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Carolyn Hax Live: More Linguistic Pasties, Too Old for Babies?, Can I Think About Someone Else While Having Sex With My Wife?, Follow-Up From Detroit Guy, Too Much PDA? And Much More.

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 31, 2009 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Friday, July 31 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.

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Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody. I have the stuff from Detroit Guy, finally, whom you probably have long since forgotten (from the chat two Friday's ago). I'll get to it after I take some of your new questions.

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Rockville, Md.: How much romantic/sexual history should new couples share with each other?

Carolyn Hax: Depends. How much would you want to know?

Despite what I usually say about the individual nature of the "right" answers to relationship questions, I actually think there's a close-to-universal answer here. Mostly, though, it's the area left over after you delineate the universal wrong answers. Leaving out huge chunks of your romantic/sexual history, or burdening someone with every gory detail of your romantic/sexual history, are both the dwelling grounds of the immature. Both suggest you aren't quite comfortable with yourself in this regard, and so you're passing that along to your mate.

People who are comfortable with both, on the other hand, will be unafraid to know, and unafraid to share, fairly well-fleshed-out outlines of their history. The guy you regret, the girl who hurt you, the guy you thought was the one but them you grew up, the phase in which you went a little while, the phase in which you pulled yourself together, etc.

That said, there's still a lot of room in there for personal preference. One couple may feel relieved to be able to share a level of detail that seems unnecessary to another couple. So it will come down to (as always, I guess) finding someone who shares your general idea of how much vs. too much. I would still advice caution, though, around people who HAVE to know everything about you (those infamous "numbers," etc.) and people who can't handle knowing anything without lying awake at night picturing you with someone else. These out-of-bounders have maturity and control issues. Almost to a one.

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Ontario: I'm 35 and my husband is 51. Would it be stupid for us to have a baby?

Carolyn Hax: Depends. So I'll just repeat my standard advice to anyone wrestling with the decision to have children: Would you want you as parents? Include potential best- and worst-cases in your reasoning. If the answer is anything but a non-delusional yes, then it would be selfish/immoral/irresponsible to have kids.

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Rockville, Md.: My in-laws pooled their money and bought my husband a gun for his birthday. I am very anti-gun and they know this. They even prefaced the gift giving with a "Please don't freak out when he opens this. It's a very safe gun. No more dangerous than your blender" It's an antique but fully functioning rifle. We have two toddlers in the house. I'm beside myself. My husband opened it up and promptly put it away until he can get rid of it. He doesn't want to say anything to his family because they obviously spent a lot of money on this thing. I think he should. Am I overreacting?

Carolyn Hax: I may change my mind after I have time to think about it some more, but off the cuff I think you're over-reacting to the gun itself. I'd have to do the research to find out actual numbers, but I'm confident the problems we have in the States with gun violence have little to nothing to do with antique rifles. Had they given him a handgun or a semi-automatic weapon, that would be another story. (I first typo-ed it "another sorry," which would have worked, too.)

Your reaction to your in-laws, on the other hand, seems appropriate. What point were they trying to make, exactly, by spending a lot of money for a gun knowing their son has an anti-gun wife and two toddlers? If they felt strongly that their son should have this gift, they should either have asked the two of you first, or held onto it until the kids were older. By not doing that, they're making a statement, whether they intended to or not: We think your spouse is all wrong about this so we're asserting our will/opinion just to make a point.

What you do next depends on your husband's opinion of this whole debacle. If he actually wants the rifle and is ditching it to appease you, then I would suggest instead that he return it to his parents to hold it for him. If instead he's as appalled by the gift as you are, then he should return it to them saying that it's not something he wants in his home, and that they would give it a better home.

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Atlanta: Is it normal to fantasize about someone other than your spouse when having sex? I'm attracted to my wife, but after five years, it's a different kind of attraction. I miss the vroom, and substitute other people in my mind. Bad?

Carolyn Hax: Not if you bestow the resulting vroom on your wife and only your wife. The sex in a long-term relationship can be a lot of things, but what it will never be is new again. So, when you love someone and it matters to you to keep that long-term relationship happy, you do what you can to keep it exciting. Not only does it benefit your sex life in the short term, but it also has the long-term benefit of making you less vulnerable to the temptation of newness (which will always be there).

