washingtonpost.com
Carolyn Hax Live: My Girlfriend Wants to Give Up Her Cats for Me, How Do I get Interested in My Kids' Football Games?, How Do I Choose My Bridesmaids?, I Have Gorgeous New Co-Worker, Does Anyone Answer 'I Saw You Ads'? and Much More

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 11, 2009 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Friday, September 11 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

____________________

Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody. Just a reminder that anyone who'd like to join the Hax Pack for this year's Walk to Defeat ALS can sign up at fightals.alsinfo.org/goto/haxpack.

That link isn't -quite- working yet, but it will take you to the right page, where you can click the link to join a team. I'm putting it out there now to get it on the record, and it should be fixed by this weekend. Thanks!

_______________________

Middle America, U.S.A.: Carolyn,

I'm a military wife who knew exactly what she was getting into when she married her amazing husband. Since we've been together, we've dealt with a deployment to Iraq and a year apart while he was on an unaccompanied assignment.

We recently learned that he will be deploying this spring for six months in Afghanistan. While I have adopted a "there's nothing I can do about it" mindset that works for me, I sometimes have a hard time dealing with how people respond to the news.

"Oh, it's just six months, it could be a year!" "At least its not Iraq!" "At least he's not in the Army!" "Does he have a will/life insurance/other inappropriate death related benefit?"

I try not to be snappy or short but these responses just hit me wrong. Is there a catch all response I can tuck away in my bag of tricks?

Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry. That must be really discouraging--I mean the deployments, but also, on top of that, the unhelpful pep-squadding it opens you to.

I think the best answer for the wrong response is a simple, "Thanks." 1. Because the person is trying, even if unsuccessfully, to be supportive; 2. because notice of their failure is already on your face, so you don't need to elaborate; and 3. because trying to get into the snappy-answer business will only leave you feeling more empty, when what you really want is a satisfying sense of connection.

May this spring's separation pass quickly and safely.

_______________________

Bleacherville: Hi Carolyn,

Any advice for a girly girl who, 36 years into swearing off sports forever, finds herself the mom of two boys who can't get enough of them? My guys are enrolled in at least one competitive sport per season, and sometimes I think I'll scream if I have to spend another minute watching rugrats run around a miniature football field.

Carolyn Hax: Heh heh. Kids just have no respect for comfort zones, do they.

1. Sports at the little-kid level would bore just about anybody. Not to generalize too much, but sports are interesting to people who find competition interesting, and who find athletic feats interesting. There won't be much of either with a mob of 5-year-olds chasing a ball.

2. If the excitement of watching your kids grow and work hard and develop difficult skills isn't enough to interest you, start digging into the mechanics of the game. Football--since you mention it specifically--baseball, swimming, gymnastics, really any sport, has a whole geek side to it. Football is violent chess. Swimming is a physics lesson with a shot of adrenaline. Baseball and tennis, among others, are total head games, about putting the ball where someone can't or won't think to hit it. There's a whole lot for the otherwise unimpressed spectator to hold onto, if you look for it. Not only will it give your mind something to do during the games, it'll give you a vocabulary for talking to your boys.

_______________________

D.C.: I've been having a pretty rough year, I had a breakup of a very significant relationship that I'm not really over, I'm broke, and I'm in a dead end job (but very thankful to have a job at all). I've been down, and upset about this all for quite a while, and while I can be happy, and have fun when something lifts my spirits, I find that more often than not, I'm just kind of sad. Am I just having a crappy year, or should I seek help for depression? Can I just chalk it up to it being a hard year, or is a year too long to be in a funk?

Carolyn Hax: There's nothing wrong with getting screened for depression. If it turns out that you're okay, you'll be none the worse for asking, and if you are diagnosed with clinical depression, then you'll be in a better position to weigh your options--it's not like someone forces pills down your throat. You can choose medication if that's the decision you and your doc come to, or you can try talk therapy, or, if the doc believes it's just mild depression, you can start conservatively by trying to combat it through improving your eating, sleeping and exercise habits. Wouldn't hurt to make any necessary lifestyle adjustments anyway, whether you get screened or not. A screening isn't the be-all and end-all here.

