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Carolyn Hax Live: Advice Columnist Tackles Your Problems

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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 2, 2009; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Friday, October 2, 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

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Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody, happy fall.

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Ask Carolyn Hax Live: I'm so tired today that I mistakenly read the notice for your chat as "Is Carolyn Hax Alive?" I'm happy to see that you are. (Still not so sure about me.)

Carolyn Hax: Thanks! Keep us posted.

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Somewhere, USA: Dear Carolyn: I am not sure how to respond when one of my friends starts bragging about sex with his wife. He will tell anyone in our social group. I tend to think in pictures, and I don't want to visualize what he says. A year ago, I told him off during one of his famous PDA sessions that he does in front of his friends. He stopped. His wife even told me that she has asked him to stop PDAing but he "forgets." I have had an active dating life during the course of our friendship, and I do not see the difference between my being single or in a relationship. The random sex info irritates me and I feel embarrassed. I think that info about sex should stay between partners in the bedroom. Am I wrong? Am I a prude? I don't think so I have modeled in the past and the farthest I went was pin up modeling (in lingerie with clothes covering strategically). -Classy or Whiny?

Carolyn Hax: PDA--Public Descriptions of Affection?

Your friend sounds like an idiot. So I don't know that your frustration with him is a matter of being classy or whiny, but instead a matter of being a little too, er, generous with your expectations of people. He blabs, he likes blabbing, he likes being the guy who blabs, he will not stop blabbing.

And so you need to accept that he won't stop and deal with it accordingly. Stop hanging out with him? Ignore his bragging as the price you pay to enjoy his wife's company? (Though you have to wonder about her continuing to star in his humiliating indiscretions-to-be, but that's a whole other question.) Keep hanging with the group but ignore him as much as possible?

The specifics are your call. But as you ponder, in the meantime, you might want to try putting your fingers in your ears and saying BLAH BLAH BLAH whenever he gets rolling.

I'm not sure where the lingerie modeling fits in, but good on ya all the same.

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Washington, D.C.: Is it ok to not like having a job? I like the issues I work on and love to learn new things on the job, but I just can't stand having a 'job.' Am I just lazy? Everyone in D.C. seems to love it and thrive on work. I just want to enjoy my husband and have kids and a house soon. What's wrong with me?

Carolyn Hax: Nothing. Your statement would have worked well with my work-as-life-mission-has-gotten-out-of-hand rant of a few weeks ago. There are people who love their work and love to work, and there are people who love to make a life out of their homes, and all that entails. And there are people in between--part-timers, careerists in mellower pursuits, etc.--and there are people who go in phases, of loving their work for This amount of time, and who then want to move on to spend That time investing in home--or vice-versa.

And what seems to be happening is that all types are getting lulled/pushed/dragged/economically coerced into a work-heavy lifestyle, instead of just the people it suits. Not that it was ever a perfect system, there just seems to be a trend toward the grind.

So (scrape scrape as I drag my soapbox back into the closet), again, there's nothing wrong with you. You do need to share this with your husband, though, to make sure he's aware of your anti-ambitions, regardless of what you (and he) choose to do with them.

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Somewhere: Is a marriage doomed if both husband and wife are ambitious? My husband thinks only one of us can have a thriving career since we have two small kids (6 and 2). Since he is seven years older than me, he is better placed career wise, so I should settle for a less than fulfilling career since kids need their mother. I understand that he does not want me to neglect kids which will happen if I have dreams of having a satisfactory profession. But I still feel resentment towards him that he made the decision for me since I cannot be at a level where I can support the family alone. What should I do?

Carolyn Hax: This starts as one question, but really it's another. No, a marriage isn't doomed if both husband and wife are ambitious, and no, two-career couples don't automatically neglect their kids. If you both spend long days all weekdays at work and if you also work most weekends, then, yes, I think your kids might start to wonder why you had them.

