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Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems

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

Carolyn was online Friday, Feb. 12, 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.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

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Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody. I haven't left the house since Tuesday, so you might want to factor that into my answers today.

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Arlington, Va.: Last week on our fourth anniversary, my girlfriend (we're both 36) told me she can no longer wait for me to propose and that if I'm not ready to get married she will have to break up with me. Silly me, I had no idea she -was- waiting. I would like a year or two more to remain single but I don't think she will wait that long. I understand she has bio-clock considerations to think about (she had trouble conceiving when she was married before and is afraid it will get worse in her late 30s) but I think it's unfair that I should be subjected to this ultimatum without any fair warning. What do you think we should do?

Carolyn Hax: Maybe you weren't given fair warning, maybe you were given plenty and missed it. Assigning blame doesn't serve much of a purpose right now.

What would be useful is a reason for your wanting "a year or two more to remain single." Can you be more specific?

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Evansville, Ind.: Getting a little cabin fever?

Carolyn Hax: You can see my eye twitch from there? Spooky.

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Rural D.C.: Hopefully for your discussion boards:

I sat next to a pregnant woman who was smoking a cigarette - during her third trimester.

Didn't know her. Thought about saying something to her. Ultimately didn't.

Now I feel like a chicken. It's not like I would have changed her mind or accomplished anything, but I feel like there is no virtue in keeping one's mouth shut.

What she was doing was wrong. Period. And I let it slide.

Any thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: I'll get blasted for this, but it was none of your business.

Either she was already fully aware that smoking during pregnancy puts her baby at risk of health problems; or she hasn't gotten any prenatal care, which puts the baby into an even higher risk category, one your intervention couldn't have affected in any way; or the mother is so clueless that her baby has a lot more to worry about than a host who smokes--which, again, a well-meaning/outraged/rescue-minded bystander couldn't do much to offset.

So your watching her smoke while very pregnant only satisfies one of the requirements for intervention: absolute knowledge that a bad decision is being made. You didn't satisfy the important other requirements: ability to make a difference, and knowledge of degree of harm (was she a defiant chain-smoker, or soon-to-be ex-smoker who's weaning herself off the butts with a doctor's supervision? You have no idea).

So, you didn't "let it slide." You stayed out of a place you didn't belong. Sometimes there's no virtue in opening one's mouth.

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Columbia, Md.: I have a very difficult and troubling situation and need your advice. For the past two years, I have intermittently and patiently asked to see my husband's cell phone records, but at each request he has either balked, ignored me or made other excuses. For some years our marriage has been very troubled. I understand each of us has contributed to this situation. A couple years ago we were at our worst and my husband's demeanor and behavior set off red flags in me. I feel that I can't get over this hurdle and move on unless I know the full truth of what was going on then. At this point, we have had no emotional or physical intimacy for years. We've been to marital counseling, but that was of little benefit. We have children (ages 13 and 17) and we have built a life together and that is why I have stayed this long. I would like the truth, but now don't feel it's coming at all. I'm very uncomfortable and would separate from my husband it if weren't for the children. Is there any way for me to see his cell records and know the truth? What do I do?

Carolyn Hax: What would you do with the truth, if you had it? Let's say it's worst-case, he had an affair or affairs. What then?

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Washington, D.C.: Third date tonight. First (blind) date was dinner and drinks. Second was sledding and dinner. Tips for the third? We have a ton in common and a lot of fun, but the flirtation may need to catch up a little - any ideas for what might facilitate that? We're in our 30s, if that makes a difference...

Carolyn Hax: I'll put this out for nutterati suggestions, though it's going to be tough to beat a sledding date. As for flirting, it's best if you don't force it. Not a fun answer, I know, but that's what I'm here for.

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Bethesda, Md.: Is it possible to be in love after being with someone for only two months?

Carolyn Hax: Sure. What isn't possible is to be sure your love found a target that's good for you. For that, you'll have to be patient, but there's no reason you can't enjoy the feelings in the meantime.

