Carolyn Hax Live: Advice Columnist Tackles Your Problems

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 18, 2009; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Friday, September 18 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


Silver Spring: Hey I have been out of the loop...whatever became of "Chum" the guy who was cheating on his wife with a woman who is now his wife's boss?

Carolyn Hax: Check out Tuesday's column.

Hi everybody.


Washington, D.C.: Dear Carolyn,

I guess it's a classic question -- do you tell a friend bad news about her significant other? In this case, there's strong evidence that her boyfriend of many years is married to another woman. Part of me believes I should stay out of it all together - after all it's her life, her romance, her happiness - another part wants to tell her that she's being decieved and that the future she dreams of is unlikely to materialize. What to do?

Carolyn Hax: How strong is/what is your evidence, and how did you come by it?


Nearly separated, but not ready to share the news.: My husband and I just made the decision to separate, although given the economy, we are still sharing the house and co-parenting the infant and toddler, who do not know. We do not know whether this will lead to divorce or reconciliation. The issue is, we have many joint commitments over the next several months--weddings, the kids' birthdays, etc. It seems strange to pretend we are still together in public, but neither of us are ready to reveal the news to our families, much less to friends. I'm at a loss as to what to do in this situation. Please help!

Carolyn Hax: When you're in a room that's completely dark, you just put your hands out to feel for obstacles, and you take really small steps. That pretty much translates to the way you handle this stage. I'm sorry; it's going to be a tough time no matter what you do with it.

If you find yourselves helping each other through this awkward interim stage, that could end up laying the foundation for your next step, be it a reconciliation or just a decision to be good friends and partners in childrearing.


Circling down the drain? : Short version: child desperately ill all summer, to include hospitalization. Diagnosis still pending. Stressed beyond belief. My boss (I'm a Fed) said -I- was stressing her out and sent me on what's called a "detail," e.g. work somewhere else for 120 days, and rescinded promised, -desperately- needed raise. I don't know if my 2.5 year career here is over in 120 days. I don't know how I'll pay for the hospital co-pays. I don't know how I'll survive if my child doesn't get well. Am starting to understand workplace violence. But maybe that's because I can't afford my own medication anymore, but make "too much money" for any kind of help. Any ideas? If I go to Employee Assistance, my boss's good friend there will tell her. It's not considered a career booster.

Carolyn Hax: This isn't my bailiwick--any Fed types have ideas? I know you're here ...


Pregnant daughter, Catholic mother: My 17-year-old daughter is pregnant. We are Catholic although my husband doesn't practice. I am against abortion but have never been a fanatical anti-abortion opponent. My husband thinks my daughter should have an abortion. I feel torn completely in half. If I agree, I go against all of my long-standing beliefs. If I disagree, he thinks I'm an idiot. If I stand for my beliefs, then I am not 'there' for my daughter in need. If I go along with the alternative I am a hypocrite to myself. I realize either choice has serious consequences. My best friend in H.S. from a very Catholic family gave up a baby for adoption at age 20. Several of my husband's female relatives had abortions while in college, so to him it's not a big deal. (I'm sorry, but to me it is). I would be there to support my daughter with a child. How do I help without betraying my own deeply held beliefs. I hope that your readers who are ardently pro-choice don't belittle my very real dilemma, nor that other readers who are vociferously anti-abortion weigh in that I'm a coward. I am in anguish.

Carolyn Hax: With all due respect, I think it's misplaced. None of your back-and-forth is relevant. Your daughter is old enough to know what she wants. Find out what that is, and support it to the best of your ability. That was going to be your job anyway when she turned 18, so think of this as getting a few months' head start.

BTW, what's with your husband and thinking you're "an idiot"? I hope you intended that as shorthand for his disagreeing with your preference, but if not, please write back with the possibly bigger problem you're having at home.


Former Fed: You are almost certainly entitled to FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) time off to address your child's medical issues, and you can take it almost any way that you want. Talk to an employment lawyer and make sure that you are not terminated unfairly. If your boss knew about the stresses you are facing and did this, there may be some disciplinary action that can be taken against her for treating you so inhumanely. I would talk to a lawyer first and figure out how to protect yourself.

