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Carolyn Hax Live: Advice Columnist Tackles Your Problems
Friday, September 25, 2009; 12:00 PM
Carolyn was online Friday, September 25 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 Hax: Hi everybody. I'm here, but I've got contractors in the house who need me for a second ...
Carolyn Hax: okay, now I'm really here. AND I've managed to sort out the URLs for the ALS walk: fightals.alsinfo.org/goto/carolynhax
Still a Person: Dear Carolyn,
This is silly, but I'm wondering whether I am the only one that finds it extremely annoying when people refer to their spouses as "Hubby" or "Hubs" and "Wifey" in public, rather than calling them by their name. For example, "Hubs and I are going to Baltimore this weekend." What happened to the person? I don't know why I care, but it is like nails on a chalkboard!
Carolyn Hax: No, I'm with you on that one. I think it's fine to use the title for people who don't know you well enough to know your spouse's/kid's name, but it always struck me as a bit precious to refer to the position on the org chart when everyone knows everyone else's name and where they all stand.
I find it separately grating when people use "hubby," etc., when "husband" would do just fine. The case you cite is like scraping two knuckles on the cheese grater instead of just one. Or is it the same knuckle twice.
Carolyn Hax: That got me off to a cranky start. But I'm not, I swear ...
Seattle: Hi Carolyn,
I have a great marriage, lovely husband, and we're expecting our first child. The only problem is that my husband is a HORRIBLE driver. Is it ridiculous to ask him to take a driving safety refresher?
Carolyn Hax: No. If he gets defensive and angry and refuses to, then you have another problem in addition to this "only" problem.
Anonymous: I am in love with a beautiful, wonderful woman. We are thinking of getting married. She is saving herself for marriage for perfectly legitimate but frustrating reasons. She absolutely refuses to have sex until after we are married. This creates a problem for me, not because I am desperate to have sex but because I know sexual incompatibility can destroy a relationship. (I have been part of two doomed relationships that ended for this reason.) I would hate to marry her and learn that an important part of our relationship wasn't what it should be. We are at an impasse here. What should I do?
Carolyn Hax: Well, if you marry her and you do not like having sex with her, then the marriage will be pretty much over at that point, right? Pick your reason--the bad sex, or your resentment that she presented you with the unpalatable choices in the first place (of not finding out before marriage or not marrying her at all and always wondering).
So one answer would be to figure out which worst-case scenario you prefer: walking away and never finding out, or marrying her knowing there might be a quickie divorce on your horizon.
But that answer lives entirely on the surface, and assumes that if you take the sex question out of it, then you have a confident, deep, loving, intimate, honest relationship with each other. I have doubts, though. For one thing, the decision to have sex before or only after marriage is the tip of a philosophical iceberg, and while it's possible that you could, in conversation, lay out a credible scenario to explain how you could be great together and differ on this, I'm having a hard time seeing how you could be great together and differ on this. Let's say (because it wouldn't be my chat without a weird image) each of us is a vessel submerged in water, and the water around us is Life.
Carolyn Hax: Lets now say we all have a valve that allows us to control how much water/Life we let in.
To my mind, someone who will not have sex before marriage has a tight grip on that valve, and believes in letting in Life in carefully thought-out and measured quantities. The premaritalites, on the other hand, strike me as being in their comfort zone with a looser grip on the valve, letting life slosh in a bit more often and forcefully, and seeing where the results take them.
I don't necessarily advocate one valve position over another (although the extremes, obviously, seem perilous--you're either empty or swamped). It's just that these attitudes apply to so many aspect of life beyond sex, that I think it's important in choosing a life mate to weigh carefully whether you have the same attitude on how much Life you let in.
Carolyn Hax: Meaning, it could turn out that you two have sex to crack the plaster, but you run across other resentments-to-be that don't have such a happy ending, like willingness to take a flyer on a new location, or your comfort levels with debt to finance a dream, or the length of the leash you keep your kids on to keep them out of trouble.
So what do you think? More to this, or no? I'm asking the original poster, if he hasn't already married her and hopped into bed by now, but as always the nutterati are invited to fill in what I missed.