In fact, one of the most useful moves you can make in the meantime, in addition to the lifestyle tweaks, is to start turning your attention outward. There's no better time than when you're broke and blue to force yourself to think charitably, of ways you can make others' lives better, instead of concentrating on your own disappointments. Donating your time is a cheap way to feel better about yourself, and feeling better about yourself is the only way out of a rut.

_______________________

Dating Catwoman in Gotham City: Never miss a column! Will try to be brief. Dated an amazing woman with two cats for one and a half years. Mutual break up due to my severe cat allergies worsening despite meds and weekly shots (yep, weekly, I love her). 8 months pass. She now wants to get back together and wants to rehome her cats and give up her volunteer job at a cat shelter. She's had these cats for 10 years and worked in animal rescue since she was a kid. I still love her but feel like the huge sacrifice would make her resentful, I'd feel guilty, and rehoming her cats is a big deal. She swears she wants to make these changes, but... would love any thoughts from you or the 'nuts

Batman

P.S. We didn't live together, kitty dander/hair on her closes or skin was enough to trigger it by the end of the relationship.

Carolyn Hax: Since she apparently came to this decision herself without any pressure from you, then I think you should respect her ability to recognize what's best for her. And of course give her an indefinite amount of time to find the cats a good home.

In other words, be suspicious of happy endings when there's reason to be suspicious, not just because it's suspiciously happy.

_______________________

East Coast: Hi Carolyn, I need to send a note of condolence to parents whose child committed suicide. Is there anything I can says besides "Sorry for your loss"?

Carolyn Hax: If you knew the child, then sharing a warm memory of him or her would be thoughtful and appropriate. Otherwise there's nothing wrong with just saying you're sorry, but you could also add that they're in your thoughts. Awful stuff, so awful that people who are in doubt about what's appropriate should stick to things they know won't add insult to injury.

_______________________

Nowhere, Nohow: My wonderful lovable sister is in a marriage that is clearly dead. Her passive aggressive husband has made it very clear that he's only in it for the kids and to keep his hand in their joint property.

How can I support her through this? She keeps thinking he'll change somehow. She's asked him what to do and he says "stop trying". Is there a clearer sign than that?

She knows I support her in any decision. What more can I do?

Carolyn Hax: Be patient with her.

I'm not sure what to make of his being "passive aggressive" and yet (apparently) vocal in his lack of interest in the marriage--the two don't usually go together.

But if the net result is that the only marriage your sister has left is the one in her imagination, then she's going to need some time to come around--time plus the occasional gentle-but-firm correction when she says something that's pure fiction, like, "If X can just Y, then maybe he'll come around." That's when you say, "It sounds as if he's been pretty clear in saying that's not going to happen."

You also might want to have her talk to a lawyer to find out how she can protect herself financially, given that it's possible/likely he'll take off as soon as the kids are grown. She's getting ample warning that she's on her own, be it sooner or later, and so I hope she'll put the time to good use.

_______________________

Re: Catwoman: Seems to me that if she is giving up her cats and volunteer work that she is thinking life partner/marriage with this person. Unless "Batman" also sees the possibility of a permanent relationship/marriage with catwoman, then let her keep the cats and move on.

Carolyn Hax: Right right, thanks.

_______________________

D.C.: I'm getting married next year. I have three sisters and three very close best friends. My relationship with each is very special, and I have been a bridesmaid in the wedding of each one who's gotten married so far. The problem is, my husband and I have a VERY limited budget for this wedding, which will therefore be very small, and so while I would like to have two or three attendants, I would prefer not to have all six of my girls in it. However, I see no possible way to choose between them myself without severely hurting multiple sets of feelings. In your opinion, would it be okay for me to tell them the situation upfront and sort of take unvolunteers to back out?

Carolyn Hax: You have two easy solutions right there for the taking--having no bridesmaids, or having just your sisters (and thus allowing blood to preempt hurt feelings). Don't make it harder than it has to be. It's just a wedding.