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Denver, Colo.: Carolyn, a longtime friend whom I don't see very often just e-mailed to tell a group of us that her young daughter has cancer. She's too upset to take calls and doesn't want to make a big deal out of it for the sake of her child. How can we help?

Carolyn Hax: As a group, you can get together to create a network of helpers. Designate a contact person who talks to your friend directly, a calendar-keeper, an e-mailer/social networker who can keep everybody apprised, etc. Each of you takes one of these jobs. That way you can keep things going while not loading anyone up with the responsibility of getting everything done -and- getting the word out to everyone else.

Once you have a general idea, contact your friend by email detailing what you're willing to do. All your friend has to do is say the word and choose her contact person (unless there's a clear best-bud candidate who can step forward). Then the friend web will come up with freezable/reheat-able dinners, rides and/or playdates for any other kids she has, dog-walking, schedules for errands such as grocery shopping and dry-cleaning, and anything else your friend adds to the list.

If there are enough of you, it could amount to less than one mensch-like duty a week for each of you, adding up to a lifesaver for this very scared family.

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Ontario Again: As people, we're fine (maybe even great). As potential parents, we have a lot to offer. I'm just worried about our (his) age(s).

Carolyn Hax: Like I said, it's about what you would be comfortable choosing for yourself if you were that child. Let's say neither of you dies prematurely. Then your child would be a young adult by the time Dad dies. Should your husband have a long illness preceding that--for which older people are at higher risk--then it could affect your child's adolescence.

That said, long illnesses aren't famous for their ability to discriminate, and often strike the young parents of young children. Likewise, the risk of premature death is higher, say, among members of the military than it is for civilians. Does that mean people in the service shouldn't have children?

I could also go down the path of the nature of older parenthood. I just came across a reader's comment that his/her 35-year-old mom and 47-year-old dad, who "were too old to get on the ground and roughhouse with me." But I can tell you that as a 35-year-old mom who spends plenty of time getting piled upon by her kids, that's not just a factor of age. That's also about physical condition, temperament, carry-over from one's own childhood, etc.

So, that's why you dont' get any firmer an answer than I gave you before. Whether you'd want you as parents covers everything: How you'll play with your kids, how you'll wear your age, how -each- of you would handle it if one of you got sick or died, or if your marriage dissolved. This isnt' just a set of question for older parents-to-be, it's for all parents-to-be. If the answer is, "A or B couldn't handle being a single parent," then maybe A and B shouldn't have kids, even if they're both 28--because who's to say something bad won't happen to one of them just because they're 28?

You do your best to foresee the life you can offer a child, and then you decide if it's one you'd want yourself. To my mind, at least, that's the beginning and the end of it.

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Glass Bowl: I missed last week (due to a vacation, yea!), but as a result, I missed what word originally filled in for glass bowl, I can't figure it out, and it is driving me nuts!

washingtonpost.com: Two syllable cuss word - rhymes with glass bowl. 'Nother name for a donkey...

Carolyn Hax: Or, profane description of a certain orifice.

All we need now is the Glass Bowl interpretive dance.

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Cancer: My young-ish cousin was very recently diagnosed with breast cancer and her sister is providing updates for family and friends on the, site CaringBridge.org

You have to register, so it isn't open to anyone who wants to read it.

We are all free to e-mail my cousin, but understand she is overwhelmed and might not reply, and so we can leave messages for her on the site, too. It is really a nice resource.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. Sad to say, I'm following two people on CaringBridge right now, and can speak to its utility for updates to the far-flung communities we seem to create for ourselves these days.

But for the friends who are in a position to help on the ground, though, on a day to day basis, I think a more informal network would be much more effective.

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Fairfax, Va.: So I think I have a drinking problem, but I'm stuck on one point. If my friends can occasionally imbibe, even to the point of excess, with no ill effects, why can't I? Why can they get hammered occasionally, then put it down, go back to work and life and not think about it, but I can't?

Carolyn Hax: 1. Not everyone has the same brain chemistry. Given that some people are built better for one sport than another, and some people have a gift for languages while others have a natural spatial sense, while some people are forgetful while others are obsessive, some people flee from the heat while others flee from the cold, some people love cilantro while others think it tastes like soap, it only makes sense that any substance is going to affect some bodies in a way that's dramatically different from the way it affects others.