Hubby Horror: Can I just add to that a request to ban the abbreviation DH (Dear Husband) in e-mails or Web sites? I had no idea what that stood for the first few times I read it. DH? Dead Horse? Dueling Hotshots? UGH. Total knuckles on cheese grater.
Carolyn Hax: Dubious Housekeeper, Dutiful Hugger, Damn Hormones ... I don't have time to think, but if anyone does, feel free to amuse us all.
I.e., agreed, TKOCG.
(Total knuckles on cheese grater. Heh heh heh. heh.)
Let's kill BFF too, while we're here.
But I swearsit, I'm not cranky.
I will say that the thread on crankiness on Hax-Philes last week was one of my favorite so far. I almost didn't post that question, because it seemed like it might not be clear what I was after, but a lot of thoughtful people really ran with it. Jodi, any chance of a linque?
washingtonpost.com: Why Are We So Cranky?, Hax-Philes, September 17, 2009
Life/Valve question: Hi Carolyn, I am a 27-year-old virgin. Obviously, the vast majority of people my age are having sex. I was raised pretty religiously and think that was my reason for abstaining right up through college. However, during senior year and afterwards I began really questioning that upbringing and would no longer identify myself as religious, although I do still have some fundamental beliefs that stem from that upbringing. Yet, I still can't bring myself to have premarital sex. I haven't had a relationship where it's been an issue yet (mostly because they haven't gotten that serious), but I could easily see myself being the girl that the guy wrote in about. I can't determine where that puts me in your "valve" question---I think I'm okay with some degree of "life happens" but just not in this area.
Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the thoughtful ... thoughts. I have a hunch, though, given your arc, that if you were in a brink-of-marriage, this-is-it relationship with someone, you might change your mind.
Actually, even the way I wrote that here is misleading. If you're ever in a relationship that gets close to the point where marriage is beside the point, where it is a mere formality that you could take or leave emotionally but you'll take because it makes sense to when you have kids or covers you legally or helps you financially or punches a ticket with your relatives that's easier just to punch, where you're committed to this person come what may, then I don't think it's even a relevant point anymore. To someone who no longer identifies as religious, at least.
Washington, D.C.: I am 26, but am often interested in women that are 22-24. My friends seem to think there is something wrong/creepy with this age discrepancy and that I should be dating at my age or older. I am an attorney and they are often just out of college or in grad. school, if that makes a difference. Are my friends right?
Carolyn Hax: Your friends are bored. Ignore them.
Either that, or your dates are wrong/creepy, and your friends don't have the guts to say that to you so their tiptoing around it by making an issue of one of the least significant age gaps I've ever seen.
But while I'm here: You do mean that occasionally the women you're interested in happen to be 22-24, and not that you often make a choice to date 22-24 year olds?
Oh, never mind. See Line 1.
Carolyn Hax: Another contractor moment, but this is the last. (Check-writing. Keep me in your thoughts.)
?: How do I go about ending an "emotional affair"? I don't even know whether the other person involved would classify it as such, but I know my husband would, so I feel I should get out. However, the guy is a longtime friend and has done nothing wrong, so I feel strange about a formal "breakup."
Carolyn Hax: Pull away. Reveal less. Invest more in your husband, consciously. You can do these to nudge yourself toward balance. if it turns out you can't get balance by increments, then you're going to need to say something along the lines of, "I'm comign to believe the amount of my time/myself that I share with you is unfair to my husband."
Sexual compatibility: Although I agree with what you said, let me caution ANYONE who thinks they can predict sexual compatibility based on pre-maritial sex. When my huband was 30, he began to suffer from impotence. The same year I was diagnosed as sterile. Talk about blows to your sexual identity and sex life. It is now over 20 years later. We are still married, just not the marriage I thought it would be. In variations, this difference between expectations and reality is probably true for every couple. The trick to sexual compatibility is COMPATIBILITY - communciation, approach to problems, willingness to compromise, learn and try new things, and respect the other person's boundaries. Perhaps his past relationships ended due to that, not limited to sex. Perhaps he does not respect her boundaries here
Carolyn Hax: Agh, right, and you reminded me of something I meant to throw in there but that got lost in the effort to hold together a multi-part answer: The fact that this has happened to him before brings in the possibility that he has unrealistic expectations of "sexual compatibility." Is he, for example, trying to get to know his partner's needs and style, or is he just going at it and expecting everything to be right from the start? Is he choosing women who are classically "beautiful" and expecting that to take care of the physical magic?