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Texas: Hi Carolyn,

I'm 25 and estranged from 6 of 8 people in my immediate family. My mother committed an unforgivable act this Thanksgiving and Christmas that finally pushed me over the edge. I moved 2,000 miles away to start over (I was living at home a month ago), and changed my phone number and purposely didn't give her my address. I just got mail yesterday that had her handwriting all over it. I am LIVID that she has my new address and that she knows where I live. Like, shaking with anger and wanting to put my hand through the glass slider door livid.

I don't know how to deal with this. I feel like she has won, and even though I want no part of her in my life, she is still finding ways to worm herself into it. Please help.

Carolyn Hax: The best advice I can offer is that you start treating this as a problem that running away won't solve. Not because your mom was able to find you, but because the intense feelings of anger and betrayal are inside you no matter where you go, and they're going to gnaw at your insides--or, more immediately, stick glass shards into your outside--until you deal with them. The process of finding a good therapist, and then trusting that therapist, is going to take some time, but I urge you to get it started immediately. If you're employed, start by finding out if your job offers access to an EAP (employee assistance program). If not and you're near a hospital or university, call those institutions to find out if they have a mental-health clinic. If neither is available, contact your local chapter of the American Psychological Association to find out what resources are available to you. A family implosion is a big deal, and sorting through the feelings can take time. Getting the perspective of a disinterested, well-trained third party can be life-saving.

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?: Hi Carolyn, I wrote in with this question a while ago. My best friend of many years has decided to detach herself from my life because she is in love with my husband. She has felt this way since I was engaged and thought the feelings would dim--they haven't. She begged me not to tell my husband and has asked me not to call or see her till she gets her head together. Am I losing a friend here?

Carolyn Hax: Possibly, but there's not much you can do about it. At least she has been straight with you about the reason she has detached, instead of just disappearing without explanation, to which too many people resort in situations like this. I'm sorry.

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Washington, D.C.: Any advice on how to get back out into the dating pool, besides "jump"? I'm in my mid 40s, empty nester, haven't a clue about where people my age hang out. All suggestions welcome. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: I'm going to kick this to Hax-Philes, because that will get you a range of ideas--potentially much more useful than what two or three of us think.

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D.C.: I've been dating this guy, I like him a lot. I knew we were not exclusive yet. I just found out he is seeing other people casually as well--at least one other person on a semi-regular basis. He is technically single, so he is allowed to do this, but I now don't know how to keep dating him without feeling like I'm competing for his commitment. What should I do?

Carolyn Hax: Exactly what he's doing. Enjoy his company for its own sake, unless and until you find you're not looking forward to seeing him (for whatever reason).

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It's my party...., D.C.: Hi Carolyn, Today's my birthday and I generally do not celebrate them because I am not happy with my life. I am single, don't like my career and have my few friends in my city (I have been here for a couple of years). I have a lot for be grateful for in my life, but I still do not feel hopeful that I will ever be happy. How do I get to a place where I am happier with my life?

Carolyn Hax: You might want to start by celebrating your birthday. I understand the soul-sucking sensation of having career doubts and a short-to-nonexistent list of people you can call to cheer you up. But the thing is, getting those things isn't necessarily the first step toward finding fulfillment (happiness is so cyclical, I'm not sure it's a realistic goal unto itself). Often, the first step is inside you, where you start treating yourself better, listening more closely to what you like and what you need, thinking more carefully about the way you spend your time and with whom, and doing more that you would describe as capital-G Good.

That last category can be as wide as you want it to be--anything from eating more fiber and exercising or sleeping more, or being nicer to the people you love, or being friendlier with passersby and cashiers and bus drivers, or sending money to Haitian relief organizations, or giving a blouse to a friend who complimented it, or shoveling a bit of someone else's walk when you've finished with yours. Really, anything that makes someone's life a little better just for your having been born. Start small and work up. It can elevate your mood in surprising and--this is important--easily sustainable ways. Smile at someone. How hard is that, right?

But the thing is, especially for people who feel preoccupied and bogged down by bigger things, those small gestures can get completely forgotten.

