Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 15, 2010; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Friday, Jan. 15, taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.


Carolyn Hax: Hi, everybody. I'm going to start with a note from a reader in response to last week's discussion. If you recall, there was some disagreement on what constitutes a realistic level of kindness people can expect from their relationships. I thought this said it well ...


Carolyn Hax: "The ah ha analogy that worked for me when I was in that situation is one of walking down a narrow hallway or crowded street. When someone else needs to get by, do you do something to provide enough space for them to do that (i.e. you do the best you can to make room in the public space so you both can get to where you are going)? Or do you square your shoulders and brace yourself for impact, not giving an inch because you feel you have a right to that space?

"That is how I see the accidental vs deliberate mistreating issue. When your mate mistreats you, does s/he understand that what s/he says is hurtful, does s/he apologize, does s/he try to stay out of situations that will put them in that place, etc? Or does s/he pretend nothing happened, does s/he dismiss you when you say it bothers you, does s/he feel entitled to treat you this way, does s/he deflect responsibility ("if you were offended", "you shouldn't have said/done that", etc).

"No one is perfect, but it doesn't mean that one's family, friends, or even strangers have to put up with the worst of our imperfections."


Carolyn Hax: Does that work for you guys? Anything you want to add, challenge ...?


East Coast Transplant: A very close friend is going through an amicable, but nevertheless difficult, divorce. We live a long distance apart and as a result communicate mostly by phone and e-mail. She has acknowledged that she's in a period of not wanting to talk to many people. I absolutely understand where she's coming from, but I'm not sure where that leaves me -- do I wait for her to reinitiate our conversations? Do I email or call her, with no expectation of getting a response? I want to be as supportive as I can, but I'm not sure what the right move is here. Thanks for any suggestions.

Carolyn Hax: I think in these cases the best approach is to be: present, transparent, patient, and nonjudgmental.

To start, I would suggest an e-mail that lays out all those points for her: Sympathize with her impulse to withdraw, say that whatever she needs to do is fine by you, tell her you're going to keep e-mailing and calling just so she knows you're there when she's ready and that there's no pressure to respond, and then keep those emails/voice mails conversational and deliberately one-sided.

For example, instead of, "How are you?," write, "Hey, just saw [movie/friend/ad/whatever] and thought of you--hope you're doing okay." That way there's no implied expectation of a response. Write on a fairly regular but not annoyingly persistent basis.

It can feel really weird to be in this position, and to tiptoe around someone whom you're accustomed to treating just like everyone else, but some people really do need all their social energy just to get through a difficult time. Friends who can accommodate them without taking their absence personally and without abandoning them are invaluable in situations like this.


Surlyville: Hi, Carolyn, Is there a nice way to tell a pregnant friend that I've just had an early miscarriage and that this would be an excellent time to NOT show me a million ultrasound snapshots, like she usually does? We're having lunch Saturday - Do I just have to suck it up? I know life's not all about me but I'm feeling awfully weird this week. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: That's tough news, I'm sorry. I can see why you're feeling surly. I think you have your ideas of kindness/all-about-me-ness backward, though. The nice, unselfish thing to do here is to tell your friend so that she doesn't stumble unwittingly onto your grief. I can't imagine she wants to make you feel bad and would be horrified if she whipped out her pictures only to hear your news later or from someone else or even just on your face. Give her a chance to be compassionate.

The part where you can think purely of yourself is in the timing of this information. You can tell her ahead of time by phone, or in person right as you get to lunch, whatever makes it easier on you.

If the only idea you find bearable is to avoid telling her at all, then cancel/postpone the lunch until your feelings aren't quite so raw.


San Francisco: I've been on a few dates with a guy who just told me he never goes on more than one date in a two-week period with the same girl. He offered no explanation beyond that. Part of me is intrigued, the other part thinks this sounds like a tremendous red flag but I can't figure out why. What are your thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: There's this great moment in the late, lamented HBO series "Six Feet Under," when the Kathy Bates character (KBC) hears the Vicodin-addicted Patricia Clarkson character attribute her pain to her entry into middle age, "because I'm no longer the prettiest girl in the room." At which point KBC drops her sandwich in disgust, having just been put off lunch.