It's also possible that he's as cooperative and open-minded a partner as anyone could hope for, but that he sees quantity as a marker of compatibility--and wow has that led to some marital disappointments, among both the couples who do have sex before marriage and those who don't. Frequency at the beginning doesn't always predict frequency ever after. If I stacked the letters from people complaining about steep dropoffs in frequency from formely rabbit-like partners (male and female) I'd have, like, a really tall stack.
Still, I do think there is a component to compatibility that is strictly physical. The bigger part of it is just compatibility, as you say, and covered well by your list. Thanks.
I was the 25-year-old virgin : I was once in the "I used to not believe in sex before marriage for religious reasons (and because my parents scared me enough about being a pregnant teenager) turned not so sure about that." When I met my now husband (not my DH)I slowly started to change my mind. He clearly wanted to have sex, but was willing to wait until I was ready.
I waited until we hit a point in our relationship where I was pretty sure I wouldn't regret having sex with him--even if we broke up at some point down the road. When I got to that point, I knew I was ready.
Carolyn Hax: I like that, because it applies to absolutely everyone, from the early-adopters to the strictest of holders-out. Thanks.
Washington, D.C.: My first husband died when my children were quite young. This was a devastating event, but we managed to go on. The children are now grown, with children of their own; I have remarried. But days after my husband's death I discovered that he'd been unfaithful several times. I was angry then, but tried to put behind me and build a new life. This worked for a while. Now, however, I find that I am still very very angry. Part of me wants to tell my children, all of whom revere the memory of their father. I am really torn on this. On the one hand, what earthly use is such a vengeful move? On the other, should I continue to encourage my children to think of their father in an untruthful way? He was a good father and a loving person, but still...
Carolyn Hax: Since you're still furious, it's hard to imagine that you'll be able to share this side of their father with them in a non-vengeful way and for a non-vengeful purpose.
However, if you can find a way to get to this point, there is a non-vengeful purpose to be served here. I don't think it's particularly constructive to "revere the memory" of anyone. People are people and even the best of them suck sometimes, in some entire areas of their lives or just in some moments everyone wishes they could take back.
To revel in someone and to learn from someone--the two greatest uses of a loving memory--it's necessary to have an honest picture of that person. The gift of loved ones is in who they were, not in the legends we built around them to make ourselves feel better.
By holding out this information on their dad, you're denying them access to their real dad and their real history--and, maybe more important, you're denying them access to you. Do they know the person who got widowed and then took a swift kick to the gut only days later, and who chose to leave that behind to build a new life? Do they know the person who still grieves despite that choice?
I'm not saying this to urge you to go off and tell. Maybe you don't want them to know this side of you, and maybe they don't want to know all this much. You can't always predict how people receive information, even information that brings with it an opportunity to look back on their childhood with a heretofore impossible level of illumination and understanding. Frankly, some people aren't interested in that experience.
But if they are, and you are, and if you're (again, no small thing) ever able to get far enough past the anger to be a reliable narrator of this take, then it might be well worth taking on.
Arlington, Va.: Carolyn,
What is your take on the "I really like you I'm just not ready for a relationship right now" line? I used to think it was all BS but recently I've been seeing a guy and like him I just don't think I'm really into him enough to commit to anything more serious. I'm not sure when I'll be ready but do you think it's ok to keep dating him even if I know he is getting more attached when I'm not. I just don't want to hurt him cause he really is a nice person, which is partly why I am trying to pursue this and see if it grows into something more...
Carolyn Hax: In your case it would be BS because "I really like you I'm just not ready for a relationship right now" isn't what's happening here. It's "I think you're a nice person but I'm not interested enough to get serious."
There are probably better ways to say that. "Nice," for example, is the insult of compliments, so I would suggest coming up with something more personal and specific. "I really enjoy going out with you," or, "I look forward to seeing you," or, "You're great company"--something like that. Then say, "I'm just happy to keep things as they are, vs. getting any more serious." That version is very clear, both on your opinion of him and on your investment in a relationship, where "clear" is something a cliche can rarely be.
