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Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems

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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 19, 2010; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Friday, March 19, 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.

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E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.


Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody. I'm going to be off next week, so there won't be a chat next Friday. I'll be back as usual on Friday the ... er, 2nd? 2nd. Thanks.


Washington, D.C. -- Possible to be unlovable?: Is it possible to be unlovable? I'm a 28-year-old female. I've never been in a relationship before. Every time I fall for a guy he either says he just wants to be friends or he's just not "available." Typically, after that, he continues to call me frequently just to talk--sometimes everyday. I am stuck in the same pattern with men and I am trying to keep myself from believing that it's not possible for someone to love me at all. I don't know what to do to get out of this. In the past I have taken dating hiatuses (as long as a year or more) but as soon as I resumed dating the same thing happened again. I'm feeling stuck.

Carolyn Hax: If you were truly unlovable, people wouldn't call you just to talk, and they certainly wouldn't call you on a regular basis. Since you've long since identified this pattern, considered it a problem and actively tried to address it, and since it persists nevertheless, now's the time to consider talking to a good therapist about what might be going on. Obviously you want to choose your counseling sources carefully, but I can't say enough good things about the general institution of the objective observer.


Not a hypothetical question: Dear Carolyn,

Submitting in advance, in the fervent hope you will answer.

If a woman's husband has been verbally and emotionally abusive toward her throughout the course of their marriage, and the wife finally becomes fed up and wants to leave, what do you see as her obligation toward him and the marriage, if he says he -now- wants to change his behavior?

Do you think she is obligated to give it a shot, go for counseling, give him another chance because he says he needs her help and feedback in order to change? I am the woman in this scenario and I don't want to give it a shot, but he has me thinking I should. I feel as if I've given him many chances over the years and he ignored me until faced with the prospect of losing me.

Carolyn Hax: That he is trying to guilt you into staying is a clear sign that he has not reached the point where you should trust him.

You know you can trust someone when you know s/he has your back. And how do you know that? When there is daily, unambiguous proof that this person treats your needs as equal to your own.

Since life is imperfect, that often involves some averaging--for example, this person will occasionally do something around the house to give you a break, when you're fully aware this person could also use a break, too. That's a small example, but it says big things. It says you have a teammate who is capable of thinking selflessly for the greater good of the partnership.

Of course, big examples can also say big things. And he could say a lot here by saying to you: "I get it, I have treated you abysmally and unforgivably, and I;m going to do what I need to do to get well. I understand you have to do that as well, and so I'll support whatever it is you decide to do--stay or go." That's someone who has your back. Right know, the only body part he's looking out for in this marriage is his own butt.

Get some outside help from people who have the training and experience to work with people in abusive marriages, and do whatever you need to do to get well.


Baltimore, Md.: Carolyn,

How do you suggest one moves on and gets over regret? Regret for not getting that dream job, regret for not taking that trip around the world, or regret for...you name it. I can't help but wonder (obviously too much) what my life could have been like had I done those things.

Carolyn Hax: The silver bullet against regret is to make something valuable of the life you have now. It doesn't have to be valuable in the eyes of society--big house, fancy job, Nobel Prize, etc--just valuable in your eyes. Say, knowing you've been helpful to someone who really needed it; being around someone whose face lights up when you're around, or who makes your day brighter; being able to pursue a goal that feels worthy to you, or a hobby that's fulfilling to you; having freedom to try new things where otherwise you'd be tied down ... the limit isn't your circumstances, but instead the imagination you bring to your circumstances.

Short version: When you like where you're going, you tend to look back a lot more fondly on what got you there.

Shorter version: Look forward, not back.


Atlanta: Hey, Carolyn. I've already made a decision about something, but I guess I'm wondering how to deal with the collateral damage. My wonderful boyfriend and I have decided to get married. Next Tuesday. At City Hall. We neither of us can stomach the idea of a big show and feel it is really a private matter--the rest of the marriage is when other people get to butt in.