But there are such things as flex time, job sharing, going home at 5 pm, telecommuting, and whatever other accommodations people have worked out to allow them to keep a foot in the door of their careers while they get their kids through the labor-intensive early childhood years. (And some later ones, but that's another issue, one Brigid Schulte explored in Outlook recently.)

Of course, not every career offers these accommodations, and not every parent is content to keep his or her career on simmer while devoting more time to kids, but these are all talking points that parents can have as they decide how to have the most while giving up the least.

What your issue seems to be, far more than why-can't-I-work-too?, is that your husband has essentially refused to negotiate this balance with you. He made up his mind unilaterally on something that may never needed to have been strictly either-or.

yes, practically, it's often necessary for one parent to put the career on simmer while the other parent carries the heavier earning and job-security weight. Sometimes there just aren't ways to put a career on simmer that don't cost the back-burner parent some career points.

But in those cases, there's still room for spousal give-and-take. For one, the two can switch after a set amount of time. Say, your husband capitalizes on his career peak now, and then steps aside 2, 5, 7, whatever years from now to let you dedicate yourself more fully.

So if there's anything that will doom a marriage, it's a power imbalance. It may all turn out exactly the way you sketched it out here, but that's only okay of you come to that after you have your say.

If your husband refuses to let you have your say, then you and he and your resentment would best find a competent marriage counselor to referee what is bound to ensue. Good luck.

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Philadelphia: What is a tactful way to convince my husband, who is an attractive man and professional who deals with the public everyday, to "dress for success". He oftentimes goes to work with wrinkled pants, "ratty looking shoes", etc. and when I discuss this with him, I am labeled a "nag". He is good at what he does but his attire does not reflect this nor make a positive first impression. Any advice?

Carolyn Hax: Drop it. He's making his choice. I realize it could come to affect your household well-being, but it's still his career to manage and his body to dress. And, you've already said your piece.

I will say that, depending on how tense things have become on this issue, you could start drycleaning his stuff for him. I imagine some will do weekly pickups at your home.

And finally: This could be another question that becomes another question--no matter how you approach him with this, whether you're twitty about it or gracious, is his dismissing you as a "nag" really called for?

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Sister-in-Law Heck: My SIL is unemployed and hanging out at my house during the day. My husband works from home. To make it worse, she stays into the evening. This throws off our evening routine with our young children, and frankly, since I am not fond of her, it annoys me to find her in my house every evening when I get home. I have some very good reasons to not like her. My husband has a hard time setting boundaries. Any advice on how to get her out of my house in the evenings? I'm afraid I am going to have to be the bad guy here.

Carolyn Hax: Let your husband know you're going to do it, so he has a chance to register his objection and/or locate his spine and do it himself, then do it. Be the bad guy. It's your refuge, and there's no reason you have to share it with anyone who doesn't have your permission to be there.

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Parent hatred: You asked today's questioner if they'd want themselves as a parent. What happens when that's not true? I have a child. I broke my marriage vows and have since tried to work it out with spouse since. I now fear child will grow up to hate me with all his fury as an adult were he to find out.

Carolyn Hax: You're talking about one act. Parenthood is the accumulation of a lifetime's worth of acts. Start being the parent you'd want to have, start today, and if you ever find yourself deviating from that again, start again to be the parent you'd want to have, with your very next act.

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State of Shock, USA: I'm writing early, but really hope you see this and can answer on Friday.

I just received a wedding invitation in which the Bride and Groom request BYOB. I am not making this up. I understand that times are tight etc., but what do you think the etiquite is for this. The wedding and reception are in the same room so do I leave my beverages in the car and go out and get them after the service? Do I bring in a cooler and put it beside me? Do I have to share with the other guests or just the Bride and Groom?

I'm trying to keep a sense of humor about this, but I really would like to know what you think I should do. I did consider just not bringing anything, but to tell you the truth, I think I'm going to need it.

Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: You know what? If you like the bride and groom a lot, or even just one of them a lot, just grab a bottle and go.

If you don't like either of them a lot, then send your regrets.