That about captures the way I reacted to this guy's pronouncement. Unfortunately, I don't have a sandwich to drop.


Cali: I'm a sucky gift-buyer. Anything I ever buy, even for someone I know very well, ends up being a thing the person doesn't need or want or that they already have. I have a new girlfriend who is very sweet and thoughtful and really enjoys exchanging gifts. With Christmas, her birthday, Valentine's and our anniversary all in the same three month period, I feel like I'm being tested and I don't know how to improve in this area. Suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: Tell her what you just wrote here. Not only is it funny and therefore disarming (unless she's a score-keeper, which would be best to find out now anyway), it will give her a chance to help you out.

How she does that is up to her, since she could take the pressure off in any number of ways--through good-natured hints or lists or lowered expectations or scrapping gift exchanges altogether or taking you shopping or whatever else suits you both.


Miami: My widowed father in law has a house that is literally a hazard for my 2-year-old. A few examples: he leaves large containers of bug spray/weed killers in the dining room. They are the "spray" types. he has lights near the floor, going down his steps and they are uncovered, with no bulbs. he leaves full buckets of dirty mop-water in his kitchen he leaves power tools, including a chainsaw, on his desk in the living room.

My 2-year-old has tried spraying these jugs, putting his fingers in the light sockets, taking a bath in the mop water, and pulling the chain saw onto his head. I say TRIED because I was able to catch him before he actually did any of these things. It scares me. I have two kids and it's all we (my husband and I) can do to keep them out of danger when we visit. We've asked him to please make the house a little more kid friendly. Otherwise we can't visit. He gets super-irate and says I should teach my kids (did i mention they are 2 and 3 years old) to stay out of things that don't belong to them. Am I fair in deciding we can't go to his house anymore? Am I fair in saying he needs to visit us (we're only a few miles away)?

Carolyn Hax: Fairness is not the issue here. When you believe your children are at risk, then you have to protect them.

I have to wonder why you have to ask this, though, given the almost cartoonish extremes of the hazards. Are you and your husband in agreement about staying away?

Meanwhile, this house sounds like a hazard to your father-in-law. When was the last time he got a thorough checkup?


Ah-ha analogy?: I'm not completely sure about the ah-ha analogy. Why? It depends. I usually make room, but it burns me up when they act entitled to the whole hallway. That's when I don't budge and brace for impact. Applied to relationships, in arguments generally both are wrong at some point in time. There is usually no black/white right/wrong. Each person needs to give a little ground. If one side becomes entrenched, it is understandable that the other side gets entrenched as well. But ultimately one side needs to give in to allow for forward movement (in the relationship or in the hallway). Hopefully one giving a little ground will encourage the other to give a little ground as well, so neither walks away feeling they lost. So, my husband says something critical to me. I overreact and get angry that he was critical of me. We can either stay mad for hours, or one of us can say sorry, leading the other to say sorry as well. It varies in my marriage on who gives in first - who had the worse day and deserves a break, or who said the more egregious thing that should apologize first. But in the end, we both acknowledge our mistakes and shortcomings and we can move on.

Carolyn Hax: The second half of your argument makes a lot of sense, but it seems to me you wouldn't need to make so much sense with your conflict resolution strategy if you (both, but you;re the one I'm talking to) reconsidered your defense of bracing for impact/getting entrenched just because you're angry at someone's entrenchment. That serves mostly to escalate a conflict.

The answer isn't to go the other way and just let yourself get knocked aside every time you walk down the hall, of course. But there are ways to stand your ground that don't involve escalation. Instead of squaring yourself for impact, you say, "Please give me room to pass," or, to use your example, "Please don't be so critical of me. I'm doing the best I can."

As we touched on last week, this is often not natural to people, where putting up their dukes is. The emotional lessons we take with us from childhood are hard even to recognize, much less re-learn. But some are worth re-learning.

