Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 26, 2010; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Friday, Feb. 26, 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


Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody, happy Friday.


Non-ultimatum, ultimatum: I am adamently opposed to ultimatums, however I find myself in a quandry. In my mid-30s I've been in my current relationship for over a year. He says he sees us getting married, having kids, etc., but hasn't yet proposed and I'm getting antsy. How do I bring this up without issuing an ultimatum? I don't want to waste precious time in a relationship that isn't going anywhere, but at the same time, I don't want to push him into a proposal. Any words of wisdom?

Carolyn Hax: Propose to him. If you're really ready for that, of course, meaning you're with someone who just feels right, and you have no reason to believe the foundation of that feeling will change.

If instead it's about your time of life and being faced with tough decisions about whether to start trying to have a baby now or wait to see if your life with your BF follows a more traditional path, then I'd say just talk to him. Make it about facts: You want to have a baby the old fashioned way, and your window of opportunity is closing, and while "over a year" isn't that long, you and he need to figure out whether the "he sees us getting married, having kids, etc." is abstract, or concrete.

I know this kind of frankness is famous for scaring people off, but what should be just as famous is the result of tiptoeing around the truth. Usually it just ends up postponing that truth--which, again, in your case is a luxury you can't afford. It is possible to be frank without treating your boyfriend as a sperm bank, but you do need to anticipate that as a potential pitfall. Gear it toward, "I have choices to make, soon, and because I love you, I want to make those choices with you."


Mixed Signals: First date last Friday. Went well, agreed to meet again. She texted later that night.

I texted this week. She's sick says she'll text me later.

Text her two days later to ask how she's feeling - no response.

Am I getting the brush off or am I over thinking this?

Carolyn Hax: Put in one call, and if it's unreturned, then quit. As with all cases like this, you have to assume it's a brush-off unless and until she gets in touch with you, but there's nothing wrong with giving it one clear last shot before you go.


Washington: Dear Carolyn,

"Chad," who used to be one of my closest male friends, is now my serious boyfriend. In some ways this provides a nice foundation, in other ways it's too close for comfort. I am very familiar with his whole relationship history and I remember him once debating what to get his then-GF for some special event. I suggested a pretty necklace (and offered to help him pick it) and he said it was too early for that (they had been dating for six months) and that giving jewelry as a gift would imply a level of seriousness he didn't feel for her yet.

That's just an example, but it's one of many quirks he used to exhibit when he was trying to keep a relationship from progressing too fast. Now that we are together, I am noticing things like this. He asked what i wanted for Valentine's Day, I suggested a necklace or earrings (never considering we weren't "there" yet) and got, instead, candy and flowers. I now notice things like this all the time and am wondering how inappropriate it would be to use my intimate knowledge of his MO to insist on a little transparency in this relationship. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: I see what you're getting at, that instead of candy and flowers when you asked for a necklace, you'd like him to say, "You know how I am--it's too early for jewelry." But you don't get that by insisting upon it. You get that by providing him with that kind of transparency yourself. In other words, when you receive the candy and flowers, you smile and say to yourself, "Okay, we aren't there yet," and accept it--or, if you can't do that, say, "These are beautiful, but I'm a little hurt--I feel like the girl who just got a hint that this isn't as serious as she thought."

I offered that as a two-step option for a reason: If you use your knowledge to call him out on everything, then your sought-after transparency will be more like an operating theater, where you get to hover over and analyze every little move he makes. Not exactly a precursor to intimacy. But if you use your knowledge to talk to him--WHEN NECESSARY--on a more intimate level than the one you're on now, then that can really pull you in closer. It all hinges on the way you define "necessary," so I'll make a general suggestion: When it's something you can process on your own and deal with, then you just do that without comment. But if it's something that's going to stay with you and gnaw at you, then say something. Again, not with, "But with your last three girlfriends, you X and Y!!!," but instead with, "I feel ..." awkward knowing X, or sad/hurt that you Y, or funny about knowing Z.

Finally: If you can resist the temptation both to feel threatened by his past and to use it as a standing comparison to everything you have now, then this knowledge you have of each other can be your means of cutting through a lot of the ... interpretive dances that couples tend to do in the early stages. The candy and flowers were one of those dances, and you know enough to recognize what it meant. That's a great advantage if you treat it as one and come back at him with honesty and vulnerability, vs. an insist-upon list.


