Carolyn Hax Live: Advice Columnist Tackles Your Problems

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 28, 2009; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Friday, August 28 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.


Carolyn Hax: That actually took me a minute or two to write. Kept staring at it thinking I should say something else, but nothing came to mind. Let's hope I'm a little more inspired when answering questions.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn - I wrote to you about a month ago (July 31 chat) asking how to handle my husband's online flirtation with an acting student of his. I took your excellent advice and asked him if anything was going on, stressing that I was more upset about being blown off than about anything else. He assured me nothing was.

Fast forward to last Sunday - he left his computer open and I discovered up on the screen a chat with the acting student in which she and my husband are reminiscing about having sex six months ago. The chat took place while my husband and I were lying in bed together, eating breakfast and reading the paper and I was thinking about how great our relationship was.

I confronted him with the evidence. He admitted to having sex with the student as well as to having sex with someone else on a business trip a year prior. Both times I had suspected something happened, asked him about it both generally and specifically (Have you been with someone else? Have you been with her?) and he lied and said he'd never been with anyone else. He admits that he was reckless, irresponsible and that his actions have hurt me. However, he does not think he will change though he is willing to discuss any future transgressions with me immediately and honestly. Er, thanks? And he doesn't want to end the relationship; he wants to go to counseling. I should note that a case of barely-treated bipolar disorder accompanied by hypersexuality during the manic phases is involved.

I am devastated. I wanted to have a family with this guy. I love him - still. He has always led me to believe we were in a monogamous, committed relationship. He says he's still committed but can't agree to monogamy. I can't imagine raising a child in that kind of household. I am angry - furious at times - sad and overwhelmed by a feeling of failure, that I have failed at both marriage and pregnancy, and I will never find happiness regardless of whether I stay with him or leave him. (And yes, I am seeking therapy.)

My head is spinning. Do you have any advice? Carolyn Hax Live, The Washington Post, July 31, 2009

Carolyn Hax: I am so sorry. I am, in general, reluctant to add my advice when there's a therapist on the scene, but I do have a couple of thoughts that I hope will help.

One, none of this makes you a failure at anything. His bipolar disorder is not about you, a reflection on you, a rejection of you. It is your problem in that you married a man with bipolar disorder, and it became a bigger problem for you when his not managing it well led to his infidelity. (I hope you've tended to your health in this regard, since this was likely impulsive sex and therefore unprotected sex.) But I think the faster you can stop yourself from taking this personally, and start seeing the situation just for what it is, the sooner you'll find both a solution and some emotional peace.

Carolyn Hax: Second, you suggest his infidelity (and his oddly refreshing honesty about future infidelity) changes your inclination to have kids with this man. I would argue that your rethinking is overdue, and a bit misplaced. His infidelity hurts you far more than it would hurt a potential child, especially since it sounds as if he's having impulsive encounters vs. the devoting huge amounts of time to an other woman while his kid sits home missing him.

What would have hurt your potential child(ren)'s chance of happiness in your home would have been having a father who was bipolar and who was not taking steps to manage it carefully. That subjects kids to erratic behavior, and there's just too much social research indicating that the stability of a household matters more than its demographic makeup.

So, I will shut up now and let you toss around the rest with the professional, but I will end with a reminder that this is all less personal than it feels at the moment, and that looking forward is your most useful path at this point: You know what you know, it is what it is, so what makes sense now for you?


Anonymous: I am a rising senior at a university hundreds of miles from my parents' home. While I was home over the summer, I found out my mom has been battling cancer for the past two years. My dad did not tell me while I was away because he didn't want it to interfere with my studies. Now her cancer is more aggressive and she spent most of this summer in the hospital while I was at home--the only reason they bothered telling me. Now I'm afraid their decision to leave me out has robbed me of valuable time with Mom that I will miss later. I'm so angry I don't know what to do. Please help.

Carolyn Hax: Ugh, that attitude is so common--protect people! Don't tell them anything!--and, in my opinion, so hurtful and misguided. Because it's so common, I would suggest tapping into your mom's health-care support resources to find someone (social worker, most likely) to talk to who understands this dynamic and the havoc it wreaks. The treatment of major illnesses now commonly includes extensive, multi-disciplinary resources that cover everything from specific treatment to nutrition to family support. If you're still home, ask your mom's caregivers where to start. If you've already gone back to school, contact the nearest cancer center to ask about what it offers in the way of family support. If that seems to big a job, check with your school's counseling center.