_______________________

Teensville, Again?: A new guy started in my department this week. He's STUNNING. And although I won't work closely with him, I will need to occasionally interact. And I can see him from my desk. Here's my problem: I'm one of those slightly shy people who takes a little time to warm up, so I can seem aloof or cold at the beginning. I'm also completely inarticulate when faced with sparkly blue eyes with those little crinkles.

I'm a grown woman and I'm feeling like an idiot. I had to ask him something yesterday and barely got through it.

Carolyn Hax: Poor bastard's probably used to it. Just stammer your way through to the point where your comfort/familiarity skills kick in, and, for the love of binder clips, -don't- picture him in his underwear.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: My boyfriend and I split up a few months ago. We had a dog together. (He adopted, but I was the co-parent) I love this dog. My ex has recently moved, which makes it more difficult to see the dog. (I no longer have keys) But my ex seems to be making it even more difficult, not responding right away to my e-mailed schedule requests. (which I send in advance, at least two to three days before), and when he does respond, he's too busy to come home to let me see the dog.

It makes me really sad that the dog is alone when he could be with me. I'm not living somewhere where I can have the dog overnight more than once-in-while. (I had to move out when we split up). I don't expect my ex to cater to my schedule, but some acknowledgment and accommodation would be nice. Any suggestions on how to share custody of the dog? I don't want to fight or get ugly over it. I just want to see the dog.

Carolyn Hax: I can't believe I'm saying this--I see pets as extended family--but I think you need to give up. He's making it clear that he's not going to let you see the dog, and your continuing to try is only making you miserable. Dogs live in the present, so it's not like with a child, where your absence could be seen as a personal betrayal; it's just for you and you're not getting anything out of it. Consider volunteering at a shelter to get your fix, and try not to look back.

_______________________

Boston: It has finally gotten to the point that my in-laws and I cannot be in a room together. It's taken 15 years of hurt and anger on both sides and my husband agrees that it is best at this point to keep us apart.

BUT, he still wants a relationship with them. And, I agree my children should see their grandparents.

How does one do this? Holidays without mom? They live about a six-hour drive away, so it's not like my husband can just take them for a few hours on Christmas. Leave the house when they come to town?

What happened doesn't really matter, but let's just say he asked them over and over again to be civil to me and they seem unable or unwilling, I'm not sure which.

Carolyn Hax: Well, if they can't be civil to you, then that's going to cost them time with their grandchildren. That's just how it goes.

Seems to me your husband can keep the connection with them by taking the kids, once or twice a year and not on a holiday, to see them without you.

It feels rotten just typing it, but sometimes that's what these wars of attrition come to. The toughest situations, in fact, are the ones that sit right on the line, where the behavior is bad enough for your husband to see you and back you as a victim, but where history with his parents is such that cutting the tie is unthinkable.

If you and your husband are both in agreement that it's best for the kids, then you could also invite them to visit once/twice a year while you take a meaningful trip of your own--to see your family or friends, or to treat yourself to something.

It's possible that the reality of what they have wrought will nudge your in-laws to reconsider, but even if it doesn't, the infrequent mom-less visits is a sustainable plan as long as the kids are kids.

_______________________

Re: D.C.: Or, she could rent a steel cage, find a video production company, and have all six women go into the cage.

The two that come out get to be bridesmaids.

The video of the potential bridesmaids melee could be sold to raise extra money to pay for the wedding. If she worked at it, she could probably find some bridal shop to sponsor the dresses, too!

Carolyn Hax: Clearly I didn't bring the right skills to answering this question. Thanks from the bottom of my steel-caged heart.

_______________________

Silver Spring: Has anyone ever actually met via those "I saw you . . . " ads?

Last week I went out of town to do some sightseeing, including a museum exhibit and movie. At the movie, I sat behind a group of guys, one of whom was joking around with me both before and after. I left without exchanging any contact info or even names and I've been kicking myself ever since. He seemed interested, but we are apparently both the shy, geeky type.

Finding him again seems extremely unlikely, but I keep wishing there was a way.

Carolyn Hax: Hey, guy, are you out there?

