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Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems

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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 16, 2010; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Friday, April 16, 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.

Good news! Carolyn's archives have been updated. Check out the sidebar on Carolyn's archive page to find even more transcripts from past Hax chats.

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Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody.

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Somewhere, MO: Carolyn, Is it wrong to argue with people on facebook? When people in my family (who are also my facebook friends) make me angry, I post long posts on their page telling them so. People tell me I shouldn't do that, but I'm an adult. I can do what I want. I am just sticking up for myself when I do it. I'll post status updates, and people post comments that are sometmes just rude. People tell me I shouldn't post personal things about my relationship and are always on my case for posting things to my boyfriend in my status updates. Is it so wrong that I want to prove to the world that I love him? Aren't they the ones who are wrong here? Why should I have to stop posting certain things just because other people don't like them?

Carolyn Hax: You're entitled to be as childish and self-indulgent on your posts as you'd like to be, if that's what you mean. Your friends and family are also entitled to un-friend you, and I' surprised they haven't.

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Carolyn Hax: Yes, I' surprised.

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East Lansing, Mich.: I'm in a terrible marriage and I don't know how to get out of it. I have two small children, which greatly complicates things. My wife has become extremely abusive, both physically and verbally. She has thrown plates and glasses at me, hitting me in the face once, which required a trip to the ER for stitches. Every day I get home, she berates me for any number of things (not making enough money is a favorite). I desperately want out of this marriage, but she told me that if I try to divorce her she'll take every penny I have and worse, she'll tell the police that I'm abusing the children. Her parents back her up 100 percent and they said they're willing to lie on her behalf to make sure I never see the kids again if I leave her. What do I do?

Carolyn Hax: Find a very good attorney, asap, and quietly get detailed instructions on how to protect yourself from what your wife is threatening, and to protect your kids from this damaging home. You can also call 1-800-799-SAFE to get similar instructions and some local referrals to counseling and legal resources. Again--take very careful and considered steps toward extracting yourself.

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Somewhere, MO on Facebook: As an employer with job openings who researches my candidates, yes, please, reveal your childishness and unprofessionalism so I know not to hire you. Thanks for the tips.

Carolyn Hax: Nice.

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Hanging on your answer!: Cake or pie?

Carolyn Hax: What kind of cake? What kind of pie? What does the provider specialize in, cake or pie? You know I need more information.

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Lie by Omission: My boyfriend of a year and half didn't lie, so much as didn't tell me something major that was going on his life. He said he wanted to get the situation figured out before he told me, so I wouldn't worry. He's been dealing with it for 6 months! Whereas I believe he thought he was doing the right thing, he wasn't, and I've shared my anger with him on that. I've known something was bothering him for a while, and tried to get him to talk, but was met with "there are things I have to work out on my own". I started taking this all very personally and thinking there was something beginning to go awry in our relationship. Which is another reason, I'm very angry with him. I know I can get over my anger, but the major problem now is trust. I feel like I'm going to always be waiting for another bomb to drop. How can I move on from this and learn how to trust him again. FWIW, he did say this is the only thing he's been keeping from me.

Carolyn Hax: That's helpful, I guess, but it's not the point.

What really matters is whether he gets that his way of coping with this major thing may have been fine when he was not committed to anyone, but now that he's in a relationship, it warrants rethinking.

You've described what you noticed, said and felt, but you haven't said anything about the way he responded. Did he come around to see things from your point of view, or did he defend his withdraw-and-conquer strategy as his way/his right/whatever?

If he gets that you spent 6 months staring at his back and wondering what happened, then I would suggest trusting that his eyes are now open and bad situation is unlikely to repeat itself. You would owe him that, just for making the effort to put himself in your place and to admit he made a mistake.

But if he defended his way of coping, then you shouldn't just worry that it will happen again, you should expect it--and decide now whether you want to stay with him on those terms.

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Miami, Fla.: Hi Carolyn,

I used to work with a guy who I disliked very much at the time--he was condescending and rude when he wasn't flattering me because he wanted something. All this despite the fact that I outranked him at the time and he is much younger than I am. Several years, promotions and reorganizations later it looks like I will have to work with him again. On the one hand, it is important to me to be honest, and not pretend to like someone I don't like (or respect). On the other hand, at work it is necessary to get along with others despite personal feelings. What would you do in this situation? Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: 1. Remind yourself that this person's attitude isn't personal, it's just the way he choses to be.