My parents are going to be upset. Really upset. I'm the only daughter and my mom has been making noises at us about how much she's looking forward to planning our wedding and when are we going to hurry up and get engaged already? This is exactly why we're doing it the way we are.

Is there a good way to handle this? We are going to my home for Easter, and I planned on telling them then. In person, with enough people around that there hopefully won't be a scene. Am I being a coward?

Carolyn Hax: Yes, you are. You're being brave, to an extent--you're taking steps to live your life on your terms--but your courage runs out when it comes to facing your domineering mother.

Don't sneak around like naughty children, don't hide behind a crowd when you tell the truth, don't present the truth to her as a fait accompli. All of those choices are setting this up to be a source of bad feeling and bad associations.

Please talk to your mother, face to face if it is at all possible, and be prepared to say, "Mom, you've talked about planning my wedding for as long as I can remember. I wish I felt the same way, but I don't want a big wedding. And so I am not going to have a big wedding.

"'Pookie' and I are going to get married on [date here] at City Hall. If there were a way for both of us to have what we want, then I would do it, but since our desires are so far apart, I have to go with what's right for 'Pookie' and me. I know this will be hard to accept but I hope you will also find a way to be happy for us."

It's not a very original speech, and there's a reason for that. When you choose to act against a parent's wishes, you need to hit certain specific key points: acknowledging their position, showing you care about it even though you disagree, laying out your priorities and course of action, demonstrating your resolve, and opening the door for peace.

It can help, too, to offer some form of compromise--namely, to invite them to give their blessing to this choice by being present at the wedding as witnesses. That's your call, because it depends on their ability to play along--and your ability to say, "We've invited you as a witness, and nothing else, which means no catered lunch afterward" (or whatever boundary-crossing has been proposed). If you really really can't trust your mom not to show up with Aunt Mary, Cousin Lou and a tray of Swedish meatballs, then, yes, she's leaving you no choice but to sneak now and spring it on her later.

Still, you don't want to use the hide-behind-a-crowd option. That usually just makes people feel even angrier about the controversial news. Tell her privately.


Alexandria, Va.: I'm not a girly-girl, not that there's anything wrong with that. I've never gone for ultra-feminine clothes, I like watching sports and drinking beer, don't do jewelry or flowers, etc. That's just who I am and I'm not being contrary or rebellious. My question is, why would me just being me offend some men? I'm not trying to emasculate them with my awesome map-reading skillz.

Carolyn Hax: Being different isn't what gets under people's skin, usually--it's being in their faces about being different. It also, generally, doesn't matter whether you're on the defensive or offensive about being different. It's the overall effect of appearing not to be comfortable in your own skin that will keep people from warming up to you.

I realize I'm committing the first crime of advice columnizing--using the fact of your approaching me against you--but your asking this question says, "Look at me, I'm a girl who watches sports and drinks beer!" It's hard to break a habit of being self-conscious, especially since the process starts with your being highly conscious of yourself. However, it can work, and here's what you do: when you're about to do/say/wear something, ask who your audience is for this decision. If it's anybody but you, then rethink it and make the choice that you'd make if no one were looking. Lather, agonize, repeat. Conscious choices like these don't stay conscious forever; eventually they lapse into new, and I hope more rewarding, habits.


Raising Children: I'm home with my two children (6 and 4 years) and this will likely change soon as the economics of our lives require I go back to work outside the home. I'm okay with doing what I need to do to help the family financially, but am flummoxed by the attitudes of husband, in-laws, and friends. Do people really think it's "easy" being home and with the children? People, at least in my life, seem to undervalue what I've been doing these past few years. They seem to think "going back to work" is just another given. I'm incredibly proud of what I've done and am conflicted about not being there for my kids full-time in the future. You're a mother. How does one express the accomplishments and strides that no one else seems to value?

Carolyn Hax: You do need to work this out with your husband, by the means that appear here so often: "When you say X, I feel Y," followed by a request/suggestion that he take the kids on his own for stretches of Saturday or Sunday.

