Carolyn Hax Live: Advice Columnist Tackles Your Problems

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 4, 2009; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Friday, September 4 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: Hello, everybody. I had thought this would be a slow week, as they usually are before a long, holiday weekend, but then I forgot about "Sacramento" in this past Sunday's column. (Jodi, would you please post a link? Thanks.)

I've been called the c-word by readers before, but that honor has never shared the inbox with e-mails bearing "stupid whore," "phony friggin elitist" and, my favorite, "racist" (against my own race, I'm told). Thanks, folks, for making my point for me.

I would take back one bit of phrasing from that column: I said the writer was not "attracted to" and entire race, and could just as easily have used "interested in" or "accepting of" or "open to"--or, the way I'd write it now, "You are rejecting an entire race, which is the definition of racist."

Not that it would change anyone's mind--it would just tighten the loophole that I unwittingly left open with my word choice. Many readers zeroed in on the strictly physical element, some pointing out that politically correct liberal repugnant bottom-feeders like me don't get to legislate people's physical attractions. And of course I would agree with that. (Both aspects, I suppose, since I make no apologies for having socially liberal values. I guess "humanist" is an -ist, too, in some eyes.)

So I will not, as many asked, apologize for saying Sacramento's decision was racist. I maintain that anyone who rejects an entire race as un-datable--the broader application of attraction that I intended--and who doesn't provide any morally defensible rationale to support it, fits the description. If the writer had said, "I don't date bald guys," and her friends had replied that she was baldist, I would have agreed with the friends then, too.

Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, refusing to date anyone who has X or Y trait is a personal view that X or Y feature creates an inferior dating product. I'm not talking about sexual orientation here; that's the one area where discrimination is not prejudice. There's no point in having a sexual relationship with someone who won't have one with you. Age is more gray (get it?), but it's still closely linked to what people are capable of doing, and therefore a certain degree of blanket discrimination gets a pass.

I'm talking about all the other X's and Y's--weight, height, coloring, faith, profession, education level, intellect level, humor, etc. When X or Y involves a choice--say, to practice a particular religion, to refuse to treat health or substance issues, to be sedentary, to remain uneducated, whatever--then X or Y is fair game. You don't like someone's choices, then of course you're going to look elsewhere for companionship, and do so rightly without apology.

But when it's a trait one doesn't get to choose--height, build and coloring in particular, but even non-extreme age differences fit in here--I believe the decent, non-elitist, non-racist, non-c-word-whore thing to do is make the decision to date or not date this person strictly on the merits of the individual. Or, the more eloquent version, to judge others by the content of their character, and not by the color of their skin. As it happens, though, I don't think (with dating at least) the decency bar is set that high. Don't like someone? Check. Don't like his voice? Weak, but, check-- decency bar cleared. Had she even, for example, found out in the course of the date that their skin-color differences had created cultural or world-view differences that ran counter to what she had in mind for a life partner, then she'd have been able to say, "No, not interested," without showing racial prejudice. Deciding that -any- black person would present a cultural clash -is- racial prejudice.

"Sacramento's" is a prejudice of the most subtle and probably common variety: the "not that there's anything wrong with that" kind, where people use openness to others' interracial couplings to rationalize their way out of introspection--and, practically, out of weighing each individual on his own merits.

There is always room for thoughtful exceptions, but Sacramento, already defensive, didn't offer any in her defense.

Hookay. Got that off my chest. What say we get started.

_______________________ Sacramento Column, The Washington Post, August 30, 2009


Carolyn Hax: But wait! There's more: You guys are always asking if I've heard back from people whose questions appeared in the columns or the chats. Starting in the next couple of weeks, I'm going to be posting these updates to my Facebook page:

They come in when they come in, so the postings won't be regular, but as I find time I'll track down some of the older ones, too. Also feel free to jump in on some of the discussions there.


Philadelphia: Hi Carolyn, Happy Friday! Here's something nice and petty - I write this from my breakfast table. My roommate is sitting next to me slurping her cereal. Not just a little, but with every. single. spoonful. Loudly. My question for you (and the 'nuts), is whether I have any right to ask her if it's at all possible for her to eat more quietly, and how I could possibly do that without sounding like a self-centered jerk.

Carolyn Hax: Nah, better for you to take your cereal elsewhere. I am with you on the unbearability of cereal slurpage, but it's your roommate's place as much as it is yours.