By the way, when you are thinking of the nice part (the, "I really enjoy going out with you," or, "I look forward to seeing you," or, "You're great company"), if all you come up with is the politic equivalent of saying that he's nice on paper and you wish you liked him more, then you do need to stop dating him/leading him on. The only time it's okay to keep dating someone as you hope for more to develop is when you're enjoying the person's company just for the sake of his or her company. no ulterior motives.
Baltimore, Md.: I am 26 years old and just returned to college after a stint in the Air Force. In one of my classes last year a girl e-mailed me after the course saying she thought I was cute, she is 19. We went out a few times, nothing physical happened, and had a good time. Then out of the blue, she said "I don't think we should hang out anymore, I should hang out with people more my age." So I chocked it up to she didn't like me, etc. Then over the summer she started texting me again saying she wanted to be friends, to hang out, etc. But I saw her this week walking to class and she seemed as though she wanted to get away from me as soon as possible. What gives?
Carolyn Hax: I don't know, but it all sounds like too much work. maybe she just didn't see you that day, but, still, feel free to write her off until her words and deeds all seem to be coming from the same person.
D.C.: Hi Carolyn,
I work for a very large company. Twice a year we are encouraged to submit feedback on pretty much all areas in the firm- HR, management, office support, etc. My normal policy with feedback is to compliment people I've found to be especially helpful and to make suggestions about ways to improve in areas that I think are weak. I try to be positive and constructive, and generally it's easy as most people here are professional and pleasant to work with. There is one exception to this- the office manager. She is completely and utterly incompetent. She's petty, manipulative and dishonest. She's hardly ever here and when she is she's completely non-responsive. She manages a few people and frequently pits them against one another. She talks badly about one employee to another and then repeats back to the first what was said. She's hugely insecure about people more educated or higher up in the firm than she and is convinced they all think they are superior acting (they're not) and so uses whatever petty things she can to exert power over them. She used to be my direct supervisor but I have thankfully moved out of that department. However I still have to interact with her on a regular basis and it's always extremely frustrating. My problem is I don't know how to address this in feedback. I feel like I should say something, but I cannot think of a constructive way to say she's incompetent, petty and passive aggressive. And I can't even think of a single nice thing to say about her. Should I just let it go and continue to grit my teeth and bear it? Please help!
Carolyn Hax: My inclination is to write with specific complaints about specific areas of her job performance: That she's not always accessible (with specific examples), that she's not always responsive (with specific examples), that she does not keep confidences (with specific examples that don't name innocent names). Things the company would want to know that are facts, not personal opinions, and that could hurt the company's performance.
If you can't do that, then stay out of it. A lukewarm or non-review will speak volumes, too, especially if the management sees a lot of them about the same person.
I started this with "my inclination" because I allow for the possibility that there are workplace-unique considerations that I failed to consider. My bailiwick is personal politics, not office.
Bootyville: Since there seems to be a sex theme today... I am having difficulty approaching the topic of sex with my man. recently after a rather "athletic" encounter, I mentioned that at times, things were less than comfortable. The response I got was "sometimes things need to hurt to feel good." I try to be very vocal and encouraging when we are doing things I like, but I am still frequently trying to set limits to what is pleasurable for me. We communicate well on other things, I just don't know how to approach this without it being a huge turnoff.
Carolyn Hax: oh my goodness. Please consider worrying less about being a turnoff, and worry more about taking care of yourself. "It doesn't make me feel good to hurt. It just hurts. Please don't do that again."
I'll say it again: Please, please take care of yourself, and don't be afraid of the consequences of doing so, because the consequences of -not- taking care of yourself are always going to be worse. It may not seem so in the short run, but in the long run, it is so.
Time for a prescription stimulant?: Dear Carolyn, I'm happy and healthy and have several very dear friends. My marriage and job are good. I sleep at least six hours a night, but I'm tired all the time. Do you think I'm depressed?
Oh, I have three children, the oldest of whom is four.
