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Carolyn Hax Live: Advice Columnist Tackles Your Problems

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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 16, 2009; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Friday, October 16, 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.

Some of you have been asking about this year's Walk to Defeat ALS (thank you for that), and some of you have already clicked the links I posted a few weeks ago (thank you for that, too). Obviously, though, I've been less vocal about the upcoming walk than I have been in past years. The reason for this is mostly mundane; I haven't had the time this year that I have in the past, with the day-to-day business of family consuming more of my discretionary time than ever. It frustrates me that such an important cause is the thing to fall by the wayside, but, then, it's not the only cutback I've made (2010 will be the year I start working out again, I swears it), and I think Mom would understand. She's the one who taught me that kids come first.

Quick note to newcomers: My mom, Liz Hax, died in 2002 of ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Another part of it, though--and here's where I walk the walk of being honest about not-so-flattering things--is that this campaign wipes me out emotionally, and every year it feels harder to get it started than the last. I dig to say new things about my mom, and how much I lost when she died, I cry, I stir up vivid mental images of her suffering, and I lose a good piece of my day.

But, boo-hoo, poor Carolyn gets sad. When I compare this to what people with ALS go through, I'm ashamed of myself. I just learned that ALS has announced itself in one of the owners of a wonderful mom & pop business that I used to frequent in New Haven. And with the D.C. sniper back in the news a week or so ago, my mind linked the two. That's what ALS is like--it just picks someone out of the crowd and, that's it. Game over. Except it works its evil over months and years--2 to 5 years on average post-diagnosis--slowly (and literally) suffocating its victims. It's dreadful and frightening and it's the disease about which you hear doctors say in private, "When we studied it in med school, all I could think was, 'Please don't let me get that.'"

You won't typically hear this, though, from people with ALS (PALS). Once my mother got her mind around her inevitable fate--there is no cure and still little in the way of treatment, which is why we're having this so-far one-sided conversation--she was resolute, upbeat, determined to make the best of the months she had left. She e-mailed far and wide to say goodbye to friends from all chapters of her life (the illness affected her throat so she couldn't speak, or swallow, for that matter, so e-mail it had to be). She shooed my sisters away to tend to their young families. She made jokes about "the drama" she had become. She was, of course, terrified. She knew her mind would stay sharp while her body slowly imprisoned her. And her inner terror/outer courage response is one I've seen repeatedly in my dealings with PALS since.

The sniper-like work of ALS and the survival instinct of its victims combine to form a particular responsibility in the loved ones of PALS. We are the people in the crowd who were standing nearby when horror struck. We are the ones who have met ALS up close and who are in a position to scream, yell and stomp for whatever money and attention it takes to get this thing solved, cured, wiped off the face of the earth.

And that's where you come in. Anyone who wants to help, or who feels adrift and in need of a cause, or who thinks stem cell advances are way cool, or who wants to see a swell picture of me with my mom, or who just has a morbid sense of curiosity, can go to

my page

on the ALS Association's site and bring just that much more awareness, effort and concern to people who need it.

The ALS Association provides comprehensive services to PALS, and my parents leaned on them heavily. This group also supports research toward a cure. It needs all the help it can get.

Thanks for hearing me out. Now, let me return the favor--back to the regularly scheduled Friday roundup of human frailty.

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Carolyn Hax: Oh, and I've been having fun posting updates to my Facebook page. Non-Facebookers can have a look without committing, I believe.

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Undecided in D.C.: Scenario: You've been dating someone a long time. In some ways the relationship is great. But there are problems you haven't had much success overcoming, and patterns you expect to play out in the future. What's the mental exercise you suggest to decide whether this is the right relationship for you, long-term?

Carolyn Hax: First, you don't assume an annoyance level equal to the one you feel now over those problems/patterns. Start with one double or triple what you're feeling now.

Next, you project the problem/pattern onto the various stages through which you expect your life to take you--moves, kids, money problems, money successes, ailing relatives, ailing you--and see whether it makes those stages easier to handle, or harder.

Or, you take the will-this-person-make-a-good-ex-husband/wife? quiz.

Or, you apply my stock analogy here, the pebble in shoe analogy (or, when I need variety, the heavy pack). It seems tolerable when you start walking, but 20 miles into the hike, you're going to be in hell.

Try one, try em all. Good luck.

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ALS Page link isn't working: Also, I assume that's where I can go to contribute, am I correct? That's what I was trying to do, and it just directs me to the WP "link is broken" page

washingtonpost.com: Carolyn's ALS Page

Carolyn Hax: Argh. I tested the FB link but not that one. Sorry. (And thank you.)