That said, if you are also friends with your roommate and said friend/roommate is open to constructive criticism, it might be a cosmic good deed to point out that her table manners are off-putting. Bad manners are the kind of thing no one likes to hear about from others but that all of us would be better for accepting without rancor. What she's doing, arguably, is the social equivalent of jamming spinach in her teeth, or sticking TP to her shoe.


Southern N.J.: Do you like this title for my yet unwritten book?

"Confessions of a Teenaged Drama Queen's Mom"?

If not, I'm taking suggestions.

Its been a heck of a couple of days at my house...sigh

Carolyn Hax: Sounds guaranteed to scare away readers in droves.

Hang in there, and keep steady. There's nothing Drama hates more than a quiet and patient audience.


Anytown, Anywhere: I recently learned that my ex-husband, who divorced me about fifteen years ago in large part because I couldn't have children, is remarried with four children, and the news has stirred up a lot of old, strong feelings. I'm happily remarried with a house full of cats, honestly enjoy the freedom of childlessness, and don't miss anything about the first marriage-I'm just resentful that the ex's shabby treatment of me seems to have gotten him what he wanted in life. Does this kind of anger ever go away? Is there any reason for it to? It's not like anger is ruining my life-I just don't like the [glass bowl] and don't wish him well.

Carolyn Hax: What's the point of being angry, though? I don't know how he treated you specifically--there are compassionate ways and [glass-bowlio] ways to end a marriage, even for the reasons you cite--but it does seem as if the facts are giving you a chance to choose not to take this personally, and let the anger go.

He wanted a lot of kids, and obviously meant it. His choices were to stay with you and possibly always wonder what his life would have been like had he married someone else or had you been able to have children, or to end the marriage and give you both a chance to live according to preference.

Obviously, you want to think of a marriage as paramount, and you want to think of your spouse as the person who is going to stand by you during your most painful moment and regard any sacrifices as minor given the privilege of loving, supporting and staying with you. But if you're happily remarried and not missing anything about your marriage to him, then it sounds as if you and your first husband weren't that kind of mate to each other--and so you wouldn't have been even if you had been able to have children, and even if he had stayed to raise them with you.

Sometimes what looks like shabby treatment by a jerk is instead a necessary, if painful, seismic shift by two plates that aren't working well together. Please consider regarding it from that perspective, as a precursor to putting it peacefully--even gratefully--back in the past.


Newborn Dilemma in D.C.: Carolyn,

I wrote in about this two weeks ago and I'm trying again today. Please help me with this issue! I am about to give birth and have family conflicts that need resolution. My husband and I do not want to have house-guests in the first few weeks after the baby is born. Our families live far away. They cannot afford to stay in hotels. This means, for practical purposes, that we are basically banning them from being around when the baby is born and for a period thereafter. Some family members are peeved. Are we in the wrong here?

Carolyn Hax: No, and I'm peeved on your behalf that they're peeved at you; you're exercising your right to decide how to receive your new baby, and you deserve respect for that.

But it might go a long way if you could help them pay for hotels, or help them find cheap hotels, or even help them find a housesitting gig in your neighborhood, or ...

You've probably got plenty of other things to do, but even a small effort to facilitate other arrangements could go a long way toward establishing good faith.


D.C.: Hi Carolyn, a decorum question here. My good friend has recently been inviting a guy to our outings that she used to be in love with--but he was a complete jerk to her and broke her heart. She claims they are "friends" now but I can't bring myself to be polite to him when I think about all the hours I spent handing her tissues over this dude. So do I have to be nice or can I ignore him? I'm not going to shoot him death stares or anything, but there are no signs he has changed and I think he is using her still. She seems hell bent on this "friendship" but I'd like to pretend he doesn't exist. Ugh.

Carolyn Hax: Have you pointed out to her that you feel like you're in a difficult position, having to welcome him when her history with him has left you with a bad impression? Sometimes just airing it gives her a chance to say, "I get it, but please humor me"--which then gives you a chance to say, "OK, but I reserve the right to point it out if I get the sense he's being a jerk to you again."

Or it can give her a chance to get all hissy, which gives yo a chance to consider whether the guy is the only jerk in this couple.

I know, I know, you said "good friend," but dysfunction is a dance for two.


