the world--anathema, I know, to shy homebodyness.

The introvert's salvation, I've found, is a combination of routine and proximity. Find a few places/activities you enjoy, and make yourself a regular. That allows your status as stranger to erode slowly over time, which then saves you from having to knock down the walls yourself. If people have specific ideas that are introvert-friendly, I'll post them. (If you want to find a hive of introverts, an online forum isn't your worst place to start looking ...)

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re: Bethesda, Md: For the expecting gal meeting her pals for a "drink".. my niece quietly approached the bartender, explained her situation and together they concocted a "code" drink for her to order. Might work for Bethesda too!

Carolyn Hax: True, thanks. She can also be sure to get there early, order something that looks cocktailish--ginger ale with lime or something--nurse it, and then for the "next" drink can "switch to water."

But the fact remains, it's an issue to her and her alone, and to everyone else it's at best a curiosity. Best not to lose sight of that.

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Northern Wisconsin: My husband and I bought a lake cabin quite a few years ago, and looked forward to decorating and accessorizing it. We are also lucky enough to have loving and generous family and friends to whom this prospect also appealed. We've been given many gifts since, as cabin warming and subsequent holiday gifts. Some were knick-knacks, some were entire bathroom decorations. We love and appreciate these people very much, but there were times when I felt obligated to replace the items I had bought with the gifts we've been given.

We are now doing an extensive renovation, and again I am so looking forward to decorating, and yet selfishly wondering if there is a way to communicate to these folks that we'd like to do so ourselves. There are many conflicting emotions, mainly gratitude vs. "we want to pick out our stuff!" Do we just leave it go and use what we're given if and as we desire?

Carolyn Hax: Yep. You're under no obligation to use what you get, though it is always a bit of a downer to shelve gifts from people you care about, knowing they just want to show affection and gratitude. What can you do, though--you can use only so much stuff.

If people are merciful and ask you what you might need or what they should bring, then definitely take that opportunity to steer them somewhere useful. It might even get a word-of-mouth trend started if you think of something that can't fail, no matter how many people bring it. Books, for example--you can suggest good vacation reading for your take-one, leave-one bookshelf.

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Syracuse, N.Y.: Dear Carolyn, Are there "rules of etiquette" when you've been dumped by a friend? A pal who lives across the street stopped returning phone calls and e-mails several months ago. By the time I realized I'd been cut out (new parent insanity), it was too late to politely ask "is there something wrong?" Plus, I was kind of glad of the distance. Still, my ego is kind of bruised and I wish she'd at least have opted for a more casual friendship over nothing at all. Do I have to do more than nod and smile when I see her on the street? Is it ok to avoid her if I see her coming my way? Am I obligated to ask if there was something I did that bothered her? That feels a lot like begging and having her smile and politely brush me off (which is likely) would just deepen my feelings of rejection.

Carolyn Hax: If you're happy not to be friends any more, and if it's just your curiosity/ego being denied satisfaction, then I'd go with the smile and wave approach. When you see her, you greet her warmly without approaching. With any luck, that will make her start wondering why you haven't shown any signs of being upset that she dumped you [sinister chuckle].

It would be a different answer if instead you missed her and were really worried that you'd done something to hurt her. Then you ask, no matter how much time has passed since the freeze-out. Might not change anything--probably wouldn't--but at least you'll have logged in that you valued the friendship and intended no harm.

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Belgrade, Serbia: Hi, Carolyn. Just wanted you to know that at least one of your readers follows you to all corners of the earth and even managed to get on the web during your live chat.

Not in Kansas anymore, but there's no place like the chat to take me home. Zdravo!

Carolyn Hax: Now that is cool. (Unless you just called me a moron--I didn't stop to run your greeting through a translation site ... though if you did, that might be even cooler ...) Thank you.

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Stinks McGinks: My stepson smells. Bad. He's ten, and he showers every day, but I suspect he doesn't use soap and shampoo quite as liberally as needed--or at all, really. He's very active, and in the summer the body odor becomes somewhat overpowering.

Last summer, I took him to the store and let him pick out deodorant (you know, tried to make it a fun, "you're growing up!" thing) in the hopes that he would wear it every day. Every morning, I ask if he put it on, and he says yes. His father has sat down with him to discuss proper bathing habits and the importance of good hygiene.

But he still stinks. This morning I woke him up and could barely keep my composure as he gave hugs to his baby sister (who had come with me to wake him).

Do I keep pushing the issue? Or just resign to the stink? (Hey! Right in line with today's chat!)

Carolyn Hax: I may be way off, but have you asked his doctor about this? That seems like a lot of stink for a 10-year-old who showers daily and has been introduced to hygiene products.

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RE: Feeling Lonely: If you are a dog/cat person there are groups out there desperate for fosters often for a short time only. I too am single and recently adopted a French Bulldog, in the past month I have met more people than I ever imagined.