In the meantime, to deal with this anger, please just keep repeating to yourself that your parents were just trying to do what they thought was right. Even when something goes very wrong, I've found, at least, that seeing people through the lens of, "Life is difficult, and we're all just doing our best," can be comforting and calming. Whatever it takes to mitigate the anger, try it, because I don't think you'll regret it. You've lost enough time with your mom, and you don't want to lose more to anger, however justified it is.


Does this make sense?: My boyfriend and I are 25 and have been together for three years. He is open about wanting to marry me someday but does not plan on getting married till his early thirties. What gives?

Carolyn Hax: Does this make sense with your outlook on life?: When you got serious with this guy, you probably recognized, consciously or sub-, that any plans you had for your life were just about you, and therefore weren't entirely realistic. Having people in your life makes changes both grand and subtle, but always significant. What you're hoping, it seems, is that he'll grant you the same ... significance? that you've granted him, and that he won't prioritize arbitrary ideas about How Life Should Be Lived over where real life takes him.

Not that we should all resign ourselves to fate, but there is a middle ground between that and sticking to The Plan.

Of course, his comment could just mean that he's comfy now but open to a better deal if it comes along. To borrow from the great "Field of Dreams": "Look for low and away, but watch out for in your ear."


Richmond, Va.: Carolyn,

I have a general question for you. Why do so many people (at least that I know, college, post-college age) require knowing where their SO is, who they are with, what they are doing, at every moment of the day and as soon as activities change they need a text memo or something NOW? The most I feel needing to tell him when I head home from classes, which is my leaving/getting home. Only because it is often after dark, on a bicycle, and I live in Richmond. Other then that, if he's happy and not doing something that will likely get me angry or get himself hurt, chances are I don't care what he's doing. He's agreed vice versa as well. My friends and siblings are in shock that I don't need pseudo-GPS tracking on him to keep my mind at ease.

Carolyn Hax: The "why" is for the sense of control. Note that I said "sense of." Making someone text you is our century's answer to the chastity belt, and I'm guessing it's about as effective. Pointless posturing made public. Ppppft.

Of course, there's some posturing between the lines of your declaration of relationshiply courage--the need to be in control and the need to be seen as mature are in the same neighborhood, though yours is a slightly more upscale property--but the "college, post-college age" isn't known for its natural confidence and ease. (Yes, the smug-elder-statesman house is in that neighborhood, too.)

Just do your best to concentrate on what works for you, live and let live, and let this people-are-so-irritating/stupid stuff do its work of sorting out social alliances. That's all it's really good for--helping you spot people you respect, who share your values and who will be good bets for lasting lo-maint friendships.


Toronto, Ontario: re: Washington, D.C.

That guy is a [glass bowl]. Bipolar is treatable, and he gives people who are living with it, trying to be responsible for themselves and their families, a bad name.

Carolyn Hax: Can't disagree, but I will say that he has handed her a rare gift in his willingness to admit that he's not going to change, or try to do better, or whatever else people promise so often when their relationships are on the line.

Seriously--one of the most common and most dispiriting themes in my mail is of the person who insists things will get better, and who then makes a so-so effort just long enough to appear sincere, and who then slowly reverts to the old unacceptable form ... thus dumping a terrible, guilt-wracked decision on the mate: Have faith in the person and stay, with the risk that the vow was insincere, or lose faith in the person and go, with the risk of leaving just as the person was finally sincere. It's awful.

And while it may seem like small consolation now to today's grieving spouse, it's actually a significant act of mercy. Or bald selfishness with a side of mercy, but the effect is merciful either way.


Anonymous: Any advice for waiting for potentially bad news? My grandmother who raised me has to go into the doctor for her test results today and the hours seem to creep by with "what ifs."

Carolyn Hax: Maybe it's the rain, and maybe it's exactly what you don't need to hear, but aren't we all just waiting for bad news?

Or, the version of it we choose to live with, so all our days aren't lived as you're living today: Aren't we all just enjoying whatever time we're allotted before the inevitable bad news?

