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Carolyn Hax Live: Advice Columnist Tackles Your Problems

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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 14, 2009; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Friday, August 14 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: Hi everybody, thanks for stopping by today.

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Downtown D.C.: Carolyn--So, I met a man at a bar, and had a good old fashioned one night stand. Or so I thought. Postcoital, we chatted and chatted and realized we had so much in common (same interests in books, independent films, cooking). Exchanged phone numbers and he called for a proper date. And things fell flat. I have completely lost any attraction I had for him that first night, and can't figure out why? Aside from being on the short side and slightly passive aggressive he is a "great on paper" guy but I'm not feeling it. We have gone out three times (had lousy sex after one of them) and I think he is starting to fall (constant text, e-mails, calls), but I don't know how to put him off without hurting what should be a perfect mate. What to do?

Carolyn Hax: Realize he's not a perfect mate? Maybe there's a complicated you're-fighting-your-feelings-for-him-because-of-X-or-Y-psychological-effect issue here, and I'm just not seeing it. But I've never bought the idea that on-paper attractions mean anything, and I still don't buy it. So you line up perfectly as far as ideals or interests or senses of humor. That's something, sure--but that something is so easy to negate on a primal level. We;re just animals, remember, and if you don't like his scent, you're going to find his perfect company perfectly unbearable. (We're also big-brained animals, and so passive-aggressive behavior might translate primally as an odor of rotten eggs.) Please just take the information you're getting at face value, and tell this poor guy you like him a lot bu you're not interested in a romantic relationship.

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Boston: Dear Carolyn:

What do you do when you think you've got a potential Jezebel on your hands? My 14-year-old daughter is growing into her teenage body and has not learned the nuances of good taste. I have to object to her outfits literally every morning, which puts a strain on our already typical mother/adolescent-daughter relationship. Her father and I have caught her in multiple lies that revolved around her relationship with some boy in her class. She has always been precocious, but I think she's growing into a full-on fast-tracker and I'm afraid of what will happen if I don't find a way to reign her in. However, I know there are other girls just like her and worse, and I worry I may be making a mountain out of a molehill. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: I don't think it's a mountain out of a molehill. I do think, though, that if your only strategy is to keep trying to rein her in, then your mountain will only get steeper.

It may seem like you're in a whole new era as a parent and she as a child, but this is really just Toddlerhood II--The Revenge. (Don't tell her I said that, please. She'll hate us both.) Not just kids, but all people get willful as they yearn for more independence than they have. True of adolescents, colonists, underpaid workers, history is littered with them.

When you're the leader, and when simply granting more independence isn't feasible ("Really, go ahead, dress like a slut"), then you have to get creative, and find ways to empower your rebels that won't wind up undermining your own leadership.

You are going to need to find areas in which she is free to flex her independence a bit. Since you're (rightly) worried about the new dynamic of your relationship, where you just say "no" all the time and she just pulls away from you with increasing urgency, that would be where I'd start looking for another outlet for your family and for your time together. Is there anything she likes to do--any interests that have survived puberty, at least--that you and she can do together, ideally outside your day-to-day lives? (I.e., outside the scrutiny of her peers, for whom she might be tempted to perform?) A sport, a hobby, camping, hiking, anything?

I brought up toddlers because this is just the 14-year-old version of distracting and redirecting, which prevents tantrums, where "NO! NO! NO!" usually starts them. And the stronger she feels, the more pride she can take in her own strength/ingenuity/hard work, the less vulnerable she'll be to the whims of peer attention.

If you don't have any old interests, you'll need to explore some new ones. Charitable ones accomplish two things at once--giving kids responsibilities to help them flex a bit, and getting them out of their own navels and into a larger world.

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Naggy McGee II: The woman in today's column who nags her boyfriend constantly could be me, except that I nag my new husband. I've gotten worse since we've been married, which is also when he moved in to my house. He is the best partner I could ever ask for, and we communicate well and are very loving, but I cannot keep myself from criticizing him. I'm determined to develop good patterns now - early in our marriage - that will wear well over our life together. Is there anything else I can do to supplement your advice - finding the source of unhappiness?