Carolyn Hax: Great idea, if one's lifestyle is also dog/cat friendly, thanks.

French bulldogs--they're really cool dogs, aren't they. Big personalities if memory serves.

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Introvert idea: I volunteered and joined a running group. I joined a running group with one of my married friends, and since I already knew one person there, showing up wasn't so hard and I kind of tagged along as she introduced herself. Since, due to her kids, she missed a few sessions, I then had been introduced to someone already and could start a conversation.

Same with the volunteer activity. I had a friend volunteering. No one close, but at least I would know someone there. She helped introduce me then the ice was broken from there.

FWIW, Facebook is a lifesaver to putting yourself out there as an introvert. I joined lots of groups on FB and then, as events are posted (networking events, etc), you can troll the "attending" list to see if there's anyone there that you'll know. That, in the past six months, has really helped me get out of my comfort zone and meet people, you know, while staying somewhat in my comfort zone of going when I know that someone I'll know will be there. Not know well, mind you, but enough to get me there.

Carolyn Hax: Solid ideas all, thanks so much.

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The Waiting Game: Carolyn,

Help me find a bit of sanity! I applied for a really interesting job three weeks ago and they called me in almost immediately for an interview. I thought the interview went rather well. I sent a thank you e-mail and a week later a follow-up "I'm still interested" e-mail. Alas, I have not heard a peep! The not-knowing is kind of driving me insane.

I currently have a job, so it's not a matter of fiscal life-or-death. It just sounded like something I might really want to do and I feel so awkward at the office making plans for future projects when I don't know what the outcome of that interview is/will be!

Should I follow-up again? Unfortunately I don't have phone numbers for the folks I spoke to (I know, STUPID), though I could ask some friends I have that work there. But I don't want to seem desperate or stalker-esque. Any advice how to stop fretting about this?

Carolyn Hax: 1. It can take weeks to interview all the candidates for a job. Schedules aren't always easy to coordinate, especially if some candidates are coming from out of town.

2. Go about your current job as if it is your job forever, right up to the moment when you have a firm offer for another job. You are counting chickens, however tentatively--don't.

3. To help you stop fretting, please know that you've done everything you needed to do on your end. It's up to them now, which means it's up to you to assume you didn't get the job unless you hear otherwise.

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Washington, D.C.: My son is now 19 months old, and truly, the love of my life. I work full-time, but do daycare drop-off and pick-up every day. My husband is upset because I want to spend my weekends with my son, instead of hiring a babysitter for the occasional evenings out. As it is very likely that we will not have any more children (my son was conceived after more than a year of fertility treatments), I want to spend as much time as possible with him. And it's not just us two alone. My husband happily participates in trips to the park, pool, bike rides, etc. Am I being unreasonable? Will this feeling change as my son gets older? Is there something wrong with me? Thanks for your insight.

Carolyn Hax: If you don't have a solid, semi-early bedtime for your son, you're going to need one soon anyway.

Once you have that solid, semi-early bedtime for your son, you need to get a trustworthy and responsible and etc. sitter and at least go on dates with your husband while your baby sleeps.

I get that you spend a lot of time away from your son, but your husband has a right to be upset. You fell for -him- and married -him- and promised to share your life with -him-. You've essentially just admitted that your husband is no longer the big love in your life, now that your son is. Ouch.

You owe your son the most love and the best care you can give, but that standard includes the loving home and the uniquely instructive example that you create by having a close, deep, adults-only relationship with your spouse. Please give that relationship the attention it deserves. Not just for your husband, as I've argued, or for your son, as I've also argued, but for you. Get your balance back. It's not uncommon for a long fertility struggle to dovetail into a fierce protective bond with the baby who comes from that struggle, but the art of parenthood is in both holding close and letting go (see "Finding Nemo"--seriously) and this is a fine time to take a marriage-friendly bitty-baby step toward letting go.

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Washington, D.C.: Zdravo means "Hello." Now reading that takes me home...(Bosnia)

Carolyn Hax: Thanks--I finally did put it into a translator, and was forced to admit that I was hoping for moron.

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Newark, Del.: For the homebody:

I agree with Carolyn on proximity and repetition. I moved from the Midwest several years ago for work and had a hard time making new friends. I signed up for a parks and rec tennis lesson from which I gained most of my closest friends. Being a university town, the people I met were from all over the world and I have since traveled with some of them to their home countries including Argentina, Dubai and Egypt. The class was $40 but the friendships I gained are priceless.

Carolyn Hax: Another good idea/outcome, thanky.

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Angry and Bitter: I can't get over the feelings of anger and bitterness about getting laid off from an employer who told me a couple months ago I had nothing to worry about. They knew when they told me not to worry that they would be having layoffs. I found out from someone in the know. How can I move on and not let this bitterness take over?

Carolyn Hax: The employer still might have thought you'd be spared. Please recognize this rear-view-mirror gazing as the unproductive exercise it is, assume everyone acted on the best info available at the time (including you, employer and person-in-the-know), and focus your attention forward.