So, happy re-birthday--call your parent(s) and thank them for having you, or for all the diaper changes, or the college tuition, or whatever else blows your mind to think about someone doing for little ol you. Then, give yourself something you want that's within your power to obtain--a luxury, a ticket to something, or just a bit of a break. be nice to the person at the register or on the phone when you buy that gift for yourself. Get the process started.

The accumulation of little changes, in so many cases, creates enough momentum to push you out of your rut, where the One Big Change either failed or failed to materialize. Good luck, and happy whatevereth.

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Toxic, Sister: So my dad is in town (from the other coast) and he's hosting a dinner saturday night. He's invited my family and my sister's family. Here's the thing: My sister has deliberately estranged herself from my family. She accused me of threatening her kids and at my dad's birthday dinner after the estrangement, screamed at us and gave my wife the finger (in a fancy restaurant, no less). Here's the other thing. My wife is 33 weeks pregnant. With our first child, she went into pre-term labor at 31 weeks (our son, now six, is doing great.) But I'm convinced that the pre-term labor was a result of stress. The doctors can't confirm or deny this. But I'm worried that if/when my sister freaks out at dinner that this stress could affect my wife and the pregnancy. I have tried to be the bigger person before but I am thinking that maybe this a dinner we sit out? If we do, I will have big problems with dad and wife #3. What would you suggest? My wife says she's fine either way.

Carolyn Hax: Why don't you go solo, and, when you get there, say your wife chose to stay home to rest? Given her history, the person who questions that deserves no response beyond a blank stare.

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Anonymous: Hey Carolyn. Please help me figure out what I should do here. Well over a decade ago, I had an abortion after a stupid, drunken encounter in college. I've now been happily married for several years and I've never told my husband about the abortion because, frankly, it has nothing to do with him and I'd rather keep it private. Aside from the abortion, I'm an open person and our marriage is open and communicative.

The problem is, we've been trying to get pregnant for almost a year now without success, and I'm afraid it's because I sustained some kind of damage or something from the abortion. (I never went to the follow-up appointment, and I haven't mentioned the abortion to my current gyno because I figured if something looked weird she'd catch it anyway.)

At this point, because it might be affecting our non-pregnancy and because it's just on my mind so much, I'm feeling more and more like not telling my husband is wrong. I am afraid, though,that he'll be upset I didn't tell him about it before (either several years ago, or 6 months ago). I don't want him to feel that I keep things from him, even though, in this case, I did. Part of me is also just really embarrassed and ashamed, and I don't want lower his opinion of me.

Carolyn Hax: Whether you tell him or not is a decision you'll make much more wisely if it comes after you go, alone, to see your gynecologist. Tell the doctor everything, and find out if there's any truth to your fears. Chances are the abortion has nothing to do with your difficulty in getting pregnant--but chances are, too, that your having been able to get pregnant over a decade ago is information the doctor would like to have.

Once you've talked about the medical aspect, the emotional aspect will be less cluttered by extraneous information--and that's when you'll be ready to think clearly about it.

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Central Virginia: My friend has been in a relationship with her boyfriend for almost eight years. He's told her that he isn't interested in marriage or children. While she's never been a career or hobby oriented person, she's has always known that she wants to be a wife and a mother.

His not wanting to get married has caused quite a few uncomfortable situations for the group, because she still thinks that she can change his mind. She gets really upset when a friend or acquaintance announces an engagement or pregnancy. However, over the past few months she kind of joked to me that if he boyfriend wasn't going to commit in the next few years, she could take matters into her own hands and "forget" her pill. After all, he didn't want her to get a dog, but now that she has one, he loves it. Another friend shared a similar comment that she made to her. Both of our responses were to tell her that it's not funny, and totally unfair not only to him, but to a child.

My fiance is really close with her boyfriend, and knows what she said. While she knows he doesn't want the same from their relationship, they never actually communicate. Should my fella talk to hers? Should I talk to him? Should I try and bring it up with her again? I have no problem talking with her, but I feel like he needs to know so he can protect himself. She can tell me one thing and do another at any point.

Carolyn Hax: Side question: Why is she your friend? She doesn't sound like a very good person.