Not "in love": You know those people who dump their significant others because they "love" them but aren't "in love" with them? That's me, except I don't want to dump my girlfriend. Is it wrong to stay with her even though I don't really think I'm "in love" with her? I do love her, I care about her, and I don't want to hurt her. I can imagine us having a pretty good life together, just maybe not having that "spark" or "passion" that people talk about. I think this may well be as good as it gets for me, and it seems good enough. Is that so wrong?

Carolyn Hax: I think so, wow--talk about a life half-lived. You're not saying, "I choose you." You're saying, "I choose inertia."

But if she wants to have the same kind of relationship with you, eyes open, then go for it. Just don't feel you have any right to choose this sparkless life for her--which is exactly what you'd be doing if you in any way lead her to believe she is your one and only.


Re: Mixed Signals: The problems with starting a relationship via text messages? Let me count the ways...

Carolyn Hax: I know. r shld i say i no.


Give me permission to breach etiquette!: Are there ANY circumstances under which I can take back my invititation acceptance to one social event in order to attend another? I said I would go to a co-worker's party when he announced it over a month ago, but a close friend of mine decided to have a birthday dinner on the same night. Both of them strongly want me to come. I accepted my co-worker's invitation first, but I am a more important person to my close friend. Would I be an etiquette-less jerk to attend the birthday dinner?

Carolyn Hax: Yes. I wish I could snap my fingers and summon all the anguished letters from hosts who threw parties for 40 people only to have 15 show up. You said you'd go, so go. If your friend feels strongly, s/he can move the birthday dinner to another night.

To answer your actual question, yes, there are circumstances under which you can miss an event for which you RSVP'd yes: when the thing you do instead is an unpleasant alternative to what you would have been doing. That includes being sick, being snowed in or stranded somewhere, helping someone who is sick or stranded, or dealing with a family emergency, be it a death in the family or just a flooded basement. You get the idea, and the idea is, a more tempting invitation doesn't qualify.


Do I have an eating disorder?: Carolyn- Where do you draw the line between being healthy, and having an eating disorder? I try to not eat more than I need and choose healthy things when I do eat, and I also exercise regularly. I'm just trying to be healthy, but some people asked questions or made comments insinuating I have an eating disorder. How do I respond to that? If more people made the healthy choices I do, this country wouldn't be so overweight.

Carolyn Hax: Where do you draw the line between defensive and judgmental? The way you eat and exercise, and whether it's healthy for you, has absolutely zero (0, nothing, nada, zipsteroonie) to do with the state of the country's waistline.

While it's possible you've been pushed to snippiness by an inordinate amount of rudely expressed interest in your weight management methods (it certainly happens), it's also possible you're defensive because you know something's wrong but you don't want to admit it (that certainly happens, too). Since you're the only one who knows whether you're on the receiving end of external rudeness or internal denial, I'm going to leave it to you: Do you have an eating disorder?

If you're not sure about various technicalities of "the line," you can do some reading at, or contact the Renfrew Center (there's a what-do-you-do-now? page on their Web site,, that includes an 800 number as well as link to start e-mail contact).

Just take care of yourself; that's really where the line is.


How much PDA do I owe my girlfriend?: Carolyn, My girlfriend is a lot more comfortable with PDA than I am. She always wants to have her hand on my leg, kiss me, sit on my lap, or whisper in my ear. I don't think this is wrong of her, but I'm really not comfortable with it in public. She understands that,but she thinks I should put up with a little discomfort to make her feel loved.

I prefer to share those private moments in private, and they feel false when I do it in public. But I want her to feel as valued when we're out as she does when we're at home. I just wish she could KNOW that without the PDA. How do we reach a compromise?

Carolyn Hax: It isn't a healthy compromise if it makes one of you feel uncomfortable in a way that isn't eventually going to pay off in a way that eliminates the discomfort.*

So, that means you need to say to her, "I tried/wanted to try to give you more of the affection you say you need, but it felt false, so I can't do this for you." Then she has a choice: Love you as-is, or decide this is something she needs and break up with you.