As with all test results, some people do get bad news, but most people find out that they'll be around for a good long time after all. Either way, your grandmother's place in your heart is constant, assured and eternal, and your time with her is limited. Take comfort in the former, and make the best of the latter. Sending good thoughts your way for the news.


Re: Richmond: Sing it, sister! I spent the weekend away with a handful of smart-phone-owning friends and I was ready to murder them all by Sunday morning. We couldn't do anything without them consulting the damn phones. It wasn't so much to check up on SO, but just...everything was an opportunity to consult the iPhone. Less than 100 percent sure where we are going? No, no, don't ask someone -- just use the GPS! Standing in line for coffee? Time to check e-mail! See an interesting-looking building? Google it right now!

It can be a wonderful, useful tool (especially in an unfamiliar place), but holy God, there's a time and a place. It was especially annoying that any time there was two seconds of downtime, they'd check their e-mail. The first time you don't look up at me because you're finishing a text or double-checking the route is fine. The fifth time is not. Multitasking is fine, but people don't realize how rude it can get.

Carolyn Hax: We're still working on the beams-of-light-and-angel-song feature here at Live Online, but it helps to imagine it as you read this post. Thanks.


Wisconsin: I usually trust my instincts, but lately I've noticed that I'm jealous or suspicious of most women in my boyfriend's life. Like, if they leave the room together I start to think that they are up to something. This is obviously me and not him--any thoughts or suggestions with how to get over this and relax?

Carolyn Hax: It's not obvious to me that it's you. While I rant on a regular basis against chronic jealousy and the people who try to justify it, I am also a firm believer in trusting jealousy when it flares up in a way that isn't typical. If you're not usually jealous but are now, then please look for the triggers--not just at your boyfriend's behavior, though that is a fine place to start. Also look at your own mental state and physical health. If you're stressed or hormonal, or if he's doing stuff that doesn't strike you as completely above-board, then all of those are quite capable of making you feel jealous, all are significant and are all worth taking seriously.

So, please don't jump to forced I'm-the-problem relaxation. Take a good look at what the problem might be.


Re: Anonymous: Anonymous might want to check out Students of Ailing Mothers and Fathers (, an organization started by a Georgetown student when his mom was diagnosed with cancer.

Carolyn Hax: Don't know of it, but happy to post it with the usual disclaimer that people should vet any organization from which they seek guidance.


Carolyn Hax: Oh, and thank you.


For Richmond: My guess is that a generation of kids have grown up reporting in to their parents via cell phone every time they make a move. It's a habit now.

Carolyn Hax: Swarms of baby helicopters. Lovely.


Arlington, Va.: For the college senior (and anyone else who might need it), the Lance Armstrong Foundation offers one-on-one support to anyone affected by cancer, including family members. Call them at 866-673-7205 or go to and look for the links to Cancer Support/One-on-One Support.

Carolyn Hax: Anudder one, same disclaimer. Thanks muchly.


Married to a bossy wife: My wife is bossy. She just is. She sees it as being a person who makes decisions and gets things done, and this is true, but I sometimes feel like on on-looker in her life. She makes decisions about how we spend our money, what the kids do extracurricularly, what we do on vacations. And our life is not bad. She does ask us what we want. But in the end, she is the one booking things, paying for things, and ultimately deciding things. I have asked her to be more laid back. To take life as it comes. She says she is who she is and does not think she can change. She says I am free to make my own decisions, but I am paralyzed by this. How do I find some space in this life that she manages?

Carolyn Hax: This probably needs a bigger answer than I'm about to give, because if you stay on this path you will become either seriously defeated, seriously resentful or both. There's also a very fine line between "bossy" and "controlling and abusive"; it doesn't sound as if this situation has crossed over, since you make a point of saying your life is not bad. Alas, though, you didn't say it with a lot of conviction, and your paralysis suggests you have had your sense of self neutralized, which is a device of the abusive.

But I also don't want to trivialize abuse ("She MADE us go to Costa Rica!"). So, here's a suggestion that might also work as a layman's diagnostic. Start thinking consciously of things you want--or, if you can't even do that, look back on situations where you were denied the last word (stick with the most recent so you aren't still ruminating next Christmas) and try to recall what your last word would have been. Scan all fronts of your life--kid activities, family trips, things you do with your personal time.