_______________________

Portland-ish, Ore.: My husband and I live in a small complex with a pretty broad mix of people - single guys, single girls, couples of various sorts etc. One woman, who is single, has lately been asking my husband to help her out with things around the house and this is really bugging me. I feel somehow like she's trying to hit on him and that she could do these things on her own, or get someone who is actually her friend to help (we don't really know her other than saying hello in passing). I'm not worried that my husband will cheat, and he's been lightly dismissing the requests for help, but I do feel like she's encroaching. Am I way off? Is she just a nice person in need?

Carolyn Hax: A nice person in need would take two dismissed requests as a hint to stop asking, and someone who needs to lift something heavy will ask you to come help, too.

I.e., if you're not normally jealous and if your instincts tell you she's an attention-seeker, then you're probably right. But taking her on would create attention as well, so just keep up the brush-offs and see what comes next.

_______________________

Texas: I put a baby boy up for adoption when I was a freshman in college, now ten years ago. The adoptive parents lived on the east coast. They were very sweet and understanding and promised to send pictures and letters about their son any time I wanted them. Well, I was too busy--and selfish--for the next few years to ask. Then I got married and now I have a son I get to keep, and I find myself thinking about my other son every single day. Mostly I want to know how he is doing and whether he looks like his younger brother. I would also be interested in meeting him in a casual setting, if that were possible.

Did I give up my right to care about him by not checking on him over the past decade? Or would it be all right to try to get in contact with the adoptive parents now?

Carolyn Hax: Write a nice letter along the lines of what you wrote here, and see what they think. It's a legitimate path you've traveled and you're making a legitimate request. I would start with just asking how he is, though, requesting a picture, etc.--and saving any talk of a meeting for if and when the connection has been re-established.

_______________________

Anonymous: More on weddings ...

Seriously, as a middle aged woman looking back on a lot of weddings I realize how unhinged most brides are. The wedding day goes by so fast, and yet they spend the day, instead of being with friends and family, getting their hair and makeup done plus pedicures and manicures. That alone seems to symbolize the shallowness of the wedding versus the significance of marriage. They obsess about dresses and shoes and centerpieces. They spend hundreds of dollars (or more) on invitations that could be creatively produced on Shutterfly for about 50 cents a pop. They get upset when their fiancee fails to see the significance of selecting wedding favors for the guests - one of the stupidest "must dos" of the modern wedding. If the poster has a very limited budget, she can order bulk flowers and buy a bunch of vases from Ikea. She can do her own hair and makeup. Her bridesmaids can get lovely dresses from Macys for $100 each. She can print her own invitations. She can skip the wedding favors. Focus on what's important.

Carolyn Hax: Definitely the emphasis is skewed toward keepsakes, when of course statistically these archival quality invitations and wedding favors and pristine photographs (thus the hair and makeup) will, for roughly a third of first-time brides and grooms, become awkward mementos of a divorce.

That's to say I agree with you on the misplaced priorities. But it's not just the brides who get unhinged. Grooms and parents and even friends of brides turn up quite often as the guilty parties behind some of these overblown parties.

_______________________

Re: I saw you...: YES. My friends and I read them all the time and once, I even recognized one about a friend.

The key is you have to put yourself out there. You can't just say, "Saw you at movie. Shared conversation. Wanna do lunch?"

No.

You need to be specific.

Hey--I was at the movies in Silver Spring last week to see Inglorious Basterds. I have blond hair and was wearing red. We had a great time joking around...wish I had gotten your number.

Good luck and keep the Hax chat posted on if anything happens!

Carolyn Hax: I had no idea. Thanks!

_______________________

While I'm away, readers give the advice: Hi,

I love the advice that the readers give but I am wondering if these are from previous discussion chats. I basically have been reading all your columns/chats/discussion for many years, yet these while you are away columns are new to me. So how do you get these reader's advice?

Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: They're usually responses to something i've written, thought the initial topic isn't always obvious from what they write. In fact, the ones I like best are the ones that show an angle that's completely different from the one(s) represented in the column.

I also edit them so they stand alone; it doesn't seem fair to send people digging for old columns just so they can understand the new.