There's a place for etiquette, but when it's already out the window, you might as well just get into the spirit of it (get it? spirit?), or politely decline.

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Rockville, Md.: Hi Carolyn - I'd love your thoughts on when to apologize and when to let something go. Specifically, when I realize after the fact that I said something tactless (not mean or awful, just thoughtless) should I make a point of apologizing, thus bringing up the whole tactless comment again, or just let it go and try to keep my foot out of my mouth in the future? Any guidelines would be appreciated!

Carolyn Hax: I'm kicking this to the Hax-Philes, so everyone can weigh in. In fact, I just zipped it to Jodi. (There's a link to the Philes at the top of this transcript, I think.)

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For Somewhere: Not to judge on so little knowledge, but your kids are six and two...? Isn't it a little late for career talk to come up?

Or has this back-and-forth been going on for six years?

Carolyn Hax: It's a good question, so let's rephrase it to extract a non-defensive answer: What brought you to this crossroads now, instead of 6 or 2 years ago? Thanks.

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Scottsdale, Ariz.: How do you know if you're a bad mother? The label has such a stigma that it seems like there should be a hard-and-fast checklist or something.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I think there's just one item on it.

1. Caught up in your own BS.

Covers everything, I think, though I'm happy to entertain other ideas.

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Washington, D.C.: My boyfriend is really overweight but doesn't really do anything about it. A few times I have mentioned that I was worried about his health which he acknowledges somewhat and says he will make some changes but never does. It keeps me up at night and makes me miserable. I guess I just have to accept that he will likely never change. FWIW he was not like this when we first got together.

Carolyn Hax: Well, maybe he will change someday, but he's not going to change based on anything you do or say. That much you've learned.

Before we get into the choice you need to make, though, I think it's important to make a connection between his weight and his habits. Since you say it wasn't always this way, I'm assuming he has become sedentary and/or indiscriminate about what he eats. If he's just overweight but eats well and lives an active life, then you might be wasting hours of sleep over nothing.

But if by change you mean that he has acquired bad habits that he shows no signs of renouncing, then your choices are either to stay with him knowing those habits might limit his quality of life and eventually lifespan, or you decide that's not what you want to sign up for and break up.

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Be the parent you would want: If given the choice, I think I'd rather have a parent who has made mistakes and worked to make up for them, who understands that it's human nature to slip up, and who (most important) applies that understanding when I make mistakes of my own.

Carolyn Hax: Hear, hear.

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Get over yourself: The only thing worse than bad wedding etiquette is becoming outraged over bad wedding etiquette. How I long for the days when weddings were nothing more than a formal agreement sometimes marked by a celebration. Can we please stop the insanity? Receptions with booze are expensive. Having been to a dry reception, I can assure you that BYOB is a much better alternative.

Carolyn Hax: Agreed, but--I reserve the right to be annoyed by the couple who assigned seating to some guests (the Gold Tier? holders of Club Level tickets?) and left the rest to fend for themselves, but didn't provide enough seating for everyone, thus leaving about 20 people standing there holding their full plates, wondering what to do next.

Not that I'm hanging on to it or anything.

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Sister-in-Law Heck: One quick question to sister in law...why is she there during the day (let alone the evening) anyway? Is she taking care of the children?

Carolyn Hax: I got the impression it was time-killing, but if you're right that would drastically change the answer.

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Boston: My husband has a longtime female friend. He was in love with her years ago, but she didn't have the same feelings for him. And knowing that he had feelings for her, she slept with several of his friends. I think she's mean and manipulative.

She's married, we're married, but she's still occasionally around. I found out recently that they e-mail every so often and that he stopped by her house to say "Hi" and catch up. I don't want to have the kind of relationship where we can't have friends of the opposite sex, but I feel like this is in a different category. Can I demand/request that this friendship go bye-bye? How do I best go about this?

Carolyn Hax: Given his history of feelings for her, I think you have a right to say, "I don't want to have the kind of relationship where we can't have friends of the opposite sex, but I feel like this is in a different category. What would you do if you were in my place here?"