Carolyn Hax: Step 2, make happiness. A few readers wrote in to suggest that Nanny M. could just say "Thank you," every time someone does something nice, and willfully cut off the criticism before it comes out of her mouth.

For anyone in your position, I think that's a great, simple, easily applied idea. I would even expand it beyond "Thank you," to actively looking for things to compliment. "You look nice today," "The kitchen looks great," "Dinner smells really good."

If you have to look really really hard to find anything to compliment, then my advice cycles back to the column: Find underlying problem, face underlying problem.

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Bethesda, Md.: Please help me! My best friend, who lives half way across the country, called me this morning and told me her husband hit her. This is the culmination of increasingly verbally/emotionally abusive behavior, which seemed to escalate when they moved to a new city, far from family. They have two very young children. She is the sole financial support for the family (they moved for her job). After a particularly disturbing episode involving property damage about two weeks ago, they did one session of counseling. This morning I told her to call her lawyer and do precisely what the lawyer suggests. What else should I do? What should I NOT do? She does have a local friend who offered to let my friend move in with her two kids. Help! This is my best friend and I feel like I'm sitting 2,000 miles away, listening to her drown. I could go to her, but I'm not sure what good it would do, other than cause more trouble with her husband. Another detail, I have always hated this guy, but she doesn't know that (I did do the "are you sure?" talk before the wedding five years ago).

Carolyn Hax: Your suggestion to call the lawyer was a good one, but from now on I would suggest that both of you seek the counsel of people experienced in handling domestic abuse. That information is readily available, free, from two hot lines (National Domestic Violence Hotline, 800-799-SAFE; RAINN, 800-656-HOPE) and the network of local resources to which these hot lines connect you. Leaving someone abusive is a dangerous time as far as her and her children's safety, and it also has legal and financial implications that are best navigated with the help of those who know what they're doing.

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Boston, re: Boston: Carolyn-

As a 19-year-old who's not too far removed from 14 and growing into a body herself, I think your answer is helpful but incomplete. Were it me and my mother was writing to you, your suggestions would help me forge a greater connection with my mother, but that's just the first step. Maybe in addition to that, a message that's not so much "no" (which makes instinctive rebellion kick in) but more "if you do that, it's going to make you look silly and no one, including me, is going to respect you" might be helpful. It's part of the whole being able to make her own choices, yet needing to appreciate how they affect different aspects of her life thing.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. Explaining the reasoning behind a "no" can help, as long as it doesn't turn into a negotiation or, at the other extreme, a blow to the girl's ego. There's a fine line between, "I know you take pride in your appearance--which is why I'm telling you that outfit makes you look as if you don't care about yourself," and, "You look like an idiot." The person explaining also has to take into account the wiggle room between what s/he says and what the 14-year-old is going to hear.

Even these messages you suggest will go over better if there's a relatively "no"-free, healthy parent-child connection being forged on the side, independent of the battles over glitter halter tops.

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Nagg-ee, Ariz.: So, what if you're on the other end of the nagging? When we first got married, my husband and I each complimented each other frequently-- his praise of my housekeeping, good looks, parenting skills, etc., really mean a lot to me.

But that has dried up the last couple of years, and now I seem to hear only when I've done something wrong (or not done something). I think my behavior hasn't really changed-- i.e., I'm still a good mom, nice dresser, good housekeeper, AND I have made a concerted effort to give what I would like: regular specific praise for my husband's own excellent housekeeping and parenting, etc.

He is very prickly and defensive about any criticism so I just don't do it-- but how to say "I really love it when you appreciate me"?

Carolyn Hax: I think you're due for the, "Is there something we need to talk about? Because I'm beginning to feel as if everything I do is wrong. I'd like to know if it's me, or if something else is bothering you and it's just coming out at home." Having examples handy always helps, as does keeping your cool.

Just wait for a relatively calm moment; trying to start that conversation as he's heading out the door for something and has just criticized you will only backfire.