Carolyn Hax: Like it, thanks.


Washington, D.C.: So I'm getting married. In my community, pot luck wedding receptions are traditional. But I've got lots of friends, coworkers, etc that aren't from my community, and in their world (the one of normal wedding traditions), asking people to cater your wedding for you is tacky in the extreme. So now I'm either a tacky, grabby bride for asking people to cater my wedding, or a bridezilla because my community's food isn't good enough for me. Help?

Carolyn Hax: Tell the people you're not sure about--personally--that it's a community tradition to go potluck, but that if they'd prefer not to bring something that's okay with you. If there's anyone you'd feel uncomfortable approaching, then don't ask anything of them and compensate some other way, if needed. (Don't people bring to a potluck about four times what they'd eat on their own anyway?)

I type this expecting people to object to my idea, but: I think the people who are glad to know what's customary and to play along will be grateful you told them, and they will bring something. The people who think their customs are the only customs would be offended about something no matter what you did.

Other ideas invited.


Producer/Web FYI: I haven't been able to read today's column because every time I try to click on it, the banner ad for the Radio City Christmas Show expands to cover the link to today's column. I can't get the cursor within six inches of the ad without it blowing up and covering most of my screen. Our Advertising people are looking into it. Thanks! - Jodi

Carolyn Hax: There's something funny about a Radio City Christmas Show that will not be ignored. I envision a kick line pursuing people up 6th Avenue.


Houston, Texas: Re: pregnant 17-year-old. I strongly second your advice. I also just wanted to let the mother know that as someone who is "ardently pro-choice," that doesn't mean that I think that everyone should have an abortion - just that everyone should have the ability to make that choice, if that's what is right for them. Be there for your daughter, who is probably having the same conflict you are. Love her and do not judge her. I am sorry that you and your family are in this situation.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, Houston.


Fed Here: The woman with the sick child and a detail from her boss should go to HR, which may be separate from the Employee Assistance Program. Many Federal positions have a probationary period of only one year, but some others have different periods. The person should find out if she's on a probationary period. Also, all of this should be documented for her protection. It takes a lot to actually fire a Fed so she should start talking to her HR asap.

Carolyn Hax: Another thanks.


Carolyn Hax: Two more fed thoughts coming, then I'll move on:


If I go to Employee Assistance, my boss's good friend there will tell her. : This would be an extreme violation of a variety of privacy laws and if your boss treats you differently as a result, you might have the basis for a lawsuit against both your boss and your boss' friend in HR. Please talk to a lawyer, preferably one specializing in employment matters. If your performance has been good up to now, your boss really can't terminate you. In fact, you should consider taking FMLA to help you with your medical issues. If you work for the federal government, it is (I think) paid time off to address these issues, during which your job is safe. Please please talk to a lawyer and a therapist before doing anything rash. Your boss cannot CANNOT CANNOT terminate you or destroy your career over something like this. If she does, you can be sure that her career becomes vulnerable also.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, and one more:


For the Fed from a Fed: Your boss cannot get rid of you without having first put you on a performance plan - which you would have had to fail.

Be sure to document EVERYTHING so that you have a case against your boss if she trys to put you on a performance plan - you need to be able to argue that you have done all the work you were supposed to do and that you did it well.

Carolyn Hax: These seem to back each other up, so I hope it's enough to go on. Thanks everyone.


Boston: Carolyn, my move is totally stressing me out. I've never been in an apartment as long as I've been in this one--five+ years. I used to move nearly every year, so got used to the packing and felt like I knew what I was carrying around, and why. But a couple of new hobbies later, and a wedding since we moved in here, and suddenly I'm overwhelmed by our sheer amount of stuff. Husband is not so good with understanding why I want to not carry around things with no relevance to our current lives. Friends I had helped move into their homes in the last few years have mostly stayed in the woodwork. My job is at a crazy point, work on weekends, late nights--I only have two more weeks, and I have to work one of the weekends (on top of a 45-50 hour M-F). Don't even feel like I have time to tackle all this crap, but don't want to have it in the basement for another 5-10 years either. Can you help me remember how to focus?