Carolyn Hax: If you had three kids under five and weren't tired, then I'd think something was wrong.
Also: Six hours isn't enough. I know you said "at least," but if you're regularly getting just six, then you're sleep-deprived.* And tending to three kids under five even when you aren't sleep deprived is going to make you tired almost all the time, if not all.
It also means it's harder than it is for most people for you to get enough sleep. So: 1. have another look at your priorities, to see if there's something you can't set aside for a while in order to get more sleep; 2. know there's a good chance you're going to be tired all the time until your kids start needing you less--say, when the -youngest- is 4 (more like 5 or 6 ...); 3. consider that even thinking depression is good enough to warrant a screening.
I know I just piled on reasons that you could be tired without the involvement of depression, but you can also be depressed despite the fact that you're "happy and healthy and have several very dear friends" and have a good job and marriage. Not all depression is caused by external challenges. Sometimes your body just gets out of whack--and given the young kids, you may still be in the postpartum depression range (roughly a year after birth of your latest child).
*Disclaimer, since I have to: If you were getting six hours and you weren't exhausted, then I wouldn't be saying this. The amount of sleep we need to function is a range, not an exact and universal number. But it is around seven to nine hours for most.
D.C. who was asked to review areas of company...: "Working for her provided me with a tremendous opportunity for personal growth and self-discipline."
Carolyn Hax: snort.
Ellicott, City Md.: Hi Carolyn,
My husband continues to tell our third grade son that if kids tease or bully him to just punch them in the nose. He said that is what he did (40 years ago). I believe things have changed and not only is "throwing the first punch" wrong on a number of levels with respect to resolving conflicts, it also opens our family to possible litigation. Am I being overly passive or too paranoid of being sued?
Carolyn Hax: Tell your husband my keyboard just punched me in the nose.
Have a look at this: http:/
It's by Alan E. Kazdin and Carlo Rotella. I don't know the latter, but the former is a Yale prof who has a lot of research-based and intuitively practical things to say about child development.
Chicago: Hi Carolyn --
Last spring, purchased airline tickets for me and then-girlfriend for Caribbean getaway this upcoming winter. Shortly thereafter, we broke up (amicably). Asking her to reimburse me for the unusable seems real tacky, but if she's not planning on using it she can cancel her ticket for at least a partial refund. I'd obviously like to see some of that money back, but I'd even prefer her to have the credit rather than the airline. Compounding the problem is that we've not been in touch for several months, and though I'd hoped for eventual friendship I get the feeling she has other plans that I am trying to respect. What should I do?
Carolyn Hax: Unless there's some chance she has forgotten about the ticket, you take the loss, c'est la vie.
If she's the one who broke up with you, then you're certainly entitled to ask her for the ticket back so you can claim the partial refund; more important, she should have given it back to you without your having to ask. But it was a gift, and so taking the loss is still the better option.
Washington, D.C.: Dear Carolyn,
I have just started seeing a wonderful man who also happens to burp all the time. Loudly. Rarely does he excuse himself. I've looked at him pointedly several times, or commented that he burps often - but my subtle hints aren't cutting it. Intellectually, I know this is not a big deal, but it's starting to become gross and annoying. I'm very happy and would like to see where this relationship goes, but I'm afraid if we don't discuss this calmly, I'm going to blow (pardon the pun). Any advice on the right way to ask that he at least burp quietly and excuse himself?
Carolyn Hax: What on earth has kept you from saying, "Okay, that was really disgusting"?
Seriously. Enough with the "subtle hints." I can't say I;m a fan of them in general, but they're a particularly curious choice when you're clearly dealing with someone who wears his rejection of subtlety as a gaseous badge of honor.
Carolyn Hax: Otherswise I see a bright future for you two. Along the lines of Canoe Girl's with Canoe Guy.
SLMO: My wife just had our second baby. She went back to work almost immediately afterward and is incredibly stressed. She spends her little time at home caring for the baby because she feels guilty about leaving him with a nanny. Our 5-year-old meanwhile is falling through the cracks and has definitely noticed Mom's apparent favoritism. How do I bring this to my wife's attention without adding to her guilt and stress?