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Seattle: Someone who used to be a good friend of mine told me she doesn't want us to talk anymore but did not explain why or what I did to prompt this response. She also asked me to please not tell anyone else about this. It's been over a year so I consider the friendship over. Do I have to honor her request to "not tell anyone"? This gets tricky because a lot of people ask me about her and I don't know what to say and I feel guilty if I tell them that she is no longer talking to me and I don't know why. When is it okay to not honor someone's request to "keep this between you and me"?

Carolyn Hax: They: "How's X?"

You: "I don't know, I haven't spoken to her."

They: "Why?"

You: "I'm afraid you'll have to ask her."

Says it all, really.

However, I am going to use your situation as a PSA, and advise everyone, when confronted with a, "Don't tell anyone/Don't tell so-and-so" request, to have this response handy: "I'm afraid I can't make that promise." You'll spare yourself a perennial annoyance.

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Inquiring minds: Any update from "Chum," the poster last week?

washingtonpost.com: Nothing has come through on my end yet. - Jodi

Carolyn Hax: I don't expect updates on issues that painful.

At the risk of exposing my hideously insensitive side, here's one from the queue last week. Keeping it to myself felt like hoarding:

"Chum: You should seriously consider re-kindling the affair with the other woman. Then you'd have some leverage over the boss, she would have a good reason to keep quiet and be nice to your wife, and you would have a fall-back position in case your wife ever does find out. Plus, you would get twice as much sex. I call this the 'All-In' approach!"

You people are sick. And I -dig- that about you. (Another guess-that-reference opportunity--not a song, but a movie this time.)

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NYC: To the woman wondering how to most safely help her friend in the abusive marriage - I was in a similar situation and started researching domestic abuse. I read a lot of books on the subject, and the one that stood out far above the rest was "Why Does He Do That" by Lundy Bancroft. A truly enlightening and potentially life-saving book.

Carolyn Hax: Don't know it myself but will pass it along.

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Way up North: For Boston - it also might help to pick your battles. My daughter is built like Barbie - huge boobs, tiny waist, long legs - so that even perfectly reasonable clothes might look over the top. I've decided not to make a battle out of anything that would be acceptable on a girl with a more normal figure. This helps her accept it when I feel I really must say no - she knows I'm not just arbitrarily jumping on her. Maybe examine your rules, and see if they all need to be interpreted as strictly as you are doing.

Carolyn Hax: Excellent thought, thanks.

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Waukesha, Wis.: Carolyn:

Thanks for taking my question...as I have struggled with this issue for all of my 25 years.

I am a woman that other women do not like. It matters not the situation or circumstance. I have some good male friends and casual female acquaintances, but I cannot make or keep a woman as a true friend. In a recent example, I met and had a seemingly friendly conversation with a woman my age at a wedding. Only to find out a week later that she invited my boyfriend and other friends (who also first met her at the wedding) to a party saying they could bring me but she would rather "do without" me. This is a reaction I get over and over again. I really do yearn for that "best" friend.

In your experience, is there anything I can do to change women's perceptions of me?

Carolyn Hax: That must have landed in the gut, I'm so sorry. I have a hunch you'd benefit most from a wide range of ideas, so I'm going to bounce this to the Hax-Philes. I'm due to post something there anyway, so it'll be first in line--look for it early next week.

(I think there's a link to the Philes at the top of this transcript, and if you can't find it for some reason, just type "hax" into the search box on the washingtonpost.com homepage.)

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Dig that reference: Jerry Maguire, of course.

Carolyn Hax: Indeed. Although in this case, I'm the one hanging by a very thin thread.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn, My mother and I have always been really close. Recently (over the past year or two), I've been growing and changing a lot and realize that my mother doesn't necessarily support all of these changes. That's fine, but it's the way she goes about expressing this, often coming off really negative and dismissive. It hurts my feelings, especially because this is so new given we've always been so close. Part of the changes I'm making is to not people please so much, which I've managed to do with others, but feels so much harder with my mother. Any suggestions on how I can deal with this?

Carolyn Hax: Both internally, and verbally when you're with your mother, please acknowledge that it's hard for someone in her position to see someone change--someone who is part of her bedrock. Do express when she hurts your feelings, but also be liberal in your reassurances. Think of it in a larger sense as an effort to bring her along with you, vs. leaving her behind. With any luck, she'll be less scared and therefore less likely to retreat into the negative.