Once you have a good number of these collected in your mind, look for patterns. Is there anything you routinely want that you are routinely denied? (Except said last word, of course.) If you can narrow it down to some harmless, you-centric activity that you enjoy but have surrendered in the interest of family harmony, then maybe that's your path out of limbo. Try introducing this thing into your life in a small way, and see if it can serve as your pocket of air. Then, from there, with the benefit of oxygen, see whether that was a big enough step on its own, or whether you need to treat it as a more serious problem.


Carolyn Hax: I feel I must share the typos I created in writing that last answer:

"if you stray on this path you will be seriously deteated"

Before I fixed it, I copied it for your amusement.


Dogs and babies: Carolyn, In your experience (both personally and professionally) is a couple's style of dog-parenting/owning indicative of real parenting style. My husband and I spoil our dog rotten. We want not to, but feel somehow powerless to change. I'm six months pregnant and want desperately not to spoil my child!

Carolyn Hax: In my experience, dog-rearing style is a deadly accurate predictor of childrearing style.

If you spoil your dog because you like yourself better when you're saying "yes" than when you're saying "no," then you absolutely have to figure out why you do that and teach yourself how to say no. The job of all parents is to set limits. All people hate limits, even when they're good for us. That's the central tension of childrearing, and I can't urge you strongly enough to make some peace with that, and to find some balance within it (the all "no" parents are almost as bad as the all "yes" parents), in these last three months. Find a good dog-obedience class to get started, too, and then graduate to a parenting class if you still feel "powerless."


But in the end, she is the one booking things, paying for things: If husband books some things, it will give wife a break so she doesn't have to do so much. It's like dishes. We can wax poetic all we want, but SOMEONE has to do them and when one person keeps waiting for the other to step up and do them, that person gets used to thinking of herself as the only one who gets things done. Change they by DOING something. It's shows the passove spouse taking initiative and lets the active spouse sit back. It feels good to have a rest.

Carolyn Hax: Excellent idea, thanks, and ...


Re: Bossy Wife: I'm surprised you didn't address the impact on the kids. My father was this way and now I have a brother who's a lot like this too. They're such joys to be around. The impact was interesting. My first few adult years I spent pushing back hard against anyone who disagreed with me because I was just so sick and tired of being told what to do even on the minor things. I have a sister who became the opposite. She still does just go with the flow, never objects, and never speaks up.

As for my brother who is Daddy Jr., he's a real pleasure. No one wants to travel with him and he has no idea why.

This is bigger than a marriage problem.

Carolyn Hax: excellent point. Thanks. Though the impact on kids depends so much on the severity of the bossiness (i.e, whether Parent 1 is highly controlling or just higher-functioning than Parent 2).


Silver Spring: Some typos are delicious. The other day a friend said he "owed his house." Sad but true...

Carolyn Hax: Oh so.


Re: married to a bossy wife: Hi, Carolyn, this is "Familytime, USA" with the family band problem from two weeks ago (in which DH is imperious when it comes to our rehearsals.) "Married to a bossy wife"'s problem sounds like mine magnified to their Whole Life. Your advice is good, but I would take it farther: sit her down and state (imperiously, if need be) that this has to end, and that there will be no further plans made that don't involve the two of you making decisions together. He has to think about the impact on the kids, which is one of my concerns about the Bossy Bandleader. I get a serious "ick" response when I imagine the writer and BW's nonegalitarian home life.

PS I bet he's not interested in sex with her, either.

Carolyn Hax: Funny world we inhabit here.

Thanks, FTU. Any updates on the band, now that you're here? A lot of us were concerned about your kids who were less musically inclined.


Washington, D.C.: Is it wrong to get a dog knowing that I will have to leave it alone eight to nine hours a day? Other than while I'm at work, I'm willing to make sure the dog comes first and gets the love, exercise, and nurturing it needs.

Carolyn Hax: If you can't afford a dog-walker or doggie day care, then, yes, I do think it's cruel to the dog. Talk to the adoption counselors at WARL ( have a feeling they'd say not to get a dog, but it's possible people make this work cruelty-free by getting two dogs. (If you do call or stop by, tell them Bobo says hello.) Dogs are social creatures, not mean to be alone for so long.


"Seriously Deteated" : I nearly deteated myself yesterday when I almost sent a promotional material to the print shop saying our firm was a reputed buyer of crap metal.