London, U.K.: I'm trying to think of ways to thank/honor my mother and mother-in-law, and am coming up short. It's been the toughest period of my life, and I don't know how I would have made it through without them. My husband is in the US because of his work, my son and I are overseas because of my work. My mom and M-I-L have given up months of their lives and left their families behind to move in with me and help raise our son. And it's not just our son they've been taking care of - Mom was my rock during my recent miscarriage, M-I-L just nursed me through the swine flu. There are no words for what these women have done. We're moving back home in a few weeks, and I want to do something to thank them. I've asked them what they'd like as special treats - a year's worth of pedicures? Monthly gift certificates to favorite restaurants? Skywriting singing their praises? They both insist that they want nothing more than for me to do the same for my son and his family someday. Even my biggest ideas feel inadequate. Gah. Any suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: Nothing beats writing down your thoughts in a card or letter. Anyone with $ can get someone a year's worth of pedicures (c/o Carolyn Hax, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20071), but a letter requires time, thought, and paragraphs of individual detail. And, most important, it can be kept in a drawer for the rest of their lives, allowing them on their bad days, to quickly lay hands on proof that they're valued by someone.


And I Can't Even Boil an Egg : I'm dating -- maybe seriously dating -- a great guy I've known for a long time. Because we were good friends before this, I happen to know one of his criteria for a future life partner is that she have bang-up domestic skills. He appreciates home-cooked meals, loves to cook himself and has in the past really enjoyed dating women who shared his passion.

The problem? I can't cook my way out of a paper bag and can't get excited about trying. This may not be a big deal, but I'm wondering what you think about relationships in which one partner definitely lacks something that is highly valued in the other?

Carolyn Hax: I can't speak for the guy, obviously, but as someone who cooks, there are three things that elevate the experience from hobby to joy: 1. someone to cook with me; 2. someone who's grateful for the home-cooked meal; and 3. someone to chop the onions. If you can be 2 and 3 (3!!! 3!!!), and if he thinks you're the bees knees (the pork's knuckles?), then he'd be an idiot to hold out for 1.

As for your larger application, when "one partner definitely lacks something that is highly valued in the other," the issue is always whether the couple are flexible, and open to the possibility that a perceived deficit can be coaxed into an advantage.


Montreal: My best friend is in an abusive relationship (I think). There is yelling, hitting, smashing of her possessions, and when we go out alone (very rarely) there is the inevitable phone call asking her to come home immediately. She goes. The issue is that this is all coming from her 11-year-old kid.

I'm uncomfortable around the kid, but I also believe that my friend has fostered a lot of this. So I get frustrated with her, but I don't show it. I just try to listen. I'm not even really sure what I'm asking here. I just miss my friend, who is 100 percent obsessed with this situation, and I feel bad that she may be able to tell that I am not crazy about her child. (They both get a lot of professional help, but it seems to be getting much worse, threats of real harm.) Advice?

Carolyn Hax: Do you know who these professionals are? It might be time to talk to them yourself, to share what the 11-year-old has told you. I assume Canada has mandated reporting as in the U.S. If the 11-year-old can tell a professional about the "threats of real harm," then said professional can get involved to protect the child, which is the No. 1 issue here. That, ideally, would then awaken your friend to the real danger she's in--but first things first, protect the child.

If you don't know the names, please call Childhelp, 1-800-4-A-CHILD to find out what your next step should be. (It does serve Canada, per the Web site.)


I CAN Boil Eggs: Actually, I am an amazing cook, and I appreciate people staying out of my way when I do it. But please, don't hold back when it's time to clean up. I prefer to enjoy my wine without dish soap residue on my hands.

Just another option...

Carolyn Hax: Can't believe I missed it. 4. someone on KP. Thanks.


For London: Letters fade and can get damaged in drawers. What about a heartfelt note that you put in a simple frame? It can go on a wall, on a desk, in a drawer...

And to follow up on Carolyn's idea, I think that when you do things for others notes to those lovely women saying how much they have inspired you to do them would be appreciated. It's one thing to take care of someone you love, it's quite another to have that person acknowledge how much you have inspired them.

Carolyn Hax: I like the second idea, but I also think a lot of people would feel funny about displaying their praise like that.


Re: Cereal-Slurping Roommate: If you bring this up with her, be prepared to here all about the little things you do that you never realized were irritating to her.

Carolyn Hax: Ding ding ding. Thanks.


Anonymous: Hi Carolyn,

I just found out my boyfriend of three years has had a standing weekly appointment with a therapist for the past six months. I can't explain it, but I feel like I've been cheated on. I don't have a problem with his engaging in talk therapy if he feels it makes his life better, but I'm confused about why he didn't tell me (he still offers no explanation) and slightly uncomfortable with the fact that he's been consulting an outsider about, among other things, our relationship. Am I overreacting?