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

I ended a relationship badly. In a very heated argument I said some things which no amount of apologies can take back. Unfortunately we were toxic as romantic partners; we were both experts at pushing each others buttons. However, this is a person who I care about and I would like to him to be a part of my life, as a friend. We dated for over nine months and he helped me through a difficult time in my life. There was a friendship there first. Is there any hope and how would I go about making amends? We haven't spoken since the argument, which was six weeks ago.

Carolyn Hax: I actually don't think you can make this kind of calculation after only six weeks. Let life take you farther away from the blowup--months, years--before you make any decisions on whether friendship makes sense.

Maybe you've learned a lot from the bitter ending, but six weeks after the fact you're still going to be pretty much the same person you were while you were dating--and that combination of people led to some, apparently, really nasty behavior. Your best hope for making amends is to give both of you a chance to ripen a little more.

Ripen in the good way, like fruit, not the bad way, like a pile of damp laundry.

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Re: Today's column: You said in today's column..."Learn which you value more, the person or the place." How can you value one more without being resentful of what you gave up?

Carolyn Hax: Mmmmm you detach the failure to get what you want from feelings of resentment?

I'm not sure I follow you entirely, but (to use today's example) if you resent the guy for not making a real efforr to move with you, then you just put that in the hopper with all the other information you've gathered, and let it all inform your view of the place vs. the guy.

But if you resent the fact that you can't have both the person and the place, then I think you need to tone down your sense of entitlement. Every choice means choosing against something else. That's just how it works. It affects some people more than it does others, but that's also just how it works.

So details matters here. But the general answer is that if you own your choices, resentment is beside the point.

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Washington, D.C.: I would like your advice on a sticky situation I'm in sometimes: When I'm in an elevator and someone takes it to go up or down one floor, there's the occasional rude stare or snide comment made about the person behind their back. This really bothers me because I have friends with "invisible" disabilities that limit them from using the stairs. I want to speak up in these situations, but am hesitant to speak up to a stranger who just made a hostile remark and is sharing a confined elevator with me.

Carolyn Hax: Meh. Let these people stew in their own bile. Their getting gratuitously into other people's business isn't worth the brain space you've already devoted to getting into theirs.

BTW, if I read you correctly, you might be granting too much power to these strangers in confined space. If there are other indications they are hostile or violent, fine, but otherwise ... ?

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Brooklyn, NY: I just got married and my mother-in-law wants me to call her Mom. Calling her by her first name is not an option. The way I see it, I already have a Mom. I like to think of myself as a relatively flexible person, but on this issue, I can't budge. Any suggestions?!?

Carolyn Hax: Talk to her. Your reason for not wanting to use mom is perfectly reasonable and--this is the part you say to your MIL openly--no reflection at all on your fondness for your MIL. Underscore it, say that it reflects nothing but your attachment to your mom.

Then invite her to help you think of something you both would like--kind of the way people who don't like "grandma" will come up with nanny/nanna/noni/yia yia/grams/noo noo or whatever else they come up with. If she comes from a strong old-world tradition of some kind, that could yield a really nice alternative.

If she won't even do that, if it's "mom" or bust, then this is about more than a name.

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Reluctant New Yorker: I guess my question is kind of related to today's column. I moved up to New York for a career that I could only do here - but now, 3 years in, the industry is kind of dying and I'm not in love the way I thought I would be. (I'm sure you can guess what it is.) As a result, I want to go to school next year - and I want to leave New York. Not only do I not like it here, but I'm not ready to settle down yet - I love seeing new places. I look at school almost as an excuse to try a new place. The problem is my boyfriend, who I've been with for a year and a half and could see myself marrying, never wants to leave New York and feel it's "integral to his mental health." I love him and don't want to break up with him, but now I feel like we're just passing time until I inevitably move away. He thinks it doesn't make sense to ruin something that makes us both happy before I've even gotten into or chosen a school. But I don't know if it's worth staying with someone who apparently values a city more than me. Are we wasting our time? Or is he right? I feel constantly unhappy about this.

Carolyn Hax: "Constantly unhappy" means it's already over, doesn't it?

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DC: I am currently suffering from a work-related panic attack--my heart is racing, I'm dizzy, and feel sick to my stomach. I know that these attacks occur when I feel particularly stupid and unqualified to be doing my job, even when I know intellectually that this is not the case. I think I need to find a new line of work, and that's great to know, but how do I talk myself down from the ledge?

Carolyn Hax: 1. Take a quick walk, even if it's just to the H20 fountain.

2. Breathe deeply, not just in your chest, but from down in your gut.

3. On your walk, pick the easiest task you have waiting for you.

4. When you get back to your work, do that easiest task.

Hang in there.