2. Open your mind to the possibility that he has grown up somewhat in the intervening years while you ...

3. Prepare yourself for him to be exactly the same. Don't confuse "opening your mind" with "getting your hopes up."

4. Approach him as you would a trafficky commute or a balky piece of machinery. If you know there's going to be a 5 minute backup every day at the same intersection, it doesn't get under your skin as much, right? You just build the extra time into your trip?

So, likewise, build this guy's manner into the way you work with him. You need to get the job done, and so your approach to him can start with deciding what's necessary to get the job done, and planning the best way to accomplish that--whether it means preempting opportunities for him to be rude, or preparing neutral statements in response to his rudeness (and flattery), or thinking ahead for ways to incorporate/exploit his strengths as a way of minimizing the annoyance you feel at his attitude.

Remember, it's not personal, it's not personal.

Good luck!

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Speaking of cake (having + eating) : Seeing a guy but we are not yet exclusive. He is concurrently seeing another woman who is pressing him for a commitment. I am starting to get the feeling he is using me to leverage her, by which I mean scaring her with the thought that if she pushes too hard, he will just pick me. We are all in our late 20s/early 30s. To what extent is it my responsibility to get my guy to act more respectfully toward this other woman (whom I've never met and don't particularly like, based on his descriptions)?

Carolyn Hax: If I read you correctly, he's dogging this girl to you while he's still seeing her. Your only responsibility here is to avoid subjecting yourself to people who are either two-faced, or too cowardly to break up with people they don't actually like, or both.

If I've misread it, and he's speaking fondly of her but you just don't like the person he describes, then that's a different answer--but it still doesn't come out in his favor. Why is he talking to you about this other girl?

Either he likes her and is still seeing where it will take him, as he's doing with you, in which case there's no need for you to hear about it beyond, "I'm seeing other people, too, as we get to know each other" (or however one wants to say that); or he's too clueless to realize that thinking out loud about her isn't exactly thoughtful behavior while on a date with you; or he's deliberately playing you both off each other.

If this whole other-chick subplot is anything more a conversational ort relative to the cake of your time together (see, I can torture a metaphor too), then that's a bad sign.

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Georgia: Hi Carolyn, I'm a man, and I hate my mom. I have heard from many women that this is a red flag in the dating world, i.e. that a man who doesn't get along with his mom is a potential sociopath. With the possible exception that maybe it doesn't count if it's for a good reason. My reasons are probably stupid ones. I'm wondering whether you think it's good/bad/okay/indefensible not to tell women about my bad relationship with my mom. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: What are your reasons? I won't tell.

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Domestic Violence: 30 years ago, as a young woman, I worked on behalf of battered women. Your advice to all, female and male, who raise these questions is right on target. I cannot say enough that whatever they fear about the future, it will be so much better (and, one hopes, safer) than the present. If the victim can't do it for him/herself, do it for the children -- one way or another, the violence always seeps towards them. And by the way, many high-end law firms have partners that will take this kind of work on probono -- it's worth contacting your local bar association.

Carolyn Hax: Great suggestion, thank you.

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RE: East Lansing, Mich.: Can you and/or the original poster explain how someone gets like this or how someone gets into a marriage like this? Obviously this guy's wife didn't act this way in the first six months they were dating. This woman seems like a she did a complete 180, especially with the threats of false accusations to law enforcement.

The real reason I'm asking is because things with my boyfriend are going well. Really, really well. We're very happy, but I don't want to be writing you in ten years, saying, "My husband is such a louse. He never does housework, he's secretive, and he's probably cheating on me. I'd like to leave but he said he'll make my life miserable if I do." My eyes have been wide open since date #1, but after reading posts like these and others I'm worried I'm with some sort of dual personality as this poster seems to be.

Carolyn Hax: I actually wrote out a detailed description of the process in a chat a few months back, and it made its way into one of may adapted columns. I will look for a link to post next week, unless, Jodi, you can find it now? If it takes any more than a quick search then we'll leave it to next week.

Another place to learn about this is "The Gift of Fear" by Gaving deBecker. The main point of the book is that violent behavior doesn't come out of nowhere, but instead follows a series of incremental steps that lead up to the point of violence or abuse. These steps are in plain sight and identifiable to people who know what they're looking for--or, more to the point, to people who aren't tuning out the little voice that's telling them, "Something isn't right here."