Carolyn Hax: Assume the box you're packing is a "yes" box. Also set up two other boxes, a "no" box and a "maybe" box, and a trash can. That will help you make fast decisions as you're packing each box. Take the "no" box to a charity dropoff point. If you have time before your move (ha) then tackle the "maybe" boxes. If not, just tape them up and bring them with you. You know from past moves that it doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to get there. Then force yourself to deal with one maybe box per month after you're otherwise unpacked.

Good luck.


Baltimore, Md.: How does one tell the difference between a best friend of the opposite sex, and an emotional affair?

Carolyn Hax: With whom would you rather be, the mate or the best friend?


Washington, D.C.: Dear Carolyn, I'm at that age when I'm starting to have peers getting divorced. What's the right response to the news? I thought "I'm sorry" was a good way to express sympathy for what he or she is going through, but it generally seems to backfire and make the person more upset/sad/angry, or they don't want any sympathy at all. Is there a suitable catch-all response, or is it a case-by-case thing? I'm generally so stunned by the news that having a good generic response in-hand would be helpful until my brain can process a more authentic and supportive reaction.

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry is a fine response.

Biting your head off for saying you're sorry, on the other hand, is not a fine response. If there's nothing to be sorry about or if people don't want sympathy, then the divorce/es-to-be can assure you, "Thank you, but it's okay, it's for the best." If they're just sad and your saying you're sorry makes them express that sadness, that's not your fault, that's just part of the whole hellish experience.

It's the death of a marriage you you say you're sorry. Really--unless you're just gushing sympathy, I fault your friends for making it so difficult on others.


Re: Washington: I seriously doubt anyone would have a problem with a potluck wedding, particularly if they weren't asked to bring anything. I have been to a Hmong wedding, which is catered by the groom's extended family, and it was by far the best food I have ever had at a wedding. I think most people realize that different cultures have different wedding traditions and enjoy the change from 'normal' (aka boring).

Carolyn Hax: I think the issue was that they would be asked to bring something, but, to reiterate, it's fine just not to ask a select few people for whom it might be an awkward or unwelcome request. Thanks.


Detroit: Hey Carolyn,

Lots of heavy stuff today. Can I toss you a light one? I need a snappy comeback for for folks who say "you must be smart" when they learn I went to a fancy pants college. It's mostly coworkers hearing it from a coworkers (we're in construction). I usually say "if I were smart wouldn't have gone in debt getting a fancy pants degree because it put me in massive debt and I graduated with a helluva lot of guys that are dumb bricks." But that's too long and defensive-sounding

Carolyn Hax: How about, "Actually, that's not a requirement," or just, "That's what I thought."

I took myself out of the snappy-comeback business a long time ago, I know, but I see this more as a distillation of the facts you provided. I'm in the "response-editing" business.


Herndon, Va.: Sorry had to ask...what/where community has pot-luck weddings??

Carolyn Hax: There might be a specific community at issue here (original poster, are you out there?). But I could also argue that "traditional" is the most twisted term in the wedding lexicon. If traditional American is what you want, then you get neighbors to make pots of stuff and you have the reception right there at the church. Somehow it has come to mean catered excess. (Not that there's anythign wrong with that.)


Questionville: Where's the line between being supportive of a friend when they're having a rough time and being quiet when they're making stupid decisions because you don't want to add to the pain? The decisions aren't putting them in danger, more just not dealing with the realities of certain situations.

Carolyn Hax: The line is where they ask your advice, or show a standing openness to being given information that they otherwise might have missed.

Since it seems you've been in this spot for a while, you probably have a good idea how your friend would respond to an unsolicited reality check. But if you don't know because your MO all along has been to tiptoe around the truth, then you might want to take an opportunity to tell it (once).

A good opening usually comes up when you ask, "What do you hope the outcome will be?" And a follow-up, if needed: "Do you think that's likely, given everything you know?"

As with anything you say to someone, you can make it or break it with tone. In this case, be sure to ask as if you don't already know the right answer--since, in fact, you don't. What you're after is her reasoning here, and you won't know until she says it out loud whether her reasoning isn't solid after all. If you take a skeptical tone, you'll risk just triggering a bunch of defenses.