2. Besides using it to recognize that you can only judge yourself from your own results, and not from anyone else's, there's very little to be gained from dwelling on these differences. They just are. You are, as you've learned, affected by alcohol in a way that hurts you. That's as far as you need to go in thinking your way to the next step, which is: How will you stop drinking?

In that, you'll also run across dramatic differences in different people. Some can just stop; others can't stop at all; still others can stop, but then fall into depression (ref. "Darkness Visible" by William Styron). Now you need to find out whether you can stop on your own, or whether you need help. AA isn't for everyone, but it is the most readily accessible form of help (and also comes in many forms, since different meetings vary widely in tone) and as such is a great place to start. Think of it as the recovery version of a gateway drug. Good for you for recognizing and admitting your vulnerability, and good luck.

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Washington, D.C.: I think I'm giving up dating again. Dating, (maybe it's worse in D.C., but I don't know) is horrible. I keep hoping to meet people who aren't trying to meet supermodels or have their fantasy woman in their head. I feel like dating is almost a surefire way to lower self-esteem, and I just don't think that that the potential of finding a companion is worth shuffling through all the jerks out there. I'm 30 now, do the men get more mature at an age, or should I just get a few pets and travel the world?

Carolyn Hax: Get a few pets OR travel the world. The two combined make for a rough life for you and your pets (and a posh life for your dog-walker).

But anyway. Anyone of any sex and any geographic region who is looking for a meaningful relationship is going to meet more people who aren't compelling than people who are. It's not a problem with the people or the place, it's a problem with the mission. You're looking for special, which means the vast majority of candidates will fall short. Axiomatic.

If you're tired of disappointment and you want to change the results, then change your mission--say, from finding good candidates for life companionship to promising candidates for an amusing 5-minute conversation while waiting in line for whatever. Then you'll find the world a much more bountiful place--D.C. can really shine in this respect, given that the average level of engagement with life is pretty high.

That might not help much as a life plan, but it's a good moment to live in when you're fed up with the status quo. Once you're in a happier place of lowered expectations, then you can start to think again about where you want your expectations to be in the longer term.

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The Metro, Street Corners, Movie Theaters, You Name It!: I know this is a divisive issue and people will probably flame me, but are PDAs rude? I started dating a European guy a few months ago and he's just really affectionate in public. I mean, it's not like we're -fry thumping- on the orange line, but I've occasionally noticed people giving us looks when we kiss and/or hug each other (sometimes nice looks, sometimes disgusted ones). Am I being rude? It's never bothered me personally (as an observer or as a partaker), but I realize I'm pretty live-and-let-live, and wonder if most people would find street corner smooching offensive.

Carolyn Hax: Fry-thumping, meet glass bowl; glass bowl, meet fry-thumping.

Can we get any more precious with our linguistic pasties today?

Answering as a Metro rider, I'll ask that you keep it to nuzzling, vs. full-on making out. That's just annoying to anyone in public, unless the public place is a middle school dance.

Assuming you are keeping it tame but still affectionate, then I imagine you get more eye-rolls during commuting hours than it does after last call on a weekend. There's just a different norm for different places at different times. If you're cool with being the one on the beach with a tuxedo, then nuzzle away during commuting hours. If it bugs you to be stared at, then that's your cue to tone it down with Francisco.

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Washington, D.C.: I think my husband is, if not involved in a real-life affair, definitely too close for (my) comfort with a woman in one of his acting classes. They chat constantly online and play some interactive video game together where they are married. He hides his computer screen from me constantly but the few times I've spotted a line or two, they are definitely not talking about acting.

We've been through an emotionally rough spot lately - trying to have a baby, a recent miscarriage - and it really hurts that he's looking elsewhere when I really need him. When I've brought it up, he blows me off like I'm overreacting. I'm tempted to contact the woman but I know that won't come to any good, and I wouldn't know what to say even if it would.

Help?

Carolyn Hax: "When you blow me off, it hurts more than the issue I was asking you about. I;m telling you something hurts me, and you're telling me, essentially, that you're okay with it. Would you please show me the respect of sitting down and at least hearing me out?"

When you get there, though, be prepared to see his side of it, whatever that may be. From here, his online dalliance looks an awful lot like a refuge for a guy running from some difficult stuff at home--and while that's not something grown people have any business doing, it still might be a sign that he needs support from you that he isn't getting, just as you aren't getting the support you need from him.