While her violation is more egregious ("She thinks I should put up with a little discomfort to make her feel loved" ought to be carved into the marble edifice of the Dysfunction Hall of Fame), you're both guilty of the same thing. And it begins with the words, "I just wish ...." ANY time you find yourself uttering those words about someone else, that's your cue to start the process of building new expectations on a foundation of reality. "She needs constant reassurance of my feelings in the form of public mauling. Even if she finds a way to live without being mauled, can I stand to be with someone who doesn't trust my affections will last from one day to the next?"

And for her part, her "I just wish ..." [my boyfriend would maul me in public to make me happy] is telling her to start building from scratch, starting with: "He will always feel uncomfortable with showing affection in public. Can I be happy over the long term with the idea of not having my touches reciprocated about 70 percent of our time together?"

As loaded as my phrasing is, there are actually some people who ask these questions and respond with, "Yes, I love my life with this person, and so this one way we differ is something I'll gladly accept about us." But that's just not a realistic outcome to hope for if you don't flush it out into the open and see it for what it is.


Wanting to be Tactful: I don't want my 6-year-old son going over to his friend's house to play because the friend's parents are gay. I am not homophobic and have nothing against gay people--I just don't want my son exposed to this unfamiliar lifestyle at such a young age. I just think he's too young to understand. If he was older, it would be different. We've had my son's friend over to play several times already and it's getting awkward not sending our son over there. How can I explain my feelings without making it seem like I'm homophobic or without offending my son's friend's very nice parents?

Carolyn Hax: Why does he have to understand? Or, more specifically, what is there for him to understand at this stage beyond, two people who love each other have created a home together? If he asks, you can point out that the majority of couples are male plus female, but that in every range of normal there are averages cases (like brown hair) and variations (red hair). Sexuality is no different--and you don't even need to use "sexuality," you just need "couples."

Meanwhile, the best way not to "seem" homophobic is not to be homophobic. Keeping your child away from his friend's home because his parents are gay is a homophobic choice: You're treating this couple as an undesirable "other." The best thing you can do for when your son is older is treat this very nice family as you would any other very nice family.

Also, not for nothing, I have a hard time believing your son, at 6, isn't already fully aware that his friend has two mommies/daddies. My kids were on to that well before age 6, and were naturally accepting of it. Kids are open to the world as it's presented to them; it's adults who teach them to start filtering it all in arbitrary ways.


Party Etiquette: I disagree with Carolyn, etiquette be damned (or not). This is your close friend, and you clearly want to go to her party over his, not because you got a "better" invitation but because she is important to you. I think there's room to switch parties if you handle it well, which means being honest with the coworker and telling him just that.

I think the world might be a happier place if people weren't forced into doing things based on rigid social conventions.

Carolyn Hax: If it were a hastily planned wedding or something more one-time-only significant, I might agree with you--say, if someone very close were unexpectedly coming through town from far away. If this close friend were sick or moving away, that would count, too.

But this -is- a case of a "better" invitation. Not ditching organized parties isn't a matter of "rigid social conventions," it's a matter of showing respect for the fact that hosting is a laborious bit of generosity to one's guests. Even when it's done with pleasure (as it should be) it still takes a lot of effort and it's still a slap in the face when someone says, "I know you knocked yourself out, but I'm going to pass." If the original party is for, say, 100 people and is fluid, then the RSVP'er can make a polite appearance and then ditch for the dinner. But otherwise, the host has feelings that need to be treated with more care, in this case, than one's own.


Mixed Signals II: the perils of the modern era. I was in a different time zone, she was sick. I'm at home, she's likely at work.

So I should've called and possibly interrupted a meeting with a cell?

Carolyn Hax: No, you call at a time that she's likely not to be at work, unless it means your getting up at 3 am. Or, you email. Or you call and trust her not to have her ringer on in places where a ringer would be inappropriate.

I text, but will not defend the text.


Re: Wanting to be Tactful: Would a six-year-old even notice/care that they're a couple? If you think back to being six, the grownups were just tall people who were around, and their relationships with each other were irrelevant. He'll be much more interested in his friend's new and different toys.

Carolyn Hax: Notice, some would, yes, but care? Not likely. Not all kids are alike, but I do have the advantage of having a few 5/6/7-year-olds handy to help me answer this, and my answer is, to them, Mom/Dad or Mom/Mom or Dad/Dad, it all just -is.-


Therapy, USA: Hi Carolyn -

I sent this question in last week but am hoping you'll have a chance to reply this week...