Carolyn Hax: We're so grateful you did.


For Dogs and Babies: Dogs, like children, are not better off by being "spoiled." It confuses them and can lead to some seriously anti-social, and sometimes dangerous, behavior. Reminding yourself of that may make it easier to set limits. The other thing is that a spoiled dog may actively resent the baby much more than a dog that is comfortable in a lower position in the pack. For the safety of the child, see a training professional as soon as possible - not for the dog, but for the owner.

Carolyn Hax: Clap clap clap. I think the fact that some dogs don't become anxious or dangerous lulls a lot of people into believing there's no harm in spoiling dogs. But it's a common misconception, one that keeps a lot of people, even some who have a long history of dog ownership, from learning how to be good dog owners. Trained and socialized dogs are happier dogs.


Over-the-board: When is asking someone to change their personality out of line? Always? My partner is flirty with everyone. So I either have to accept that this is the person I fell in love with or let them go to find someone who embraces their flirtatious nature... right?

Anything else feels like I'm asking them to change.

Carolyn Hax: Right. But it might make for an easier rumination session if you thought less about your partner's behavior, and more about how it makes you feel. If the answer is anything but positive, and if the rate of occurrence is anything but rare, then you need to be realistic about the long-term effects of the flirtatiousness on your self-worth. If it's just a pebble in your shoe now, it will be agony after a few miles. You either embrace the problematic trait, or you pass on the whole person.


Ex-DC'er: Please tell me you were kidding about dog-rearing style accurately predicting child-rearing style! My boyfriend got a dog before we met, and although he is loving and sweet to her, he's almost totally indifferent/unwilling to take care of her! We live together, and things like walks, feeding, scheduling/attending vet appointments, administering medicines, etc - they all fall to me. Not because he is unaware of them (for instance, we often decide together that she needs to go to the vet), but because he never follows through. I have tried asking him to do specific things in a polite and matter-of-fact way, i.e., "When you have a spare minute, would you please schedule a vet appointment for the dog?" But unless I ask repeatedly, which feels like nagging (ugh), it never gets done, so I end up doing it out of sympathy for the dog (it's not her fault!). I love this man, we are at the point of discussing marriage and children, and I am suddenly terrified that this is how our life would be if we had kids together. I want a partnership where neither of us feels like we're being nagged or silently bearing more than our fair share. How do I fix this?

Carolyn Hax: Please know this is more incredulous than snotty: What on earth makes you think his dog-care sloth won't carry over to other parts of his life? And it's even his dog!

You "fix" this by having a bare-it-all conversation about how far out of balance you and he have become, particularly as it relates to the dog. You need to find out if he is capable of connecting a sense of responsibility with actual productive behavior. If he's okay with your doing everything, then that's a world view that has nothing to do with the specifics of that everything--it could be dog care, laundry, yard work, a child.

There are people out there who feel profoundly uncomfortable when they realize they are contributing less than their share. They don't feel right taking advantage of someone. Even if they don't know they're doing it, all you have to do is point out that you're feeling overwhelmed (or even just 60-40ed) and they'll apologize and start doing better. You want one of these, not one of the ones who thinks it's okay just to take (or, more benign but ultimately just as obnoxious, the ones who are so laid back they don't even realize it is de facto taking). So, have the conversation, find out which person you have.


I'm the spouse who plans everything : And I don't like it. This summer, I told myself I'd wait and let hubby do his share and ... consequently we haven't done much this summer! He never says "let's go out to eat, let's go hear lsdj band, let's go see slkfj movie, let's go to the beach for the day." Never. So we had a quiet summer, some of which was restful, some of which was wasted. So my experiment shows that it's not me taking over and bullying him, but just filling in the empty voids. I fantasize about being with a man like some I dated before I married, who'd plan nice evenings and treat me (logistically more than financially). The nurturer likes to be nurtured too!

Carolyn Hax: This is a great example of the possible range with bossiness--you definitely sound as if you're in the just-higher-functioning-than-your-spouse position. I do hope, though, that you've expressed your yearning to be nurtured on occasion. That you're already to the fantasizing point means this imbalance is denting your affection for your husband, and when that happens it's only fair to give him a chance to give you what you need.