D.C.: Carolyn -

In short, dated a guy for six months, thought things were progressing, and when we had "the talk," he announced that he doesn't see himself in an exclusive/committed relationship for the next few years (FT work, school etc). He says he cares about me a lot and wants to see me, but doesn't have the time for the full relationship. I took him at his word and went back to seeing other people. We have a great time together and still date, but less than before and to be honest, I call/e-mail less because I just feel less invested in this now. He says he feels hurt and doesn't understand the change. Am I missing something, or should I just play him the Beyonce song?


Carolyn Hax: Maybe, but she's not on my playlist, so I have no idea what that means. In prose, I would suggest saying, "I took you at your word that you didn't want an exclusive relationship. Have you changed your mind?" Let him say what he has to say.


Carolyn Hax: Ah. Producer Jodi reminded me what Beyonce song that was, so no need to tell me, thanks.

And now I can say, no, don't play that for him, please. How nyah-nyah can you get. Games suck. Ask what he means, and then respond with what's on your mind.


Snapping Boss: Hi. My new boss is moody and will make the occasional cutting remark, maybe about once a week. I don't really know how to deal with it. Most of the time I'm asking a question and his snappy response doesn't answer the question. But then I'm reluctant to ask again, or rephrase because he seemed to be so put off by the fact that I asked a question. I've only been here a few months and it's inevitable that I will have some questions about my job as new situations arise, so I don't think not asking him anything is going to work. If I go ahead and get started on something and don't ask for his guidance, he doesn't like that either. I've also noticed he doesn't like to deal with anything management related - everything is "we'll deal with that later."

How can I make this work?

Carolyn Hax: After he gives you a snappy non-answer, say, "Okay, but I still need to know whether to file the X with the Y." Don't let him or his moods intimidate you. If he gives you a hard time for persisting, then you need to state your position clearly: "If there's someone else I should ask these questions, then please let me know. I'm still new and would rather clarify things than make a mistake." Managers don't have the luxury of blowing off "anything management-related"--at least not without consequences. Right now you just need to make sure you're not one of the consequences.


For Baltimore: I've been the "best friend." Zero physical attraction, but he's one of the best guys on the planet. When he married, I cut the wedding cake for them. When he divorced, I helped to pick up the pieces. When he dated, I listened. When I dated, he did the same. When I was on bed rest, he sent me books to read and told me funny stories on the phone, long distance from Europe. When he re-married, I flew 2,000 miles to meet her.

We will never sleep together, and that's clear for both of us. We've travelled together, and even that gets old after about a week-- we need a break.

If I had to choose between my husband and my friend, I'd choose my husband. But I hope I never have to.

Carolyn Hax: I like this, thanks.

To refresh memories, this is in response to the question about the difference between a friendship and an emotional affair.


Another trivial wedding question: My cousin, a hairdresser, offered to do the hair and makeup for my upcoming wedding when I mentioned the projected costs had started to get out of control. Two problems:

1. She still expected to get paid, although much less than we were going to pay the professionals we had already chosen.

2. She is not licensed, not very experienced, and she was planning to bring along her two teenaged apprentices-- who, I'm sure, will be great hairdressers one day, but I would rather they not use my wedding as their practical exam.

I told her very nicely that I was going to stick to our originally planned hairdresser, and she told me not-very- nicely that I was a "snob" for rejecting her gift. Also that she would not be attending the wedding.

I know brides don't always realize how they come off, so it's possible that I was out of line here somehow. I do not want to lose a fun cousin over something like this. Can this be fixed?

Carolyn Hax: Well, having people stop speaking to you isn't trivial.

This could be another tone issue--you made it so obvious here how little respect you have for the services she offered that I have to consider that came through to her. Otherwise, though, you made a decision you were entitled to make, and if your cousin couldn't handle hearing "no," then she shouldn't have offered.

had you asked me beforehand, in fact, I would have advised you to say no to her offer. Mixing business with family/friends is such a bad idea. That explanation would have been a good response to the "snob" accusation--not that it deserved one, but with family you lean toward patching things up.