You often (I think rightly) advise therapy for people with more serious life issues.

The thing is that conventional talk therapy hasn't done much for me. It's possibly slightly better than nothing, but it's hard for me to spend the kind of money I have to on therapy when it hasn't made a discernible difference after 5 or 6 months of weekly sessions.

I've tried 4 therapists in the last few years and have felt like they weren't very helpful. And I really did try -- I wasn't just going & hanging out. In 2 cases, I even felt that they were harmful.

I've got some really good friends, but I'm not comfortable dropping my issues on them. Said issues include a parent in prison for life, incest, a sister addicted to crack -- these are not light, or things I can even mention to most people.

Can you think of other things I can look to for help?


Carolyn Hax: You can talk to the most skilled/accessible of the failed therapists and say, talk therapy isn't doing it for you--what are the other options as far as types of therapists and therapy? It's not a one-size-fits-all field; there are different schools of thought and training, and you might benefit from having a guided tour of your choices.


PDA: My brother has always avoided PDA. He dated a woman for nearly six years (high school sweetheart) whose family believed for all six years of that time that he didn't really love her because he was "such a cold fish." At first, this woman was very self-conscious about the lack of PDA -- primarily because her family was so busy telling her my brother couldn't possibly really love her if he was able to keep his hands off of her in public. Eventually, she realized she should stop listening to her family on this score. And guess, what -- they're now married (18 years) with two kids. Some people really do need more PDA than others, but sometimes people only think they need something because family/friends/society/trashy romance novels tell them they need it.

Carolyn Hax: I like this story, thanks--applicable so far beyond the narrow issue of PDA.


New York: My close friend kissed my brother at a party. Or vice versa. I'm not really sure why I'm so uncomfortable with this or whether it's my place to bring it up with either of them. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: I think it can be hard to see people you regard as "yours" become (even fleetingly) each other's--but I also think, once you acknowledge that to yourself, you need to realize that none of us gets any say in these things, and let go. They belong to themselves, and if they find happiness in each other, yay for them. Part of the grownup code.


Re: Eating Disorders: Carolyn, I just want to make the point that there is a world between healthy, normal eating and exercising, and an eating disorder. There are lots of unhealthy ways to approach your diet and exercise that don't include full-fledged anorexia or bulimia. Google disordered eating and take care of yourself.

Carolyn Hax: That's true, thanks. And it's possible for both parties in today's scenario to be in that gray middle somewhere: the one who's a little too wrapped up in controlling food intake, and the one who's a little too wrapped up in monitoring other people's food intake.


PDA: I dunno, maybe i'm extra judgmental today, but the girlfriend who wants to sit in his lap in public sounds like an immature nightmare. Most people don't like to watch that much PDA from others... if he's uncomfortable, I'm betting his friends are too.

Carolyn Hax: I was chiseling her nightmarishness into marble, so if it's you, then it's not just you.


Chicago: A good friend of mine just got engaged to a relative of hers. I don't know what to make of this. They met at, of all things, a family reunion. They have the law on their side (I think they're second cousins once removed, which is legal in Maryland), but they share some physical characteristics (maybe just by coincidence, but still) and I'm just...not on board. Weirder still is that she makes a point of telling everyone immediately, almost like she doesn't want to be accused of trying to hide it. I feel like you'll know what to say to make me snap out of it.

Carolyn Hax: I'll say upfront that I don't know anything about this, but, just as a no-nothing, I have to think second cousins once removed be legal anywhere. Right?

If you've got the relationship right, then they share a great-grandparent (and great-great grandparent, for the one who's the extra generation removed). So that means there have been five people outside the gene pool who have come in and contributed to the family line since that initial ancestor in common (two on one side, three on the other). That seems to be a fair amount of fresh water in the pool--enough that it doesn't even have an ick element to me, really.

As for her talking about it, it seems about as bad as anyone who tells their news exactly the same way to a long sequence of people--stagey and forced, like when they show clips of a politician doing the same stump speech day after day after day. So the genes are likely pretty well mixed up by now, but the story could use a shake or two.