And the first step in that process is to recognize that even if your brace-fight-apologize-carry on cycle gets you back to a harmonious place on a reliable and regular basis, the cycle itself brings means there's conflict on a regular basis, and that's not an inevitable byproduct of combining two lives. It's possible to demote conflict to a rarity.

From that realization, you start to look for places you would normally brace for a fight, and instead say something calm and honest, along the lines of, "I feel [whatever]," or, "Please [treatment you want]," or "Please don't [treatment you don't want]." If the other person is still on the offensive, you withdraw: "Let's talk about this when we're both calm," "I don't want to say anything I'll regret later," and even, if necessary, "I won't talk about this now."

And when you do snap, you retreat immediately with, "I shouldn't have done/said that, I'm sorry." Point-of-impact apologies are where you can really make progress early on, because they have the power disarm immediately.


Two-week rule: I'm missing something, because aren't there explanations for this rule that would be perfectly reasonable but not the kind of thing you want to share? What if he realized he has a tendency to get too attached before he really knows someone, and this is his way of making sure he proceeds at a reasonable pace. I have a friend who dated this way for just this reason, and it helped to keep her from obsessing about someone she barely knew.

Carolyn Hax: I guess I'm a little sat in my ways here, because the case you describe is one where I would suggest not dating at all--at least not until she felt her instruments were a little more reliable. Imposing a superficial "rule" doesn't fix the underlying problem.

I also think that you either mention it and be willing to explain, or keep it to yourself until you're ready to share more about yourself.


Miami - again: We are in agreement, but both of us feel super guilty about it. In the 15 or so years I've known the man, his house has always been like this. It was just never much of an issue because we didn't have kids. We try as much as possible to get him to visit at our kid proofed home but to no avail. He will begrudgingly come every once in a while and then spend the entire time complaining that we never visit him. I feel bad for him.

Carolyn Hax: Well, that at least is some good news, that you and your husband aren't working against each other.

The guilt is a bit of a problem, in that he has such power over both of you despite being completely in the wrong, completely unreasonable about it and completely inappropriate in his pressuring you. I can see feeling bad for his inability to act in his own best interests--that is hard to watch. But the circumstances are making it as easy as possible (which is, admittedly, not easy at all) for people in a situation where they need to withhold visits. You have a black-and-white danger issue where usually people are forced to wrestle with much grayer issues.

Because you both seem to care about Grandpa, and because you do wish you could visit, and because he won't let it rest, I would suggest you come up with a set response, along the lines of, "We'd love to come to your house, and we'd be happy to come help you childproof it." Say it -every single time- it comes up, and, at minimum, you will never validate his belief that you're snubbing him personally. Best case, he actually relents one day and lets you come over (while kids are with a sitter) to help him clean up his house and to store with him a play pen, some baby gates, etc., that you can use for future visits.


Re: Guy who won't date same "girl" in two-week period: It's a red flag. A giant red flag that will wave for two weeks every time you blow on it.

I have a male friend who is quite honest about not wanting to get "too involved" with a woman (at least he says "woman" and not "girl"?) ... but he doesn't seem to realize that telling a woman those very words can seem like a challenge to some. And the women who find it a challenge are the type who put a lot of effort into trying to be the one who changes things for him. And that effort to "change him" is the dealbreaker that always causes him to end the "relationship."

I've known this man for a long, long time, and I don't believe him to be _consciously_ manipulative. But when someone creates the same set of circumstances over and over again, there's some pretty heavy unconscious manipulation going on -- even when the guy claims to be up-front about things.

Carolyn Hax: Agreed to all that, but I would also flag the women who see his pronouncement as a challenge. They complete the transaction: immature man setting out traps with the perfect bait to attract immature women. Drama ensues.


Arlington, Va.: I've got a new one for you. I have been receiving e-mails from my mother's friend who has taken to sending me online dating profiles of men she thinks I would like. In this e-mail she included the following: "I am going to step over the boundary right here and say something that I shouldn't but I think it would help you. You have a cute figure and beautiful eyes but you have to do something about your nose. The size and the mole on your nose is keeping men from seeing you as attractive. It is such a common surgery and it would improve your looks greatly. Find the best doctor in your area and just do it. I think this will help you, I really do. Please see this as me wanting to help you, I think your life would have been better had you done this right after high school." I'm 43, never been married but have dated many attractive men over the years. How do I respond to this?!