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New York, N.Y.: Hi Carolyn, It seems that we are so programmed to "say the right thing" or say something "the right way" to get what we want (being able to stay in a relationship is the example I'm thinking of here). I've finally learned that keeping the relationship at all costs causes both parties to distort themselves. It is so much better to be yourself and encourage your significant other (or person you've just started dating or friend, etc.) to be him-/herself. Then you'll both know if you want to spend time with/be with each other. And as an added bonus, you'll KNOW each other (not a cleaned up, pretend version). That's my soapbox! I'm just so glad I finally learned this lesson for myself.

Carolyn Hax: Hey! That's my soapbox! But the more the merrier. Thanks.

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Re: Ambitious husband and wife: So, husband has decided that only one of you can have a thriving career and that "one" should be him? Ugh.

And it should be him because he's older? I wonder if he married a woman seven years his junior just so he could use that excuse!

Your husband isn't ambitious--he's controlling.

Carolyn Hax: It does sound that way--but the context can tell her whether that's true more reliably than we can. Control may be subtle when it starts and hard to see as it insinuates itself, but the footprint it leaves is unmistakable.

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Reston, Va.: Hey Carolyn- Love the chats! First time writer here -- for the first time in my life, I'm truly and deeply happy. Every element in my life has finally clicked into place all at the same time, and it feels GREAT! Only problem, most of my close friends who I talk to regularly are going through really rough patches right now -- losing jobs, getting dumped, very sick parents -- serious stuff. I feel guilty floating around on cloud nine around them, and I feel like I should make up something to complain about to fit in, but I'm in a phase of life where I just want to shout "Wahooooo I love my life" from the mountaintops! So I guess my question is, can I talk about how great it is to finally be in an awesome part of my life with my friends, or should i find something to complain about, or just listen to them and be there and then go about on my own happy way without really talking about it?

Carolyn Hax: Congratulations. You feel good, that's what matters, and people who like you will be happy for you.

As for the specifics of comporting yourself: If this is the first time you've felt like this in your life, then you probably formed an opinion during all those meh and down times about the people around you who were happy. Did you want to celebrate with them, your angst notwithstanding? Did you want them to feel free to share, but also be mindful of rubbing it in your face? Did you just want to hear about their day-to-day lives in the usual story form, and draw your own conclusions about their cloud status?

Whatever you preferred, that's what you do. Then you read the faces, words and body language of your friends, just to make sure they'd make the same choice themselves.

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Debating Life: Hi Carolyn...I am glad you are alive too :). On another note, I am struggling with life :( and I have a habit of changing my mind about the way I should take better care of myself and the people I am killing with me. Such negative words but they are ones I heard after suggestions like inpatient therapy, anti -depressants or change the way you think so money isn't drained from the bank account but we will spend every dime we have on you. Long story not short enough: people that love me or want me to be healthy have been chattering in my ears for the past few days and I am so confused about what I should do that I am shutting down options I need to want to do. I am stubborn and I pull away the more people push me but I am also a people-pleaser so the back and forth action is resulting in more numbing and self-involved behavior. I feel nauseous because I can see my part in this. You don't know me so I imagine you may have more objective advice than others. I think I need time to learn how to know my own thoughts and feelings. If you were wearing my shoes what would you do? Please keep this online only. I know my family and friends read all of your columns in the Washington Post paper but do not read your chats online.

Carolyn Hax: Get the help. That's what I'd do. I'd call the NAMI help line right now. From the nami.org site:

"The Information HelpLine is an information and referral service which can be reached by calling 1 (800) 950-NAMI (6264), Monday through Friday, 10 am- 6 pm, Eastern time."

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Is this normal?: I'm pregnant with my first baby. I have a great husband, am in good health and have never had any issues with fertility. Yet I spend practically every waking moment in fear of miscarrying or doing something to hurt the baby. I have discussed limitations with my doctor ad infinitum and know in a practical sense all the things I should and should not worry about. I have changed my diet, exercise habits, transportation and even the way I dress. I know a lot of it is overkill but I am constantly anxious and don't know how to feel better.