You need the latter part mainly so he can walk that invaluable mile in your shoes, but also, if you can swing it, use this time to start laying some groundwork for when you do re-enter the paid work force. Whether it's taking the time to re-establish social/professional ties, or take a class, or research changes in your industry, etc., will depend on the line of work you plan to pursue, but the general idea is one that serves both of your purposes and for that reason may be be easier to sell to a husband who doesn't think your current line of work is a big deal.

As for in-laws, friends, etc., forget trying to get credit. Seriously. Watching your kids blossom is both your reward for your accomplishments, and your announcement thereof. Certainly you should feel free to correct the record with a friend who says something dismissive about what you do. Otherwise, though, people who don't get it either don't spend enough time around small kids to get it, in which case it's not personal, it's just a lack of firsthand experience--or they have limited experience that they extrapolate into The Way Everything Is, and so may not realize that they or their moms or their Aunt Susies may have had an unusually smooth go of it (calm baby or babies, only child, lots of outside support, etc.), and that's not true for everyone. Just saying how hard it is won't change anyone's mind, so there's no point in spinning your wheels over it. You do good work. You know it, your kids will probably be ready to thank you for it in 20 years or so, and occasionally you'll run across others who get it, often in surprising places. Not a lot, but not bad, either, right?


Carolyn Hax: Interesting ... responses are all over the map on the not-girly girl. A sampling:


For Not a Girly Girl: Some men will be offended or challenged no matter what you do. Thing is, they won't be the same men. So pick the ones you don't offend...

Carolyn Hax: Can we change "men" to "people," and make it universal? Then we'd be on to something ...


Okay, really?: It's 2010. Women watching sports, let alone drinking beer, is really not an issue or even remotely outside the norm. When I (beer- drinker, sports-watcher extraordinaire, and a woman) have problems with other women who have similar tastes, it's because they only want to watch sports and drink beer in the company of men, and not being a "girly" girl is code for "I don't like hanging around other women," for whatever reason. Not that this is the poster's issue, but that kind of defensiveness is familiar.

Carolyn Hax: And another:


For Alexandria, Va.: Carolyn, I think you were too hard on the non-girly-girl. Assuming she's not flaunting the things she just naturally likes, the men who are offended by her map-reading skillz are probably insecure about their own map-reading skillz. Just being ourselves shouldn't offend other people... but sometimes it does when our strengths overlap with things they perceive as their own weaknesses. In that case, it's their bad for taking it personally, and it has much more to do with them than us.

Carolyn Hax: And:


For the Non-Girly Girl: I don't think Carolyn's response got to the question the poster is asking. I'm just going to be blunt about it: men like "girly girls." I don't mean they want a high maintenance woman who drops $400 a week on mani/pedi spa days. I mean a girl who looks nice and likes girly things. Men like girls who like sports but they don't want to date another dude. A girl who paints herself up for the big game, drinks the biggest glass of beer, and taunts the quarterback until he cries is not the ideal woman for 99% of men. We like women who take care of themselves and enjoy things we like, without literally being just another guy in the room.

Carolyn Hax: I've got a beer-flecked raspberry for this one. "We"? There's just one man, duplicated 3 billion times?




Chicago: Can the non-girly girl from Alexandria give more details about her question? Who is getting offended by her sports watching and beer drinking? How does she get the sense that some think she's emasculating men by these choices? Really, what's the problem? Because she sets up her question so defensively, and then give so few details as to the particular issue, it's hard to know what's going on. Carolyn's answer is fine, but has to assume a lot, and if those assumptions are wrong, well...

Carolyn Hax: lyn.

Like I said, all over the map. Which I won't try to read lest I scare off any man. Har. Har.

If I see anything that illuminates a whole different angle, I'll post that, too.


Carolyn Hax: Oop--two more new ones, just as I posted that ...


It's 2010- lots of women drink beer and watch sports: She's not exactly breaking new ground here. Lots of women drink beer and watch sports, some of them dress "girly" and some not. Personally, I enjoy both activities, and find that men tend to enjoy my company. It's not because I make them feel better by wearing skirts and lipstick whilst watching, it's because I am friendly and enjoying myself.