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Naggie: My husband and I got to the brink of divorce over not appreciating each other enough. Saying "thank you", stopping criticism and looking for compliments can feel a little fake at first, but it becomes normal over time. 15 years later, we do it automatically and it makes for a really nice life.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. I've got a column on this coming soon, so I don't want to get ahead of myself, but I will say that we're often taught courtesy as something we use when out in the world, but it's really most essential at home.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I know ultimatums are generally not a good idea, but I cant help myself. My wife of three years stopped having sex about three months after our wedding. When I ask her why she gives explanations that make no sense. While we were dating she kept hidden some real emotional problems that she has had no problem with sharing now that we are married. She is chronically depressed, very passive aggressive and not all that fun to be around. She refuses to get treatment. Had I know she would act the way she has I never would have married her.

I am by no means perfect. I work way too much, I can be critical... But I know very well that the above wasn't caused by me. If it was cancer, I want to make her comfortable and wait out the end if she refused treatment, but its not and there is no end to this. I take the promises I made to her when we got married very seriously, but this situation is stressing me out to the point that I have chest pains and other problems. What can I do. I have told her everything I have said here and I get a go away and leave me alone speech.

Carolyn Hax: What's the ultimatum, then? It sounds as if we're past ultimatums and at the legal-separation stage. It also sounds very sad, but marital promises go two ways, and I don't think you can be expected to keep your promises when the other person made her promises to you under false pretenses.

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Boston: How do I get out of a sticky situation where I accidentally invited two men to go on the same mountain hike with me? The first guy was romantically interested in me, but I wasn't and was clear about that; he remains interested in doing outdoorsy-type stuff with me. Second guy is of some romantic interest to me but we're still in the get-to-know-you phase. My screwup was that I got all excited to climb Mt. Washington and started telling anyone who would listen that I was looking for people to go with me... and both of these guys said they'd love to go.

Carolyn Hax: Just admit that you suggested it to a bunch of people, and that someone who spoke up first is going to be able to make it after all. Then make another plan with the runner-up.

A quick run through the logic of your predicament tells me the non-love-interest spoke up first, and you said yes, and then the potential-love-interest spoke up, and you were so happy about it you accepted instead of saying, "Sorry, I've already made plans." True? If so, I do think you have to do the right thing and make other plans with the get-to-know-you guy.

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Carolyn Hax: Reminder/clarification: Please save your responses for the women-don't-like-me woman for my group, the Hax-Philes. This forum is ideal for posting only a handful of opinions, where that one can potentially handle hundreds. If you send them to me here, I will not post them here, nor will I be able to post them to the Philes for you--too labor intensive. Thanks.

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Familytime, USA: Dear Carolyn, My husband has gotten the whole family involved in an activity that should be fun and a way to keep us close. He and one of the kids have very strong skills in this area, while the rest of us are not naturals, but we try. The problem is that my husband is very imperious about the activity; he loves to say "No, that's the wrong way!" and "Why is this so hard for you?" and "If you put more time into this, it would work." Well, it's his passion, and the rest of us thought we were along for a fun ride. Whenever we practice, I feel as if we are providing our children with a really bad model of an egalitarian relationship. What's bothering me the most is that he feels to me like a creepy teacher when he's like this (I kind of shut dow like a sullen teen), and the thought of having sex with him or even just a normal conversation is anathema to me for at least 24 hours. I've tried talking to him, and I've written him a letter, but things don't change. The rest of our relationship is perfectly fine; I've never struggled with anything like this in our many years together. Can you help me?

Carolyn Hax: It sounds as if this activity needs to end, at least for you, and at least as a family togetherness gig. (Your husband can certainly stick with it, and any kids who like it can choose to continue.)

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Carolyn Hax: I'm not pretending there won't be fallout--there almost certainly will be, given his apparently high investment of self in this activity. But when that happens, you need to remind him, calmly, that you've voiced your objections and that nothing changed, so you feel this is the best alternative of the ones you had left.