Carolyn Hax: Idunno. Where are you in all this child care?
Arlington, Va.: Carolyn,
Over three years ago I made a huge mistake that really hurt one of my cousins (we are both in our early/mid twenties now). While on a family vacation, I had relations with her roommate/love interest (who was staying at our vacation home). They were not in a relationship, but I knew that she was very into this guy, and I clearly crossed a boundary that I shouldn't have crossed. Long story short, everyone found out and both of us (the two guilty parties) left the vacation early. She accepted my apology, but we are not close like we used to be. Her younger sister still also holds a grudge (although what happened was not anything that directly concerned her), and claims that she never liked me to begin with. Of the two girls, my younger cousin is the one who seems to dislike me more for what happened.
I can't believe what I did, and my behavior still bothers me to this day. The situation is especially hard because my extended family gets together a lot for various occasions, and I always feel like somewhat of an outsider since this happened. I understand that I was foolish and put myself in this situation, but how can I go about repairing ties with this part of my family? I've thought about sending hand-written notes to both of my cousins. I'd like to apologize for my behavior back then and explain that I've grown as a person since then, and really want them to know the better me...
Carolyn Hax: Then all you can do is continue on as the better you, and let your cousins witness that over the (probably) years it will take them to believe this chastened, grown-up version of you has permanently displaced the thoughtless one. If they ever do.
Your phrasing, by the way, betrays you as not taking the full responsibility you suggest you have taken. The younger sister "holds a grudge"? When your transgression "was not anything that directly concerned her"? really?
I could easily argue that her sister's devastation directly concerned her, especially but not exclusively if she was a primary player in hand-holding and the picking up of pieces. And if she truly didn't like you before--certainly possible, and her prerogative--then this wouldn't be so much a held grudge as an abiding distaste for your company.
Harsh to see spelled out, I know--I'm not unsympathetic. But it's important to understand that some things can't be made right, don't go away, do leave a permanent scar. Is this one of them? Maybe, maybe not. You're all young enough to make it likely that there's a lot of growing yet to be done, and that growth might produce cousins who are willing to open their minds about you.
If they're open-minded, then you can let your emotional progress speak for itself. If they won't open their minds, then no amount of guilt or apologizing or maturity from you will impress them, not even in letter form.
For the tired mom: Anemia and having a thyroid out of whack are other causes to be explored for her tiredness. If there was a pretty sudden onset of being tired, then heart problems should be considered as well.
And, lack of regular sustained aerobic exericse can make some people feel lethargic generally. Maybe stick in a Disney aerobics DVD and work out with the kids.
Carolyn Hax: All good ideas, thanks. A call to the doctor would make sense.
SLMO: I'm in the same boat she is: stressed. We both leave for work early in the morning. I take the older child to school so my wife has a few extra minutes with the baby. The baby stays with a nanny, who picks up the older child from school. My wife and I both get home between 7 and 7:30. Wife tends to the baby while I feed, bathe and play with the 5-year-old. Honestly, I did not notice the imbalance until my daughter started whining about wanting her mom to start taking her to school. Then I realized that my wife's MO is to scoop up the baby in the evening and leave me to tend to the older one by default. Also, I bring my daughter to work with me almost every weekend.
Carolyn Hax: First, it sounds as if both of you need to cut back on work. Easy for me to say, yah, but you have two kids now, and you're barely spending any time with them. That's not tenable, emotionally, for any of you.
Second, see next post:
Re SLMO: If I were spending all my time with baby and not with the other kid, I would hope my husband would say something like, "I've noticed [kid's name] is missing you a lot lately; why don't I take the baby so you can spend some one-on-one time together?"
Carolyn Hax: Well said, thanks.
For ? (question mark): For what it's worth, it is very likely your husband knows that you have a relationship which detracts from your marriage. Unrequited love/like has a way of creating a loneliness which others pick-up on but may not be able to qualify. In addition to trying to pull back from the person who is your current distraction, try being honest with your husband by saying something like, "I know I've been distant, and I really want to try to reconnect." I think you will find it easier to put this "emotional affair" behind you if you have a real purpose in front of you - rebuilding your marriage with help from the necessary parties.