Arlington: My MIL recently said something very hurtful in front of me. She had come to visit our family and at the playground, she was asked if the baby was her grandson. She replied, "I certainly hope so." There is no backstory of infidelity, or anything in the slightest that could reasonably give her doubt that this is in fact her grandchild. I later brought it up with her privately and asked why she had said that, and if she had doubts about the parentage of the baby. I explained that I was very hurt by her comment. She simply laughed it off and said that it's a simply matter of biology. Her daughters children are most certainly her grandchildren, but with her sons, she can never be sure.

So I guess I should not take it personally, but it still stings. Can you help me get some perspective on this?

Carolyn Hax: Well, I can either join your outrage, or appreciate her sense of humor. It depends entirely on who she is. Do you know her to have a black sense of humor, an irreverent streak, or even a taste for saying shocking things just to amuse herself? Or does everything you know about her point to a deliberate swipe at your character?

When you say to someone, "See you next week," most people will say, "Yep, see you then"--but there are always some who say, "Unless I get hit by a falling piano." If your MIL is the latter, then not only do you need to brush off her comment as her way, but you also need to expect many more like it to fall from the sky.


'Snob for rejecting her gift': Uhhh - this wasn't a gift. She was still expecting to get paid.

Carolyn Hax: A technicality. The huff is the thing.


For Fancy Pants Degree: I like "You'd be surprised." as a comeback.

Carolyn Hax: Or, "You'd think." Same idea. Thanky.


More job woes: I am 24 and earlier in the year got a job with a organization that is the most prestigious place to work in my field.

I don't like it. I am not good at it.

In three months I can decided to renew my contract or move on. I want to move on, but I can't seem to face down walking away from the name I've become associated with that could help into a great grad school. At the same time, I am dealing with a passive aggressive office, deathly boring work, and the realization that there is zero upward mobility and I'll have to move on eventually. All in all, it's a bad fit. I could walk away with no hard feelings, except regret that I didn't stick with the creme de la creme of my field.

This is only my second job, so it's hard to find perspective. Any thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Is there any other place for you at this organization?

Job/career stuff isn't really my thing, but resourcefulness is universal. Whenever you're faced with two choices you don't like, the first step should always be to look harder at your current situation for opportunities you may have overlooked.


Indiana: I have a 10-year-old, an 8-year-old and a 14-month-old. I have bonded strongly with the baby and feel myself losing my closeness with the older kids. I think it's mostly because they're at school all day, while I spend every waking minute with the baby. When they get home in the evenings, I feel like I'm baby-sitting someone else's children until I drop them off at school again in the morning. Do other moms feel this way?

Carolyn Hax: I'll put it out there, with the tentative answer, "Probably."

I also strongly recommend that you plan some one-on-one time with these older kids, on weekends preferably, so you don't feel as pressed to get back to the baby and your routine, but even on weeknights if that's all you've got. Dedicate time to reintroducing yourself to them.


Out of the loopsville, USA: ::meekly asks:: Um, which Beyonce song? Enjoy

Carolyn Hax: Oops--I thought I put it in the post. Sorry to be cryptic on top of cryptic. It's, "If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it."


Made up with cousin: Tell cousin you want her to attend the wedding a guest, not a vendor. You just want your cousin to be enjoying herself that day, not working.

Carolyn Hax: Poifect. Thanks.


D.C.: I have tried twice to end a relationship with someone who really doesn't want to let go. This person completely shuts down during the break-up talk, cries and then calls/e-mails repeatedly until we end up lapsing back into the same old relationship. Now I really want to end it. A "clean break" (rejecting all correspondences) seems cruel, but we've already failed at breaking up twice. What should I do?

Carolyn Hax: Read the "Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker, to see how expertly you're being manipulated, and how your own actions and decisions are completing the transaction.

In the meantime, here's a short version of what you're going to learn to do: 1. Say clearly, "I do not want to continue this relationship, and I am not going to discuss it any further." 2. Reject all attempts at correspondence. Don't return calls or emails, don't pick up the phone if you see this person's number or if you don't recognize the number, avoid places s/he might try to intercept you

As long as you announce your intentions, it's not cruel. You've been badgered and harassed twice. Please see it as necessary.


Snoozeville, USA: I'm a part of your typical yuppy-ville couple. Live outside a big metropolitan area. Work in corporate America. Have a puppy. Will have babies. Just upgraded to an SUV. Everything seems A-OK.