And when this episode passes and your head is clear, consider getting formal treatment for your anxiety, if you haven't already. There's no shame in brain chemistry.

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bad breakup: I think the person should write a note of apology!! "We didn't work, but I shouldn't have said those things, and I really regret it. I just needed you to know that I am sorry for how I handled that conversation."

Carolyn Hax: That is great--though only as a means of taking responsibility for unacceptable actions. As a means of launching a friendship, I'm sticking by my answer of "not yet."

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I have to admit...: I am one of those elevator glare-ers/eye-rollers, though I would never make a remark aloud. Perhaps I should be more empathetic about 'hidden' disabilities, though I'm not entirely sure what that means. But I have to say, I don't think I'm a toxic person who is getting gratuitously into others' business. Obesity is a huge problem that's going to continue to consume health care resources. Why shouldn't getting a little exercise -- by walking up just one flight of stairs -- start in the workplace?

Carolyn Hax: Why -should- it start in the workplace? Why do -you- get to decide when I (or anyone else) should get my exercise? Or even whether I should? Who says the individual you're judging is a product of the "obesity epidemic" vs, say, an eating disorder survivor, or a sufferer of PCOS, and who says even an obese person isn't already working on the problem and does so by going to the gym before or after work?

And, to name a few reasons I've chosen to fly vs walk: Maybe my feet hurt. Maybe the stairwells are hot and I don't feel like getting sweaty. Maybe the elevator's faster and I'm late.

And maybe you are a toxic person who doesn't understand the definition of a toxic person. You're taking your own choices, deeming them righteous, and then making baseless judgments about other people based on that righteousness. Seriously smug.

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Boston: Dear Carolyn,

After a nasty psoriatic flare-up (I've been dealing with the disease all my life but it had been mostly under control till my mid-20s), I'm left with a bunch of really terrible scarring in some pretty intimate areas. Twice now, this is inhibited my ability to get intimate with guys I'm dating-- not because I'm particularly self-conscious about it but because it freaks/grosses them out. And that IS destroying my confidence in how good I can look despite my disease. Short of joining one of those dating sites for people with skin conditions, how do I feel out a new partner to see whether he'll go running when he finds out?

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry, that's a tough break. In almost all cases where there's a physical or just appearance-related setback to the normal course of dating, the best way to find someone who won't go running is to be friends first.

That's not something you can just decide to do today, obviously--it's only a little bit choice and a lot of fate. But you can orient your thinking differently, and stop thinking of finding a mate in terms of meeting, dating, falling, happily-ever-aftering. That process is a lot less linear (and a lot less effective, IMHO) than people make it out to be anyway.

Instead, you think in terms of living your life and making friends and meeting people through the course of your favorite activities. The people who get to know you as a person before ever regarding you as a romantic prospect are the ones who are going to see any scarring as secondary, if not completely irrelevant.

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Falls Church VA: Hi Carolyn. What do you think of a boyfriend who keeps all the pictures of his ex? They aren't displayed or anything, but I know he has them, and it kind of bothers me. Am I being insecure?

Carolyn Hax: Need more context. Is it just this one ex, is it an ex wife or ex GF, did this ex occupy a long expanse of his life (and thus throwing out the pictures would mean tossing the record of an entire phase of his life)? Are the pix in a box that's lovingly tucked away, or are they sitting in storage with a bunch of other things he hasn't had time to sort?

There are as many emotional possibilities here as there are people with storage boxes full of pictures.

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Washington, DC: My husband and I have been separated for seven years. He has not been an involved parent. Earlier this year he moved in with a new girlfriend (whom I have not met), they broke up and have recently reconciled. I still have not met this woman but he is now interested in having regular visits with our daughter. There have been times when months have gone by and he does not have communications with our daughter. Needless to say the situation drives me nuts and momma bear comes out. Do I insist on meeting this person or be thankful that he spends time with our daughter and let it go?

Carolyn Hax: If your daughter is going to spend time with someone, then you have a right to meet that someone. (I'd push it to momma-bear obligation, but you don't say how old your daughter is or whether you trust your husband to be responsible in his tastes.)

I'm not sure I would "insist," though, since that's starting off on a needlessly antagonistic foot. "I'd like to meet [girlfriend], maybe I could take her to lunch or something. I think it would be best for [daughter] if we all worked together here."

And I also wonder what your daughter has to say about this. Again, that's a function of age, but if your husband goes "months" without contact, it doesn't sound as if you're bound by any agreements to have her visit.

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From the eye-roller...: Wow. And yes, that's a Carolyn Hax-trained wow.