Carolyn Hax: About the former, no, about the latter, yes.

Bonus! The latter may well explain the former. If you have a ... let's call it an inclination toward keeping the details of your relationship strictly private, that can put a lot of pressure on your mate. It's a form of control, and keeps said mate from thinking through problems out loud, which is one of the primary functions of a person's circle of intimates--friends, family, bartender, whoever. It's a natural human impulse to measure our own feelings on something by putting them into words and watching how an audience responds.

Your boyfriend has chosen the one audience that's sworn to confidentiality, and you're still uncomfortable with it? That leads me to ask, what are you so intent on hiding? Or the less-loaded, what's the big deal? I also can't reconcile "I don't have a problem with his engaging in talk therapy if he feels it makes his life better," with, "'m ... slightly uncomfortable with the fact that he's been consulting an outsider about, among other things, our relationship." You can't have it both ways. Either you're okay with his getting therapy, which means talking primarily about his primary relationships, or you're not okay with it.

Three years of knowing he can't breathe a word of you to others can explain why he didn't tell you and still wont' elaborate. If there's punishment to be had for the truth, the truth tends to linger in the eaves, hoping no one will notice it.

Certainly he'd have been better off just telling you and taking on the consequences--how owed it to you, of course, but more important, he owed it to himself to live out in the open. But that subverting of self could be what he's talking to the therapist about--as either the cause or effect of his communication problems with you. His ability to own his actions will tell you a lot about his progress on the couch. In the meantime, you could do a lot to help it along by asking him, "I am upset that you hid this from me for six months. Have I made it difficult for you to tell me the truth?"


Wedded Diss: My husband's mother and step-father left our wedding a few minutes into the reception, taking his grandparents and out-of-town relatives with them, to go to a local annual choral concert they hadn't even bought tickets for. We were shocked, and my husband (who pleaded with her to stay) was devastated. He later wrote her a letter explaining why he was so hurt, to which she responded with "I'm sorry you feel that way" and suggested that he should have just talked to her about it instead of writing. We are planning to go and visit soon for her birthday, and he wants to bring it up to her. I am doubtful we'll ever get any meaningful understanding, expression of regret, or closure, but it also feels impossible to just let it go. Any suggestions on how to handle this? And how can I best be supportive of my husband?

Carolyn Hax: Did he call her, in response to the, "he should have just talked to her about it instead of writing"? Opening with, "I'm calling to talk about it, since you said you preferred that to writing." It might also help to ask (theme alert!), "Did we do something to offend you?"

And, it might also not work. But it sounds preferable to the what-now? suspense of the upcoming birthday visit.

People do all kinds of weird stuff for all kinds of weird reasons, but on the face of it, it does look as if something offended them--seating snafu or something to that effect--and they lacked the courage to take it gracefully or inquire whether there was a mistake or admit to you openly what their reason was for leaving. Whatever it was, your husband's openness to the idea that there was a legit reason is more likely to elicit a confession of that reason--whether it turns out to be legit or not.


Montreal, Confusion: I got the impression that it was the 11-year old that was hitting, breaking things, potentially causing harm, since the writer indicated that "this" was coming from the 11-year old and that he/she didn't like the friend's child. It seems ambiguous.

Carolyn Hax: You're right, it really could go either way. I thought the "this" was the story of it, but it could well be that the violence is coming from the 11-year-old.

If it is the child who is yelling/hitting/smashing possessions, then the friend/mom -should- be 100 percent consumed by this. She is the one responsible and has an obligation--to self, to child and to society--to put everything she has into guiding this child out of the storm and into healthy, functional adulthood.

To support and understand that effort, I would actually still recommend Childhelp as a place for the friend to start to get more informed. Epic struggles call for epic supporting casts, and that takes knowing the full scope of what's going on involved.


D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

I always find one social situation a puzzler. When a guy asks for my number, and I'm not truly not interested, how do I politely say no? And these are cases where I am finding the guy to be too pushy or a jerk, not nice guys just trying to get to know me. I'm assertive in many areas of my life, but this is where the people pleasing "good girl" in me sometimes butts in and confuses me.