Problem? I'm bored. A little freaked out that "this is it." Have bouts where I dream of moving away to an island and becoming a bartender. Don't hate my career, don't love it.

Is this a normal emotion? Or should I be taking different actions to make my life more meaningful to me? It feels like something is missing. But the realistic side of me says I can go travel the world looking for what's missing, and never find it.

Carolyn Hax: Please please please talk openly of this with your mate. It's a normal emotion, but when people suppress it/ignore its alarm/fight through it, what happens is rarely called "normal." More often, you hear, "typical." Not mention, it's typically painful for all involved, especially those kids-to-be. Deal with it now. And don't make the follow-up mistake of 1. seeing that your mate is freaked by your admission and 2. backing down. That's just going back to suppression. It may be that only small changes--or even just talking about it--will make you feel better, vs. uprooting and becoming an expatriate bartender, but you do still need to think in terms of adjusting your life to address what's missing. Both of you will have to be brave.


Washington, D.C.: How do I help my husband assess whether he might be depressed without saying "I think you're depressed?" Over the past year I feel like he's gradually slipped into a depression, but I don't think it's my place to define that for him. He does some activities (with encouragement) to get him out of the house and time-off from work and child-rearing, but he rarely comes back recharged like I do after getting a few hours to myself or with friends.

Some of this is selfish: I want him to be happy and active again, and not the achy and unhappy person he is so often now. But mostly I just want him to feel better emotionally/physically for himself.

Carolyn Hax: I dunno. It could just be that "outside the house" activities aren't what recharge him, and in fact drain him as much as work and childrearing do, only in a different way.

I would explain that you're worried about how much he;s dragging lately, and ask him what would sound appealing to give him some relief. It could be that getting everyone out of the house while he putters at home is as restorative to him as your outings are to you.

If he comes up with zero ideas, then you have an opening to say that concerns you, because not being able to come up with anything that sounds appealing is a symptom of depression. All you're suggesting is that he get screened--there can't be any judging or pressing him to get off his butt or anything like that.


To Job Woes: So, is Job Woes at Creme Org saying he/she has discovered that the desired field (if this is the best spot there is in the field) isn't living up to his/her dreams? Because it could be a sign that grad school for more of the same would be a mistake. Or, is it just this particular assignment?

Carolyn Hax: Nother good thinking point, thanks.


HJNTIY: "You're just not that into me."

Do you feel that this phrase is overused? Do you think it's just been thrown out there to simplify relationships?

I recently told someone this, because I felt it was true based on his actions/inactions. He didn't take it very well. I'm confused. If he really liked me shouldn't he have tried harder?

Carolyn Hax: If it's a phrase, then it's overused. I can say that with confidence.

And even when people fit neatly into phrase-ified categories--they rarely do--they resent the hell out of hearing they do. It's better to stick to specifics. "When you [action or inaction here], that makes me think/feel [whatever you think or feel here]."

Of course, this is still just a matter of phrasing. What you're perceiving as his not being into you could very well be his way of being into someone. The real issue is what you're getting out of this relationship, and whether it's right for you, and therefore whether you should stay in it, regardless of the intensity (or not) of his feelings.

So no matter what, whatever he's giving is the best he has for you right now. Do you want it, or not? It's on you to decide.


Re: "If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it.": Do you think there's any truth to this? So many times in your column I see people with doubt after doubt after doubt after doubt. I've been with people like that, and it's excrutiating. At what point do you just throw your hands up in the air and say, "You know everything you're ever going to know about me. Either you want to be with me or you don't. And if you did we probably wouldn't be having this convesation."

I just don't think I could marry anyone who expressed doubts about me. I'd never know what his real motives are.

Carolyn Hax: There's "truth" to it in that people do tend to go after what they want, but that's not always reliable. Someone who wants you after, say, three months might not want you for the right reasons.

As loath as I am to put time limits on anything, I think that the throw-up-your-hands point belongs at a fairly specific time: after two years. You need to wait until any raging chemical attraction passes to know what you really have with someone else, and it's my understanding that the purely-chemical hots for someone die off after a couple of years. Then anyone who's waiting for an epiphany needs to stop stringing a person along, and anyone who has legit other reasons needs to be transparent about those reasons.