Didn't expect to get chewed out for that one. Maybe I am judging people, but we all make silent judgments about each other, constantly. And I think your judgment of me was a little over the line.

Carolyn Hax: I think it was fair, or I wouldn't have posted it. Those silent judgments to which you refer are not harmless, they're deeply polarizing, and dehumanizing. You just declared for all to see that you think fat people should take the stairs, without considering that maybe it's not so simple and maybe it's not your place to draw that conclusion.

And given the terrible schisms currently running through society, I think we all have a moral obligation to put our silent judgments under a microscope and ask ourselves whether we're in fact part of the problem. Civility starts in our hearts and minds.

A rich thing to say in what you probably regard as an uncivilized attack on your civility, I know, but there's one form of intolerance I'm willing to defend, and that's intolerance of intolerance.

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"Mom": My in-laws informed me after our marriage that is was disrespectful of me to call them by their first name, or last name and Mr/Mrs, but that I should call them Mommy and Daddy. AND they refer to themselves in conversations with me as "your Mommy" and "Your Daddy." Uh, no. I spent five years assiduously not calling them anything, then we had children and I call them Amah and Akong (grandma and grandpa). And they wonder why their children don't have close relationships with them!

Carolyn Hax: This reminds me of the letter (this week?) of the stepmother-to-be who wanted to be called "mom." The pressing need for it to be so seems to have 100 percent correlation with its never, ever coming to pass.

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Omaha, Neb.: One of my best friends lives in another state now. Gradually she has gone from a functioning alcoholic to, well, not functioning. A couple of DUIs and countless hours of worrying and tears by her husband, her father, and me later and not much has changed. She might be gradually easing back to the "functional" stage, but that's about the best news I can report.

The thing is, I've suddenly lost my patience with this. Her life is one big drama, and I no longer want to be part of it. I don't want to hear her drunken ramblings and I don't want to listen to her husband worry. And it's a bit easier since she's in another state because I can ignore nighttime phone calls and just not ask how things are going with regard to her drinking. However, I can't seem to shake the fury. I'm ticked about all the time and energy I've spent on her, and I'm ticked at alcohol for taking her away.

Does anyone have experience with Al-anon? I'm not a 12-stepper since I don't believe in a higher power and am not spiritual (whatever that means). I already see a psychiatrist, but only every 4 months for a med renew. Are there any other options I should consider?

Carolyn Hax: My understanding of Al-anon and AA is that while they are based a certain premise, they can vary from meeting to meeting.

That doesn't mean they're right for everyone, it's just an FYI.

But as far as figuring out how to handle your friend, it sounds as if all the "worrying and tears" are just the three of you (husband, father, friend) enabling her alcoholism. The more she drinks, the more engaged/invested you guys become in her life. That has to stop. And you can certainly say, "I'm done. Don't call me unless you've gotten help."

You can get more detail on the enabling dynamic and on how to break it from your psychiatrist, or from an Al-Anon meeting, or just from its literature. It is okay, and doable, to use these organizations a-la-carte and just take away what you need.

You could also do some investigation of basic facts on alcoholism at http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/

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Md.: Hi, Carolyn. Any advice for a soon to be bride? I am getting married really soon, and instead of being happy, I find myself continually nervous. I'm analyzed and analyzed, and I know that I am making the right choice for me in marrying this person. However, I think the pit in my stomach is nerves. Nerves over actually completely letting myself love someone, the threat of losing myself if I really truly love someone, the fear of losing my established identity because I got married, and the fear of fully loving despite the potential of heartbreak due to unexpected death or illness or some other catastrophic circumstance. How can I let these fears go?

Carolyn Hax: All these fears you list are making you really unhappy.

As it happens, every single thing you fear can be condensed into this sentence: "I'm afraid I'm going to be unhappy."

So, right now, without even learning that you married the wrong guy, or that you don't love him as much as you thought, or that he doesn't love you as much, or that you've lost your identity, or that he has gotten sick or died, you've skipped the messy business of waiting for the outcome and jumped straight to the unhappiness.

Worst fear, realized, no?

Fear is a habit you've developed, and you need to break the habit, because you want to put unhappiness back where it belongs--as a consequence of things going horribly wrong (though that's not guaranteed, which I'll get to in a second). The way to start breaking the habit is by seeing--as in, look at it right under your nose--that none of these things you fear is currently happening. That's your cue to enjoy what you have while you have it.

If you can't get from point A to point B, then I'll suggest counseling, just as I did with the anxious-at-work person earlier today. if you can intellectualize/distract/even exercise your way out of your fears, then getting help is a solid next step.