It's not the 1950s. That poster needs to get over herself.

Carolyn Hax: And if they bowl or play croquet, they drink beer -while- playing sports.


Not a girly-girl: I'm a guy, and it sounds like you rock.

Carolyn Hax: That rounds it out, thanks.


Girlier than thou: Some non-girly women use their non-girly-ness as a defense mechanism; "I'm more like a man and therefore better than that Girly Girl over there". Internalized sexism, classic stuff. Poster's attitude shows through a bit.

Carolyn Hax: gah, I can't lay off it.

I agree with this, though I don't think it always has to be about sexism. It can just be insecurity, and the girly-girl option doesn't seem available to them for whatever reason (often looks, but not always), so they compete with other women by scoffing at girlness. That's the attitude I thought I sensed in the question, too.


Mmmm....: Now I want a raspberry beer, specifically the Clipper City one. Mmm, midday drinking and basketball watching instead of putting off important work-related phone call.....

Carolyn Hax: I'll take an IPA, no berry flavoring, yes to basketball--though you guys should see the charred remains of what was my bracket. I did one of the public ones on washingtonpost.com ... Jodi, can you post the URL? And the only good thing I can say is that I'll be out of my misery soon.


Re: Atlanta wedding: I'm feeling a little sorry for her mom. She's been dreaming of her little girl's wedding for years and years, and now she's going to be told in front of a roomful of people that it's not going to happen. I know people need to live their own lives and not let their parents run them, but it just seems sad. I didn't want a huge wedding but my parents wanted to pay for one, so we compromised and had a medium atypical one outdoors. I just hope she thinks about it a little bit and considers if there's any compromise she would be willing to do. I didn't really get a sense of whether the mom was a total control freak, or that she will just be really disappointed.

Carolyn Hax: It is such an important distinction, thanks, and that's why I offered the either-or in my answer. If this mom would be able to contain herself, and go to a JOP wedding without imposing herself on it, then shutting her out is needlessly harsh, and I would feel for her, too. On the other hand, there are no shortage of parents who, in this situation, would do everything in their power to derail the quiet wedding and rain their stress down over the whole thing--and the children of these parents deserve societal license to do what they need to do to without the judgments of under-informed bystanders.

Really it comes down to a warning to the people making the decisions: Don't escalate where it's still possible to manage, contain and deflect.


You're a mother. How does one express the accomplishments and strides that no one else seems to value? : Consider the other side of the coin: you seem to think the only "Mothers" with a capital M are stay-at-home-moms. Working Moms are Mothers too and deserve just as much admiration as SAHMS. It reminds of that old saying "Ginger Rogers did what Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels." Working moms do what Stay at home moms do, but with a full time job and in high heels.

Carolyn Hax: No no no, don't make it about this! This is -not- a Ginger-appropriate comparison. Working moms and at-home moms and working dads and at-home dads all have their challenges, and, hell, so do the single parents and single non-parents and paired-off non-parents, whether they're working or non- or un- or under-employed. (Did I cover everybody, or did I piss off people in communes?)

She, an at-home mom, called upon me, a mom with a full-time job, as one who can sympathize. The inclusive way to look at this was just as readily available as the divisive one.


For Atlanta: She should tell her mom about her wedding plans privately, but couldn't she also suggest to her mom that she throw a reception, if mom wants a big party? That would seem to be a no-brainer decent compromise, and if she can't negotiate that, then there is something else going on regarding control issues.

Carolyn Hax: That is one potential compromise, but, again, it depends on the mom's ability to play fair. Most do, but some don't.