_______________________

Washington: My wife and I are both longtime smokers. She is in her second trimester with our first baby. When she got pregnant, we both agreed that she needed to stop smoking and that I would do whatever I could to support her in it. So I quit too (with a few occasional slip-ups every few weeks) and have done everything possible to make it easier for her to stick with it. Part of that support is letting her know I understand how tough it is and that I won't judge her for slipping up, if she does.

I'm sure you can guess where this is going. I just found out that she hasn't just slipped up, she has basically been smoking between one and two packs a day (less than her normal rate but still a lot) throughout the entire pregnancy. I am not so much upset that she has continued smoking as I am that she has gone to such great lengths to keep it a secret from me. I feel like this makes an ugly statement about how much she trusts me. And, of course, I am worried about the impact on our baby. What should I do?

Carolyn Hax: I'm sending this one straight to marriage counseling. I'm sorry--you don't need one-hit advice, but instead the ongoing presence of a talented and reputable referee, to help both of you speak your minds in a way that's least likely to result in permanent resentment. Your wife's OB might be a good source for some names of counselors.

_______________________

Chicago: Maybe the woman asking Portland-ish's husband to help out is painfully shy and just trying to make friends? Read it that way, invite yourselves (plural) over to her place (or her over to yours) to find out once and for all what her intentions are. Is that a silly way of handling it?

Carolyn Hax: It's actually quite generous. Though if that's what she's doing, then she's asking the wrong half of the couple for help (the initial question is exactly why--it just sends the wrong message).

The one hesitation I have is that if the neighbor is giving the wife a bad vibe, then the wife should trust it and not invite this neighbor into her life. Sure, she and her husband can decide she's trouble and stop inviting her over/resume declining her invitations, but with neighbors, that's always problematic. You run into each other and you're forced to interact. People should trust their instincts or, when they're not sure, stand pat and do nothing till their instincts have the information they need.

_______________________

Boston: Whenever we go to my parents' house for a family get-together, my husband basically just follows me around and doesn't mingle with my family. Granted, my brothers aren't exactly the friendliest people in the world or the best conversationalists, but how can I get my husband to get closer to them?

Carolyn Hax: I dunno, start a board game? A hike? A game of touch football? I bet a neutral group activity has saved more awkward family gatherings than politics and TV have ruined.

_______________________

Comments sections: Not a comment on today's chat, but a heads up that the comments sections for all columns seems to have gone belly up, within the last hour or so. There was a great discussion going on in the Comments for today's CH column on the nature of love, and we'd love to keep going. Any chance that you people can inform the powers that be at WaPo to take a look and see what the problem is?

washingtonpost.com: Luckily your lovely producer also deals with comments. Our vendor is currently down and comments have been pulled from articles. No idea when they will be back up again.

Carolyn Hax: There you go. Thanks Jodi (and comment crowd--I'll have a look when the thread is back up).

_______________________

Rockville, Md.: For Texas - I think Carolyn's advice is right on the money... but just have to point out that, as a birth mother, you never, EVER give up the right to care about your son. You made an incredibly selfless decision in making an adoption plan for him and it's normal and natural to think about him and wonder how he's doing. Perhaps the agency that helped to arrange the adoption (if there was one) could help you think about how to approach the adoptive family for information and also help you address any feelings that may come up during the process?

I know that the adoptive family would want you to understand what a great gift you gave them in trusting them to parent the child you bore. They might have been looking forward to an opportunity to thank you themselves for that...

Carolyn Hax: Nice thoughts, thanks.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: I feel like this is such a "D.C." problem. I'm a very liberal Democrat who has friends on both sides of the fence. We all play well together, understand where to draw the line when it comes to political discussions, etc. One of my Republican friends is dating someone who is not only a die-hard Republican, but he's someone who truly seems to think that everyone is entitled to his opinion and seems to lack a filter. Thus far, I've been able to avoid spending a lot of time with him, but I think someday soon I'll find myself hanging out with him more often and I feel like I need to prepare myself mentally. I don't want to debate him -- I'm not going to change his mind -- but its also not in my personality to roll over and not stand up for what I believe in. I also don't want to make things uncomfortable for those around me. So, I find myself at a crossroads and am trying to decide the best approach to take. Do I just walk away without engaging? Is that rude?