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Re: sexless marriage: If we're to believe what we read in Hax-Philes, it may be that Silver Spring isn't doing enough to keep the house clean.

washingtonpost.com: Clean House = Better Sex?, Hax-Philes, July 16, 2009

Carolyn Hax: I shouldn't have been surprised by how quickly that discussion degenerated into a gender war, but I was, and I was discouraged, too. The underlying issue was not men vs. women, but instead the tight connection between romantic feelings and shared responsibility. If one half of a couple (A) feels the other half (B) is routinely taking advantage of A, then the growing resentment A feels will quickly douse any romantic flame for B. Doesn't matter who wears the skirt, it matters who does (and doesn't) hold the broom.

But anyway.

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RE: Familytime: Oh come ON, you have to tell us what it is! You know the Nuts and our imaginations. Now I see a family swimming in bacon pants or something. Please, break the suspense.

Carolyn Hax: Last time we had such suspense, the activity was canoeing.

I just had a Family Flashback--my parents, sisters and I all took up street hockey for a while.

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Honolulu, Hawaii: RE Family Time: What is the activity? (Just curious.) Carolyn, I think that your answer did not go far enough. I find it inexplicable that a husband should treat his wife so disrespectfully even after she made her thoughts and feelings clear.

Carolyn Hax: You may be right. Because the writer made it clear this was exceptional behavior for him, I decided to err on the side of under-reacting: End the activity and see if that doesn't fix it the easy way. If there are lingering bad feelings on either side, then the answer will have to go farther.

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Breezy Cubicle, Virginia: Hi Carolyn,

What can I do about a husband who refuses to get a paying job? We've been married for almost nine years, and he's never so much as opened the want ads or worked on his resume. I am horribly conflict-averse and have only worked up the nerve a handful of times to say something to him, but the situation really upsets me. He's a sweet, smart, funny, lovely man who's kind to animals and generous with his time as a volunteer. How do I go about changing this situation? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: I'm always reluctant to jump on the outrage wagon here because 1. There are plenty of happy marriages where one spouse doesn't work and the other spouse both supports and benefits from that--they're just most often working husband and home-making wife; 2. I (in the interest of full bias disclosure) would love to be in such a position myself, either as breadwinner or homemaker); and 3. I don't know what kind of agreement or understanding you had when you married.

So, was there an understanding that he'd work, and he's just taking advantage of your conflict-aversion to flout the agreement? Are you under financial pressure? Are you particularly stressed at work, and unable to change jobs because you're carrying the whole financial load? Is he not using his at-home status to take care of you?

These are all important elements of the issue, both in my figuring out the advice and your talking about it with him.

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Naggie II: She mentioned that the problem got worse when husband moved into HER house. Perhaps part of the problem is that she still thinks of the house as just hers?

Carolyn Hax: Possibly, thanks. Putting it out there.

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Lansdale, Pa.: To Silver Spring, Md.: I know ultimatums are generally not a good idea, but ....

I know what you are going through. A few days after marriage, my wife's behavior turned bizarre, with no explanation given. After a period of extremely sadistic behavior, she packed up and left. With in a week, she wanted to come back. But I refused to let her back in. Let her think things over for six months, and then told her that she can come back IF she goes to a psychiatrist, and do some of the other things she needed to do (like curbing the binge shopping, etc.)

She agreed. She then told me that she was suffering from bi-polar disorder, a fact that was kept from me. She went to a psychiatrist and has been in treatment for the last 15 years and we are still married. Most importantly, she stuck to her end of the bargain and lived up to every one of my conditions, even though I told her she doesn't have to any more. Is it a perfect marriage? Of course not. But we are still here and no regrets from either side. So I can tell you ultimatums can work some times.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the firsthand account. There's actually a slight but important distinction between an ultimatum and what you did, which was to set conditions for her return. It was positive--"Yes, come back, after you satisfy X and Y conditions"--vs. negative ("Satisfy X and Y conditions or it's over").

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Family activity: I hope it's whittling.

Carolyn Hax: Bacon whittling.