Re: Raising Children: I can't help but wonder the context of Raising Children's family's and friends' comments. For instance, in response to a complaint about how hard it is to stay home, a friend may say, "Well, you're getting something huge out of it, right?" trying to be encouraging but taken as "suck it up." Also, if Raising Children is saying to her worknig mom friends, "It's just so hard to the right thing by your children when society has made it okay to abandon them to strangers," or the like that is often spouted by frustrated stay-at-homes who feel disrespected, it may strike a nerve with the working moms, who defend themselves with the snippy, "Well, if you had a real job, you would have twice the responsibilities." Raising Children may be the paragon of tact in discussing these issues, but because they are deeply felt on both sides, she may want to reevaluate her own comments on the subject.

Carolyn Hax: Widely applicable, thanks.


Arlington, Va.: Carolyn, is there a point at which a person should stop making efforts to include relatives in family milestones when those relatives have a history of not showing up? One side of the family has come in and out of our lives over the past decade -- there's never been a reason given as to why; it just seems to be their pattern with us and other relatives. Over the past year, my spouse and I went through an extremely traumatic event which we informed these relatives knew about. They have been MIA since after we told them about said event, and I can't help feeling hurt that they weren't there for us when we needed emotional support. A milestone is coming up for our child, and we're torn on whether we should include them, risking regection again, or forget about them. The added complication is that our child is reaching an age where she is noticing that she hasn't seen these relatives in a long time and wonders why. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: The relevant point, I think, is the point at which you recognize these relatives as flaky, and stop counting on them, be it to show up for your events or to support you through difficult times. That doesn't mean you necessarily stop inviting them--you just issue invitations knowing there's about a 20 percent chance they'll actually show, even if they RSVP yes.

And when you find yourself having to explain their behavior to your child, you make a conscious effort to stick to the facts: "Yes, it has been a while since we've seen them"; "I do hope they're able to come, but they often don't make it"; "I'm also sad they didn't come, but I'm sure they had their reasons." Over time, their long absences and selective appearances will do what your careful words and barely concealed anguish can't: It will weaken your child's emotional tie to them, to the point where they're barely relevant to her.

I.e., she'll be more objective about them than you are, provided you don't wear your emotions about them openly, or actively encourage her to get her hopes up or to take it personally when they don't appear.


Manassas, Va.: Hello. My sister and I are wondering about something and I said we should try and get your take. Our brother and his wife (and their two kids) are not hurting financially. They both work, live in a more expensive area than we do and send their kids to private school. Their son and my son are almost the same age and like to get together for their days off. My nephew was here for president's day vacation and they spent almost the whole day playing Wii. At dinner, my son said "you should get one for your house. They're really fun." and my nephew said "They're too expensive." He seemed very matter-of-fact about it, like it was perfectly normal.

I know for a fact they can afford it. My sister and I are wondering why on earth they would say that to a little kid. They went to Italy last fall, and they can't afford a wii?

What's up?

Carolyn Hax: Do you know for a fact? With a high cost of living and private school tuition, they could have very little disposable income, and if travel is their priority, they could be putting their meager extra money aside for that in favor of buying a video game system.

Granted, they could use a month's worth of travel savings on the Wii and plan their next trip for August instead of July, but then the question becomes, why should they?

And if they've just made a decision to prioritize themselves out of the video-game market, whether for financial reasons or for we-don't-want-this-temptation-in-our-house reasons, and they've chosen to explain this to their son as "too expensive," then maybe they're guilty of taking an explanatory shortcut with him. Maybe instead they should have had the backbone to say, "We know you want a Wii, but we don't think video games are good for kids to have around the house"--but maybe then they don't want him to think they're judging his cousin's family's decision to have one.

And maybe none of these explanations covers it, but this question will: Isn't this getting a bit too deep into the business of your brother's family? if you have no bigger concerns about the way they're raising their kids, why not keep the yellow flag in your pocket on this one, and trust that they have their reasons?


San Francisco: My girlfriend and I have been together for three months. I called her beautiful last week, just in passing as I caught a glimpse of her while we were running around setting up for a party. She gave me, I don't want to say a blank, but rather a shocked vulnerable expression, and then moved right along, not acknowledging it any other way.