But if you can get from A to B, from "nothing bad is currently happening" to "i feel good right now," then, congratulations, you have acquired the No.1 coping skill: the ability to be in the moment--which, really, is all life is. It's now. You'll get to the rest when it happens.

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re: Stepmother to be...: If I understood the narrative, the woman's husband fathered a child with his then-wife and has subsequently divorced her and married someone else within 9 months. Isn't the rapidity of the situation suspect...what is the new wife thinking?

Carolyn Hax: It was definitely suspect, but, what with the possibility of ill-advised breakup sex/ex sex, or frozen embryos, I didn't feel comfortable making assumptions. Even in the best case, that would still mean the currently married pair rushed things a bit--no, wait, they were together, took a break, during which he slept with and impregnated his ex, then they got together again, got married ...--but, whatever that was beside the main point of, yikes, get your hands off that baby.

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re: anxious bride: Have you talked to your fiance? that is a lot of weight to carry by yourself. Are you comfortable telling him you feel anxious w/o worrying he will see it as you having cold feet?

Carolyn Hax: I like the idea, thanks, but worrying that he will start worrying is not grounds for keeping this from him. They're about to be married--ability to share fears is one of the hallmarks of a happy marriage. This conversation could go a long way toward making her feel better (regardless of the near-term outcome).

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Re: Absent father: When I was 12 my father got remarried to an awful woman for a year or so. She was jealous of me, and controlling, and there were countless weekends where I was supposed to see my father and he never showed. My mom could see the toil it was taking on me emotionally and she had a chat with my father, and then made us get together alone (no mom or stepmom). I told him how I felt when he wouldn't show up; we both cried. It was a huge step for our relationship and something I'll always remember well. If your daughter is close to that age or older, I would definitely recommend that you talk with her about how she is feeling, and make sure that she and her dad talk. Good luck!

Carolyn Hax: Persuasive, thanks. Not all will have the get-closer outcome, but the key to your story I think was in your finding and using your voice. That your dad responded by coming through for you was very good icing, but icing nevertheless.

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Washington, DC: Hi Carolyn, I was on the other end of Bad Break-up's situation. It would have been nice to hear an apology from her a few weeks later, once tempers had cooled... mainly, because it totally sucks to care about someone and help them through a hard time and then have them totally disappear from your life like you don't exist. But I agree with you that any extension of friendship should wait a long, long time. That's my $.02

Carolyn Hax: Ka-ching, thanks.

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Bridesmaid dress?: I'm attending an out-of-town wedding this weekend, and staying with a Dear Friend. I would like to wear the bridesmaid dress from Dear Friend's wedding to the event, because it's pretty and it fits well and I don't really have anything else to wear. Wrinkle: Dear Friend is no longer married, and I don't want to be an insensitive jackass.

I know you would normally say "Talk to him about it" but I'm worried that just bringing it up will be hurtful. Not saying anything and showing up in the dress might be really hurtful.

Or, maybe he doesn't even remember what the bridesmaids were wearing on his wedding day.

Or maybe he DOES remember, and it would make him happy that I'm able to reuse the dress.

I mean, how often do you get to re-wear a bridesmaid dress? Don't I HAVE to wear it, out of obligation to all those other bridesmaids who can never wear those awful gowns again?

Or am I a terrible friend who needs to get her butt to Nordstroms right quick and buy a new damn dress?

Carolyn Hax: Oh just ask. The "reminder of something bad" deterrent I think is a red herring. If it's so awful that the mere reminder of it is too painful, then chances are it's already on his mind without anyone having to say anything. And if he's over it enough not to have been thinking of it, then the time he spends in the muck of his newly stirred-up memories will be relatively brief.

Plus, anything that advances the cause of a pretty, well-fitted, re-wearable bridesmaid's dress must be encouraged.

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Washington, D.C.: For the person struggling with their friend's alcoholism, here's another link from the Hazelden Foundation, a well known treatment center. http://www.hazelden.org/web/public/resforfamily.page

Carolyn Hax: Thanky.

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Richmond, Va.: This question may be impossible to answer, but I'd love to see you try. When does a flirtations and/or physical interaction with a member of the opposite sex cross the line from Stupid-But-Not-Significant Mistake into Disloyalty That Requires a Spousal Confession? Assuming that nobody's health has been compromised, are there any circumstances under which it's better NOT to tell?

Carolyn Hax: I could argue that in most cases it's best not to tell--as long as that silence is accompanied by a sincere effort to cut the crap and start dedicating your attention to the person who most deserves it. Putting terrible mental images in someone's mind is something you save for when it's necessary--say, when they're going to find out some other way, or when you're torn and need to make decisions and it doesn't feel right to keep the spouse in the dark about what's going on in his/her own life.