In other words, don't just tell him he needs to grow up; show him through your actions that there are great rewards for both of you should you and he take the grown-up path.

I'm sorry about your miscarriage. That's hard enough news on its own, but when it exposes differences in the way you and a spouse see things, that's added grief all around.

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Detroit Guy Follow-Up: Carolyn,

My sister is rude to my wife, but blames the problem on her--and my other brother's wife--claiming they ignore them. My wife and my brother's wife are very close, but I have never seen them treat anyone rudely.

My mother's response was to tell my sister she needs to apologize, and when my sister refused (for the last year and a half), my mom simply continued to ask her to apologize while continuing to invite her to all family functions. In other words, my mom has really done nothing.

As a result, I have generally not gone to functions where my sister has been in attendance.

I think one of the reasons my mom hasn't forced the issue is that my sister has two children--my mom's only grandkids--and she is fearful that my sister will just walk away.

I also think my mom disagrees with my decision not to come to family functions and wishes I would just suck it up.

The problem is the behavior has spread to my new sister-in-law, who also blames my wife. I can continue to be the bad guy, but I don't think I have been unreasonable in being upset with my mother as she tacitly approves of the rude behavior and scapegoating that is going on.

washingtonpost.com: Detroit Guy's First Live Chat Appearance

Carolyn Hax: For what it's worth, I, too, disagree with your decision to boycott family functions. I don't see anyone here behaving like an adult, with the possible exception of your mom, who is in an impossible situation. But by refusing to share space with your sister, you're essentially punishing your mom over a measly snub (or series of snubs)--one she didn't even perpetrate.

Your wife may in fact be blameless, and therefore may be the mature cat who has been unfairly attacked in this catfight. However, it is always the prerogative (and, sure, the burden) of the mature cat to step in and say, "Enough." Your wife could pull aside the sister and say, "On behalf of [your mother's name], what can we do to set aside our differences?"

Then they can either have it out and come to some kind of agreement; or your sister can throw around slurs and cement her status as the problem; or your wife could throw in her share of rancor and prove this is a two-way battle. Any of them would advance you beyond the stalemate.

Specifically, in the first case, you could start going to family functions again in peace; in the second case, you can either get your mom's support or your can go to family functions despite the friction, but with the comfort of knowing you own the high ground; or you can find some sympathy for your sister and start showing up at functions again with an eye to gently brokering peace.

But what you're doing now--essentially, tap-tap-tapping your feet while you wait for your mom to choose you over her grandchildren--isn't serving anyone's cause that I can tell. That is, unless you (perhaps even unwittingly) wanted an excuse to avoid your family, and this one fell in your lap. Maybe not the case here, but it certainly happens quite a bit.

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I'm 30 now, do the men get more mature at an age, or should I just get a few pets and travel the world?: YES! They do get more mature (and better looking) w/age -- but in the meantime get pets, plants, make your house a home and above all else -- travel the world!! I've spent the last 10 years doing these things and just six months ago met a fantastic candidate for a life partner-- now we do all these things together.

Carolyn Hax: And, since I let that pass the first time:

PEOPLE get more mature. When the fishing seems bad, I'm reluctant to blame the fish and only the fish. You can't pretend the bait isn't also part of the equation.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I met someone on an online dating site, I'm 24, he's 29. We've been on two dates and the third is this weekend. I really, really like him, more than I ever have about anyone after two dates and I see long term potential here.

He's just started a new job, his grad school program is about to resume, and his profile said he was only interested in a date (he didn't select a relationship, marriage, etc). Is telling him how I feel now, or next week, selfish on my part by not respecting what his profile clearly says he's interested in? Trying to rush things too quickly?

Carolyn Hax: You're on the express train to the slippery slope of rushing things too quickly. Absolutely do take him at his word (or his profile at its word?), but two dates haven't told you squat. I'm not saying you shouldn't enjoy him--just do so knowing that the most valuable information about him is available only over the course of time.

Which happens to be advice that's nearly impossible to follow when your chemicals are raging out of control, but try anyway. Force yourself to do other things, see movies, get some exercise, bite down on stick.

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D.C.: PDA ... PDA -- oh yeah! Public Display of Affection, and NOT my BlackBerry. . . .