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New York : Hi, Carolyn-

A woman I went to college with just moved to my city and wants to hang out all the time. In school, she "stole" two of my boyfriends, i.e., she was the person they cheated on me with and dated after we broke up. At first she said she didn't remember that happening, but then later she apologized for it and said it was so long ago it shouldn't matter. I find it difficult to trust her, which I know is just because of this thing, and it's making it hard to forge a real friendship. Do you think I'm punishing her unfairly?

Carolyn Hax: I'm not sure why it even has to be an issue of punishment or forgiveness. If you don't like her, then you're under no obligation to defend a decision not to hang out with her.

If you enjoy her company on some level, I suppose that would make it an issue of trust--but I'm not getting that from your letter. I'd guess you were brought together by circumstance, stayed in each other's orbits out of habit, and now you're staying in touch out of guilt. But that's just a hunch.

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Re: Arlington, Va.: "I understand she has bio-clock considerations to think about..." If you love this woman and want to have children with her, so do you. I don't even know you, am certainly not dating you, and I find that comment a little irritating. I can imagine she might, too.

Carolyn Hax: Good point. Arly, did you ever write back with your reason?

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Side question: Why is she your friend? She doesn't sound like a very good person: Ugh, it really bugs me when you do this. That's not what she asked. You don't know anything about the woman she wrote about except this one negative thing. Granted, it's pretty bad, but she might be a great, loyal friend in every other way. How about answering the question instead?

Carolyn Hax: It's information I feel I need to answer the question. What's irritating to you tends to yield extremely useful information for me.

If it helps, here's why I need the information: The "one negative thing"--I see it as two, by the way--is so bad that this friend's character will probably be at the center of any answer worth publishing. And if I don't know what the poster sees as the good side of this friend, then I won't be able to speak very accurately to her character. Is she manipulative, or just completely clueless? That matters to me.

As for the other part of what irritates you--sometimes the question a person asks isn't going to yield the answer they're really after.

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Don't think you'll answer but...: Seriously, if there are any men reading this chat where/how would you like to meet women? I've been happily living my life, I get out, I volunteer, I watch sports, I have hobbies and great friends but I would really like to have someone special in my life but I am stumped as to where the men are in this city since living my life to the fullest doesn't seem to have me or my friends crossing paths with many eligible partners.

Carolyn Hax: Let's kick this to Philes, too--Jodi, does it make sense to have it as a separate post, or a twofer? Thanks.

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Arlington, Va.: I really just don't know if I'm ready to be married. She actually quotes you as saying two years is the cutoff point at which you know if the person is the right person. I think she is the right person for me (at least I can't imagine being married to anyone else) but I hate that things have to change for her to be happy. We do not live together and I think I also enjoy the freedom of having a break from her every so often.

Carolyn Hax: AGH THAT'S NOT NOT NOT NOT WHAT I SAID, AAAAAAAAAGH.

I said that two years is when the last of the new-romance buzz dies off, and you can start to see what things will be like between you for the long haul. It's a benchmark strictly to help people who are afraid they'll let their hormones make a decision that their brains are then stuck with ever after.

Anyway.

It doesn't sound as if another two years is going to change anything, does it? I mean, you don't want to live with her, right? That's what I'm taking away from it. If I've read you wrong, please say so.

I also don't see "I can't imagine being married to anyone else" as equating to "she's the right person for me." All that usually means is that you haven't met the person you want to live with for the rest of your life.

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Central Virginia: It's a good point that you make. We met though our partners. They've been friends since college, and are in a touring band together. It's kind of a friends by default situation.

There are a lot of things about the situation that frustrate me. We have fun together, but as soon as the topic gets intellectual or serious, I get really bummed out. My partner, our friends, and I have discussed their situation, and feel like it may be at the point where we should facilitate communication between them. This way she can either accept no kids and marriage, or she can move on and find someone else who also wants that, but it just seems like it's not our business. The stopping the pill thing makes me believe more and more that it is though.

I know her BF gets frustrated by her lack of motivation, as do I. She seems to even lack the motivation to want to deal with the truth.

Carolyn Hax: This makes a lot of sense, thanks.