Carolyn Hax: "I'm sorry, I don't want to share my number." For some reason, a rejection in nine words sounds less brutal than a rejection in one. It's also a plain, unequivocal and honest answer, were it can be so tempting to fudge. "I don't give out my number," or, "I'm seeing someone."

If your unequivocal and honest answer is not good enough for the pushy, then you can say, "I haven't changed my mind"--but also please do excuse yourself from the conversation at that point. Not taking "no" for an answer is a dicey proposition--it still has some advocates, even though I'm not a fan--and if it bugs you, show it by not sticking around for it.


Just fat, Thanks!, College Station, Texas: As a way to pass time while waiting for appointments, watching my kid play sports, I crochet baby blankets. Also happen to be over weight. Second time this week, a person asked what I was making and I told them each it was a baby blanket. They each asked when I was due (ouch). I let them know that not pregnant, just fat, thanks! (in my perkiest voice, of course). I'm working on the whole over weight thing, exercising, Jenny Craig and have lost 55 pounds so far. But, jeesh, what is wrong with people? You don't ask a fat lady when they're due! Just wanted to get that off my chest and hopefully burned some calories while I'm at it.

Carolyn Hax: Rarin. But: If a nonfat woman were crocheting a baby blanket (or 2 percent, or reduced-fat-and-25-percent less sugared), there's a good chance a kindly bystander might ask when she was due. Or if a man were crocheting a baby blanket, said kindly bystander (SKB) might ask, is your wife/surrogate expecting?

In other words, there's nothing wrong with just answering, "It's for a friend/relative/charity."


How to deal: We have plans this labor day to visit my husbands family (for the day). I just found out that my BIL (husband's side) called up my husband and asked him not to bring me - when asked why, BIL gave a really flimsy answer about my not fitting in with them and how they were not comfortable with me being there. My husband told BIL that he was totally out of line and that if I was not welcome, then as my husband he was not welcome and would not be attending. He also told BIL that he could explain why we weren't there to their parents and hung up. BIL later called back, apologized and said that he was out of line and that we were both welcome in their home. The thing is I don't feel welcome at all and don't want to go. Until this occurred I had no idea that BIL (and presumably SIL) did not like me - especially to the point of calling my husband and telling him not to bring me to a family dinner. I am really close with my husband's other siblings as well as his parents and this who situation has left me feeling. . . well pretty much like crap. If we do decide to go, how to I handle having to interact with BIL/SIL since I now know they don't want me there. I really think I could end up just bawling at the dinner table, and am trying to avoid that.

Carolyn Hax: If you do go--I would understand why you wouldn't want to, just to give yourself time to let the raw feelings heal--I hope you'll catch a moment with your brother-in-law to say, "I don't understand what I've done, but I hope whatever it is, we can get past this."

It shows that 1. you have [parts], and therefore serves notice that he'd best not try anything like that again; 2. if he does get the idea to try again, neither you nor your husb are going to back down, so maybe he's the one who should consider staying home; 3. you are approachable, so if he feels he does have a real gripe, he has no excuse for not taking it up with you directly; and 4. you're not going to be party to silent tension.

Sucks that it came to this, and it will be an awkward moment if you choose to take it on, but I really think it will help. Good luck.


Md.: Hi Carolyn - my mom passed away recently and my dad has been talking about dating (in a somewhat joking manner, that's how we deal). He's very lonely - my mom was the independent one - and I don't want to deny him finding happiness again. And I'm well aware that anyone he does date will not replace my mother. But I can't fathom seeing him with anyone other than my mother - how do I handle it when it happens?

Carolyn Hax: Speaking of awkward confrontations ... if you find yourself really overwhelmed by the sight of your dad with a date, please just say, "I'm happy to meet you--though I'm struggling with it for reasons that aren't about you, so I hope you'll be patient with me." Anyone but a complete doink would sympathize with your missing your mom.

It might just be, though, that you find you're not as upset as you expect. Just seeing your dad's loneliness eased will have an uplifting effect of its own. It also might take a while before he's ready, time that allows you to get ready, too.

I'm sorry about your mom.


D.C.'s phone number quandary: I always find myself getting bitter when people ask questions like this and find it hard to resist making snarky comments ("Oh, gosh, it must be terrible to have guys beating down your door!"). I mean, not once has a guy in a bar ever asked for my number. Any advice on dealing with this kind of bitterness?

Carolyn Hax: Stop internalizing other people's experiences? Sure, some people seem to get more than their share of cosmic handouts, but most people have their strengths leavened by weaknesses. Having a good feel for your own strengths, and some peace with your weaknesses, is one of the best ways to keep you from resenting everyone who has a strength you want.