She told me later after we had cleaned up that not a single person in her entire life has ever called her that and she therefore doesn't know how to respond. She's just come to assume over the years that it wasn't true of her. She's been complimented on her brains and her will--and for very valid reasons. If it makes her obviously uncomfortable, should I stop calling her what I think she is--a gorgeous specimen of humanity?

Carolyn Hax: Does it make her uncomfortable? Did she say that as part of the conversation, and did she ask you to stop? "I don't know how to respond" is very different from, "Please stop making comments about my appearance." If it's the latter, then, yes, you stop.

As long as its the former, though, say what you want to say when you're moved to say it (within reason--you don't want to make your guests barf), and then see whether she rises to your words or shrinks from them. Then respond to any visible discomfort by asking her if she'd like you to stop.


Derwood: Like you, I am heartily sick of the stay-at-home vs working parent debate. For example, I know mothers who totally suffocate their children because they -- literally -- have nothing else to do and moms who do the same thing because they need to be totally in their child's face to "make up for lost time" while they are working. It's not whether they are gainfully employed, it's how they approach parenting. (i'm trying not to diss dads here bt I hope you get the point). So much wasted energy.

Carolyn Hax: Hear, hear. Thanks.


D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

I am getting married in about a month. My father, who has been in and out of my life and is currently completely in hiding (He got married quickly after a divorce, lost his job and planned to move to the middle east to teach English. I haven't heard from him since October of last year). Things were going well with us when he was getting divorced, but I voiced objections to him getting immediately into a new relationship and he disengaged. Because this is a huge event for families, I fear that I'm going to be asked frequently as to his wearabouts- he hasn't responded to my wedding invite. What do I say?

Carolyn Hax: No matter how tumultuous or disturbing the reasons for his absence, there is no variation in what you need to say. "He couldn't be here, I'm afraid." Done and done, don't even bother worrying about it. Really.


Working Dad: Man, everything seems to be black of white today! I'm a working dad who is considering becoming a stay at home dad, so have been thinking about this a lot. It's not that one is better than another. We try to make choices that are the best for our kids WITHIN THE CONSTRAINTS IN OUR LIVES. There's no right or wrong answer overall, because it is each parent's responsibility to do the thing that's best for their child given what they can do. In the first poster's case, she needs to go back to work to provide better financial security for her family. In my case, we are blessed to have more financial security, and my staying home would take pressure off of both my wife and me, especially for my wife who has an accelerating career. Judge parents based on the decisions they make given their circumstance, not in some one choice is right or wrong world.

Carolyn Hax: You could replace childrearing-related words in this with beer-, sports- and frilly-clothing-related words, and it would make just as applicable a statement about the way we define ourselves relative the the norms of gender. That, and it would be an awesome Mad-Lib. Thanks for the shot of gray.


The Wii: Really. They are refusing to buy their son a video game system, not food or medical care. Butt out.

Carolyn Hax: I don't know. Setting up your kid to suck at Mario Kart might constitute child abuse.


Carolyn Hax: Yes, I am punchy, but no, I didn't go off to drink beer and watch hoops. My browser crashed.


Boston: Hello Carolyn,

I know you have answered similar questions... How do you stop you if you are judging someone. Specifically I think my friend is being too judgmental about others. Isn't that me placing judgment on my friend?

Carolyn Hax: You know, you can really send yourself down a rabbit hole with this stuff. You don't need to get all the labels right, judgmental vs non-, judging vs. having opinions, etc.

If you don't like your friend as much as you used to/thought you did, then it's okay to spend less time with him or her. And if you do still like your friend but suspect s/he (and the conversation) might be getting dragged down by a harsher-than necessary outlook on others or on life, then you're certainly in a position to say, "I dunno, I don't think X is as bad as all that," followed by a mild defense of whatever you think is being judged too harshly.