Carolyn Hax: That's well-said, too.
Sir Belch-a-Lot: Please, at least once, tell him straight out that you are really bothered and turned off by his behavior. I used to do the same--my family, guys and gals alike, is of the theatrical "gaseous badge of honor" variety--and so I didn't realize how much it truly offended my then-boyfriend. It wasn't until after we broke up that he told me how much it had bothered him (along with a list of my other personal flaws that he hadn't seen fit to bring up in our three years together).
If he had, just once, come right out and told me how much it bugged him, instead of making faces or silently stewing, I might have made the effort to tone things down. As it was, I felt like I spent all that time with someone who was just barely tolerating me. Not a good feeling.
Carolyn Hax: Great stuff, keep it coming, I'll take a 3-minute vacation.
Still Furious: The problem with telling the kids now is that Dad is not around to explain his actions or tell his side of the story. Even if the proof is convincing, it doesn't seem right to convict someone that has died. Maybe he realized that he had made a mistake and had ended things. There could be 100 reasons for his actions - and he isn't around to share them with the kids. If he was a good and loving father, then why ruin that image with the kids. They have already been through a lot.
Carolyn Hax: This is an excellent point, one what crystallizes nicely why it's so important that the messenger be past her anger when (if) she shares this fact of her late husband. The delivery of her side of the story can and should include her acknowledgment that hers is only one side of the story, and that, to use your worthy phrasing, "Maybe he realized that he had made a mistake and had ended things. There could be 100 reasons for his actions--and he's not around to share these with you now. He was a good and loving father."
Again, some people don't want anything to do with revisions of their history, and that possibility has to be taken into account.
But my position is that I don't want anyone whitewashing my family history out of some misguided favor to me. Tell me, include what you know and admit the limits to what you know, leave your ulterior motives out of it, and let me decide what to make of it.
Just to give you an achingly personal example: My late mom is my hero. She had four kids in the span of five years, and after the third was born my dad did a one-year tour in Vietnam. Her mother-in-law flew out to the Marine base in California to help her with all the babies (then 2, 1 and 1 month) and my mom sent her home(!). She found the extra help just gave her more to manage. So I have always seen my mom as one of the toughest broads going, and use that to check my self-pity impulses as I struggle with the three young kids I had within 14 months.
Well, I wasn't wrong. Mom was formidable indeed. But talking to my dad recently, we asked how mom handled all those little kids at once, and he said something to the effect that she barely held on. And you know what? I felt bad for what she went through then, but it also was a relief to hear--having that tough and impressive a ghost looking over your shoulder can be heavy sometimes. It felt nice to know she was vulnerable, too.
Point of oversharing being, you can't know what that idealized memory means to someone--you can't assume the image these kids have is a healthy one for them to have. For all we know, this idealized past is heavy for them in some way.
In addition to "Still a Person"...: If I never hear the term "preggers" again, it'll be too soon.
Carolyn Hax: Weeping with enthusiastic support, thanks. There's a British exception, though--they come by the term more honestly somehow.
For Arlington: I realize Arlington's question is about how to cope with the fallout from a bad decision, and I do feel bad for her, but it just reminds me of a really great Swedish saying I heard translated recently: "Take what you want and pay for it, says God." It's soooo simple, and yet most people live their lives on a daily basis trying to figure out what they can get away with, rather than the fact that there are tradeoffs that should be balanced when making decisions to act in a certain way. I think everyone could use a good reminder every once in a while (like Arlington's story) that we really are free to do anything and everything we want to in life...we just have to be prepared for the consequences. She took what she wanted, and now she is paying for it.
Carolyn Hax: And even when you genuinely regret the purchase, the tab is still yours to pick up. Thanks.
Re: Salon Article: Hi Carolyn,
I've read the Salon article before and I find it as helpful as the No Child Left behind bill. My son is in a school district on the verge of bankruptcy and they're already incompetent. His class has 30 kids. Do you really think they will:
"Increasing awareness of bullying among parents, teachers, and children-with meetings to disseminate information but also special meetings as needed with parents of bullies and victims. Changing the school environment by giving teachers incentive and opportunity to be more supportive and involved with the students. Making bullying a key theme-e.g., in explicit policy, in regular class meetings with children. Rewriting classroom rules to convey clearly that bullying is not tolerated. Having the teacher keep an eye on past victims. Administering anonymous student questionnaires and otherwise tracking bullying-ongoing monitoring and evaluation. Using buttons, posters, and mailings to keep all involved and to keep the message salient. Using interviews with students to continue the educational process and evaluation of the program."