Carolyn Hax: Wow.

The first thought that comes to mind is not responding at all. Silence is the best way to make someone squirm.

That is, if a person has the capacity to squirm, and it's possible this particular specimen doesn't. So, it's your call. Is there something you'd like of her--for example, for her to stop e-mailing you, or apologize, or spontaneously combust? If so, then a terse email stating as much (or just, "wow") would be fine. If you just want her to disappear, then block her e-mail address and enjoy the ensuing absence of her.


Getting married but: My boyfriend and I decided to get married, but I don't want to tell my family just yet. Its not that they won't be thrilled for us, but I'm not ready to start planning whatever kind of wedding we'll have and really don't want to deal with all the questions/"suggestions" right now. In a few weeks work will slow down enough that I can think about it, but can I wait until then to tell them?

Carolyn Hax: Sure. Ideally you could tell them and say, "We'd like to postpone any planning until things at work slow down a few weeks from now." But if you don't feel they'll be able to hold back, then 1. good luck with that when the planning starts! and 2. enjoy a few weeks of just-the-two-of-you time.


Virginia: Our third child is due in March. My wife really wants me to get a vasectomy. I am balking, I don't know why. She and I are in complete agreement that we don't want more kids, but with the divorce rate where it is, I feel antsy about making such a permanent decision. Am I a jerk?

Carolyn Hax: After the weedkiller in the dining room and the unsolicited advice on facial surgery, you'd think I'd be primed for this one today. But, alas, I am speechless.


Yes, it doesn't say very good things about you that you're thinking ahead to your next wife--as your current wife is 7 months' pregnant, no less. I mean, I'm as harsh a realist as the next jerk, but this seems to take it to a new level.

And yes, you should ask your urologist about the permanence of this decision, because it just might be that if you hoard some money from your current wife and young children, you'll be able to afford the expensive procedures to father children post-vasectomy with your next wife.

Where's a sandwich when you need one?


re: Miami: The father-in-law sounds like he's being unreasonable, but there's also a small chance he truly doesn't remember stuff about kids' development and really thinks that a two-year- old should "know better" than to stay out of stuff they're not familiar with. Could you find some information about toddler brains and skills to show him? I know a few people who always need objective data to convince them that others' problems are legitimate.

Carolyn Hax: I like that idea, though I'm not optimistic. I'm judging only by personal experience, admittedly, but I have yet to see someone of the "just tell them 'no'" mind set come around to the idea that childproofing is sometimes necessary.


Curiosity, State of: Did you ever get any pictures of last week's pony-sized, toddler-puke painting? Enquiring minds want to know!

Carolyn Hax: No, and while I'm quite disappointed, I do understand. A forwarded link here, a Facebook posting there, and toddler puke on the wall would be the least of their problems with their families.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

My question is straightforward--when is change, if ever, okay in a relationship? Can I expect my partner to change if I don't like something and his behavior causes stress in our relationship? Is it fair to expect change in order for the relationship to improve or do I need to suck it up and deal with his behavior?


Carolyn Hax: The line between the two is at who they are vs. how they choose to express who they are.

That's hardly a clear line, granted, but it often makes sense when you have an actual example: You can't ask someone to start loving sports, but you can ask someone to support your decision to join a once-a-week adult league, or to go to a game with you once or twice a year, or not moan and groan about how stupid sports are.

Likewise, the sports-loving half of the couple can choose to spend one night with a team vs. 4 or 5, or DVR some games so that not every weekend is spent chained to the couch, and rally for a few events more along the other person's tastes.

Both can recognize that the other cares about something they don't, and give an honest, heartfelt, sustained shot at acquiring/sharing that interest.