Carolyn Hax: Please discuss the anxiety with your doctor, too. It's normal to have -some- fears, but pregnancy itself is natural and normal--and not even a medical event per se until modern times. To be consumed by fear is to have something else going on, and your doctor can help with that (or you need a better doctor).

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That made me cry: I OP'd about hating myself because my kid will grow up to hate me for being unfaithful to my spouse. The posting about rather having parents who understand mistakes made me cry. Thanks, for the first time in years, letting me a ray of hope and not hate myself. It literally made me cry with relief at my desk.

Carolyn Hax: Think of this as an e-tissue. Glad the chorus helped.

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Overweight boyfriend: Another possibility -- If the boyfriend hasn't become an indiscriminate, inactive slob since they got together, it's very possible that he's naturally predisposed to be heavy and was only keeping himself thin via unhealthy/disordered eating. I feel like every advice columnist gets countless letters of the "My spouse got fat" variety, and this possibility gets ignored a lot, but it's an important distinction to make. Obviously the girlfriend may still feel duped or unhappy because she no longer finds him attractive, but if it's really his health she's worried about, the weight gain may be a GOOD sign that he's stopped hurting himself.

Carolyn Hax: Something to consider, thanks.

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Georgia: My sister, a single mom, needed a sanity break so I spent ten days with her 8- and 5-year-old boys while she took a romantic trip with her boyfriend. I had a fantastic time getting to know my nephews (good practice for when I have kids) and tried to keep them to their regular routine as much as possible. Yet when Sis got back, she spent the next week criticizing absolutely everything I had done while I was there, from the way I did the dishes to my bedtime leniency (it was summer!!) to the fact that one of the kids lost a tooth while I was there. She ended it with a "but thanks" that sounded more like "thanks for nothing."

My feelings are really hurt about this. I've never done anything like this before, so I had no idea how rigid my sister is about her parenting and housekeeping. Part of me wants to let it go (after all, I didn't do it so she'd thank me, I did it as a gift to her--I thought) but the other part wants her to reconsider whether her idea of a perfect routine was worth hurting my feelings over. Say something, or let it go?

Carolyn Hax: How about, "I can't argue with you on any of your complaints about my housekeeping and parenting skills, but, really, I offered you love here, not skill. Your criticism hurt."

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Virginia: My boyfriend and I are going through a rocky time. How to deal with relatives who constantly ask "How's your relationship going?" (aka, when do we get to hear wedding bells ring?) I don't want to tell them things are rocky, because my family sees things in black or white. They'll go from waiting for bells to asking when we're going to break up. But I'm tired of gritting my teeth and saying everything's peachy.

Carolyn Hax: "I'll let you know when I have something to report." It covers everything, from what they want to hear to the truth to "butt out" to a generic answer to people who aren't prying but instead are just showing interest in your life.

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Confused in Manhattan: So I've been casually dating this guy from work for about five months or so. There's so much chemistry between us, he's funny and smart, and I think I'm starting to fall for him. But something he said in dinner conversation irked me - I don't remember the specific context, but he made some comment about how un-sexy sweatpants are (I think a woman wearing them walked by or something), and how if the person he's dating ever wears them it's a "deal breaker." Well, so far he's never seen me in sweatpants. But I own them, I wear them, they're comfortable around the house. I asked, "What if a person is feeling sick or just lounging around their apartment?" He made a grimace that said "Still not okay." I just feel unsettled now. He does pay a lot of attention to what I wear and will even make suggestions for clothes that will make me look better. What do you think of his comment? Personal quirk or red flag?

Carolyn Hax: If his willness to tweak your appearance to please himself bothers you -and- if you don't see yourself just saying, "Bite me," and wearing your sweatpants as planned--and if he can't go on liking you, no more or no less than before, for just being yourself and ignoring him--then I do see problems coming between you two.