What doesn't make sense is the idea that you can "facilitate communication" between them. He has communicated with her, and she has chosen to ignore it. He, meanwhile, has chosen not to back up his words in any meaningful way.

Look at it that way, and they're exceedingly well-matched: They both put their immediate comfort above any potential consequences.

Since one of those "potential consequences" might soon be a child--a child whose parents indulge themselves at their future's expense, and therefore his or hers--then there is an uptick in the obligation of their friends to be more than eye-rolling bystanders. It still isn't your business, per se, but you do have knowledge the boyfriend doesn't, and the boyfriend is the primary connection to you, or at least to your husband. So your husband can say to his friend, "This is not a 'lack of motivation,' she's in denial--she thinks you;re going to change your mind on marriage and family. And if you don't want to have a child someday, that denial of hers is a problem you want to face. With condoms if nothing else."

I doubt the GF is going to make the mistake twice of saying she's going to "forget" her pill, but if she does, then point out to her that you are friends with GF, too, and she can't expect you to keep something like this quiet.

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washingtonpost.com: Carolyn is suffering from a case of an extremely slow computer. She's working on posts, but there may be a bit of a lag. Thanks for your patience! - Jodi

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Arlington: reasons for not being ready : 1. I enjoy some measure of independence. We don't live together yet and I like having occasional time to myself.

2. I have enjoyed our relationship for what it is and resent that she needs it to change in order to be happy.

3. The fact that her bio-clock is a consideration at all suggests to me that life after the wedding will instantly become about having a baby. That just sucks to me.

I also said, however, that I love her very much and can't see marrying anyone else but her. I just needed a little extra time to pull my thoughts together.

Carolyn Hax: Why do you resent her desire to have children? That seems awfully unfair, since it seems apparent from your original post that you were aware of that desire. Or did she just now talk about her difficulty conceiving, and I'm misreading it?

If in fact you had the conversation about her fertility well before this recent ultimatum, then I'd argue that the ultimatum came with all the fair warning you needed. She's 36, she wants kids. That's not even 2 + 2--that's 1 + 1. That you failed to produce "2" on your own is not her fault.

In fact, I'm going to go back to my original answer, and say, let's take blame out of it. Now that we have your reason, let's hold that up to the light next to what she wants: She wants to get married and have children. You don't. (Saying, "I do, just in two years, not right now," when you're in a relationship with a woman who is 36 and wants kids, is the same thing as, "I don't.")*

So, you need to tell her that you don't want to get married and have kids--what you want is what you have, for the foreseeable future, and therefore that's all you can offer her. She can then take that truth, ah, finally, and do with it whatever she needs to. You owe her that.

*You seem angry at her for this, but it's not her fault, its the fault of biology. That you blame her biology on her is something I'd be using to tell her, "He's not the guy," if she were the one asking me for advice.

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Boston: Re: Central Virginia

This guy has been dating the woman for EIGHT YEARS. Her idea of getting pregnant accidently on purpose can't be the first manipulation she's considered in their relationship. By now, he knows who he is dating. No one needs to feel bad for anyone- except possibly the poor, as yet unconceived offspring.

Carolyn Hax: Ya. If I didn't stress it enough in my answer, these two are very well matched (in the worst kind of way).

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Re: Toxic, Sister: Thanks Carolyn, Simple and elegant solution. One problem: I ran it by my wife who said they are too pathetic to care about (her words) and that if I'm going, she's going. By the way, just in case that seemed harsh, my wife really is an innocent bystander except for when my sister flipped her the bird in the restaurant (and to my wife's credit, she laughed long and hard in response).

Carolyn Hax: If your wife is that cool about it, then I don't see why this dinner poses the kind of stress risk you think it does.

And if she's not that cool about it but puts up a brave front, then do both of you a favor and stay home.

Better?

BTW, her response didn't strike me as harsh. The recipient of a bird from her SIL has earned the right to call her SIL (and her apologists/enablers) pathetic. Besides, if spouses can't be that honest with each other in private, what's the point of being married?

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Weirded out on the World Wide Web: My ex-girlfriend (I broke up with her 2 years ago) has been submitting and then un-sumbitting a "friend request" to me on Facebook for like, 5 weeks. I'll see the friend request there for a few hours, or a day or 2, and then it's gone for another few hours or another couple days.