But, yeah, in general, I agree with you on not wanting to be with anyone who has doubts.


Waiting for the Weekend: How do you handle someone who criticizes you, but deflects it to be someone else's fault? My mom does this. I'm several months pregnant, wearing a mix of maternity and non-maternity wear. We were at the mall - I was wearing half panel maternity jeans and a non-maternity shirt. We get off the escalator and my mom says "that shirt's too short, you need to wear a maternity shirt. Those women behind us were pointing at you." Okay, MAYBE an inch or so of the strechy panel was showing- absolutely no skin or anything. Who cares? Who would point that out? But the thing is, I don't believe for a second that what my mom said is true (and neither does my husband, who was with us). It's her way of criticizing me without directly doing so herself.

If I call her out on it, she'd deny it. With baby coming, I anticipate more such incidents of transferred criticism. Any advice?

Carolyn Hax: Disclaimer, I don't think someone who is that deep into the boundary abyss is ever going to cross over to the functional side. It's not her place to criticize, it wasn't -the place- to criticize (she expects you to change on the spot?), and she couldn't even own her criticism. So I really think your best bet is going to be firm resolve not to take the bait: "Okay, Ma." For every criticism from now on.

I realize it's hard for people to give up their hopes of a rewarding parent-child relationship, though, and that "Okay, Ma" all but precludes intimacy. So if you still hope to improve the level of discourse, then say to her, "Ma, if you think my shirt is too short, I'd rather just hear that from you--you don't need to use those women behind us." Say something to this effect every time she tries it. Or, alternately--especially when it's about the baby, and not just a trifle like your shirt--"Mom, I'd appreciate your support right now, not criticism." Repeat as needed, and see if you get any results.

(And if not, see paragraph 1.)


To Snoozeville: Wrong question, sweetie. If you are bored, you have the responsibility to make yourself unbored. Yes, absolutely talk to your spouse, but don't expect him/her to make your life exciting and wonderful. The way to being fulfilled is to find a passion outside yourself that is worthy of your time and effort. Make it a partnership with your spouse, and you can be happy anywhere, even with a nothing job in the sticks.

Carolyn Hax: I'm in qualified agreement. I still think the first step is getting it out in the open--if for no other reason than it might reveal the spouse feels the same way. Thanks.


unrequited like: What is your theory on why all the men I'm interested in don't feel strongly enough about me to be in a relationship and all the men who want to be with me, I don't want to be with? I was talking to a male friend last night and he says he has the same problem with women he likes. Must we all end up settling for less than we really want??

Carolyn Hax: Gah, I just choked on my crackers. No! It does not mean that. It probably just means that the things you initially regard as relationship-worthy don't quite square with what you really want from someone, and what you really offer someone. So you're getting involved with the wrong people and turning down some of the right ones.

The best remedy for that is to get to know people slowly as friends, essentially bypassing your normal date-screening process.

See below for an anecdotal example:


An "A-Ha" Moment to Share: I am a single professional woman in my late 30s. I've been seeing a nice guy for almost six months. Yesterday I had the realization not just that I am falling in love with him but how much I am enjoying the ride. I don't know if it's experience, reading your column/chat (advice and observations from you and the peanuts has served me well over the years), or finally being comfortable with myself but part of the realization was that I am having so much fun just being with this guy without worrying where it's going or what will happen next. Being able to savor looking forward to seeing him and the fun time we have together without ruining it with so many doubts (as has happened in the past) is very liberating. That's not to say that a doubt or two doesn't occassionally make it's way into my psyche but for the most part, I'm able to just "be" and for the first time, know what the means and enjoy it. I realize this is an experience that people can't really tell you about - you have to experience it for yourself - but now I finally "get" it. Thanks for the advice over the years...

Carolyn Hax: yer welcome, and thanks for the handy example.


Friend vs. affair: I thought maybe the original poster was trying to find out how you tell if his/her -partner's- opposite-sex friend is just a BFF or an affair.

Any suggestions for that situation?

Carolyn Hax: Ah. If your partner is present and accounted for in your relationship, then accept the best-friendship. If the partner is not present and accounted for in the relationship, then bring that up with partner, vs. attacking the best-friendship.