Carolyn Hax: Why not, "Hey, let's leave the politics at the door." If that's not persuasive enough, you can point out that it's both a mixed crowd and a congenial one, and that you'd like to keep it that way. Once you've gotten to that point, any polemic from him would be his clear decision to cross a line, and so you could excuse yourself and walk away without being rude.

_______________________

Lameland: I almost never spark with people. I thought part of it was the venue as say, something like a dating site just puts too much pressure on first meetings. That is certainly part of it. But I do spark with some people. Realized recently that these are almost always people who give clear interested signals, and who are "cool." Not bumbling dorky guys who can barely talk to you cause you have girl parts, but guys who are confident and collected and know how to make interest known. And they do. To basically everyone. But, as a dorky person myself I get bumbly and take their signals to mean interest in me in particular since that's how I think of things. And of course they have no particular interest in me, I'm just another girl, and they move right along to the next.

This dynamic sucks. Any thoughts on how to break out of it? Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Patience, and lowered expectations of sparks until you get to know people better. The bumbling, the dorky and the otherwise socially unsure are all populations who need time to flounder around before they become the selves that their day-to-day people see (as in, the person you'd be if you became friends or a couple).

So if your efforts to become smooth aren't working out, and/or if your efforts at relationships with smooth people aren't working out, then you need to take a deep breath and start on the patient approach. That's when you give people second chances (unless someone gives you the creeps--never overrule that instinct, and always avoid the people to whom you react that way), and that's when you put yourself in venues that allow people second chances at getting to know you. E.g., joining groups that meet regularly, avoiding bars (which reward the people who can be charming in the first 1.2 seconds of conversation).

_______________________

Re: Washington Smoker: I just want to relay something that perhaps will be of comfort. When I was pregnant, I tried to quit, and came close to having a nervous breakdown. My midwife advised me to start smoking again, but to keep it under five cigarettes a day. I had a perfectly healthy baby girl. In my parents era, they all smoked more than that, and we all ended up healthy. Obviously, you want to do everything you can to help your baby be healthy, but you also know that nicotine plays a mind game with you, and its tough in the best of circumstances to quit (I have since quit - at a less pressure-filled time). Know that your wife is horrified at her own inability to do this. Additional pressure from you likely will only make it worse. Cutting back, however, might be way more do-able.

Carolyn Hax: I'm not qualified to speak to the medical angle, but this is a good plug for getting the baby's father, the baby's mother, the truth and the OB/midwife all in the same room together. I also think, "Additional pressure from you likely will only make it worse," needs to be in red. Thanks.

_______________________

Bay Area: How do people work so much? Seriously. Maybe I'm being a big baby, because I've only been working at a real job for 2.5 years and before that (in school) I did summer camp and restaurant jobs, but I am baffled by people who work two jobs, or 60-80 hours per week. I work hard and I'm good at my job, even though I hate it, because it's getting me somewhere I want to go. But even 50 hours per week means I don't work out or cook or see my boyfriend. I consider these things essential elements of a life worth living, and I guess I'm just wondering how people make it all fit (with KIDS!?!?! HOW?) or if really most of people's lives is work. I feel like such a wimp because I'm so overwhelmed working hours that seem like they should be reasonable. Is it an age thing? My friends seem similarly overwhelmed, we're 24-25ish.

Carolyn Hax: I don't think it's an age thing to find so much work unappealing. Maybe being new to it means you aren't in the habit the way others are, but you can be in the habit and still feel that it's wrong.

I, for one, find it appalling/discouraging/soul-sucking the amount of time people spend at work these days. It's bad for health, bad for relationships, bad for kids, bad for pets, bad for communities, bad for homes and gardens and arts and other expressions of our less linear selves. And it has only gotten worse as the people with jobs--the fortunate ones--have been asked to do the work of the people who've lost their jobs.

We're fat and sedentary, we drive angry, our kids watch too much tv, we don't read enough, or nurture our emotional connections enough? No kidding.