Carolyn Hax: That just covers your entitlement to ask for something--you're not entitled to ask people to change who they are, but you are entitled to ask them to consider you when it comes to their way of expressing who they are.

The other half of the issue is their response to their request. If they see your point, and want to accommodate you, great. If they don't see your point or don't want to accommodate, then you've got another decision to make: Stay, or go, with one caveat. Staying means you don't keep nagging for the change you wanted but were denied.

That's because the other person's refusal to change elevates the unchanged behavior, whatever it was, from a choice to an immutable part of them. Even if it's -possible- for them to change (a debatable proposition to begin with), their choosing not to change means you have to regard that element of them as permanent.


Re: Vasectomy: I'm not sure this guy is a jerk. Granted, I think he could have picked a better reason than possible future divorce, but I get it - and I am a woman. I have the same reaction when my husband brings it up. To me, you just never know what the future holds. My husband is only 33 and I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. I would hate for him to wipe out his procreation option.

Carolyn Hax: Ah, but he didn't say that. The reason is everything.


San Diego, Calif.: One of my closest friends has been through some really rough times in the past 2 years. I agree my job as friend is to be there for her, but she has become more and more negative and has a tendency to say nasty things. How do I approach this with her? Do I say something like "I empathize with everything you're going through, but that remark was out of line and here's why"?

Carolyn Hax: That's exactly what you say. Though I'm not sure you need the "here's why," unless she fights you on it.


Grandpa Deathtrap: Wouldn't an extra-blunt statement like, "We don't visit you because you keep weedkiller in your dining room, ffs! We'd like to visit but we would enjoy it even more if our kids lived to see kindergarten" manage to sink in? Sometimes the overly obtuse need a proportionally hard konk on the head to gain true perspective.

Carolyn Hax: Perfect, and, thank you, you made me snort. But these things sound best out of the mouths of the people who actually talk and think this way. Hard to describe this concept ... but the personality behind the words is what makes the words effective and disarmingly funny vs. brittle and punitive, and that in turn effects whether the recipient gets it an appreciates the konk on the head, or gets defensive and wounded.


Washington, D.C.: We moved to Washington from San Diego because it was a good career move for my wife and because it brings her closer to her family. I was happy to do it because it meant so much to her, and I've made the adjustment well enough, but there's a part of me that feels like my wife doesn't appreciate it enough. Every morning that I step out into the cold I just get this sick feeling about how much better San Diego is, and how my wife doesn't appreciate the sacrifice I've made. Is it petty of me to want my wife to show her appreciation more? Now that we're here do I just need to embrace it and let go of San Diego?

Carolyn Hax: Yes, you do need to embrace your new home, and back up your decision with the full weight of your effort. It can't just be, "I did this for you, and now look what I'm stuck with": it has to be, "I did this for us, and I meant it."

That said, you shouldn't ignore your resentment. You're a big boy, this isn't about getting your lollipop for going to the doctor, but the sense of give-and-take is essential to a marriage. So take a hard look at the decisions you've made as a couple leading up to this move. If coming east was the first wife-centric decision you've made after several years of her bending to your needs, than please take this move not as your gift for which you deserve a thank you, but your thank-you for all the gifts she has given you over the years.

If there have been no past imbalances, and if you feel justified in your sense of not being appreciated, then you need to tell your wife you're feeling taken for granted. Tell her you did it for your own reasons and you'd do it again, but that it was a big deal for you, and her acknowledging that would be good for your morale right now.


Washington, D.C.: Do ultimatums about getting married ever work out?

For instance, if you both agree that you want to get married and when you ask why a proposal hasn't come you are told "I just haven't gotten around to it yet..." (And you've been told that they want to ask, they don't want YOU asking.)

I say yes, in this case it can work. It's not MARRY ME OR ELSE, it's Come on, get around to it.

What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: I think that if someone who is withholding something he knows you want, who is openly admitting he has no good reason for withholding it, and who refuses to let go of the controls over this thing he knows you want, is your definition of Prince Charming, then, lob all the ultimatums you want.

Otherwise, I'd just start, today, making your own choices about your own life and resolve to stop letting people jerk you around.