Two Years?: Carolyn - Did you mean this generally, for all relationships? Or are you just talking about certain circumstances? I'm curious because I tend to agree with you on most things, but my husband and I met in our 30's, were immediately committed to the relationship and married just shy of knowing each other 2 years. I know it's Friday and I'm ready to go home for the day so I might have misunderstood the context, but for some reason I'm feeling a littel defensive right now.

Carolyn Hax: When I suggest something, it doesn't mean that the people who did something different all did something wrong. The two-year suggestion is for people who aren't sure at what point they or their partners have enough information to go on. In those cases, knowing that there's a fairly predictable end point to the butterfly stage is useful information. People can be confident in their choices before then, certainly, based on maturity or experience or a hunch. There are also plenty of people who fall head-over-heels in love, think that's the standard to shoot for and who find themselves married to someone, post-butterflies, they don't even like that much.

For people with two many doubts (or too little skepticism), a benchmark and caution can really help--but really we all have to find our own way.


Gift of Fear-breakup....: Ok that no more communication move works in a relationship, when one can end it and move out---but what happens in a marriage? When the other just can't have that breakup talk (tears, excessive emotions, vomiting). You can't just pack up and cease all communications, especially if you have kids and a shared life. You feel emotionally held hostage in a life you don't want to be in but can't be released from. What then?

Carolyn Hax: A referee. Counseling solo for the person who is trying to communicate but can't (be it from vomiting or having a vomiting audience), followed by moderated sessions where you say what you need to say in the presence of a capable professional. Kind of like when you land a crippled plane--you foam the runway and line up the emergency crews.


Staunton, Va.: Newlywed here---all I've done is fight with my new hubby. We were the kind of folks who didn't move in together until marriage, and we're very close, working on several creative projects together. But it's blown up. There's plenty of love there, and fine moments, but...well, is a dramatic adjustment period simply inevitable?

Carolyn Hax: Not necessarily, but they certainly happen. One way to get out of the fighting loop is to drop your end of the fight. You can't always do that--on some things, holding your ground is your only choice--but you can start asking yourself, "Is this the hill I want to die on?" (I stole that line from my neighbor; it's perfect for just these decisions). And if the answer is no, you just, let go.

Eventually you're going to have to figure out whether there's a point of too many surrenders, but right now your interim goal needs to be to stop fighting over where you keep the butter. Then you can start figuring out a way you can fold each other into your day-to-day lives without someone getting absorbed.


Closing in on 3 hours: Is this when you hit the "wall" in the marathon?

Carolyn Hax: [Thud.] yes.

So, buh bye, have a great weekend, type to you here next week, and, as always, thank youse for stopping by. May all your problems be minor.


For the Fed: If Fed works for an agency with Union reps, they might be able to help and/or if Fed is a manager there are several management organizations that might be able to give advice. There's also FEEA, a non-profit that helps feds with short-term financial needs and maybe can refer to other confidential resources.

Carolyn Hax: okay one more (and thanks)


For Washington DC: Since the writer is saying that the husband is "achy and listless" sounds like the problem could be physical. Also have the husband screened for a medical condition.

Carolyn Hax: Make that two more. Thank you, too.


Waited until after two years...: Actually courted for three years, then got married. Spouse started an affair five months after the wedding.

I was certain he was perfect for me, and he certainly acted as though I was perfect for him.

We're divorcing.

Carolyn Hax: Okay okay, four. But you're reminding me why I don't ever use specific numbers. Two years is not the line where all decisions before are bad, and all decisions after are good. It has an extremely narrow purpose: to tell you whether there's a chance you're getting misled by hormones.

Whether you're getting misled by anything else--the other person, your own bad judgment, societal or parental or peer pressure, mental illness, addiction, your messed-up childhood, your un-messed-up childhood, whatever--is another matter entirely.


Carolyn Hax: Ooh, and don't forget to sign up for the ALS walk! Search my team at (I forgot to fix the URLs). It's a great cause, and my mom was just a really cool person who didn't deserve to die that way. I'm not sure anyone does. So, come on out Nov. 1.


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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