In other words, his main argument is that people don't do "a complete 180"--they follow a progression that starts small, and therefore allows their potential mates to tune out/rationalize away these early steps, thereby putting them deep into relationships before the abuser's behavior gets extreme and forces them awake.

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Disappointed: I greatly dislike my teenage daugther's boyfriend. Is it worth saying anything to her about it? I can't believe she would go for someone so disrespectful and aimless. I know she's only a teenager, but I'm concerned for her future choices of partners as well as for how her infatuation is affecting her attitude, her schoolwork, etc.

Carolyn Hax: Address the effects, not what you perceive to be the cause. E.g., if she's ditching schoolwork or her grades are slipping, then deal with that--she can't go online/watch TV/see guy until her work is done, etc. If she gives you attitude, let small things go and address the bigger bird-flippings, by letting her know that the respect she wants is contingent upon her showing the respect for others, for rules, for civility. You know what she wants, and you know to what extent her having these things is in your control. Let her know plainly that as long as she does her job--acts respectfully, studies responsibly--then you will stand in the way of what she wants as little as possible. The vice-versa can be implied.

The point is to give her big, fat, clear incentives to govern herself well. You will have to be the limit of last resort for obvious things, like making her go to school, for example, and saying no to things that are illegal or unacceptable in your household. This isn't carte blanche for her to start acting like she's 24.

It is, however, a careful trip around the issue of the boyfriend himself. You attack him, and you attack her, and triggering her defenses is one of the surest ways to get someone to push against whatever behavior or values you're trying to promote. One way to think of what you're doing is to put a floor under her so that, if this boyfriend really is bad for her, she can't get dragged down too far.

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Georgia: Well I guess hate is strong, but I really dislike her because I do not have much respect for her. She's not very smart and she is very old-fashioned. She has no goals for herself and she lives mostly on alimony payments she gets from my dad, who earned that money by building a career from the ground up. She is a sweet woman but can't seem to function without a man. And she has weird conspiracy theories about the country's politics and the presence of certain ethnic groups. Just a bunch of unrelated things that add up her her being the last mom any guy would ever choose for himself.

Carolyn Hax: This is really interesting. Since you seem to regard her as weak-willed and weak-minded, it's especially important to know: Was she a good mom to you? Was she there, was she warm, was she attentive/suppportive? Or was she flighty, absent, in over her head as a mom? Did your dad know who he was marrying when he chose her? When did they divorce and why?

Also important: What was her upbringing like? Was she one of many sibs, and if so, were they like her? Or was she an only? Were her parents "old-fashioned," too? Were her parents good to each other? To their kids?

There's a purpose to all of this, really. Thanks.

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Cake girl again: Neither, really. He speaks neutrally of her, but I have a hard time mustering up respect for anyone who whines about wanting a commitment but isn't willing to cut ties when one doesn't happen.

Carolyn Hax: But isn't he whining about her whining, and also unwilling to cut ties?

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Grudgeville, USA: Why is it wrong for me to hold a grudge against someone who did something horrible to me over 20 years ago.

Forgive and forget? I don't think so. Not gonna happen...so why am I always getting --"oh, you should just let it go..."

Carolyn Hax: I don't know--why are you always getting, "Oh, you should just let it go"? I.e., why is it still a topic of conversation?

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Carolyn Hax: Full of questions today, I am.

Talking like Yoda, I am, too.

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D.C.: A good friend asked to borrow a substantial sum of money. Over the past few years she's had some bad job luck and gotten severely into debt. I've tried to be supportive and I've sat down with her and brainstormed ideas a couple of times, but then she hasn't done anything to make changes. I understand that she feels very overwhelmed, but it's also frustrating to watch. She's currently working part time, but turned down full time hours since she thinks she would get burned out. I can't lend her the money, because I know she wouldn't be able to pay me back. I won't give her the money, because I don't support her decision to not move to a cheaper apartment and to work part time. She's not doing anything to change things, so she still won't be able to afford her rent in two months. And also, I can't afford to just lose that much money. She said I could say no, so I did, but said I would give her a smaller amount as a gift, for a security deposit on a cheaper apartment. We used to talk every day but now we haven't spoken in 3 days. Help?