Now, this gets complicated if you choose not to cut the extramarital crap, or if you're thinking "the person who most deserves it" is the non-spouse. Then you need to think less about what to say and more about what to do--stay in marriage and stop being unfaithful, or get out of the marriage and stop being a fraud.

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to the eye-roller: Actually, no, we don't all make silent judgements about each other constantly. Or even often. Some of us have lived long enough to realize that people are whole entities who cannot be judged based one fleeting instant of their lives. Everybody's got a story, sister.

Carolyn Hax: I was going to let that thread go, but this ties it up well, thanks.

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Columbia,S.C.: Carolyn, We just spent a weekend with another couple. My husband and I agree that the wife nagged, carped, belittled and fought with her husband all weekend over minor issues. For the most part, he stoically and silently took her treatment while my husband and I sat in silence. Occaisonally, he snapped and snarled back while my husband and I sat in silence. My husband insists that we not enter into the fray and continue to sit in silence. I don't want to return for a scheduled spring visit and sit in silence again. It's very hard for me to witness bullying behavior and stay silent, but he's a big boy and has not asked nor needs my "support." How can I (we) request some peace and harmony for the spring visit and not take sides? Or decline their offer of "hospitality"? Any repartees that can smoothly/eloquently/clearly/with a dash of humor say, "Enough." Thanks, Bystander

Carolyn Hax: It depends on how well you know this couple, and how valuable the friendship is to you, and how new (or not) the fighting is between them.

If one of you is close to one of them, then I would skip the speculation and just call. Ask if everything's okay.

If your individual bonds aren't that tight, then you need to consider that what you got during this weekend was a snapshot. They may be better by spring, they may be separated, they may be the same. Hard to say (though their history would speak to that some).

If you value these friends, then it might be worth giving them another shot--and if the sniping starts up like last time, you can say, "We're going to step out--you two seem to want to talk." Followed by, if needed, "I fear we're in the way here, we're going to get a hotel." It not only spares you the awkwardness of sitting in silence while they snap at each other, but also sends them a very polite message that their hostilities are affecting the guests.

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Thanks for the Hazelden link: From the OTHER poster with a question about dealing with an alcoholic friend--thanks for the Hazelden link, it's already helped.

Carolyn Hax: Great, I'll have a look myself.

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Washington, DC: Carolyn,

I've been dating my boyfriend for about three years. We've lived together for almost one year. This year for his birthday I planned a two-day get away. I had to do a lot of saving and planning but it was worth it. Before starting the plan I made sure to ask him if he was going to be in town or if his family was planning anything for him on those two days and he said he would be here. Now at the last minute his sister has invited him (without me) to come visit her. He's going. I'm upset. I spent a lot of time on this and I feel blown off. I've told him how I feel and I've canceled my plans so that he can go. But I'm still mad. I'll be fine for a while then when I think about it I get mad again. I don't know why I can't let go of it. Any suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: How did he respond when you said you were upset?

For the record, what he did wasn't just a hurtful rejection of a mate's thoughtful gesture, it's also rude--you don't dump one set of plans because you got a better offer. Again, that he thinks his sister is a better offer is hurtful enough (and a sign it's over? discuss). But the rudeness compounds it.

Tho maybe I'm assuming your BF knew about the plan. Were you surprising him with it, and he accepted the sister without knowing about your elaborate plans?

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Flirtation and/or?: I would probably have a different answer for flirtation "and" than for flirtation "or" physical interaction--possibly depending on how the original poster defines these things.

Carolyn Hax: True, does depend somewhat on what they actually did, but I still believe the dedication to the marriage is key--well, at this point, the sincerity of it.

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Carolyn Hax: That was a slick dodge, though, wasn't it? And/or? Nice catch.

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Baltimore, Md.: My girlfriend travels out of state frequently. But the conversations that we have on the road differ from those when she is at home. The big difference is that the conversation is often consumed with her not liking her room, fear of lurking villains and her general inability to go to sleep (typically on the first night). I think that I'm pretty patient with all this but I somehow don't feel its my responsibility to assist my girlfriend overcome her first-night issues. Certainly I enjoy talking with her, but I get the sense of an implied obligation to "hold her hand" each time and and implied disappointment when I say that I have to go (sometimes having been on the phone for a half-hour or more). Should I have more patience?

Carolyn Hax: All together now!

Please be honest with her about how these calls make you feel. "Oh just suck it UP already" might be what you're thinking--and it'll be what actually slips out if you keep putting off telling her the truth--but you might do better by listening. As in, "It feels weird to me to be 'tucking you in' when you're on the road. What's that all about?"