I'm sorry to sound so pessimistic and angry. There are plenty of people who have resisted these forces, who make conscious decisions to choose flexible careers, forgo income, live within their means, invest in their own priorities, like their kids and communities, to the benefit of all. But just anecdotally, it seems as if resisting the work-work-work trend isn't just a simple choice--it takes people who have more than the average amount of certain things: focus, options, willpower, independent wealth even.

I don't know what the answer is, except for each person to fight for quality-of-life priorities, and hope that, culturally, we come to our senses.

_______________________

Wow: Really? "In my parents era, they all smoked more than that, and we all ended up healthy"? Then why limit it to five cigarettes? If babies all end up healthy when their mothers smoke, why not recommend five packs a day to pregnant women as a way to relax?

Carolyn Hax: I think it was pretty obvious that this person was speaking anecdotally. The recommendations to pregnant woman are clear and unequivocal: Don't drink, don't smoke. But sometimes those clear messages get applied with public hysteria when they're best applied by individuals with the guidance of their health-care professionals.

_______________________

Hinckley, Ohio: Re: Reply to Washington Smoker

We didn't all come out healthy. I had a sister born with a significant birth defect which the doctors attributed to my mother's significant amount of smoking during pregnancy. Please don't gloss over the dangers.

Carolyn Hax: This hits the mark. Thanks.

_______________________

To Lameland: I used to be the same way. Two seemingly contradictory realizations helped me. 1. "Spark" is overrated, and often useless, as you have experienced. 2. You have to spark with yourself. Do things that you think are cool and interesting and that you love to do. Talk about them in social situations. When you talk about something you really love, the elusive "spark" will be in your eyes and voice. People will notice it and will want to connect with the girl who is saying interesting things. This is what you have noticed in the "cool" (aka confident) people.

In short, to get the spark, you must be the spark.

Carolyn Hax: I think it's said, BE the spark.

_______________________

I feel like this is such a "D.C." problem.: It's not a "D.C." problem, it's an a--hat problem. And those, alas, are not restricted to D.C. (though we do seem to disproportionately attract them here).

Carolyn Hax: You think? If anything, I'd say D.C.ers are disproportionately conditioned to work around politics in social situations.

_______________________

Catwoman Here?: Wow, I'm pretty sure I'm catwoman. Thanks SO much for your thoughts --Hey Batman, dinner tonight? I'll treat you to McDonalds. :)

Carolyn Hax: Just wear the fumigated catsuit so Batman doesn't plotz.

_______________________

Carolyn Hax: Not an entirely accurate use of plotz, but it amused me.

_______________________

To Bay Area: I work a lot too - but it doesn't suck. I love what I do. I think that helps a lot. I'm also friends with many of my co-workers so when the inevitable late nights occur, we order in dinner and usually end up punchy and laughing - thought the work still gets done. My employer also helps - we have a gym in the building, they host monthly happy hours, and sponsor quarterly blood drives and other volunteer opportunities. Last night at yoga, a good half of the people there were all from the same office - their way of making sure they get out at a reasonable hour at least once a week and do something good for themselves.

In other words, you may be at a point in your life or career or whatever where you have to put in a lot of hours, but there are some ways to force a little balance in there so that it's not so distasteful...

Carolyn Hax: That does help. It still makes colleagues your de facto family, which has good and bad points, and it's still hard to know what to do when you want to have kids.

_______________________

Work too much: It might be some comfort for the youthful worker to know that I am 42 and feel like I have achieved a good work/life balance. Some of it is making good choices such as living in a modest house that is close to my work (even though I could live in a larger house further out, but that would put me an additional 1/2 hour away from home and my kids' schools). But a lot of it is gaining wisdom and experience which just happens as you continue to work. I can now do in an 8 hour day what used to take me a few days because I am efficient, accurate, and detailed. I thought I was those things at 25 years old, but now I truly am. Don't be discouraged. You can do it too! It is the epitome of 'live and learn'.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

_______________________

Re: Bay Area: Can this be a Hax Philes topic? I couldn't agree more that the driven generation (to which I do belong) plus the hysteria from the economic downturn creates a system of putting personal life second to worklife.