You didn't say, "Heh. I wear sweatpants, and I'm not 'okay' with people who aren't 'okay' with that," so you might not have the [parts] to negate his pressure. That's only bad if you mistake yourself for someone who does.

Point being, there's a line between opinions and control. If his opinions control either of you, then that's a problem, but if they're just opinions without consequences attached, then you're probably fine. On this issue, at least. But you seem unwilling to risk his displeasure, and that's bad footing no matter what he thinks of your pants.

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Lost tooth?!: Wait -- her kids are 5 and 8 and she complained that one of them lost a tooth while she was gone? At the normal ages for 1st round (5) and second round (8) tooth loss? What did she want you to do, glue it back in?

I'm sorry that your sister is an ingrate. If my sister watched my kids (same ages) for a weekend, much less ten days, I'd be over the moon with gratitude.

Carolyn Hax: The following might explain it:

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For the sister/babysitter: If the uptightness is new, and she didn't freak out about rules ahead of time, I wonder if maybe your sister is jealous because her sons had a great time with you? Not that it makes it better, but maybe easier to understand.

Carolyn Hax: I like this, thanks. makes a lot of sense.

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Carolyn Hax: It does make me wish, though, that more people were wired to be generous when feeling vulnerable, instead of curling in on themselves and taking defensive swipes.

Just another argument, I guess, for achieving maturity before pairing and breeding.

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Baltimore, Md.: In the past two nights, I've dreamt that my fiance is dying, and that we called off the wedding. We've been having some issues lately -- nothing major, just things to do with learning to live under the same roof (I am unofficially living with him as of a couple months ago), plan a big event together, etc. But is my subconscious trying to tell me something? FWIW, I've woken up both times glad the dream isn't true, especially after the one where he was dying.

Carolyn Hax: I dunno. I would just suggest opening your mind to previously unthinkable possibilities (i.e., calling off the wedding, not his death) and seeing how those ideas sit with you: It's worth asking whether you're lying to yourself.

But whether you are, you aren't, or you are but don't figure it out till six years from now, all you can do is make your best choices on your best information and hope it all turns out okay. It's not as if you have the last word on the outcome anyway, so don't lug around impossible responsibilities as if you do.

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Am I being a brat?: For the past 17 years I've spent Thanksgiving with a friend and her husband who live a short plane ride away. This year is different: They moved into a smaller place, so I'd have to stay in a hotel. One of my pets developed a health condition that requires hiring someone to administer medication (vs. having a friend check up on them once or twice). And the air fare has gone up considerably. This means that a trip that used to cost me $350 will now cost over $1000. So I told them I'm not coming because of the expense.

My friend is having a hissy fit -- I can't break with tradition, they're so looking forward to it, etc., etc. I see them at least one other time per year, so this isn't our only chance to get together. And I offered to come at another time when I can stay longer (and do other things than eat turkey and help her put on her annual post-Thanksgiving party). But no, nothing else will do than for me to spend big bucks to be there on -this specific- weekend.

I'm grateful for their hospitality over the years, and I don't want to ruin a 30+ year friendship. I could come up with the money, but frankly I resent being expected to just so we can perpetuate a "tradition." Am I a spoiled brat?

Carolyn Hax: This story doesn't make me feel charitable toward your friend, but, then, you have chosen to fly to see her at least twice a year, so she can't be all bad. Right?

But then, you seem to feel a bit resentful about helping her with the annual party, and to be unwilling to say that outright. So maybe there's a reckoning here that has nothing to do with "these economic times." (I'm going to try to get that phrase in at least once a week.)

To give this mess one more chance to pick itself up the floor, you might say, "I value the tradition as much as you do, but the tradition was for me to spend $350, not to have a sick pet and a hotel bill and a spike in air fare that combine to run the bill up to $1000. To me, the real tradition is our friendship, and that will survive one hard-luck year."

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Carolyn Hax: Not that I want to put words in anyone's mouths or anything. (How many posts is that with my writing dialogue. 472?)