Carolyn Hax: Nope, no help. You did the right thing. Just for the sake of argument, let's say you were completely wrong about her willingness to change her ways (tho it doesn't sound like it). You still assessed what you knew based on the information available, decided what you could live with, and acted on that decision. Sometimes a friend has no choice but to stick to his/her principles, and provide an unpopular answer. If your friend feels she has grounds to object to your decision, then she should say so and give the friendship a chance to repair itself, not go underground. You did what you had to, and now it's on her.

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For Disappointed: Your daughter already knows you don't like her boyfriend. I agree with everything Carolyn said about addressing the effects the relationship is having on your daughter, but please also consider finding things to like about this boy. Yes, they are teenagers and the problem will likely resolve itself with their eventual breakup, but it's worth trying to like him now anyway. Here's why: your daughter will other boyfriends, some of whom you won't like. She might marry one of them. I married someone my mother didn't like at first. She has never really tried very hard to like him, or see that he makes me happy, or really consider him part of her family. She doesn't have to say it to me - it's very, very clear. And it hurts. So much. It has really corroded our once-close relationship to the point that I don't feel like sharing very much of my life with her because I know she's gritting her teeth on the other end of the phone through every mention of him.

Please, please use this boyfriend's presence in your life as a chance to find things to like about someone you dislike. I wish my mom had done the same.

Carolyn Hax: Nice thought, if a sad one, thanks.

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Detroit: After a three-year man-battical. I'm now seeing a pretty amazing guy. But foolishly, I established a nearly impossible standard of beauty for myself. From shaving my legs, (which I never did before, but he comes from a culture with a lot of hair-free women) to wearing makeup, which I normally never wear because 1) I believe it is just for special occasions and 2) I don't need it to look my best. At what point can I start to let myself go? The grooming regimen is killing me.

Carolyn Hax: If you don't need makeup to look your best, then start by looking your best without it. it doesn't have to be more complicated than that.

As for the fuzz, I have to admit, you've left me adviceless. "He comes from a culture with a lot of hair-free women," I think, is my main problem, because I've got this image of armies of women without eyebrows.

How about this. Approach shaving--and makeup, for that matter--as you'd be willing to approach it for someone whose approach to beauty didn't line up with yours. Would your attitude be, "This is who I am, love it or leave it"? If yes, then stop shaving.

Or would it be, "Sure, I'll shave, it's a small thing to do for someone, even if I envision having to shave for the next 50 years"? In that case, keep shaving.

Whichever you predict your final resting philosophy will be, that's where you go now with your grooming. As you get to know him better you may find he's okay with or even prefers the less-tended version of you, but in the meantime you can at least find an intermediate approach that reflects a level of maintenance you're ready to sustain, whether you eventually have to or not.

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Cake: I see where you're going with this. You're suggesting that my annoyance is misdirected? I kind of just think he and I are being conversational when we talk about the other girl. In any event he isn't "whining" about her. For instance, yesterday he was telling me that she is upset he isn't going to a wedding with her, which is relevant to me because the reason he can't go is my birthday is that weekend. He and I were talking about it to try to brainstorm solutions about how he could make it up to her.

This is probably starting to sound really weird to you. But the point is, I don't think he should have to choose between us if he doesn't want to, and I also don't think he should have to feel stretched so thin so she doesn't have a meltdown.

Carolyn Hax: It's fine to direct some at her, I suppose, but your involvement with this--specifically, with his management of her expectations--is actually sounding worse with every incremental bit of information. And not because it's "weird," even.

His answer to her on the wedding is, "I'm sorry, I have other plans." If she's going to be upset about that, then (a) that's her problem, to be solved with his help only if he likes her enough to regret not being able to go to the wedding. In which case he doesn't "brainstorm," he says, "I really regret that I can't go, but I made these other plans. I'm sorry."

If he doesn't regret missing the wedding, then (b) he needs to say, "I see other people, by choice, and if it's going to upset you this much that I do, then I think it's best that we don't see each other any more."

It's also (c) not something he needs to be sharing with you. Not because he should be hiding it, but because he needs to deal with his own dramas without dragging other people into them. Talk about a trait that gets old fast.

Let's say you do emerge as his date of choice, and marry him, and have a bunch o' kids. Do you really want to spend your date nights trying to "brainstorm solutions" for mini-dramas at his office? Certainly spouses will help each other through the occasional big problem; the advisory role in a relationship can be rewarding and valuable to both. But, helping him manage his dating-more-than-one-girl drama points to your eventually brainstorming on how he can tie his shoes while chewing gum and getting to the ringing phone before it goes to voice mail. I mean, dude, just deal?