Richmond, Va.: Hi Carolyn. I'm having trouble with my best friend. She's head over heels in love with a guy, good, although I think she's pretty co-dependent. Her life seems to revolve around him at the moment, her feelings for him, a possible future. She recently decided to get therapy to deal with some pretty intense insecurities she feels with this relationship. Yay. I have been friends with her for years. I know she can be drama queen but I don't have the stomach for this now. I've got my own very real problems (very sick parent, horrible job, fertility issues) and it bugs me when she prattles on about her latest introspective moment. I've tried to distance myself with the thought that when my life takes an upswing I'll be more apt to listen to this. But she's not getting the hint and, ugh, I suppose I'm avoiding a tough conversation and chance of hurting her feelings. Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Sounds as if you're trying to compartmentalize her where seeing the whole person would serve you better. She isn't a friend who has lost her way in a relationship because of her insecurities, and who separately has drama queen tendencies, and who separately is spending more time talking than listening at a time when you could stand to have someone listen to you.

Your friend has some hollow spots in the middle, and she fills them with inflated accounts of herself. If it weren't 3 pm-ish and I weren't coming off a browser crash I might try to find a nicer way to put this, but I do believe you've just had the kind of planetary alignment that tells you your best friend might not be quite the person you always thought. It happens sometimes, that your circumstances allowed you both to be your flawed selves leading lives in a comfortable parallel formation that didn't call your suitability for each other into question. And it happens sometimes that one of you faces a big stuggle, and the other continues on the same path as if nothing ever happened, and you see you were just parallel poeple, and not close friends you had thought.

I hope this isn't true for you. You've got a lot going on in your life and this is no time to find your friend is only your friend when you're able to stand by her at the center of her drama du jour. So, the best thing you can do to start is to tune me out and try to see if she can be there for you: "Hey, I know you're going through a lot with your therapy. I'm going through a lot too, though, and I'd prefer to have a sympathetic ear than to be one."

if she rallies for you, for real, then chuck all the gloom I just laid out. if she lashes out or punishes you for sharing your true feelings, then take some solace in knowing that these friend upheavals usually do accompany hard times, whether you can bear to think about it or not. Like the cliche says, you find out who your friends raelly are. Good luck with those very real things.


Carolyn Hax: Thought I'd be coming back with a quick answer to something. Oops.


Falls Church, Va.: So, I'm 28, single (have a boyfriend of a year and a half) and bought my own place last year. I have always wanted a dog, and I understand all of the responsibilities of having one. But I am getting so much push back from everyone, including the boyfriend, that it will impact my life too much, it will change everything and take too much time to take care of. I'm thinking about all of these things, but how do I know if I'm really ready for the responsibility of a dog?

Carolyn Hax: Dog-sit for your friends who have dogs? If you've never had a dog, you'll need to start slowly--taking over walks, maybe house- and pet-sitting for people with dogs--but as you get the hang of it, you'll start to see what changes will come to your life.

BTW, if you have the money to hire help -for- a pet, then the extent of the changes won't be as great as if you're doiing everything yourself. Dogwalkers, vacation boarding, doggie day care can really lessen the impact on your life. Just something to consider. If you are a beginner, I recommend talking to someone at a good shelter (Washington Animal Rescue League in DC comes to mind) about how to become a good pet owner. To quote "Animal House," knowledge is good.


East Coast: This is more of an etiquette question, I guess. I'm going on a trip with two girlfriends. They're very on top of things and planned their flights and our hotel two months in advance. I bought my plane tickets one month in advance. Because of how my flights are working out, I have to shave two nights off of the trip. They still want me to pay for the two nights in the hotel that I'm not there. Is this reasonable? I haven't brought it up yet, but I feel like they'd still be going even if I weren't there.

Carolyn Hax: I could argue that your procrastination shouldn't cost them money. If it was planned as a trip for all of you all along, and the hotel was chosen to reflect the budgets of three people traveling together, then you eat the two hotel nights.


Carolyn Hax: Though context does matter--I'm open to mitigating circumstances.

BUT I have to let Jodi go, so no more making up for the lost time ...

I also just realized I forgot to revisit the separate vs. joint accounts issue, so look for it on Hax-Philes while I'm away.

I think that's it. By all, thanks for stopping by, and see you the Friday after next.


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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