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Breakupland USA: I just had the icky experience of having a friend start dating my ex, two months after my breakup. My ex and I were in a very serious relationship, if that matters. I found out inadvertently, and I'm no longer in contact with either of them.

But, I do have to see them both on occasion. One of the occasions is in two weeks. I would like to try and get through it with a modicum of dignity and grace. Do you have any advice for me?

Carolyn Hax: Be civil and wish them the best. Painful as it is, this stuff happens, and really the only thing they really messed up was in letting you find out inadvertently. I'm sorry.

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Too pushy?: Within the next week or so I'm going to talk to my long-term, live-in boyfriend about getting married; no pressure, just what are his thoughts. We're in our 20s and I'm absolutely okay with waiting if he wants to do that; I'm bringing it up because over the past year or so I've had increasingly persistant marriage-would-be-nice thoughts. Plus, this year is the first that we're doing the holiday-swap thing (we've always gone to our respective parents' houses before), and we've both got at least one person in the family that'll ask something obnoxious, so it'd be good to go into it as more of a unit than to hear each other's thoughts on marriage for the first time in front of an audience.

Anyway, I always hear about these conversations being total disasters, no matter how well-intentioned. Any recommendations?

Carolyn Hax: WHY would marriage be nice? Are you waiting for some part of your life to start, are you waiting to be able to say something to your family, ... ?

These conversations are disasters if you and/or he can't be a straight shooter, or if you're in this for something other than a lifetime shared with this person, or if you're looking for validation through a title.

When you have a true, shared, committed life with someone, the fact of marriage is not a momentous thing and not a momentous conversation, but instead a bit of sealing wax on the envelope. A nice flourish, but not necessary to the business of getting something mailed, you know?

You're either there already, together, or you're having this conversation because you don't know where he is, even though you're living together. if it's that, then that's what needs your attention, not the legal status of what you share.

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Carolyn Hax: Keep us posted!

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Sister/babysitter: I never had a sister, so I'd be happy to "adopt" this one! She sounds awesome. I have a very lovely 10-year-old daughter who could use an auntie!

Carolyn Hax: Sure! The line forms behind me.

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Thanksgiving: I get the point about the expense, and think the friend should be more understanding. But I'd urge the 17-year guest to think about the other side. Have the hosts put themselves out to host you over the years, or has it been effortless for them? Just make sure you're not only looking at your own side.

I host Thansgiving for friends and family every year, and love doing it. But it's irksome when I ask people if they're coming and they let me know that our celebration is their fall-back if something else (better?) doesn't happen.

Carolyn Hax: I think these are apples and turkeys, but, okay.

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Re: Sweatpants, deal breaker: Carolyn,

You missed the part about the guy saying if a woman he was dating wore sweatpants, it was a "deal breaker."

That's not just a consequence, it's a threat. A deal breaker means if she wears them, he will break up with her.

No room for difference of opinion there.

Carolyn Hax: Didn't miss it, just didn't make any assumptions about the tone.

If it was intended seriously, then I wish even more fervently that his date had said, "I wear them. Should we ask for the check?"

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Re: Sweatpants: My boyfriend also tries to influence my clothing choices and when I tell him to bite me he gets very upset and we fight. Whereas if I just say "Ok honey" and go about my business he will let it go. Sweatpants definitely needs to wear whatever she wants, but I wouldn't recommend the "bite me" approach. If my boyfriend weren't otherwise very lovable, I certainly would've skipped the bite me and gone straight to the F- you and ditched his butt.

Carolyn Hax: Really, I wish you had. "Step back," however colorfully you phrase it, is the kind of message that healthy people can hear from the people they love, and that with unhealthy people triggers a fight.

You have got to feel you are able to illuminate the lines that you don't want crossed. If you and a mate disagree on where those lines should be, then you can talk about it like civilized people, and then either come to some mutually appealing compromise or go amicably on your separate ways.