Spectrum of PDA: There is a huge spectrum of public displays of affection from walking arm and arm to hand holding to being all over eachother to the point of being told to get a room by strangers. Is there really not a compromise to be had here? Walking arm and arm = yes. A PG kiss at the airport before one of the couple takes off = yes. Sitting on a boyfriend's lap in a restaurant = no. Some people just seem to be making it a black and white issue when there does seem to be room for compromise.

Carolyn Hax: As one of the "some people" who have made it black-and-white, I beg to differ. Yes, there's a huge spectrum. But as presented to us, she's asking for something he has tried but that makes him uncomfortable. And she's defending her request. That's the issue, and it won't be solved by a summit on the merits of hand-holding vs. lap-sitting. She needs to see that asking other people to do things to make her happy overlaps only narrowly with healthy behavior--and that overlap is where the requested behavior is something the other person can comfortably and sustainably give, and wants to give. That doesn't appear to be the case here.


Habit: My boyfriend has the annoying habit of passing off responsibility for many of his major decisions. For instance, he recently went to Vegas for a bachelor party, all the while maintaining that he didn't really want to go but felt obligated because his friend wouldn't understand if he stayed home. Last night he told me he'd be home by 9, and when he showed up at ten thirty and said his entire soccer team had stayed for drinks and he would have felt bad not staying.

I get really annoyed when he passes off responsibility like this. I've pointed it out to him, and he just blows it off. Do you think this is problematic, or should I just accept it as a quality that he's never going to change? If it is problematic, how do I point it out to him?

Carolyn Hax: How have you pointed it out to him? How does he blow it off?


Nightmarish PDA: Count me among the many who do not need to see people mauling each other in public. Having said that, however, we are getting this from the guy's point of view, and from a guy who admits to being uncomfortable with PDA. She could be an immature nightmare -- or he could be beyond cold fish, as the one peanut called her brother. For example -- sitting on his lap for a minute or two at party where seating is extremely limited, versus sitting on his lap in a restaurant where there is clearly a place other than his lap for her to sit. I don't want to defend excessive PDA because it's something that makes me uncomfortable, too, but I'm just sayin'

Carolyn Hax: If he's beyond cold fish, though, then she should break up with him, instead of sticking around and insisting that her level of PDA falls within widely accepted norms and therefore he "should" provide it, whether as proof of affection for her or proof of normalcy or proof of citizenship. It doesn't matter: She made her case, he tried, it felt weird to him, he doesn't want to do it. They are who they are, and they need to take it from there, wherever that happens to lead them.


PDA: On the flip side of the coin, I am a person that is naturally very affectionate. I spent several years with a man I completely loved, but who wouldn't even hold my hand in public. I accepted it, because I loved him, but it never stopped feeling like rejection. Especially when we were in large crowds. He is a large man. I am a tiny woman. It would have made me feel protected and cared about. I really don't think asking for small physical touch in public is asking too much. Holding hands or putting your arms around each other. (Things you would feel comfortable doing with friends.) I understand not feeling comfortable with sexual touching, sitting on laps, rubbing thighs, etc (things you would not do with friends). So the question is, does the guy touch her at all in public, or does he keep her at arms length? If a stranger observing the scene wouldn't know they were a couple, perhaps he could be a little bit warmer.

Carolyn Hax: I'm going to plotz.

Or, she could grant him leave to be himself. You and the guy broke up, I take it from the verb tense in "spent several years with"?

There's no objective definition of what is "too much to ask." It is subjective all the way, and it is determined by this: You ask, and then you see whether you receive. If you do not receive, then it was by definition too much to ask, and you make your next decision accordingly. If you receive, then it wasn't too much to ask.

There is so, so much misery to be avoided in applying this simple definition. Waiting for something you'll never get is hell, and the ability to justify this thing you await does absolutely nothing to improve the waiting experience.


Leesburg, Va.: Re: "Tactful"

I was the kid with two daddies growing up. I'm still bitter toward the parents who refused to allow their children to play at my house. It was hard enough dealing with the kids and parents who were openly hateful. Having parents interfere with friendships I was able to develop despite the stigma (grew up in the 70's - like to think it's better now) was insult to injury. Don't kid yourself that your decision is not hurtful to the children. They're savvy and will pick up on it. Not to mention the other child's parents. Nobody's wearing blinders here, except maybe the parent seeking tact. Stop sugar-coating it.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks so much for speaking up.