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San Francisco : A twist on a question you answered a few weeks ago. I have been pursuing a woman for about the past two months, but not much has happened yet physically. She and I are at the beach together with friends this week. I'm seeing more of her than I ever have before and am finding I'm not really attracted to her the way I thought I would be. I've already invested two months and I know it'll confuse her a lot if I just pull away now, particularly for the reason I'm giving you, but I really can't sustain this attraction. What do you suggest?

Carolyn Hax: What's confusing about it? You started to get to know her, got a better look, and decided you're not interested. It's a lot of things--a bummer, a blow to her ego and/or feelings, a disappointment for you--but it's not confusing.

If you pull away without explanation, then that might introduce some confusion. So, don't. Look for signs that her interest in you has cooled too (which could be one of those feeling-sparing miracles for you both). If you don't see any, then pick your moment to pull her aside to explain that you're not feeling it. If she's actively chasing you for attention/answers, it'll have to be soon, and if she's happily mixing with others as the week progresses, save it for the end of beach week.

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D.C.: Recently started dating a really sweet girl after about a year of downtime...but not alone/me time. How do I make sure she knows I'm interested, but that I need a bit more space?

Carolyn Hax: Just say it. Whether she's able to hear it will say a lot about where this new thing is going.

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Morning Crankapus: I do not wake up pleasantly. Mornings are bad, but if you wake me while I am sleeping, it gets ugly. For example, my husband tried to kiss me awake the other day, and I did not react well. I feel terrible. The problem I have is that in that state of just awakeness, I don't even have the time or brain processing power to control it. It's not like when you have had a bad day, and you start to snap at a loved one, but you are able to realize it and stop before you even open your mouth. Am I making excuses thinking I really can't figure out how to fix this? If not, what can I say to get it through his head that anything that could startle me awake (including touching me) is just going to end badly. I snap like a snake, he curls up and pouts that I don't want to be touched, and then I feel guilty.

Carolyn Hax: Tell your husband you will do your part by talking to your doctor about a possible medical reason for your hostile wakeups, and ask that he do his part by not taking personally something you cannot control.

I'm curious, though--have you always been this way, all your life, or is it new? I.e., has this only ever happened with him? If it's the latter, then I think you need to be prepared to dig into what has changed and why this is happening now. A crucial element of "your part" that will likely help him with his.

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Seattle: Carolyn:

Love your advice. Usually don't need it - but now I am at a loss. I have a very tight knit circle of girl friends (all sorority sisters from college). One of our friends - with whom I am particularly close, got married this past weekend in a surprise ceremony. It was fabulous - particularly because I hate weddings and I didn't have to wear yet another hideous bridesmaid dress. It was a surprise to just about everyone there - including family who thought they were coming for an engagement party - except me and another friend of ours - with whom the bride has a lot of history. She wanted me to know so that I didn't go out of town (which I had mentioned wanting to do) - ditto with the other friend - lets call her Marli. Well, Marli, who has more history with the bride than anyone else in the group has with anyone else in the group - decided not to come. She went camping instead. The bride was very upset - she thought they were very close friends. It is now Tuesday - wedding on Saturday - and not only did the friend not come, but she hasn't called the bride yet. The last time they spoke was last week when Marli called her and practically screamed at her (I was there to overhear the convo) for messing up her weekend plans with her wedding. She threw every excuse in the book at her for not coming to the wedding and laid the guilt on thick. One of the highlights includes accusing the bride of giving her a medical condition if she didn't take her trip to relax. My question is not how awful Marli is - but what my role in this is. Personally I think true friends provide a moral barometer for each other and let you know if you are out of line. Is it my place to say something to her about how she treated the bride? Most of my friends are appaled, but one of my friends says it shouldn't affect our relationship. I'm not sure I believe that, but I wonder what is within my bounds to say. Beyond that - there were quite a few people not at the wedding - the bride let them all know that Marli was informed ahead of time and chose not to come, but can I elaborate?

Carolyn Hax: Instead of saying "something to her about how she treated the bride," please consider listening to Marli. Yes, Marli's behavior was awful, but it also sounds bizarre, and bizarre behavior often has a story and some strong feelings behind it. So give her a chance to answer the question, WTH? (Clean-ish version of WTF.)