The only way you are avoiding a fight is by, essentially, pretending the line isn;t there. Maybe you've just found what works for you, but it calls to mind the letter-writer recently who has resigned herself to expressing no more opinions because that's the only way she and her spouse don't fight. Carrying that weight would get unbearable over time.

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Both my parents cheated: Both my parents had affairs. Long ago. When I was a kid. In the year (maybe more) before they divorced. I knew at the time (as much as a 10-year-old can know) that my dad had cheated on my mom because he went directly into a relationship with the other woman. It prompted me to ask my mom if she'd ever cheated. She admitted she had. She said she and my dad had both made mistakes and that she was really sorry to have to tell me that. I remember bawling my eyes out when she told me. I was crushed to know this about my mom.

Now, more than a couple decades later, it is a story that I hold dear. She could have lied so easily. There was no way I ever would have learned of my mom's indiscretions. But when her kid asked her point blank for the truth, she didn't flinch. She was totally honest with me, even knowing it would change my opinion of her. This might be one of the best lessons I my mom ever gave me about how to live your ideals.

As for my dad, who I also still love, I wish at the time he'd been a bit more honest with us about the situation. He never acknowledged at the time that he'd done something wrong, even though we knew he had. Another lesson there.

Carolyn Hax: You're right, that took guts. Thanks for weighing in.

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For Baltimore: I can so relate to her. I was engaged to a good guy for so long, but I kept having this recurring dream that as soon as we said our vows, the guy I was really supposed to be with was waiting for me at the other end of the aisle - but it was too late, I had just gotten married. I had dreams that I called off the wedding, dreams that I ran away from the wedding etc.

I finally listened to my intuition and broke the engagement after a long two years (I kept pushing back the date). Now I'm married to the guy that was waiting for me at the end of the aisle in my recurring dream. In hindsight, I wish I had listened to my subconscious sooner - something never really felt quite right about my first engagement.

Carolyn Hax: What lucid subconscious you have. If it were anything like mine, it would cook up a dream that included socks, three classmates from elementary school and a meatloaf, and then laugh while I tried to navigate my life by it.

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Work/life balance: I once heard, possibly in a eulogy, of someone who described himself as the luckiest man in the world because, he said, "When I get up in the morning I can't wait to go to work, and at the end of the work day I can't wait to get home."

Carolyn Hax: Gosh, that sounds like Dick Copaken, rest his soul. (My freshman roommate's dad, and a touchstone for me ever since.)

I know 99.5 percent of you have no idea what I'm talking about, but since he popped to mind so solidly as I read that, I thought I'd pay tribute--he died in December 08.

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Clueless: I feel like even though I am a smart person, I generally have no concept of how other people feel and why they behave the way they do. I find myself somewhat lacking emotional intelligence (or maybe its emotional maturity). Any ideas on how to grow emotionally?

Carolyn Hax: I'm going to kick this to the Philes, too--not just because it's 2:55, but mostly because I think a range of opinions would be a lot more useful than one.

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Arlington, Va.: I'm having one of those days and a hot chocolate isn't solving it. Any other suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: Long walk. If it accomplishes nothing else, it'll burn off the hot chocolate. Then you can see if pudding solves the problem.

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RE: Sweatpants: Man, now I really feel like crawling into a pair.

Carolyn Hax: All we need is a couch, and we have our Friday night plans in the bag.

Thanks everybody for stopping by, and hope to see you here next week.

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Re: "Ok honey": I get what you're saying, but I find this poster's approach to be more effective than what you're saying. I have a sibling like this so I just can't walk away from the relationship.

Every. Single. Detail. Is the basis of an argument. In my case, it's arguing for the sake of arguing. Nothing more.

It's not worth it to put up a fight nor is it worth it to settle it like two people. That's not how my sibling works. Period.

Carolyn Hax: Fine, but that's a sibling--someone you acquired by birth and who will eventually appear in your life only as much or as little as you choose to allow.

A mate is someone you choose to accompany you through day-to-day life. If your method of living with this person is to go into argument-evasion mode, then you've picked the wrong mate.

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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.

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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.


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