Just got me confused before I burst out in laughter. Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: I read it that way too--I was mentally firing up an answer about the rudeness of using PDAs at the expense of paying attention to one's surroundings. (Yes, I mean you, Person who sauntered into crosswalk on front of my car yesterday without even looking up.)

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Detroit guy - another view: Hmmmm

My sis-in-law pulls the "ignore" stuff all the time, I just ignore it and carry on. Couldn't care less. Is that just as bad?

Carolyn Hax: I'm not entirely sure what you're saying, but if you mean that you ignore being ignored by someone, then I'm all for it.

It sounded as if the Motor City Morass has deteriorated past the point where the DG and his wife can just show up as if nothing happened--but if and when that's an option (particularly when there's no real precedent of a close relationship between the siblings), it's a good one. There's honor in choosing not to close the circuit of pettiness.

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Carolyn Hax: That's assuming anyone can figure out what I'm saying.

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Anonymous: Scenario: Just recently "friended" my "first love", who I haven't seen in over 20 years, on a social network site; our breakup was basically me telling him via letter (after finding out he'd cheated), I'd found someone new who would treat me the right way. He was a decent friend, just not good boyfriend material at that time. Flash forward 20 years later to today. He accepted me as a friend but the conversation is very limited. There's no romantic feelings left, but I can sense a rather awkwardness. What can I say to re-break the ice to let him know there are no hard feelings and its okay for us to be "online friends"? AND how to do this without sounding like a ding-dong, just in case the awkwardness is only me?

Carolyn Hax: This is a dog desperate not to be awakened. Please.

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Kind of Cranky: Hi,

I frequently get too little sleep because of work stress, which makes me very cranky.(I do everything I can to sleep well: regular exercise, regular bedtime, dark room, etc.) As a result of being tired and cranky, I snap/yell at my husband a lot more than I want to. I immediately apologize (and I try to give him a heads up on days I am feeling particularly cranky). He rarely gets mad back at me (because he knows I'm kind of a crank), but I feel terrible about it. Sometimes I snap at him in front of our kids (ages two and four), which I feel horrible about.

I talked to my doctor about my sleep, she was useless. I went to a therapist to work on stress, but found no relief, and it turned into just another thing on my to do list. I have been a semi-insomniac for at least 20 years (I'm in my early 40s now).

What would you do if you were me? I'm kind of at my wits end about it. (My mother was the same way.)

Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Talk to another doctor, asap--or even give this doctor another shot at it. Disordered sleep is a real problem, and you need a real solution. Be relentless in searching out a reputable health professional who will take the problem seriously.

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BYOS Update: Hi Carolyn, you took my question in the June 19 discussion and I just wanted to let you know what happened. I took your advice and forwarded the anonymous email to all three of my friends along with a note that said almost word-for-word what you suggested. All three of my friends wrote back to deny having anything to do with the email, and to assure me my sister was totally welcome to come along. The same night, Friends 1 and 2 called separately to make sure I was OK and still coming on the trip. Friend 3 didn't call. I eventually decided we'd still go on the trip, especially since my sister was lokoing forward to it.

We had fun on the trip, but Friend 3 was SACCHARINE sweet to my little sister. It was really insufferable, to the point where Sis, innocent of all the background, finally asked me, "She doesn't want me to be here, does she?" Weeks later, Friend 3 has still not confessed and probably never will, but now at least I know how maturely she chooses to deal with things and that her response when cornered is to hide/lie. Thanks for the great advice. I later showed it to Friends 1 and 2, who are now regular devotees of your column.

washingtonpost.com: Live Chat Featuring 'BYOS', The Washington Post, June 19, 2009

Carolyn Hax: Thank you, too, for the update. Fascinating outcome--almost like a lab experiment.

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Re: Numbers: I realized recently that I am one of those "numbers" people. I absolutely freaked when I learned the truth about my boyfriend's past last weekend. I can't stop thinking about him with other people. I know it is controlling and immature, but I don't know what to do about it. Any suggestions on overcoming this?

Carolyn Hax: The fact that you can say this about yourself is huge; one of the hallmarks of immaturity is the inability to assign blame to yourself (or to assign it accurately, I should say, since sometimes people blame everything on themselves).