I know why...: ...the guy has that 2-week dating rule. It's because he's dating other girls in the interim.

Carolyn Hax: I believe we were grasping for likable/respectable/healthy reasons to have a two-week rule, not, "Okay, Babe, you can date me, but I'm booked till the weekend after next."

Not that there's anything wrong with dating more than one person while you remain uncommitted to anyone. That's plenty likable/respectable/healthy. But slapping a rule on it and announcing the rule to your dates? Oy.


re: Nose job: How about "Thanks for the advice, but I wish you had told me before I paid a plastic surgeon to enlargen my nose and add a mole..."

Glass bowl...

Carolyn Hax: Or "enlarge my mole and add a nose."

BTW, what you said reminds me of a Zach line--that he was going to have his teeth darkened.


Re: Vasectomy: If every decision was meant to cover every possible angle, no decision would ever be made. The best you can do is make a responsible decision based on what you have now, can reasonably expect in the future, and a wish and a prayer. You currently have a wife (with whom you most likely will continue to have sex), you currently have two/almost three children, you want no more children (and I still can't figure how that changes with a new wife -- you don't get rid of the three you have). So your choices are either you have a vasectomy or she has tubal ligation or you take your chances on less permanent birth control (which does not cover all of your needs with complete assurance). Unless your wife needs to shoulder this one too, seems like you may need to meet her part way and perhaps at least consider that vasectomy would be the most reasonable decision.

Carolyn Hax: What I should have been writing when instead I was throwing imaginary sandwiches. Fanks.


Manassas: Re: Marriage ultimatum. Although Carolyn's certainly right about equating letting yourself be jerked around with a big red flag, I would like to state that the "asking" thing is an overrated remnant of another world-view. Make a mutual decision. Together. No knees, no sticking a ring in someone's face, no surprises or staging, etc. Just decide, and go together to get a ring (also overrated, IMO) if you think you need one.

Carolyn Hax: Choir: Perfect, thank you.


Re: Vasectomy: I asked my husband to get a vasectomy when my daughter (second child)was a year old. I've always felt very strongly that a man should take equal responsibility for family planning, and a vasectomy was a no-brainer because it was so much easier and safer than a tubal ligation. But when my daughter turned 5 and went off to kindergarten, the thought often crept in that my request might have been a little hasty, and I sometimes feel a little regret. Vasectomy was the right answer for us, but maybe not quite at the right time. This husband should certainly do everything in his power to limit his family size if that's what they both want, but pushing someone into giving up their fertility when they don't feel ready is usually a mistake.

Carolyn Hax: A thoughtful response, thanks.


Alexandria, Va.: I hope you or the 'nuts can help me on this one. I can't tell if I'm being a control freak.

My husband and I have been married for five years. He wants a baby, I want a baby. But his father died quite young, from heart disease. My husband is overweight, and while he doesn't have overt signs of heart disease yet, that may be more of a matter of not having a check-up recently than there not being anything there. I don't want to have a child until my husband stays healthy. I know he could get hit by a bus tomorrow, but given his family history and current body composition, I don't think it's responsible to have a kid given that that kid's dad has a family history of overweight men dropping dead at 40. I haven't told my husband this, because frankly, I think it's mean. At the same time, I think it's true. I love my husband would be happy to just be with him regardless of his body or health. I just want to be responsible if we decide to have a kid.

'Lil help?

Carolyn Hax: It's not mean, for a few reasons, but mostly because of this: "I love my husband would be happy to just be with him regardless of his body or health." Because your concerns are so narrowly and practically defined--having child means owing child best shot at a healthy father, father-to-be has bad history and is not currently making healthy choices, choices would be fine if it were just you two in the family--you're on the responsible, not control-freakish, side of the line.

Not that this will be easy for you to say, and not that saying it even perfectly will prevent your husband from feeling really wounded. However, he's the one who lost his dad quite young, so on some level he is likely to identify. And, you've said it so well here, so it follows that you can say it well again when you talk to him.