There's also some other perspective to be had here: Some people are more attractive than others and get hit on all the time (a nightmare of its own, in my estimation), and some get hit on a lot because they're approachable. Some get hit on once a year and don't need to be judged crossly by the never-hit-on set.

It's not the end of the romantic world if you come across as less than approachable. (In fact, the overly-hit-upon set might envy you.) It just means that bars are probably not your place to meet people; you need to rely on the other 95 percent of human gathering places to get your prospects.

I guess it all comes down to, flexible thinking is good.


re: How to Deal: Is there any chance BIL thinks the writer is hot and his wife found out? That would explain the lame excuse, etc. His wife said something like "I better not catch you looking at her" and his solution is to attempt to get her not to come to the family get together.

Carolyn Hax: Interesting. I'd think she'd pick up a vibe. But, who knows.


Falls Church, Va.: Dear Carolyn,

My husband habitually gives me unsolicited advice. This is a real point of contention between us. It hurts my feelings that the person who knows me the most uses my shortcomings to criticize. He thinks he's helping me improve myself, but in reality, he is just hurting my feelings and his input isn't helping. I've tried to talk to him several times about this. How can I get the point across that I don't want his advice unless I ask for it? Thanks! Love your chats!

Carolyn Hax: How about, "I don't want to improve. More than that, I want you to like me the way I am, and not see me as someone in need of improvement. That [assuming this is true] is the way I see you."

Follow-ups for flare-ups can be, "Please like who I am"; or, "I respect your opinion, and will ask it when the time comes."

For the record, this is a very difficult dynamic to break. If your husband has married his vision of you and not you-you, then you have no less formidable a hurdle than changing the person he married. Of course you're not changing; you've been you all along. But that's not who he has seen, and not who he wants to see.* You need to--strange as it sounds--be yourself in plain sight, and not yield to pressure to conform to the vision he has of you.

It all sounds abstract and obscure, but I think it's pretty common for people to have an idea of who they're marrying, and then resist the pull of reality when it's telling them their idea was a little off.

*The payoff is that, unless his vision of you was way off, the real thing is so much better--you're more relaxed when not under pressure to conform, and relaxed people not only make for much more pleasant company, but also tend to be more forgiving of others themselves.


Woodley Park: I suspect I'm being a turd, but I'm not sure. I have a 2-year-old, and many of my friends and colleagues also have little kids. Therefore, the subject of kids comes up quite often in conversation. I'm sure we bore the pants off those around us, but that's someone else's letter.

Anyway, I always ask questions about my friends' and colleagues' kids and listen with genuine interest to their stories. I've noticed that many of the people I'm having these "conversations" with rarely ask anything about my son, and in fact I can barely get a word in edgewise. Someone will talk for 10 minutes about their potty-training travails, and I'll attempt a "We had the same..." and get cut off with more of their child-raising adventures. I know I'm taking it waaay too personally, but do these people think their kid stories are more interesting than my own (I'm sure they are both equally uninteresting). I want my chance to bore a fellow parent. I swear I'm not rambling on about my kid all the time so it's not as if they're saturated with my kid stories. How do I get over being annoyed that I'm not getting my "turn?"

Carolyn Hax: If they're entertaining stories, then be entertained vs annoyed. If they're boring stories, then be annoyed enough not to bother much with these friends.

Seriously, I think having just two or three people with whom you really converse and whose company you really enjoy is all you need to make it okay to shrug off all the rest. Play the internal "whatever" card.


How to Deal (again): Thanks for the suggestion, I'm not sure if I have enough of those "Parts" to confront him (I am significantly younger and much less confrontational than he is so it's hard, but I'll try.)

From what I understand their reasons for not liking me is that I do not pay homage and defer to them the way they would like (I am younger, we are less established, and we haven't been married as long as they have so I really should have no opinions.) Looking at his personality objectively, I do have to say that BIL is kind of a bully who likes to get things his way and when he does not, he'll be very rude to whomever is in the way. I guess this is the first time it's been directed at me and I so wasn't prepared for the kick in the groin.

Carolyn Hax: Frankly, it sounds like a compliment.

Given what you write here, confronting him, especially in such a friendly, I'm-being-the-bigger-person way, might be gas on a fire--which I could use to argue both for and against confronting him. if nothing else, I think it would do wonders for your own confidence.