It's not a quick fix, but your two main allies here are time and experience. Combined, they give you perspective, both from your side of a relationship (e.g., you realize that you can love someone completely even though you have X number of exes, some of whom you also loved) and from the other person's side (e.g., you realize you are loved completely by someone who has X number of exes).

Even where you don't have enough experience to cover all scenarios, which, frankly, sounds exhausting anyway, you have enough to help you grasp intuitively that certain things are true. For example, that you can love someone powerfully, and go on to love someone else in a completely different but still powerful way.

It's also not just romantic relationships that provide this kind of perspective, but any kind of emotional engagement--family, friends, pets, objects of sentimental value, locations, workplaces. It's the accrued wisdom of connecting, letting go, connecting again, letting go ... it trains the mind to dwell mainly in the present, and keep the past around just for visits to remember, learn and recharge.

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Analogies Gone Wild: I love it: Blame the bait!! Or the hook! Sometimes there are pole issues as well. I don't really eat fish, though, so I don't know why I'm complaining.

Carolyn Hax: I prefer wild analogies to farmed, myself.

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Boston: I had a long distance relationship with my boyfriend for five years before moving to New England. Now that we're living together and engaged, it seems like we've lost the spark. Neither of us seem to have many friends and all we do is work.

I love him, but I don't living in New England that much.

I don't think he will ever leave the area and I don't know if I will be happy staying. How can I/we figure if this relationship is worth hanging onto?

Carolyn Hax: How much of this have you said to him?

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Washington, D.C.: Hi! Submitting early because it's time for some beach time (finally)...

I (recent college grad) call my grandmother once a week. She lives alone and since I moved to a different country for school, the phone is the best way to keep updated and to make her day better. My cousin (rising high school senior), lives in the same town as our grandma. In the past month when I've called, grandma answered the phone, mistook my voice for my cousin's and was then disappointed that it wasn't her (but still happy that I was calling). Apparently Cousin hasn't called since school let out- although she definitely had time for the phone when she needed rides or a trip to the mall. I know that at 17 she has better things to do than hang out with grandma, but it hurts me to see how her selfishness is hurting our grandma- especially since I'd love to switch places with her geographically pretty much just for this reason (seeing grandparents face to face). I want to tell her something. A reminder that she should at least pick up the phone once in a while... But I'm not very close with my cousin and don't want to seem pushy or meddle-y. I'm thinking a Facebook message to keep it low-key. I don't want to make waves- just make my grandma happier!

Carolyn Hax: Much as you love your grandma, it really isn't your business how much your cousin calls/sees her. That's between the two of them.

In one narrow sense, though, you do have "jurisdiction" here, for lack of a better word: You are privy to the fact that your grandmother misses your cousin, since you've been called the cousin's name to start, what, the last four calls? So it would be okay to ask your cousin if she wouldn't mind stopping in on Grandma, if she gets a chance, because G. sounded a little down the last time you talked to her.

First advantage, it's true, since you said G. sounded disappointed that it wasn't the cousin; second advantage, it's not a guilt trip, a la, "I see you haven't been to G.'s house all summer." It's more, hey, would you please do me this favor. Much lower-key.

But then you really have to butt out.

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Fishy The, ME: Somehow the description "Carolyn -Tackles- Problems" seems even more appropriate than usual today...

Carolyn Hax: Now it's just getting painful.

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Detroit Guy: Thank you for the advice. I have gone to several family events where my sister was in attendance because I thought it was the right thing to do. I continue to see my mother, just not at the same time my sister is there. I'm just afraid of what I would do if my sister acts up again, like my sister in law recently did. How can I keep exposing my wife and my future children to that environment?

Carolyn Hax: For the former, what does your wife say about it? Is she game to rally a couple of times a year for your mom's benefit; is she able to stand up for herself; is your sister SO bad that it's constant open warfare that your mom is willfully ignoring, or is it just a swipe here and there that her victims can shoulder past as needed? It's really a matter of specifics that I don't have. Open warfare, your mom owes you more (and you owe it to your wife to spare her the onslaught). If it's more subtle, then a little more fortitude is called for.

As for future children, they're just that. You figure that out when you get there. If your sister is open with her contempt and turns it on the kids, then, yes, you need to be careful not to expose them to that. But if it's just sister's nasty swipes and she leaves the kids out of it, then your kids can gain a lot by watching you and your wife deal with that--calmly, firmly and with dignity. (A la, "You have no right to talk to [wife's name] like that, particularly not in front of our children." It's Standing Up to a Bully 101, and possibly among the more valuable things you can teach.