I'd love to find the balance. And I've struggled in my demanding industry to wiggle out some space for myself. But it's so hard to demand more personal time when we're all so afraid of losing our jobs or thinking this'll all soon pass and life can get back to normal. If we don't work on making a change this system will be normal before we know it.

Carolyn Hax: Sold. Jodi, would you please pop this in as-is, next time we're due for a post? Push the others back. Thanks.

_______________________

San Francisco: So a new roommate just moved in-- my first male roommate, and although I know this is just situational (I don't think he's the one) we are flirtatious and I have found my self particularly down the last few days. He played the piano for me last night, and sang to me, and I am afraid this will develop into a serious crush. I haven't been dating much lately, and just got rejected by a would-be suitor. So what's a girl to do?

Carolyn Hax: Why don't you think he's (kaff kaff--hairball) the one?

Damn, I feel a thread coming on and it's 2:54.

_______________________

First Date Etiquette: I feel like I should know the answer to this question, but I don't. Last night I went out with a guy, just for drinks. I don't want to see him again. I'm worried that I gave him the impression that I enjoyed myself, but I was trying to be polite. He drank me under the table and I'm a drinker (NINE drinks, NINE), there was talk of recreational use/abuse of prescription drugs and oversharing about his sex life. Sorry, that's just not my bag. Assuming he wants to see me again, what's the appropriate response if he gets in touch? Is there any possible way I can avoid the awkwardness of affirmatively shutting him down? Am I obligated to respond if he contacts me? I mean, it was just drinks.

Carolyn Hax: Please please please don't avoid the awkwardness of "affirmatively shutting him down." You say, simply, "I'm sorry, I am not interested." This is a favor to yourself--giving people the right, if uncomfortable, impression now can save you prolonged discomfort down the road. Not only that, it's also a favor to him. He should know he bombed. Ideally, you would have left when his drink count got higher than you thought healthy. "Okay, then, I'm going to get going. Thanks for the drinks (if he paid for any), and good night."

_______________________

Bay Area again: Thank you! Both to you for taking my question and to the additional two responders. The "enjoying what you do" is probably a significant part of the issue.

Carolyn Hax: Yeh, but don't hold your breath for ... what was it? Employer sponsored yoga and cocktails?

_______________________

Carolyn Hax: Sorry for the dead air--I started an answer then quit.

_______________________

Happily Married to a Roommate: When I was 23, my roommate and I needed a third roommate. We found a guy online who was willing to pay the price we wanted, move in right away, and who had a TV. Sold! We started hanging out more and more and eventually (and cautiously) being more than friends. Everyone thought I was crazy, but we took it slow and made sure to respect each other's space when we were home. When the lease was up, we moved to our own place, got married a year later, and now have two beautiful kids and our own place. It can definitely work - but you have to be cautious, respectful, and secure. Good luck!

Carolyn Hax: And:

_______________________

San Francisco: Obviously there are sometimes exceptions to this, but... don't do it. It's entirely boredom and convenience. I once hooked up with a roommate pretty much for that reason, and it's certainly something I wished I hadn't in hindsight- it was just unnecessary. I also had friends who were on-again, off-again and also roommates for a period of time (with a third person). I don't think the living together definitely killed their potential relationship, but it certainly didn't help. i do wonder what would have happened if they hadn't lived together -before- they tried to start dating.

Carolyn Hax: Just to make it interesting. Thanks.

_______________________

Both Sides of the Story Project: Carolyn

A while back you solicited submissions from both parties in a dispute. What happened with that? Did I miss the article/chat/whatever that came from it? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: I didn't get anything I could use. Each side needs to be concise (that was a real problem--I got novels) and in clear contrast to the other. The inbox is always open, though, if anyone wants to send in a two-party question.

_______________________

Carolyn Hax: Okay, enough of the work in the work-life balance. Bye-bye, thanks, have a great weekend, and type to you here next week.

Oh--since we're on the subject, thought you might enjoy this, received by e-mail today, about my vacation week: "What is so hard about writing your columns in advance for each day you are gone????"

vacation: (n) when one shifts one's work to other days in order to curl into ball on couch.

_______________________

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.

_______________________

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.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive