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Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems

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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 30, 2009; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Friday, October 30, 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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washingtonpost.com: We'll be starting a little late today folks, around 12:30 p.m. Sorry for the delay.

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Carolyn Hax: I will not screw up the link.

I will not screw up the link.

I will not screw up the link.

Here is the

link

.

What link, you will regret asking? Why, it's the link to my Walk to Defeat ALS page.

The walk is this Sunday, Nov. 1, at the old Folklife Festival grounds--in other words, on the Smithsonian part of the Mall at about 14th Street. I plan to be there, but I can't guarantee it this year--my kids have been sick this week and so I've decided not to plan the usual table/signs/T-shirt/frighteningly large chocolate chip cookie setup. This was already an off year for me in my ability to get organized, and so given the fevered-fellers dimension, it just seems to be the year to be informal.

That doesn't mean the need to call attention to this cause has in any way diminished. Here is what ALS is (I'm cribbing from my 2007 campaign here):

A technical description, courtesy of Web MD:

"ALS is an incurable, progressive degenerative neurological disorder. For reasons that are not understood, the nerve cells of the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement gradually deteriorate. As a result, muscles waste away, leading to paralysis and death, usually in two to five years.

"The only nerve cells affected are the lower motor neurons, which control a wide range of things like movement of your limbs, swallowing and even some aspects of breathing. But the senses and thinking processes remain normal. Pain does not accompany the disease at any stage."

In other words: Your heart and digestive system rely on involuntary muscles, so they keep working. But when the muscles that control swallowing atrophy, you start to choke on your food. As it worsens, you risk choking on a liquid diet, then a sip of water, and eventually your own saliva. You drool. You have to clean out your own mouth (if your arms still work) to keep from choking.

The "some aspects of breathing" that are affected are your ability to breathe. So, you spend every day trying not to choke, as you slowly suffocate. Patients who don't go on ventilators (a lot choose not to) mostly die by suffocation. Your brain, again, is humming along just fine in most cases, so you're alert to all this while you become entombed in your own body. So that's the ALS I saw--15 months of it.

This is what I'm asking for help to defeat. And the person whose memory I'm trying to keep alive is my mom, who was both a force and a refuge, a sage and a goofball, an example and achingly human, and whose loss still makes me cry at the most unpredictable and usually embarrassingly public and awkward times. I'm sure she'd have been able to relate. Thanks.

Oh, and here is the

link

again.

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washingtonpost.com: Thanks for your patience, 'nuts! We're still running a bit behind, but hope to be starting soon. Keep on submitting your questions!

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Carolyn Hax: We've been swined! So says the doctor. Meaning, this will not only be a delayed edition of Hax Live, but also an abbreviated one. Thank you for your patience while I took care of this--it all happened too quickly for me to call in reinforcements.

(This development also closes the open question about our presence at the ALS walk this year, I'm sorry to say. Thank you all who joined the team.)

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Washington, D.C.: I think I'm falling for a good friend. Any thoughts as to how to turn this from friendship to something more?

Carolyn Hax: Be very, very patient while your feelings sort themselves out. That will also allow you to pay attention for signs that the new feelings are, or aren't, mutual.

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Dallas, Texas: Hi Carolyn-

I've asked my boyfriend of almost two years to do couples counseling with me. We have some communication issues that have caused our relationship to stumble, and I thought we should try to deal with them with a third party.

But then I got to thinking - it is worth being in a relationship where less than two years in we need to be in counseling? We are not married, have no kids, no shared property, so we could walk away without causing financial hassles or damage to other people. Should I be looking for a relationship where we work better at the beginning? Or is this no big deal and not a reason to consider breaking up? Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: It's an excellent question, because the answer depends on context. Is your dissatisfaction limited to this one relationship with this one guy, or is this just the latest example in your life of struggling to connect with somebody?

Sometimes people limp along in a kind of semi-dysfunctional state, getting enough from and giving enough to their friends and family to allow them to feel like everything's okay--and it's only when they meet someone really special, and that relationship starts to falter, that they realize they're not working as well as they could emotionally. Counseling in that case makes a lot of sense.

But if you've had good friendships, rewarding family ties and generally smooth romantic relationships, then it is smart to ask yourself why you want to choose a mate with whom even everyday life requires extra effort. That just sounds exhausting to me.

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Children and grieving: Hi Carolyn,

Thanks for your advice in today's column. Sometimes books can facilitate these conversations about death. My parents and I read books like "Bridge to Terabithia" by Katherine Patterson and "Little Women" after my grandmother died. Seeing how fictional characters responded to death helped me process my own feelings, and talking about the books was a natural way for my family to discuss grief. I don't know of comparable books for very young children; maybe you or the 'nuts have some ideas.

Carolyn Hax: Books are great for this. I think I even recommended one for small children in that column: "Lifetimes" by Bryan Mellonie.

Unfortunately I learned about it after I needed it, or else I would have used it myself. But this is a topic close to my heart--you can probably connect the dots from today's opener. I had to explain to my kids why they had only one grandmother, and they were little-little when they figured it out. There was no way I was going to lie to them, and I don't believe there's a heaven, so I didn't have a lot of spiritual leeway. So, I gave them the truth as a trail of truth-breadcrumbs. Watching as they processed it was fascinating. They'd just listen, and then ask questions a week or even a month later, out of the blue. I wish I could remember some of their questions on the fly--they were surprisingly astute.

Anyway, if people have other book suggestions, I'll be happy to post them. For older kids, I'm a huge fan of "Tuck Everlasting."

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Northern Virginia: Darn it. As I sit home from work with my own Swine Flued kid, thought I would be able to pass the time. Good luck.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. All's well now--I'll stick it out as long as the DVD and/or the contentment last.

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Washington, D.C.: I am desperate--I cannot get anything accomplished at work and barely anything at home. This has been going on for months. What is wrong with me? I don't even know what to do from here. I feel paralyzed and seriously worry I will be fired. I just cruise the internet all day (like WP chats) and when I say I will not do that, I feel very anxious and still get nothing done. Help!

Carolyn Hax: Talk to your regular doctor, explain that you're having an unusually difficult time focusing your attention on anything, and ask what the next step should be. A lack of focus could be a symptom of a treatable condition (depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, the list is long and varied). Screening is the next step, so the purpose of the doctor call is to answer the question, screened for what, by whom?

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Cube, Farm: Carolyn (and the 'nuts), what's the best way to handle a flirtatious coworker when there's no easy answer? It's a complicated work situation, and rumor is they started seeing someone "casually" not too long ago. They share a lot with me, and we deal with each other a lot, but they haven't shared this, and everything else is still the same.

Carolyn Hax: There's no easy answer because I'm not even sure what the question is. If you're interested in this person, and you're asking whether the co-worker means anything by the flirtation, then I would say the seeing of someone else answers that one pretty well.

In general, I would say to be very careful around this person, and apply whatever willpower it takes to keeping your behavior strictly professional. In three short lines, you have flirting, secrets, rumors, "it's complicated" and work. That's a loaded situation even if your behavior is unimpeachable.

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Nats-town, USA: Phillies or Yanks?

Carolyn Hax: Ah, a softball. Phillies. Also known as, anyone who plays the Yankees. I hate the outspend-everyone ethic.

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Washington DC: Face book quandary: I am an aunt who fortunately and unfortunately has been friend-ed by my nieces and nephews on facebook. I feel very honored by this but I also see way too much about college life.

Here is my quandary - my nephew just lost his father a year ago (about this time last year). He just started college. I can see that he keeps asking on face book for someone to do something with him this weekend, but there are no responses. I am worried about 1) that he feels lonely 2) that he does seem to see that repeatedly asking probably doesn't help. I am very tempted to email him so others wont see to suggest he go to something that is planned by the school. But wouldn't having your aunt say something be yucky? Thanks for any thoughts

Carolyn Hax: People might be responding to him in person, by text, IM, twitter, smoke signals, nautical flags or origami cranes, so don't draw too many dire conclusions from his unanswered posts.

Even if you're drawing the correct conclusion, though, I think you'll do more to help a lonely kid just by keeping in touch, vs offering advice.

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Boston, MA: I have a very close friend who has, for many years, talked about his desire to have children, and I think he'd be a great father. He has also been quite opinionated on the importance of being with the right person and not "settling" out of loneliness, desperation, etc. Well, about 6 months ago he went back to an ex-girlfriend who has always carried the torch for him, even after criticizing her "issues" for years and saying he couldn't be with someone like that permanently. I figured he was just lonely and wanted sex or whatnot, but now it looks as if he has "settled" and is going to marry her. She is in her 40s and can't have any more children (she has a teenage son who lives with his father). Needless to say, I have opinions about my friend's choice -- generally we can talk about anything and everything, but I have zipped my lip on this one. Is that the best course of action unless he asks me for my opinion -- and if he does, how forthright should I be? Is discretion the better part of valor?

Carolyn Hax: "It seems as if you've changed your mind about a lot of the things you said were important to you. That's my only concern--and only as it relates to your happiness, because I'll support you regardless." Or something to that effect.

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I hate the outspend-everyone ethic. : From an embittered Red Sox fan, whose team also outspends nearly everyone.

Carolyn Hax: No no, I'm not bitter. They didn't have it this year, but I still had fun watching them. Jacoby Ellsbury stealing home was my World Series.

The Steinbrenner Yankees started and still are the worst offenders of the free-agent gluttony. Look only to this past off-season.

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Another cube farm: Hi Carolyn,

Its been a slow week at work so I've been reading your archives from the late 90s.

I was interested in your response to Cube Farm because in the archives you seem to think work is an acceptable place to meet new dates (as long as they're not in your chain of command) and also that it's still okay to express interest in someone when they're casually dating someone else (not engaged).

I was just curious - have you changed your mind or was there something in Cube Farm's question that I'm missing?

Carolyn Hax: Nope, I still feel the same way, for the same reasons. Workplaces are where adults spend the bulk of their waking hours, and as long as there's no crossing of personal with professional, workplaces are fair game. (To give you an idea of where they do cross, see the question above from the person who works closely with a flirt. That's an example of where not to get involved.)

And as far as the poaching issue, people don't possess each other. If the mere mention of your interest in someone would lead that person to end a relationship with someone else, then that relationship wasn't likely to go far.

Whenever I'm not sure where the line is, I imagine a movie character in the situation. If there's any way to play it what would make the character sympathetic, then it's on the side of decency.

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Book suggestion: "Beat the Turtle Drum" is a good book for kids about death. I remember reading it many times as a kid. The main character's sister (I think) dies in an accident.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. What ages?

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DC: Hi Carolyn, I'm really disappointed that it didn't work out with someone that I thought I really clicked with. The possibilities seemed endless when we first met, only to have all hope dashed a few weeks later. It's hard coming down from that cloud. Any advice to make me feel better?

Carolyn Hax: When it's right, the possibilities seem endless after a year or two, not a date or two. It is really exciting when things are sparky right away, but more often than not it's false hope. If someone is -interesting- right away, or easy to talk to, or comfortable and familiar, that's more reliable. But the proof still only comes with time.

It might help to look at it this way: Be wary when, at the very beginning, there's very little room for things to get better.

I'm sorry.

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Placerville, CA: In order to have a relationship with my brother, I need to apologize to his wife, whom I heartily dislike. (Twenty years ago, I noted that she got pregnant in order to make up his mind for him about getting married). I have apologized to my brother, and now muyst speak to his wife, although my opinion of her has not changed. How do I apologize to her so that I can once again have my brother in my life, after many years of estrangement?

Carolyn Hax: The only worthwhile apologies are the ones where you admit genuine fault. So, what would have done differently 20 years ago, and why?

BTW, do your brother and his wife have an okay marriage? Or, I should say, does your brother like where life has taken him?

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USA: The two couples my husband and I have socialized with for years met at one of our parties and have become close. We went to one of their houses over the weekend and all three couples were there. They started talking about an upcoming party at another couples house, as in what is everyone wearing to XXXX's party, and I let them know we weren't invited. Then, they went on about an Octoberfest event they were going to the next day. Also, we weren't asked, even as they discussed it in detail, to go with them to the Octoberfest which was a public event. I realize they socialize together without us but when I'm invited to someone's house to socialize I don't expect to hear them talk constantly about events they are attending that don't involve us. That's just rude. We left early that night, which might be considered rude also but my feelings were hurt. I'm wondering if I even want to socialize with either of them anymore. What is a mature way to handle this?

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry, stuff like that can put you right back into the middle school cafeteria, as if you'd never gotten out.

To be mature about it, I think you'd have to maintain or scuttle these friendships based on how you feel about the friends and friendships themselves, and not solely on the fact of being excluded. So, for example, if you still really enjoy these friends and, intellectually, you believe they're entitled to do stuff without you, then you keep seeing the friends as usual. If instead their rudeness has you seeing them in a new, unappealing light, and you find their company isn't so great that it justifies glossing over the exclusions, then you can the friendships.

And finally, if there's one person among these four to whom you feel/felt particularly close, I'd encourage you to have a one-on-one conversation with this person about what you witnessed. Just on the off chance everyone was caught up in a moment and your closer friend didn't realize what an awkward position you were in.

Optimism deserves a hearing too, right?

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

I have a very close male friend from grad school. We slept together once while we were in school, it was sort of a disaster, and we realized that we're great as friends, but not as a couple. Six years later, I'm very happily engaged to someone I met two years ago. While I tried to be a little oblique about the friend and the hook up (I told my fiance about my close male friend from grad school, and told him I hooked up with a friend in grad school, but didn't immediately say they were the same person), ultimately the fact that the hook up and the friend were the same person came out. I'm still close to the friend, although he lives in a different city (and so my fiance has never met him) and I plan to invite him and his new fiancee to our wedding. My fiance is nominally okay with this, but he still makes comments and gets weird about talking about the friend. This really annoys me. I hooked up with my friend YEARS before I met my fiance, it was only once, and it was really a bad hook up. I don't think my fiance believes I have feelings for my friend, or that he has feelings for me, he just doesn't like the thought of being around a guy who once bedded his girl. Is there anything I can do to put my fiance's inner caveman at rest?

Carolyn Hax: Is your fiance a virgin?

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Carolyn Hax: Or, was before you came along?

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Second guessing: Hi Carolyn, I just ended an eight-month relationship with a wonderful guy, who was kind and fun, but we lacked that strong connection that allows people to talk and laugh together with ease. Even though we cared about each other, I didn't think we had enough in common.

But now that I'm alone again, I'm starting to doubt if that connection exists and I'm second guessing my decision. Sometimes I wonder if I didn't give enough credit to his other great qualities (warmth, likes to do stuff, outgoing, etc.). At the time, I thought that shared activities were only getting us so far, and that the ability to talk was more important. Now I'm torturing myself.

As someone who has been in a long-term relationship with children, how important do you think that intimacy is?

Carolyn Hax: I'm correcting this only so I don't sound creepy:

As someone who is raising children with a long-term partner, I think intimacy is one of the non-negotiables. To live, people need air, food, water, shelter. To have a fulfilling relationship, people need intimacy, trust, respect, and compatible needs.

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Small Town, USA: My 15 year old daughter is thinking about having sex with her 17 year old boyfriend (her first). She says she has only two friends who are still virgins, she and her boy are "in love", and people shouldn't look at girls who have sex as sluts. I think she is naive, emotionally unprepared for this step, wanting to not be the odd virgin out, and has a bad case of "consequences won't happen to me".

Any thoughts or resources on approaches I can take to show her this is NOT a good idea? Or alternatively, ways to keep myself from freaking out over this possibility?

Carolyn Hax: She is talking to you about this, honestly--I hope you have given her the credit and respect she deserves for this.

That will, not coincidentally, go a long way toward establishing you as someone who has her interests in mind, not just your own. It's an important distinction especially to someone who's 15, and therefore deeply invested in distinguishing herself from you.

Explain to her that, no, people shouldn't see girls who have sex as sluts--but this isn't about reputation. It's about making big decisions for the right reasons.

What society thinks isn't relevant. What her friends do isn't relevant. (Though both have the power to make her miserable, if she'll let them.) Whether she's ready to take responsibility for her sexual health is relevant. (Can she remember to take medication regularly, or use a barrier method correctly and/or in the heat of the moment?) Whether she's ready to raise a child, abort one or place one for adoption is relevant, since birth control isn't perfect.

Whether she's ready to say to a future boyfriend, "I have herpes," is relevant. Whether a breakup with this guy will make her wish she'd waited is abstract, but relevant.

You can add to the list, I'm sure. And if she resists discussing such implications, then that's relevant, too: "I can't give you my blessing to do adult things if you won't even talk about adult things."

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Placerville: You were too easy on Placerville. She's held a grudge for 20 years against her SIL because she was pregnant when she got married. IMO brother and his wife are better off without her.

Carolyn Hax: Really? I could see this easily going both ways. Placerville could well have been right that the SIL manipulated her brother into marriage, and she could also have seen nothing in her behavior since to suggest she was wrong about her. You say "held a grudge," I (could) say, "has been forced to endure, despite a justified dislike."

I also fault the brother for telling his wife what his sister said about her. There's no better way to poison a family than to betray confidences like that. What was he thinking that disclosure would accomplish?

So, I'm still going to decline to take sides.

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For Second Guessing:: "...but we lacked that strong connection that allows people to talk and laugh together with ease..."

Stop torturing yourself by second guessing. Something wasn't clicking, and no matter how much you try to re-think it, that something still won't be there. You have to trust your gut on this kind of situation.

Carolyn Hax: Rarin'.

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Virgin fiance: Does he have any other control issues? Being unrealistic about someone's sexual past can go hand in hand with being a stalker or abusive partner.

Carolyn Hax: I know. That is the far end of the spectrum, but it's a spectrum with very few attractive things on it, even on the non-dangerous end. That's why I asked about the virginity. Not that it would make it okay, but it makes it worse if he's fine with having his own past, and doesn't respect her enough to be fine with hers.

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Washington, D.C.: Friend vs. Fiance girl here. No, he wasn't. And I think you're asking tongue-in-cheek (he was somewhat less experienced than I was, though, which I think plays into it). He has some contact with his last girlfriend before me, which I very much encourage. If they were close and he were inviting her to the wedding, I wouldn't blink. And Friend isn't even an ex- boyfriend.

Carolyn Hax: I wasn't asking tongue-in-cheek, I was asking if he was a hypocrite. And the answer is yes, he is. So there's that.

You also said you tried to be oblique--so either you telegraphed to him that you're uncomfortable about this guy yourself, or you were trying to ease your way around what you knew was an issue with him: his jealousy of your exes. I suspect it;s the latter.

Either way, you;ve got a much bigger issue on your hands than an awkward wedding guest. Either your fiance accepts that you had a life before you met him, or he is not embracing you fully as a person. And there are bigger mistakes than marrying someone who has doubts about your worth and character, but it's still a big one, and it's a lot more common than it has to be.

Either he loves you completely, exes and all, history and all, unpleasant mental images and all, or you're setting yourself up for unhappiness.

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Who said Placerville was a woman?: Could be the guy's brother just as easily as his sister.