As we are not otherwise in touch and I don't particularly want to be (especially now that it's apparent she's not over me), I have no intention of ever giving her access to mull over my personal doings, photos, etc. But it's completely creeping me out that she's dedicating a substantial amount of thought to deciding whether or not she wants to ask for that access. I want to tell her to quit it, I am never going to "accept" the request anyway, but I don't want to encourage her by contacting her. BUT, she shows no signs of stopping this on her own. What should I do??

Carolyn Hax: Ignore. It's both the most effective thing to do, and the most compassionate. Quietly give her the chance to figure out that it's time to quit.

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We have fun together, but as soon as the topic gets intellectual or serious, I get really bummed out. : This sentence seems like a non sequitur. Does this mean the original poster never enjoys serious or intellectual conversation,or that the situation frustrated and bums her out?

Carolyn Hax: I took it to mean that she (and presumably her BF) don't connect on a deep level with this couple, and that they're more friends of history (him) and of situation (her). Which, if true, is not central to the issue, but useful in teasing out what is central.

Today is Carolyn's Thought Process Day, I guess. I promise I'll get out a bit more this weekend.

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New York, NY: This is for Arlington, and maybe others. It's an observation I recently made.

I'm in my mid-30s and have a large-ish group of friends who have known each other for many years. Currently, three of the couples are breaking up or close to it (two couples are divorcing, a third is separated). The reasons for the breakups were not abuse or infidelity...in fact, it hit me the other day that all three couples are breaking up over issues that were, frankly, issues when they were dating. In two of the cases, I remember having a conversation with one half of the couple about their concerns about marrying their partner -- and they were the same problems they are having now. It's just striking, that in all these cases, the reasons for the breakup of the marriage are things that their close friends and even themselves knew about prior to getting married in the first place. I think it's something a lot of young couples should think about more.

Carolyn Hax: Noted, and saluted, but it's up against the often irresistible force of rationalization. Talking yourself into marriage defers pain, whereas talking yourself out of it delivers the pain upfront. Even though the deferred pain is bigger and more destructive, especially when the ill-considered marriage produces children, it's still hard for people to stand up and say, "I'll have my pain now, thanks." The ability to do so is a mark of maturity, and so there will always be immature people marrying each other when everyone who knows them knows they shouldn't get married.

It's one of the reasons I'm so opposed to wedding fuss. When it's a big shiny thing people want, the effect is too often blinding.

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Arlington does seem angry: Angry that you can't be number one any more. That fate is asking you to be considerate of another person's feelings, wants, hopes, desires, dreams. Angry it can't always be all about you you you. Vis a vis marriage, living together, a baby, or just being respectful of someone you care about.

For what it's worth, in many good marriages, people still feel independent and have their own space, AND feel part of a partnership and sharing something bigger. It's not all or nothing.

Carolyn Hax: Right. But if his investment in her "feelings, wants, hopes, desires, dreams" is grudging, then there's only one choice: nothing.

Which is implied by your comment, but thought it should be clear. Thanks.

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For WO on the WWW: I don't think you can withdraw a friend request on Facebook once you've made it. I think you're reading too much into this.

Carolyn Hax: Wait--before we get into whether this can be done ...

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for the facebook stalk-ee: You know, you can block people on Facebook. Dude might want to consider it.

Carolyn Hax: There's this. I wouldn't call her a stalker, but blocking her would solve the problem. Maybe even hitting "ignore" would. Thanks.

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D.C.: So, I'm married over 25 years; two kids out of the house; completely faithful during our marriage and even the three years leading up to marriage. I thought that my wife has been equally faithful. Never been a question...until a few nights ago when while watching a movie she admits that she had a "brief relationship" in the early years of our marriage. Whoa...can't even to begin to process this information. It was a long time ago and it was no big deal says my wife. Silly me, I'm thinking it's a really big deal. So, what's next?