I think you'd be best to open not with your solution ("I don't want us to have a baby unless you get fit"), but instead with your concern--even acknowledging that you probably think about it less than he does. The men I've known in this situation were acutely aware or their histories and the implications thereof.


Re: Manassas and marriage ultimatum: I agree with everything Manassas said--my problem is, how do I express those views to my friends without coming across as all judgy about their desires to have a ring and a bended-knee surprise proposal? If that's what they want, they should have it, but I find myself unable to hide that I think it's kind of silly.

Carolyn Hax: Same way you keep from getting judgy with any other expressed views that you think are kind of silly--you keep your mouth shut unless you're asked, and if you are asked, you say, "I dunno, I think [whatever you value, without specifying that you believe their version holds no value]."


Washington: In what he called an emergency, my husband guessed my e-mail password and accessed some of my e-mail. Like most people, I use the same password for just about everything, and now my husband has it. He does not understand why this makes me upset. It's not that I'm hiding anything in particular, but I think even couples need some basic boundaries like this. Am I out of line for being mad?

Carolyn Hax: The problem is that you don't agree this was an emergency, not that he has your password.

Couples don't need the basic boundary of a secret password if they both respect the unspoken, invisible boundaries--such as, don't go reading my email unless I've asked you to or there's information in there (say, a phone number) you have to have for an important reason that can't wait. Since your husband went onto your turf for what you (apparently) deem a flimsy reason, you don't trust him to respect the whole concept of turf. That's what you need to try to express to him, to explain why this made you upset. Might not work, but worth a try.


I feel like a jerk but...: Sometimes I see people on the subway with a giant mole on their face and am mystified as to why they don't get it removed. Sure, it's superficial, but it's one of those things that I can't get past easily. I find moles disturbing for some reason (I have no idea why) and it's such a simple fix. Kind of like when a woman has a mustache. Sure, it's her right, but she shouldn't be surprised that other people find it unattractive. However, it was not the friend's mom place to bring it up.

Carolyn Hax: The mustache isn't the same thing--there are many ways to remove/mitigate excess hair, but removing a mole (unless dermatology has advanced beyond this in the last couple of years) will still leave a mark. Some people find scars disturbing. So, you do what you can and hope nobody stares at you on the subway.


Re: Alexandria with the overweight husband: Carolyn, I thought your answer was good as far as it went. But my impression (and granted, I may be reading too much into it) is that Alexandria has mixed feelings and/or fears about having a child, and her husband's weight and family history are convenient scapegoats. Although both factors may increase his risk of having (or even dying from) a heart attack, those risks are still relatively quite low. There are no guarantees, but as one of the 'nuts said earlier, "The best you can do is make a responsible decision based on what you have now, can reasonably expect in the future, and a wish and a prayer."

Carolyn Hax: I didn't get that impression, but I'll put it out there as something to think about.

And since I've been thinking about sandwiches for over two hours now and haven't had lunch, I'm going to skee daddle. Bye, thanks for the memories on this strange day (I swear, even the dogs were acting weird in the dog park), and type to you here next week.


Password: Stop using the same password for everything.

There was something on Slate about making foolproof passwords. Basically, you think up a sentence you can't forget:

My favorite movie is 8 Mile

Then you take the first letter:


and add the initials for wherever you are. So for WashPost:



So change the passwords you're using, and if he notices because he's been spying on you, you'll know if you have a bigger problem than boundaries.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for all of it--I meant to say that very last part but forgot. (Change password but say nothing.)


Chicago, IL: Re: Password Problem

If her email password was so easy to guess, she should not be using it for everything...especially financial purposes! Just my 2 cents.

Carolyn Hax: Yah.


Password-guessing husband: That's just plain creepy. I can't even imagine how this could be an isolated incident. It's no giant leap to imagine that he has crossed the line in other ways.

Carolyn Hax: Just FYI to original poster, how another sees it.


Re: Moles: Maybe they don't get them removed because they don't have HEALTH INSURANCE

Carolyn Hax: If it's cosmetic, insurance won't cover it anyway.


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.

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