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Way up North: Long time alanoner here. It's fine to take what you need and leave the rest, when it comes to al anon. Nobody is keeping track of how (or if) you work your program. You can go to a meeting and say "Not getting the "Higher Power" part at all, but this pamphlet on detachment has been really helpful to me." It's a group of people whose lives have been affected by someone else's drinking, and who have learned a few things over time that you might find helpful. That's it. The more you put into it the more you get out, but that choice is up to you.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the backup and the first-person details.

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Too nice: My girlfriend borders on being too nice sometimes. Between work travel and visits to family, we haven't had a lot of alone time lately and had tentative plans to hang out- just us- this weekend. Now she's having two guests- her younger brother, who lives a couple of hours away and is anxious to get out of town for the weekend, and a friend who's coming to the city for other reasons and needs somewhere to stay. Due to the size of her apartment, this pretty much means I can't stay there. I love that she's so supportive of her younger siblings and so willing to help people out, but sometimes I wish she would just say "no" and put us (okay, ME) first. Am I overreacting?

Carolyn Hax: Doesn't sound like it, but there may be some mislabeling with the "too nice" assessment. It's not "nice" to blow off one plan to make room for another, without first working it out with the principal players in plan A. And if she really wants these visitors, it's not "nice" of her to act as if she couldn't say no (assuming that's what she did?), vs owning her decision.

And, it could well be that she's not blowing anyone off out of malice or even being dismissive--since it could be instead that she lacks the strength to say no.

If this is in fact an issue of her being non-confrontational, then the question becomes, who is it she's afraid to confront? On the surface, it might look like it's both the brother and the friend--the old, can't-say-no-to-someone-asking-a-favor problem.

However, it's also possible that she loves the drop-in guest thing, is excited to have visitors, and doesn't have the spine to say, "I realize this weekend was going to be ours alone, but these two unexpected visits are also very welcome ones for me, and I don't want to miss a chance to see these people."

If she had said that, then you'd be asking me a different question, along the lines of, "I'm getting the sense my girlfriend isn't all that into me--am I reading this right?"

So, maybe the best way to figure out what's going on is to just say to her, "I wish you would just say no and put ME first." And then add her answer to whatever else you already know about her, and see if that tells you where the problem is.

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Panicked at Work--Follow Up: Carolyn, Thanks for taking my question. Shortly after I sent it, I broke down and took something prescribed by my doctor (because there is indeed no shame in brain chemistry). However, your cognitive steps were very helpful in addressing the immediate situation, and I have talked to my supervisor about the issue at hand, and was relieved to discover that she agreed with my assessment and asked me to implement it. I still need to find a better job fit, but being able to get through my day without huddling into the fetal position under my desk means a lot...

Carolyn Hax: I'm all for that myself. Thanks so much for writing back.

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Anxious bride, again: Thanks for the advice, and for the chatter's recommendation to talk with fiance about it. I think you hit the nail on the head - it is a fear of being unhappy, and I think I think I can control my potential future unhappiness by limiting the amount I let myself feel. There are people in my life that I love completely and let myself feel it because I already know the end story - like, for instance, my grandma. I adore her, and I feel my love for her completely. She's 91 and I know I can't control what I know is the eventual reality with her. With future husband, however, there are so many things that could be potentially heartbreaking! So I put the wall up to protect myself.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for this follow-up, too. If it helps, I can't think of anything more heartbreaking than losing someone--not just to death, but also to divorce, or just in-house estrangement--without ever really having known or enjoyed or appreciated them. When good things go wrong, it's acutely painful, but it passes. When good things don't happen, that's gnawing pain that stays.

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SMALL TOWN US: Hi Carolyn,

Longtime reader here. Just had to respond to the note about the harping wife. My friend once reacted to me the way the poster is reacting to the wife. The thing is, unless you know the inside of a marriage, it is really hard to judge. She saw my harping, but she did not see his aloofness, passive aggressiveness, workaholism, etc. This is true, especially because he tended to put on a good front for others. We are now on the mend due to marriage counseling, but I would warn others not to be quick to judge a marriage and its partners based on one snapshot (or even many). The dynamics may be very well hidden, even upon closer inspection. YOU JUST DON'T KNOW.

Carolyn Hax: Yes, right, I should have flagged that--assigning blame to one of the pair is tempting but unfair. Especially when you're talking about out of state friends, there is so much that goes on when no one is looking. Thanks for the catch.

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D.C.: Hi Carolyn, I just met someone special and am looking forward to getting to know him. I'm nervous that I'm going to mess things up. I'm not very good at "dating." I divulge too much too soon, I'm way too over-analytical, confused about intimacy, etc. I know that my issues won't be resolved overnight, but I'm afraid this one will be scared off in the meantime while I'm working at it. I really like this one and see real potential here.