Since it is your husband's brother, you might want to talk to your husband first either way, just so you're of one mind on how to handle this. I should have included that in my original answer.


re: How to Deal: I wonder what we would be thinking if the BIL wrote in, and said, "Love my brother dearly, but his wife is toxic -insert unpleasant personality trait here - [criticizes everyone, negative, bigoted], can I ask him not to inflict her on the family, who all have the same reaction to her?" I'm not saying Letter Writer IS any of these things, of course, but just wondering what the advice would have been on the other side.

Carolyn Hax: I think that would call for an honest conversation, WITH SPECIFIC and NON-PETTY EXAMPLES of her OUTRAGEOUS DISPLAYS OF DISRESPECT (I can't overemphasize that point, though I can over-ALL CAPS it), between the two brothers. General outline of said conversation being, "You're my brother and I love you, but this is what I witnessed your wife doing last time we got together: [SPECIFIC EXAMPLES OF HER OUTRAGEOUS DISPLAYS OF DISRESPECT]." Then, "I can't just look the other way when she says/does these things to you/our mother/my spouse." And then, "So I'm asking you, if you were in my position, what you would do?"

That's the advice from the other side.


Philadelphia: I'm 18 and pregnant. I want to get an abortion but I am worried I will regret it forever. I know about all the counseling resources but I don't believe any of the things they will tell me would really prepare me for the feelings that would come from terminating. How do I begin to make this decision?

Carolyn Hax: You avail yourself of all the counseling resources, instead of talking yourself out of them before you hear what they have to say.

This is a fresh and intensely personal experience for you, and brings all the intense emotions that come with that, but this is a well traveled road you're on. People in the business of counseling teenagers who are expecting and confused have the benefit of regular exposure to the range of feelings, both from the mothers who terminate their pregnancies to the ones who carry to term, including the ones who raise their children or place them for adoption.

You have choices here, along with those roiling fears and feelings. Please seek out the comfort and shelter of a veteran professional who can help you reconcile feelings and fears with choices. That's the only reliable way to preempt those scary regrets.


re: Unsolicited Advice: Carolyn, I am the person in my marriage who is always giving unsolicited advice. I do not mean any harm by it, and it's not because I don't like who my husband is. My husband has told me that it hurts his feelings, that he is being criticized too much. So I've been trying to figure out why I keep doing it, and it's just ingrained in me to always try and improve things. At work it's part of my job to always be looking at things in different ways to determine what's the best way of doing something, how the process can be improved. I do this to myself too, and I didn't use to see it as being critical but just looking for ways to do better. When I make a suggestion to him I always thought I was doing something positive. But I think he is right, it's too much and comes across as criticism. I would like to stop and will stop for awhile, but then I slip back into my old habits. I will blurt out something "helpful" (critical?) before I can stop myself. How can I change? I really, really want to. I've been good this week but I have to keep reminding myself.

Carolyn Hax: This may seem like a small thing, but have you told him you want to stop?

Often the impulse is to explain why you're doing it so he doesn't get the wrong idea--a la: "it's just ingrained in me to always try and improve things. At work it's part of my job to always be looking at things in different ways to determine what's the best way of doing something, how the process can be improved. I do this to myself too. I see it as just looking for ways to do better."

Explanations like that, from the perspective of the person on the receiving end, can sound like what the previous poster said: "He thinks he's helping me improve myself."

Maybe you've expressed your regrets and your desire to change, but if you haven't done so explicitly, you can't assume he's reading that between the lines of your explanation. It has to be: "I hate that I do this to you, and I will do whatever I can to break the habit." Such a clear statement of "I get it" from her husband would, I believe, have made the post from Falls Church sound very different--if there was even a post at all.


D.C. : I have a problem with my close friend, and I think it's my problem, not hers. She has a serious boyfriend (I'm single) and recently has started complaining a lot about all the things he doesn't do for her. For instance, she was recently sick with a cold, and she spent an entire week complaining about how he wouldn't take even one day off work to come take care of her. She described it as his "ongoing resistance to answering my needs," and I almost barfed. Carolyn, I've been single for all of my 27 years and when I get sick, I take care of myself. What gives that women in relationships suddenly have all these "needs" that must be met, rather than seeing the involvement of a devoted partner as a privilege?