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New York, N.Y.: My husband and I work in the same building. He wants us to grab lunch together everyday, which means walking across the street, buying food and bring it back to our respective offices to eat. I prefer to go out and eat once in awhile, and also to go out with my co-workers. His co-workers all bring lunch - he says he just likes to meet up with me even if it's only for a few minutes. What's a good compromise here?

Carolyn Hax: You say, "I like to eat with my co-workers occasionally," and he grasps that? And you go out to buy your desk-lunch when it happens to fit with your plans that day?

Otherwise, I can't help you. There can't be a reasonable compromise if someone isn't being reasonable.

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Philadelphia: Do the live chat questions you post undergo copy editing or is just about everyone who seeks your advice an impossibly articulate English major?

washingtonpost.com: I was an English minor and am an AP style nerd. I clean up the submitted questions a bit, but most of you peanuts don't need much copy editing! - Jodi

Carolyn Hax: My answers go out unedited. Your questions go out lightly edited (they have to--even if just to clean up incompatible punctuation. That means you, "smart quotes"). Questions that need heavy editing usually don't get answered, for lots of reasons, but mostly because they're harder to read quickly, which slows us all down. If it's a good question, it can hold for a column, though I don't do much editing on those, either. Cutting, yes, because mine is such a short column, but rewriting no.

Apparently my typos get corrected in the transcript, thankfully, and orificial profanity gets shaped into glass bowls.

Carolyn Hax: Now I'm having technical difficulties and can't get this to publish. Seems apt, somehow.

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Everything is political: Carolyn: How important are politics in a relationship? I love my boyfriend, but his politics are directly opposite mine. He listens to all the conservative talk radio jerks and then spouts their rumors and conspiracy crap to me and it's really starting to grate. But just when I start getting angry, he backs off and goes back to being all sweet and thoughtful and I forget about it until the next debate. Is this a deal-breaker?

Carolyn Hax: I don't see this as an issue of politics; to me it's about critical thinking. You can be conservative, liberal, moderate, whatever and still have the patience and presence of mind to suspend judgment until you have all the facts.

If your pookie forms opinions before acquiring facts, then eventually that might make you want to throw pookie out the nearest window. (First floor, of course, above a flourishing hedge.) But that's your call. Other people can't decide what you will be able to live with.

In the meantime, you might want to try replacing your anger (also a REaction, a la your boyfriend's response to talk radio) with thoughtful action: "I've heard that rumor too. Have you researched it on non-partisan sites?" Set examples, not fires.

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For New York, N.Y.: Umm... This may be obvious, but if all he wants to do is walk across the street to pick up lunch, how about on days she feels like not "grabbing" she just walks across the street and chats with him while he stands in line. Kiss good bye. Then she does her own thing. We're talking, what? 5, 10 minutes? Might be nice to get the face time in. But, yeah, some days you have to expect to not see each other -at lunch.- So maybe an afternoon coffee break?

Carolyn Hax: That, too. Again, demands a reasonable audience, but I likes it. Thanks.

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Carolyn Hax: Holy 3:12 p.m. Bye everybody, thanks, and see you here next Friday, when we replace July problems with August problems.

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Chicago, Ill.: I can't believe "morass" slipped through the edits.

Carolyn Hax: I almost wrote "morglass" but that was too much even for me.

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Reshaping Words: So if orificial profanity is reshaped into glass bowls, what are excratory and reproductive profanity formed into?

Carolyn Hax: A little weekend fun for you all--great for anyone stuck in beach traffic.

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Re: Detroit Guy: Any possibility it IS his wife and other sis-in-law, and mom isn't really making a big deal about sis because she agrees but doesn't want to say so?

Carolyn Hax: I did try to account for that in my first answer.

But since you mention the mom, I realize I left that out: If the mom thinks the wife is also at fault, then she should have said as much to her son, when the whole apology-by-the-sister issue was being discussed (since mother and son clearly have discussed it). If mom sees another side here and hasn't said so, then that puts her among the other non-grownups in the whole drama. Nothing like a vacuum at the top to touch off power struggles throughout the family.

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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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