I can't even get them to clean the anitfreeze outside my kid's classroom. This Yale professor ought to spend some time in a real school.
Carolyn Hax: Fair enough, but it's a problem that needs solving, isn't easily solved and needs a comprehensively clued-in society to solve it.
But is your stressed-to-breaking school system getting the word out on H1N1?
If not, I'll upgrade the "fair enough" to a "point taken." But if they are, then a similar message on bullying (a dangerous virus of its own) can be disseminated in the same way. Parents, read this and walk the walk at home. Teachers, hand this out and keep an eye out for this. Administrators, get a consistent policy on this and give enough of a damn to enforce it. (Bonus! it will preempt bigger problems that will eventually take much more of your time.)
It's not a quick fix, and for that reason a fix might not be realistic, but it definitely fails if people quit before they try. And it beats the hell out of, "Punch them in the nose."
Fairfax, Va.: I recently joined Facebook and have several friends from High School and family members as "friends". I've noticed that one particular friend from H.S. (married female) is making inappropriate comments towards another friend (married male) that seems as though they may be "involved" either physically or emotionally. The subject has come up via e-mails from other friends who have seen the exchanges, asking me my opinion on what is going on between them (I have no clue). I did make a comment regarding an exchange between the two and the entire exchange was deleted by the next morning. What, if anything, should the other "friends" do?
Carolyn Hax: Seems to me you've all made your point. Besides, this is their stupid mistake to make (and stupidly plaster on the Internet for any and all to see).
Washington, D.C.: The wife in today's column has a real problem. She expects her husband to take two 30 minute (30 minute?) showers a day before she will cuddle on the couch? Does she plan to take on a second job to pay the water bill?
Unless her guy works construction, runs marathons, or has that condition that makes you smell bad, one shower a day is plenty. I get by with five to six a week and have never been told I offend.
My sister took a bad fall while skiing last spring (she's doing much better, thanks) and has been unable to take a bath or shower for over 6 months. Is this grounds for divorce? I don't think so, though by this point even she is looking forward to a good long soak.
Carolyn Hax: True, and a few minutes will do.
The word "compulsive" came to mind as I was writing, as did my place as non-licensed professional, so I passed on using it, but in retrospect I should have suggested she get screened by a pro. Thanks.
Lack of time with children: When my oldest was a baby/toddler, we arranged his schedule so he went to bed around 10:00 p.m. and got up around 8:30 a.m.. I think some of my friends/families that it was "wrong" to not have an earlier bedtime time, but he was getting plenty of sleep. And we did it because it worked best with my husband's work schedule and we all wanted him to spend time with our son. There was no problem transitioning to an early bedtime as circumstances changed.
Sometimes a little creativity goes a long way.
Carolyn Hax: It does, thanks.
And that's it for today. Thanks muchly, have a great weekend and see you here next week, I hope.
Narberth, Pa.: Re: Furious. I hope you advise the woman who feels anger over her former (now passed away) husband's indiscretions to see a good therapist before unloading all of that on her kids. I agree there's a good case to be made for them to get a full picture of their father, but it sounds like she could first use some good help exploring that anger (which was probably lurking there all the time but could also be related to stuff going on now).
Carolyn Hax: I advised (I think twice) that she not say anything unless and until there's no anger or vengeful intent, but if you're posting this I guess that means it's not spelled out clearly enough. Thanks.
Carolyn Hax: Yikes--I almost forgot, don't forget to check out the Facebook page for any updates from readers. www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax
You hope?: You often end chats with "see you here next week, I hope." Is there something we should know about? Is the chat ever in peril?
Carolyn Hax: I hope you come back, and I hope I don't get fired/disabled/caught under a falling piano. I'm learning not to take good things for granted. Or bad things, I guess.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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