Carolyn Hax: Have you said this to her? As a friend, not as an antagonist, obviously. You want the mutually edifying philosophical conversation here, not the, "My awesomeness against your whining is too staggering to measure," friendship-cleaver.


for Philadelphia at 18: Everything can seem so final when faced with something like this. Please do find counselors to help. Just remember that if the first one or two don't seem like the right people to keep looking - you don't want someone to tell you what you want to hear, but you want someone who can hear what you have to say and respond to that clearly. Like so many things in life, you look for a good fit.

Whatever you decide, there are bunch of strangers out here pulling for you to make the decision that's best for you. Just remember that you don't have to do this alone.

Carolyn Hax: Well said, thanks.


For Woodley Park: Get ready, this issue is lifelong! I have adult children and grandchildren, and I will ask a good friend how their children are, hear the answer, and not be asked how my children are doing in return.

I just try to remember this so that if someone DOES ask me, I make sure to ask about their child/grandchild/mother/whatever in return. But it does puzzle me to this day.

Carolyn Hax: Thus the two or three friends. Balance of interest is a nice thing and the only polite thing, but, as both the occasional victim of the one-sided interest and the occasional perpetrator, I can venture that sometimes tired and distracted people miss a cue here and there in casual conversation. Or, maybe even more often, the part where the asker becomes askee gets cut short by circumstances. Best to save the frustration for repeat offenders and show great appreciation for your two or three. A nice note on their birthdays, say. Or a pedicure package! (c/o Carolyn Hax, Style, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St NW, Washington, DC 20071)


RE: I am worried I will regret it forever: I just want to point out that either decision may have regrets. Even decisions that are RIGHT for you don't come with NO regrets. I wish someone had told me that a few years ago. I used to think if I'd made the right choice I wouldn't have regrets and really beat myself up about some things that I now see were the best choice for me at the time, under my circumstances.

Carolyn Hax: This is huge, thank you, thank you. It is indeed not so black-and-white.

One more important one:


Pregnant Teen: Please be aware that some abortion counselors are funded by organizations that have an agenda, mainly to talk you out of an abortion rather than to help you decide what option is right for you. Planned Parenthood is a good place to start, as it is committed not to talking you in or out of certain decisions, but to helping you talk through what is right for you.

Carolyn Hax: Agreed. Planned Parenthood is in fact a provider of counseling toward the best individual outcome, and not toward the outcome that serves an agenda. What passes for public debate of this issue has often been misleading on this count. Thanks for the post.


Longshot, NJ: Oh Carolyn. I know you don't want to get into politics in your chat and I sure can't blame you, but please consider telling Philadelphia that anyone who tells her about such a thing as "post-abortion syndrome" or that terminating a pregnancy will necessarily traumatize her is lying. The American Psychological Association has a report that debunks these claims here: but there are people who are very, very vested in perpetuating that untruth and you do still hear it a lot.

That said, OF COURSE abortion may not be the right choice for Philadelphia; it's not for everyone. It's so personal, and so your advice to avail herself of all counseling resources was right on. Just know that some of those resources go to great pains to look legit in order to push an agenda with impunity, so be careful out there...

Best of luck, Philadelphia. Fifteen years ago, I was in your shoes exactly. The choice I made is irrelevant to the one you'll make, so I won't share, but I did just fine and so will you.

Carolyn Hax: My politics are anti-disinformation, so this falls right in line with my thinking. Any good argument will withstand scrutiny. Thanks.


For Newborn Dilemma: When my daughter was expecting her first baby and our first grandchild, she lived in another state. They told us they wanted several weeks alone before anyone visited. Heartbroken but understanding we said OK. Four days after my darling granddaughter was born, she was on the phone... begging me to come up... she couldn't wait to share the baby with us. So dilemma should keep an open mind... It may change.

Carolyn Hax: Maybe the new parents' openness to this possibility will also help with the relatives' wounded feelings (though if they're of the hear-only-what-they-want-to-hear sort, it could make things tougher on them if New Parents appear less than firm in their convictions). So, putting it out there, thanks.


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


Carolyn Hax: Wait! Two more things ...


Carolyn Hax: That Facebook page is the one just for the column (choking a bit on "fan page") and not my personal page. Thanks.


Carolyn Hax: And finally: I've just set up the Hax Pack page for the Walk to Defeat ALS. It's Nov. 1 on the Mall this year, different date and slightly different location. My browser is crashing so I can't get the URL, so try will get you to the main page, which can link you to my team sign-up page.

A renewed thanks to all past walkers, and new thanks to new participants.


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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