He may not be able to, in which case the next step is to try to embrace life without that type of nurturing, for which I suggest concentrating on the good side of his temperament--e.g., the restful times, the fact that your marriage isn't one of two strong and battling wills, etc. Gratitude for what you have is a powerful emotional influence.


Re: bossy wife guy: Maybe Bossy Wife Guy (BWG) isn't "stepping up" because he doesn't want "plans" At. All. Maybe he dreams of just hopping in a car and starting to drive, no reservations or bookings, to see what crazy adventure Life might spring on him.

That's how my husband and I did Ireland. Met some awesome people that way.

Carolyn Hax: Eeeeeh ... I'm not buying it. Overseas adventures, you still need to get plane tickets and update passports, etc., unless it's part of the adventure is to swim there. And no matter where they go, most people need to schedule time off from jobs. So there's always an initiative to be taken, a "stepping up" to be done at some level.


Confused: So I met my boyfriend's ex wife. They have been apart many years, and he really hates her still. His description of what she would be like was akin to the hound of hell. She was actually quite lovely, to both of us, and seemed the opposite of what he described. This all made me wonder if my boyfriend would describe me in a similar fashion if we were to break up. He holds grudges forever. So I asked her, privately, why things went so sour for them. She did not really give me an answer, and said it was just a long time ago and that people change. Then she said something else, almost as an afterthought. She told me to trust my instincts. But did not elaborate. How do I interpret that?

Carolyn Hax: For your own sake, interpret it the worst possible way and then prove your way back to the best. Without competition for second place, the No. 1 mistake people make is to talk themselves into a relationship and rationalize problems away. You just had the hint of a problem gift-wrapped and dropped in your lap. Add that to something you either know is a problem already, or should--that he holds grudges forever--and start paying attention. Do you feel free to be yourself around him? Do you find yourself editing certain details out of the stories you tell, or reassuring him a lot, or making plans around his quirks and tastes and even temper?

Certainly she could be as bad as he said but also capable of behaving civilly for one encounter. But that potential plum rationalization still wouldn't account for the fact that he still "hates her." To mature is to let go of anger, or at least to know how important it is to try. Doesn't sound as if he's even trying. Hmm.

So, please do trust your instincts.


Familytime, USA: Not much of an update, as Bossy Bandleader has been working his glass off and hasn't had much time to whip us into shape. I do laugh every time I remember the poster who connected the bossiness to the fact that there was no dad in the Partridge Family.

Carolyn Hax: Well, no news might be the best news here. Are any of the kids expressing dismay that band practice has been suspended?


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn, I have to disagree with you on the potential dog owner concerned about leaving the dog while at work. How many more dogs would be euthanized every year if doggie daycare was an adoption requirement? I don't know about your dog, but mine sleeps a lot. A lot. He sleeps while I'm at work, he sleeps while I'm at home, he pretty much wakes up for dinner and his long, brisk walks three times a day. A loving, if slightly boring, existence is preferable to an abusive home or euthanasia.

Carolyn Hax: This is why I suggested talking to the WARL people. Some dogs deal, some don't (see follow-up post), but you still can't get around the social animal issue. These dogs would do better with another dog in the house (even fewer euthanized dogs, right?). The real issue is that there are just way too many dogs being bred for the limited pool of responsible owners, and I'm sure the conflict you bring up--less-than-ideal home vs. shelter--drives companion-animal advocates nuts. It is not my imagination that use of anti-anxiety/anti-depressant meds for dogs is on the rise, because of the rising number of households where no one is home all day.

I repeat, not all dogs are made for the life that you say your dog has, even tho it's apparently fine by him.


Neglecting a dog for eight to nine hours a day: The unasked question is "what will you do with the dog while you're at work?" If the answer is "Leave him/her outside", then you're probably about to create a bored dog that's going to bark all day and annoy the hell out of your neighbors.

Trust me, I'm one of those neighbors who now hates dogs because of the nuisance that they can become when neglected. My retired Dad has a similar complaint and he rarely complains.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.


Vetting?: Hi Carolyn,

You say people should vet orgs before they turn to them for help -- what should proper vetting consist of?