Carolyn Hax: I'm going to ask, officially, that we stop the gender policing. Almost every challenge is legitimate and correct, but I think I've been out here long enough to have earned your trust that, even if I jump to a conclusion about the sex of one player or another in a drama, said conclusion has zero effect on the advice. Let's let this (alleged) speed forum have some errors of speed. Okay with everyone?

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Virigin Fiance: Has she told him that it was a disaster? This could simply be the fiance worrying that the other guy was better in bed.

Carolyn Hax: That would still make him too immature for marriage. "No no, dear, -you're- the BEST."

Barf.

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Placerville, CA: Thanks for your quick and succinct on-the mark response in point number 1, Carolyn. Your BYW question is the heart of the matter as I see it. My brother has adjusted to his wife's domineering personality and appears to be at peace with his life, but he's also taciturn, so it's hard to know for sure. Underneath he's a very sensitive guy, and that's why I apologized to him, for hurting his self-esteem 20 years ago. She's a wholly different kind of personality and that's why I am having a major problem apologizing to her.

Carolyn Hax: Then apologize for something you can genuinely feel bad about doing: "I am sorry I didn't mind my own business." Because, after all, knowing now that it didn't have any effect, butting in isn't something you'd do if you had it to do over again. Right?

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sil w/20 year grudge: I am really sick of people saying that a woman got pregnant in order to manipulate a guy. Unless she DELIBERATELY lied about being on the pill or some such, he was a party to the decision to have sex as much as his girlfriend. Why did the OP assume it was the woman's fault? If it were me, I wouldn't want anything to do with her, either.

Carolyn Hax: Please, don't get sick of it. Like any accusation, it is too often made, and often gets thrown around by people who are under-informed and judgmental vs. informed and concerned.

However, getting pregnant is a known arrow in the quiver of abusive women. Just as jealousy of ex-sex is a known flag to a potentially abusive man (as noted above), their female counterparts do use their fertility as a means of keeping someone in their clutches. It's remarkably effective; the father either goes deadbeat, or is around in some form for another 21 years, minimum.

Again, it's not commonly done, but it is done, and I think someone up close who has cause for alarm about a woman's behavior might legitimately raise that point with a loved one who is involved with her. It has to be part of the conversation about alerting loved ones to potential abuse.

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Book for children about death: This one is better for pre-teens and early teens: A Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L'Engle. Helped me greatly after I found my grandmother deceased at age 11.

Carolyn Hax: I loved her stuff, too. thanks.

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Beat the Turtle Drum: Aaagh! The mere mention of that book today is enough to reduce me to tears (a young character dies unexpectedly). It's also when I learned the author Constance C. Greene didn't just write those fun "Girl Called Al" books. FYI: The age range is 9 to 12.

Carolyn Hax: Excellent, thanks. Does sound like older fare.

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Carolyn Hax: I have to go to the pharmacy, but there's stuff here we can pick up next week--the comfort with exes, for example, and the wisdom/perfidy of making an accusation--founded? unfounded?--against someone's intended.

If anyone wants to revisit these, pop a question in the queue sometime next week.

Till then, bye, thanks again for your patience, and happy Halloween.

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Washington DC: For the mom whose daughter is thinking about having sex, a frank chat between the daughter and her doctor might also be helpful, especially to the extent he/she can talk about the reality of consequenses happening all the time to people who "never thought it would happen to them." Having a very sweet college roommate who got herpes from her first sexual partner really hit home with me back in the day.

Carolyn Hax: Good to add to the list, thanks.

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Another book: Let's not forget Charlotte's web, the book that introduced me to the concept of death, and made me cry. Also a second on Bridge to Terabithia, especially good for wrestling with guilt about a death.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, how could I forget Charlotte? One more:

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another death book: The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst. For young children. Does not mention any God or afterlife (you can decide if that's good or bad :P).

Carolyn Hax: A couple of you mentioned this.

So there you go, a reading list sponsored by Kleenex.

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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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