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Zdravo!: I don't know what that means, but it reminds me that we purchased a toy for our baby that keeps saying something that didn't make sense and didn't sound like English. We listened and listened until we thought we got the word right, looked it up on the web and it's a slang Portuguese word for "butt." The toy also says "stinky (word for butt)."

I e-mailed the company to find out if that's what it really says, but they didn't answer.

Carolyn Hax: It's a small world after all. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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My stepson smells.: My nephew used to smell. It was his baseball cap. He wore it every single day and never washed it. The stink stayed on him even when the cap was removed.

Carolyn Hax: In other malodorous news ...

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Arlington, Va.: My father-in-law died suddenly last week. What steps should I be taking to make sure my wife is OK?

Carolyn Hax: Listening. That's your gateway to everything useful. If you can be thoughtful in weighing what you hear from her against what you already know about her, that will be even better.

You probably know, for example, how she processes difficult things--talking, shutting down, denying, immersing in mindless chores, there are so many possibilities--so now you can keep an eye on how she's processing this loss based on what you know, and you can both provide an assist where you can, and note any anomalies and/or signs of trouble.

You can also, on a more practical level, be the one who makes small burdens disappear--laundry, dinner, calls to X or Y--nice when they're taken care of without fanfare.

Really, people in the depths just want to feel understood--that's the one way to help someone not feel alone, when feeling alone is the prevailing sense with a serious loss. You're halfway there just by caring enough to want to get it right.

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You Got Serbed: Carolyn, You are a slaboumnica.

You're welcome.

Carolyn Hax: "Half wit; idiot."

Day officially made, thank you.

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Parental Concerns: Hi Carolyn,

I can't stand my son right now. He's almost four and miserable. Bedtime routines last hours of him screaming and he's been waking up in the middle of the night. Car rides are terrors of him screaming. The kicker is that he only is like this for me. Not my husband, and he is a peach if there is anyone else around.

I took him to his doctor, and they ruled out allergies, but that was it. I'm ready to pull my hair out (and maybe his). I'm sleep deprived and miserable and don't know what to do.

Carolyn Hax: If it's not happening with your husband or with others, then that ruled out an allergy for you.

These outbursts (at least from what you describe--not an expert here) suggest that the combination of your parenting approach and his temperament are a combustible one. It's not all that unusual, nor is my saying this a criticism of your approach to child-rearing, since I have no idea what it is.

It just means your next step is in the area of child development. Either talk to an expert (a decent pediatrician will have names for your) or find the definitive book on what you and your child are experiencing here (also a ?? for the pediatrician). There are a lot of sub-categories here, so no one tome fits all.

In your case, I would lean toward talking to a credentialed pro via face-to-face appointment, just to be on the safe side in case this isn't just a social problem and there is some physical involvement.

Whatever you do, go in with your defenses down. Certain kids respond best to being treated a certain way, and not every approach fits all (just to give you an idea, some kids fall right in line at the mere hint of punishment, and some see it as red cape to bull, and vow to resist until one of you collapses in exhaustion). There's no shame in getting instruction on ways to read and understand what your child is trying to tell you.

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Springfield, Va.: My 2 1/2 yr old is the center of me and my husband's lives. We both work, so he's in daycare. We have never hired a sitter, but have used family a couple times to go out. But over the last year, we take a vacation day from work every other month, kept him in daycare, and had day time dates. There is a little guilt, but its fun and good for us. A strong bond with your husband is the healthiest thing you can do for your child.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, that's one way to use your routine to stay close.

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Detroit: To make a long story short, my sister has said some hurtful things which she refuses to apologize for and have divided my family. My mom continues to invite her to all the family functions which I choose not to attend. Recently my sister-in-law, who is good friends with my sister, pulled a similar stunt. Refusing to say goodbye to my wife and not apologizing afterward. My mom invited her and my sister to my grandfather's dinner the next weekend. I again do not attend, but am tired of looking like the bad guy. Isn't my mom tacitly condoning this behavior? Should I refuse to show up or expose my wife to more abuse?

Carolyn Hax: What has your mom said to explain her behavior. I.e., has she taken any position on the sister ("She meant no harm," or, "Yes she was wrong, but she's still family," etc.), or has she dodged?

Won't get to this today, but if you answer, remind me and will pick it up again next week.

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Mother and Son: Carolyn, Isn't the fact that she refers to the child as "hers" and not "ours" set off an even greater red flag?

The husband has every right to be upset that he's not included in the "family."

Carolyn Hax: Yes. I was thisclose to suggesting counseling, so, now that it's back on my mind, and if that mom is still reading--if the effort to make adults-only time for your husband doesn't get anywhere, please do consider talking to a pro.

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Carolyn Hax: Gotta run. Thanks all, and type to you here next week, I hope.

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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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