Carolyn Hax: Where they get their money is often the first thing I check. I also check names and affiliations of board members. I check their status on nonprofit watch lists. I read their literature to get an idea of their philosophy, and to get a general feel for how open they are with their connections (the sources of financing or names of major underwriters, for eg, should be right out there for even the laziest vetters to find). I do a general Google to see who is citing them where. This is off the top of my head--I'll post it to the Philes for people to weigh in.


High-Function, ING: Dear Carolyn,

Love the chats! Today's chat has me thinking I'm not high-functioning. I'm not depressed or anything, but I can go weeks without wanting to go out to dinner or a movie. And I don't plan vacations - I just go back to my hometown and visit with my family and friends. And I don't usually fold my laundry, though I always do my laundry. Is there something wrong with me?

Carolyn Hax: Oh my. There's always a risk in extrapolating advice.

If you're content with your choices, and if you're open about who you are with your mate or potential mates, then there's absolutely nothing wrong with living a low-key existence.


Chi-town re: bossy wife: Here's another possibility no one has considered: was she single, successful, and independent for a long time pre-marriage?

I was single for 10 years before meeting my husband. I either did things myself or found vendors/friends to do them (eg: paint the house.). Upon marriage, we'd talk about things that needed doing, and if it sounded like a big chore (painting the house), I'd say, "forget it, I'll hire someone."

Until one day husband said to me, "Listen, I want to help. I want to do more around here. I'll help cook, and I'll paint the living room." Honestly, it had never occurred to me that I didn't have to be Superwoman anymore, and that he could do some of the work/planning/etc. So now we share.

Strangely, he's never felt this way about the dishes. Sigh.

Carolyn Hax: Another good point, thanks.


Louisiana: My mom hates my boyfriend and has told me, gently but firmly, that she respects my ability to make adult decisions, he is not welcome in her home at any time. She tends to be very laissez-faire and has chosen not to be specific about why she dislikes him because she feels it would undermine my decision to be with him. I don't know if it was a psychological tactic or what, but the more she smiles and keeps quiet about her dislike, the more I feel I HAVE to know what's wrong with him in her eyes. She is generally a good mom and a good person and I really trust her opinion. What can I do?

Carolyn Hax: Wow, what a mind, uh, bucker.

If she has a minor complaint about him, then her banning him from her home is needlessly punitive on your mom's part.

If it's a major complaint, then her refusing to speak up is putting you at needless risk.

So, basically, one of the two major people in your life is untrustworthy, and your mom has declined to empower you with the information that would indicate which one it is. Wow again. You might want to run this analysis by her to see if it changes her mind at all on the issue of letting you know.

And you might want to revisit the "good mom and a good person and I really trust her opinion," just to make sure you haven't missed something big.


D.C.: Retired dad barks when he is left alone all day? Oh my. No. Is irritated by the neighbor's barking dog now that he is at home most of the day. We all need an editor, right?

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I've seen a few cases of the former, too, though it hasn't turned me against retired dads.


Re: Mom with cancer: I've been mulling this over and although I do understand college girl's outrage and sadness - I do think that everyone has difference sense of privacy. I just watched my 43-year-old SIL die of breast cancer and I myself have small children. I greatly respected how she was so forthcoming about her illness and fought to the bitter end and her children are probably better for it. But, I couldn't help thinking - if it were me - I would not want the whole world to know I had cancer. I know a pretty much adult daughter is not the whole world and she did deserve the opportunity to decide to move closer to Mom - but in Mom's defense - it is her illness and she chose to handle it her way. Maybe having her daughter close by worrying about her would have been tougher than letter her live her life - even it was far away. I'm just saying - try to understand her decision as you deal with your fear. Best wishes for a good outcome.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the thoughtful perspective, and I'm sorry about your SIL.


Washington, D.C.: I volunteer at WARL and do dog and cat adoptions. We recommend you have someone check in and walk the dog midday but it could be the neighbor, not necessarily a paid dog walker. Also two dogs is a good idea. And what about a cat? We have waived adoption fees on cats through September. We just got in 18 dogs from a puppy mill in VA including two Great Danes and the rest are small breeds. Come into the shelter and look for volunteers wearing purple T-shirts.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for posting, perfect for this last chat of the dog days.

And with that, I'm outta here. Bye, thanks, happy weekend, and type to you here next week.

Some of you do plan to be here, right? Pre-Labor day Friday, might be slow ...


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

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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