Carolyn Hax: Well, you're right, it really is a big deal--because you're reacting to it as if it just happened, regardless of when it happened. That's normal. And, she has already processed it and moved on, so she won't get on a visceral level what you're going through. And, you have the bonus pleasure of now sifting through a period of your life that time has reduced to memory fragments, and trying to see what you missed, and what things you filed under "happy marriage" and "who I always thought my wife was" that now need to be filed under "things were rocky" and "I was sleepwalking" and "this is who my wife really is." It really stinks.

There's an element to it that I hope will also be grounding, once your mind has gotten around the more disturbing aspects: Because this was so long ago, it changes where you used to be, but not necessarily where you are now. Or, to put it another way: It changes the path you took to this point, but doesn't change the point.

Or, it does, maybe--that's for you to figure out. But I do think you need to spell out to your wife that even though the affair happened over two decades ago (right?), your hurt feelings are happening now. It's only realistic for this to take some time.

She has a huge incentive to "get past this" and minimize it--she doesn't want to feel bad all over again about something that happened 20 years ago. But since she hurt you, and since that hurt is new, you are justified in asking for your chance to take some time to get over it--not 20 years, just enough for you to set your own pace.

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Totally at a loss.: My best friend's dating another glass bowl. She told me after the last one to tell her when I see she's made another bad choice because as she says, "Obviously I don't see it til it's too late."

Well, I told her. And she got extremely pissed off at me. She says that she never should have asked me to "warn" her because now I'm obviously on a power trip and taking advantage of her trust and just want to control her relationships. Seriously, she said all that.

Believe it or not, she's usually a great person, a great friend, very kind and caring, blahblahblah, so this was totally out of character. Now I have no idea how to interact with her. She posted on my facebook wall as if that whole interaction never happened. But, I am still: a) pissed off, and b) concerned for the emotional tumult to come for her as a result of her dating another glass bowl.

What should I say to her? How should I act? I'm totally at a loss.

Carolyn Hax: I guess now you know why she keeps dating jerks. She's clearly not interested in looking inward, asking herself hard questions, recognizing her own hangups and shortcomings, or admitting her own complicity in her bad decisions. She had a nice gig blaming the guys, and now she can add you to her list of people to blame.

What you do with this information is where it gets really interesting. Someone who isn't going to let you give openly solicited opinions about her mistakes is going to be a real hoot when you start offering unsolicited opinions about her mistakes. She has given you a clear message: "I don't want to hear it."

Unfortunately, having something you want to say that she doesn't want to hear is a huge obstacle between people who regard themselves as close. It's the same as when half of a couple has a secret; there's no intimacy then, there's only acting. Going on without saying something to your friend will mean you're acting.

So I think you have to deal with a), even as you studiously avoid b). "I was really surprised at your reaction: You asked me to do something, so I did it. It would never occur to me to question your motives in sharing your opinion with me, and it really hurts that you're questioning my motives now."

Then, duck. Or, who knows, maybe below the angry-reaction layer there's an I've-had-a-chance-to-cool-off layer to her where she's able to hold herself accountable.

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Berlin, Germany: I have a boyfriend whom I want to be married to in the future. I think we'd have a great married life! We already have a long distance relationship at the moment (hour flight between us) but I want to spend time in another country. I want to have more adventures on my own before settling down, basically. Is this unfair of me? I am 28 and he is 33.

Carolyn Hax: I actually know a couple who did this--read "Now I Know Everything" by Andy Postman. It has been a while, and I may be conflating reality with fiction, but I think the fictional version includes an "I need to live in a different country before settling down" transaction.

Which is to say, I think it can be done, should be done and is fair to do. With all the talk of Arlington's nebulous reason for needing more time, I never really got to the part about there being great reasons to need more time. Doing something on your own that you feel is important to do on your own ranks right up there. Also, you are single--you are free to do what you need to do, just as Arlington is free to, nebulous reasons and all. As long as you're honest about what you want, and you accept that he too is free to do what's best for him, and you embrace the idea that there are two sets of needs involved, then, that's all fair. Enjoy.

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Carolyn Hax: That'll do it for today. Thanks everybody, have a great weekend, and hope to see you back here next week.

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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.

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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