Not that I have any idea, but I wouldn't be surprised if Marli turned out to have been harboring secret feelings for the bride or the groom.

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Beach week: Was it just me or did anyone else think that by "seeing much more of her than I have before" he meant not seeing her personality in action for an entire week but...seeing her in a bathing suit? I am probably looking at this half-empty, but that's the first impression I got because he specifically mentioned that they hadn't been physical so logically if they are at the beach this would have been his first glimpse of the happenings. I want to be wrong here.

Carolyn Hax: Eh. Even if you're right--and now that I look at it again, you probably are--they aren't Meant to Be, and that means the demise of the relationship arguably benefits her even more.

BTW, there's nothing to indicate the poster is male.

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Ohio: Hi Carolyn, I recently started online dating and met a guy that seemed a good match. We've had a few dates over the past month (three, to be exact), and I thought we were both enjoying each other's company. But recently he's really slowed down the communication and seems almost non-existent. I really like this guy. He's nine years older than me (I'm 27) and I'd like to keep dating to see where this could lead. But I don't know how to handle this sudden drop off in communication.

Carolyn Hax: With a shrug. It's three dates, so you haven't lost much--but if you pursue him when he's not really interested, then you do risk losing some confidence in yourself. That's an unfortunate side effect of hunting someone down only for the opportunity to get the door slammed in your face. If you're particularly resistant to that kind of ego-blast, then by all means ask him outright whether he has lost interest. Otherwise, I would advise writing this one off.

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Family activity: It's gotta be a family band.

This is why there was no Dad in the Partridge family.

Carolyn Hax: I'm impressed. Check this out:

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Familytime, USA: It's a band. You can see, then, that my dropping out would basically end it (I mean, we are not as numerous as the von Trapps). This is so important to my husband that when I read Carolyn's first suggestion, my heart dropped. Quitting is not an option for me, at least not now. Somehow, though, I have to get him to see how this is affecting my feelings toward him. I have thought of putting a hidden camera in the practice room, but that's not my style, and he probably wouldn't see anything wrong with his imperiousness anyway. I swear to you, though, on all other fronts, things are fine.

Carolyn Hax: If you won't allow yourself the quitting option, and since the speaking-up option hasn't worked, then you're stuck with the trying-not-to-let-it-get-to-you option.

That doesn't mean, if he puts the moves on you during the post-rehearsal 24-hour ick window, that you can't be honest with him: "After your imperious behavior in rehearsals, it takes me a day or two to for me to feel affectionate toward you again." That's how you're feeling, so that's what he should hear--people ought to know the exact price they're paying for things they want.

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For Morning Crank: I have the same issue and always felt terrible that I couldn't react like "normal" people--I am startled by any little touch or feeling of a hovering physical presence too close to me (this doesn't include sleeping next to my husband, but more of a sense of someone hovering over me.) As I became an adult and started to understand the reason why (childhood trauma, enough said), I explained it to my husband. So although we both know my behavior is not typical, he understands why he has to be careful about how he wakes me or approaches me when I am asleep. To the extent your reaction is based on anything like my experience, it's critical to uncover the reason--and to share it with your spouse.

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry. Thanks so much for weighing in.

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Cranky Waker-Upper: I've always been that way, ever since I was little. My parents learned to cope and so has my husband. I still need to remind him sometimes that its not personal, but over time he just got it. Particularly after it wasn't just once or twice, but EVERY TIME. Plenty of times I'm not even awake enough to remember what happened when I grumble and smack at him, etc... Now he thinks its funny sometimes and enjoys telling me in the morning when I AM awake what funny things I did when he was trying to wake me up. But, I still have to continually remind him that if he's trying to wake me to "get frisky" then he needs to keep going and push past the mean response. Mean equals not awake. Mean does not equal not interested.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for this, too. Good for the husbands for getting it.

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Seattle: Seattle from the question about the friend who didn't show up at the wedding... You were pretty dead on. I sent an unassuming text message to my friend ("what happened to you on Saturday") and I got nothing from her about missing it - she just told me about her weekend - nothing about feeling bad, making excuses, etc. Turns out that she didn't agree with the marriage - didn't want to get anyone else involved in her feelings. The blood between these two is obviously not as good as we had all thought. Live and learn - but I've decided my role is to not do anything but encourage them to speak to one another - at least to ease the tension...