Talk therapy not working: Therapist here. Carolyn, you were right on about telling your therapist it doesn't feel like it's working. Therapists are NOT mind readers, although they usually have an idea of what's going on. Your therapist might've been feeling it too. Any therapist who gets offended by you telling them you feel therapy is not working is not worth going to. Most will gladly have a conversation about it, and help figure out how to make it better, including a referral to someone else. Therapy is a relationship and it's okay for YOU, the client, to own it as well.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. I hope this takes the edge off for people afraid to have this conversation.


Boston: Single dad, two kids. I've been seeing a woman, "Pat," and as soon as it got serious I introduced her to my kids. She is stiff and awkward around them (not much experience with kids, talks to them like infants even though they are 5 and 8), and my daughter, in particular, really does not like her. I feel torn apart by this and I don't see any effort on her part to improve on it, even though I've talked extensively with her about my concerns. What comes next? I'd hate to think this is as far as this relationship can go.

Carolyn Hax: Have you talked about it with your kids? If you tell them pretty much what you said here--that you really like Pat, but she doesn't remember what it's like to be 5 or 8 and has a hard time knowing what to say--then maybe your kids could help break some of the ice. It's a long shot, granted, but kids do like to be included and to have parents count on them in manageable ways. If you give this help a specific shape that you formulate with your kids' input, that could address the "manageable" part; for example, if you and your 8-year-old think up something you can all do together that will help Pat get more comfortable.


PDA: You know, my boyfriend is more comfortable with PDAs than I am. And I asked him to dial it back, which he did. And now I find that I kind of miss it.....

Carolyn Hax: ... and so you said that to him, right?


To Shower or To Party: My fiance's mother is hosting a baby shower for my fiance's aunt. I know and love this woman and can't wait for this baby to be born. Because of the weather the baby shower has gotten delayed twice, the last time to next Saturday afternoon. Last week, my fiance came home telling me about an important work event and party (with $200 tickets). The problem, its the same day as the baby shower and the times pretty much over lap (if you add in that the events are about 2 hours drive apart). My fiance already told his boss we would be at the work event. How do I let his aunt and mother down telling them I can't make it?

Carolyn Hax: You tell them you can't make it. Geesh. Anyone who finds a new date for a postponed party has to know there will be some people with scheduling conflicts. If you're worried about sensitivities given that these are in-laws-to-be, then trust that your genuine disappointment will read to them as genuine--but underscore it anyway by sending something to the party, like a floral arrangement or fruit or cookie bouquet. Just clear whatever you choose with your fiancee's mom, since you want it to be useful, and not just something else for the hostess to deal with.


More Than Spilt Milk: I held a drunken bash during which a great time was held by all, but two of my friends spilled drinks--one on the carpet, one on a couch. I know who the spillers were because they both told me and apologized, but neither of them offered to pay (for carpet shampoo--regular cleaner didn't get the stain up, and for the reupholstery I now have to do on the couch). They're both good friends otherwise, but I'm really offended by this. Should I ask them to pay? Judge them in silence? Let it go?

Carolyn Hax: Well, wait a minute. If you open your home to a bash, then you open yourself to spills. I could see charging them for damage unforeseeable by you and preventable by them--say, they played living room volleyball with your ceramic sculpture. Likewise, if it was a fairly tame gathering and someone got outrageously drunk, then I could see hoping, even expecting, the drunk to assume responsibility for any resulting property damage. But a spill by a reveler or two among a welcomed houseful or revelers is an accident. Upholster the couch in dark red this time and let it go.


Bethesda hostess: I've been the hostess whose guests never show up, and honestly it's made me stop throwing parties. Believe me, your hosts get the "you're not important" message, and it sucks. I guess my point is, you are hurting some one's feelings, even if they say it's no big deal, etc., you still ditched them and it stings.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. I'm getting a few of these, and I think it warrants pointing out that it's not just about no-shows. It's about people who ditch with explanation, too.

While the no-shows are the worst, the people who let the hosts know they've changed their minds can be almost as bad--or completely forgivable. This is the huge range that's really hard to negotiate, and this is where I was targeting my answer, because some, "Oops, I can't make it after all" situations are inevitable. But the ones that are avoidable should be avoided just out of decency to the hosts. Punking out of invitation-only parties has to be done with the hosts' feelings in mind, and can't just be because when the time came, you just felt like staying home/feting your much closer friend.