Carolyn Hax: Maybe it's not something he'd put into a personal ad, but a good guy for you will be someone who loves that you're "not very good at 'dating,' divulge too much too soon, are way too over-analytical, confused about intimacy, etc." If I were writing this in a more leisurely forum, I could probably come up with a rom-com character who fits that description perfectly.

Look around at allll the couples you know--there are people who are grumpy, or neurotic, or bossy, or a little too smart for their own good, or a little too dense, and people who are sloppy, and people who are just-so, and sports fans and opera fans and overeaters and well somebody loves these people, for who they are. It's not your job to keep yourself from messing up. It's your job just to stay patient as this story writes itself.

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SMALL TOWN US again: Thanks, Carolyn, for taking my comment!

I wanted to add that my in-laws still see me that way (harping), although to their credit they are pretty loving people. They tend to overidealize their son and dismiss what he neglects to do, etc. Frustrating, but what can you do? They helped created part of who is he, so I guess I can't expect them to be able to analyze it, too.

Carolyn Hax: Well, wait a minute--you still factor in here. If your answer to your husband's neglecting to do thinks is to harp on them or harp on him, then you need a Plan B yourself. I merely agreed that assessing a couple for what appears on the surface is not as accurate as we tend to think.

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Richmond flirtation again: Hoping this makes it in re: And/or. Sorry, my bad. I was looking for a way to describe the territory that lies between flirting and sex, and obviously didn't choose my words very well. How about: Kissing, hugging, and/or butt-grabbing? Better?

I assumed that the "better not to tell" circumstances no longer apply once you're talking about sex acts... although when I hear about people who confess and end their marriages over a deeply-regretted one-time fling, I do sometimes wonder whether they would have been better off keeping their mouths shut.

Carolyn Hax: And/or = kissing, hugging, and/or butt-grabbing.

Again with the and/or, but, I'll take it, in part because it's one for the lexicon.

As for when to tell, even with sex, I believe it's a case-by-case call, based on your best guess about what the -other- person would want--as in, not just on what you think you can get away with.

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Carolyn Hax: Awrighty, that's it. Thanks for stopping by, see you next week, and, remember, no harumphing in elevators.

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Panicked at Work: If there is no shame in brain chemistry - you didn't "break down" in taking your meds, you "stepped up."

Carolyn Hax: Right right, another good catch, thanks.

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Nashville: You don't seem yourself today. Telling one reader to ask his girlfriend to "put ME first" (above her family) seems a poor choice of words, and yelling at another for being annoyed by people who (seemingly) force unnecessary elevator stops.

Long week? (Would you at least agree that able-bodied persons should be considerate engouth not to take elevators to travel one floor?)

Carolyn Hax: It was the hiding behind the I'm-great shield of "the obesity epidemic" that torqued me, not the excess elevator stoppage thing.

You're probably right that the phrasing of the other was unfortunate, but don't you think it's fair for him to say, "I'm hurt that you shoved our weekend plans aside for guests"?

That is, if that's how he feels. I don't necessarily endorse it; I hope I'd be able to roll with it if I were in his shoes. But if I couldn't roll with it and felt cast aside, it would be on me to be honest about that with her, vs. steaming quietly about it.

Thanks for the chance to get it right.

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Whom else might Too Nice fear confronting?: I thought you were going there but then didn't. What if the Too Nice girlfriend is actually afraid of saying no to the boyfriend, directly?

Carolyn Hax: See all caps:

However, it's also possible that she loves the drop-in guest thing, is excited to have visitors, and doesn't have the spine to say TO YOU, "I realize this weekend was going to be ours alone, but these two unexpected visits are also very welcome ones for me, and I don't want to miss a chance to see these people."

Twas implied, but now it's clearer. tx.

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I divulge too much too soon, I'm way too over-analytical, confused about intimacy, etc: 'It's your job just to stay patient as this story writes itself.' I agree with this and all you say - those we love do need to be easygoing with to our quirks. But at the same time, I do think that she is right to work on these things. We all have the ability to try to channel parts of ourselves differently and work on our less attractive aspect. Not to do so is just plain smug.

Carolyn Hax: Welll ... smug only if she thinks she's too good to improve upon. if she knows she's difficult and doesn;t try to change, then I'd call that self-indulgent.

Anyway, you're right that she is right to work on these things--as long as it's for her, so she likes herself better, though. I wouldn't recommend that she work on these things just because she thinks she should or else men won;t like her. A fine distinction, but an important one.

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Carolyn Hax: Good to close some loopholes. Now I'm really (really) leaving.

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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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