Thanks - needed an impartial opinion on that one.

Carolyn Hax: I wouldn't even do that. I don't want to stick you all with dead air while I go back to read the question, so I'll go on memory--I think it's possible your knowledge of Marli's actions comes only through the bride/mutual friend.

If in fact Marli has limited her theatrics to her conversations with the bride, and if it's the bride who has shared them with you, and if you have no corroborated facts of hurtfulness on Marli's part, then I think you need to stay out of it and continue your friendship (or not) with Marli on its own merits, and with the bride as well.

When a single relationship splinters within the larger context of a group, it's easy for the group to find itself involved, and to be making judgments based on ambient information. If you're going to use that info to judge someone, it's worth the extra time and effort to trace the information to its sources to make sure it's reliable.

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NoVa: For Family Band: Take lessons from someone else and then limit jam sessions to the songs you know/have practiced with your outside teacher. You'll get positive feedback, improved personal performance, and just maybe a renewed appreciation from hubs.

Carolyn Hax: And it might actually start to be fun. Or, at least, more fun than the "Don't even try to touch me until 7 p.m. tomorrow" conversation.

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Clarksville, Md.: My husband and I have a 2-year-old son. I am ready to have a second child, but he is not sure if he wants another. I'm really heartbroken about the possibility of not having another child. He claims I was difficult during the pregnancy (yes, I was stressed out, but everything was new, and I had a full time job. I'm a SAHM now, with an idea of what to expect) plus he doesn't think he can handle the exhaustion of the six months after the birth. I understand the exhaustion - I breastfed exclusively for a year - I was up during the nights too! But I also realize that we have a pretty fantastic child now, and that the exhaustion is short-lived and the sacrifice early on is worth it. How can I help him to see things my way?

Wanting One More

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I would suggest trying to see things his way, and applying some creative thinking to show that you respect his objections and have ideas for preventing the problems you had first time around.

For example, maybe you won't be stressed out this time, given that you won't be working a full-time job, but you will have a 3-year-old--a challenge that, if we use the same scale they do for rapids, might turn out to be a Class 5 where your job was a comparatively breezy Class 2.

Since you cant anticipate how crabby you'll be pregnant or how tired you'll be nursing (this time, again, while juggling a toddler), you'll have to stick to things you can plan, like yoga/diet/extra help to keep your moods level, your naps regular and your workload manageable.

However you approach it, I think you'll find him more receptive if you acknowledge his concerns, vs. picking them off one by one with no-that-won't-happen counterarguments.

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Family Band: Why on earth is it okay for him to say 'there will be a band' but it's not even an option for her to say 'there will not be a band'?

Carolyn Hax: I didn't read it that way at all--I saw it as her not wanting to take his baby away, even though it drove her nuts.

If I read it wrong and this is the correct interpretation, then my answer changes: If she isn't allowed to say no, then she has to say no.

Thanks for the chance to clarify.

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Carolyn Hax: That's it for today. Thanks everybody, and type to you here next week.

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Family Band: More than the wife with the Ick feeling I am worried about the less-musically-talented kids who have to be taught music by their dad and made to feel that they don't measure up. So much pressure. Maybe she should end it for the kids' sake.

Carolyn Hax: I included this in my first answer but shouldl have said it more forcefully: The kids who want to stay in can stay in, and the ones who want out should be able to opt out. If in fact that's not the way it's working out, the, Mom, you do need to step in.

Thanks for the nudge.

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Crankapus followup: Suprised you are still here, I was out all morning. I've been this way most of my adult life. I'm not a huge fan of touching in general, it startles me and distracts me. I should probably investigate it further, like the other poster, I come from an abusive childhood. Never put those two together. Lots to think about.

Carolyn Hax: Indeed. Glad you wrote back in, thanks. Please keep your husb. informed as you think this through, because you need one of two things: an ally in healing, or a warning that the man you married isn't your ally.

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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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