New Hampshire : The other day, I made a somewhat crass but completely in-character joke at a party. I didn't mean anything by it and my friends all laughed; I'm famous for this kind of humor. (To clarify, it wasn't tasteless, misogynistic or insulting, just unfiltered, if that makes sense.)

My new girlfriend (who till recently has only seen the best of me in all circumstances) was furious. Her response wasn't "Please don't say things like that around me," it was "I don't want you to be the kind of person who ever says things like that." I'm very confused about this. She's asking me to be a different person than the one I am, no? Given that the joke was pretty tacky, do I owe her this, or is this an occasion where I get to invoke Take Me As I Am doctrine?

Carolyn Hax: You can try, but the thing is, if you really though it was funny, and went into it knowing it was (a) tasteless and (b) funny in part because if how tasteless it was, then I think you are solidly in "This is who I am" territory.

There's nothing wrong with saying that to her. Say you know the joke was tasteless, so there's no a-ha! moment to be had here--and say you know she has every right to her opinion of what's funny and what isn't, but that you -are- the kind of person who says things like that. Say you can filter yourself for her (well, for a while, maybe) but that won't change who you are, and if she has a problem with that, then it's important that both of you are honest with each other now.

And, finally, if you don't email me the joke, I'll cry:


Managing Jealousy...: I meant to submit this earlier but a meeting ran late -- hope you can squeeze it in.

In six months, my ex-boyfriend is marrying my good friend. I was the one who broke up with him, but now I'm suddenly jealous -- seeing through her all of the good qualities that I might have underrated when we were dating. Now whenever the three of us our together, the evil side of me tries (with little success so far, thank God) to flirt with him, bring up inside jokes, remind him of how much fun we used to have and how he used to find his now-fiancee really annoying.

These are terrible, immature things to feel, and as a result I've been pretty much dodging calls from both the ex and the friend. Is there a better solution?

Carolyn Hax: Yes. Maybe.

You can try to recognize that the "good qualities that I might have underrated when we were dating" aren't just isolated traits of his, but instead are the byproduct of his pairing with her. We aren't just who we are in a vacuum; we react with others and produce a whole other entity. That's why two perfectly good people can be perfectly awful together and make others around them wish they'd break up, or at least see their friends solo. And, two perfectly good people can pair up to become something great.

If you can see them, together, as having produced the kind of chemistry you'd like to have with someone someday, then that's something that can make you feel a lot better about yourself--and by extension better about them.

If that doesn't work and you revert to that awful sabotage mode, then making yourself scarce is a good idea. Admitting your nasty impulses to your friend might be a good if counter-intuitive move, too. I'd be surprised if she didn't notice, and your copping to it could help her see that, no matter how horrified she might have been, you were more horrified. A goodwill gesture, if nothing else.


Where is the New : Chat Format? Didn't you get the memo?

Carolyn Hax: Yes, I know, and I haven't been brought into it yet.


Re: Responsibility deflector: Hi C, I'm hoping you can provide a further response to the woman with the BF who deflects responsibility, even if she doesn't write back with how he blew her off when she confronted him. It's not an issue I've ever seen come up in your chats, and it's one I deal with. The example given of the ersatz helpless people-pleaser going to Vegas for a bachelor party he says he doesn't even want to attend really struck a chord with me.

Carolyn Hax: You actually answered it yourself, in a way. If you spell out the issue in an extremely user friendly way, and you get no satisfaction in return, then that tells you who you're dealign with: a hopeless people-pleaser, or some other version of a person who doesn't own his own choices.

By user friendly, I mean you make it clear that you attach no judgments to any one choice, but instead to the lack of a choice. E.g., "If you want to go to the bachelor party, that's fine with me--I'd want you to go. And if you don't want to go and don't go, that's fine too. And if you feel it's important to go because it's such a big deal to your friend, then, great, I'll support that. I'd just like to know where you stand."

Some people, when they spell it out like this for someone, find out the other person has been conditioned to hedge, and is willing (even relieved) to try to be more transparent. But that's not always the case. You have to see what you get.


Carolyn Hax: Eek, gotta run. Thanks all, have a great weekend and type to you here next week.


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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