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Georgia: Flighty is a good word to describe it. Most of the structure and consistency came from Dad; Mom was loving but not very reliable and she became even more of a liability after the split. She is from a very big family and is kind of regarded as the black sheep of her siblings. I think most people she is close to have had the experience of cleaning up her messes. She is less needy right now because she has a well-to-do boyfriend, but I know when that relationship ends she will be a mess again. She has never been mean to me, and I have never been mean to her. She is always interested in meeting my girlfriends and until recently I didn't have a problem with that. But recently I started realizing that girls take offense at the way I talk to and about her. Hence my question. Sorry for dragging this out so much...

Carolyn Hax: No, I was the one asking you to drag it out. And I appreciate that you did.

And, I think I got what I was after. The way you talked about your mother in your second post came across as a ticker-tape parade of red flags. You respected your impressive dad, and you had nothing but contempt for your unimpressive mom--and you should know that the huge hole in the story (how your mom was at home and in her family) left room for people to fill in their own conclusions. The easiest conclusion to draw was that your mom kept the household and kids together while your dad built his business, and neither you nor your dad held her in any regard whatsoever for doing that. That comes across as misogynistic, and would definitely scare off women who were sizing you up as a potential mate. Kryptonite-style.

Your third post suggests your dad was holding down the household and the business, which does change things a bit.

Still, the picture you paint of your mom is more pathetic than evil. While neediness is, admittedly, one of those traits that can make you throw the word "hate" around even when you're fully aware you're dealing with a victim, it's still something that gives me, and probably will give women who meet you, pause.

This is not to steer you toward faking a story about your mom, or manipulating your words about her to create a more palatable impression for the women you're dating. That would be a step down from where you are, which is honest if nothing else.

A step up from where you are would be to make some peace with your mom, or at least your feelings about your mom--and also to take a hard look at the language you use when you talk about her. Calling her "traditional" is no favor to your mom or to people who really are traditional. There are some formidable characters tending homes while their traditional husbands tend careers, and so to speak so loosely of your mom is to speak derisively of them.

It seems as if your mom is a weak person who tries to hide in tradition, at least as long as people are willing to shelter her. It also seems as if she's a sad, fairly sympathetic character ... right up until you reach the point where she has brought you into one mess too many.

There are both men and women like this, if this is accurate, and so too there will be men and women who get what you're saying. You'll have a better chance of finding them--or at least not scaring them off when you stumble upon them--if you're more careful about the whole picture. She is a loving person. She did her best, which wasn't much but it was her best nonetheless. She came up short on life skills, for whatever reason. She does what she needs to get by. She is -not- representative of any one lifestyle, but instead stands only for herself.

And, she's a complicated part of your life. You've found a way to deal with it that involves staying at arm's length--which in turn involves asking your dates to have faith that you have your reasons. They'll bemore likely to have that faith when your words don't sound angry, and don't cut so close to some touchy generalizations.

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For Georgia: It sounds almost like you're ashamed of your mother because she holds what you consider to be inferior beliefs (about politics, about whether or not she needs a man to be whole, etc.).

None of us get to choose our parents, unfortunately, and sometimes the ones we get are not people we'd choose to be around in any other situation. It happens. If she was good to you as a child (not perfect, but attentive, or loving, or just honestly trying to do right by you), that is at least something you can respect about her even if you don't like her personally. Focus on that if you can.

If she was abusive or neglectful, then you have more important issues with her than her politics, and it might be time to let go of the excuse for not liking her and start paying attention to the bigger problems.

Carolyn Hax: Another vote for rounding out the view of mom, thanks.

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For Cake Girl: Carolyn, can I please provide a giant "ick"?

For cake girl, it really sounds like he's playing you. And probably her.

Run.

Carolyn Hax: I think they're all angling for something, actually.

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Today's cartoon: How much would I have to pay Nick to put today's cartoon on a T-shirt.

It would be my non-so-subtle reminder to oh, just about every person in my life!

Carolyn Hax: There will be a Web site to help you with this question soon--Nick and Zuzu (his business manager) are working out the details. Stay tuned.

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Maryjane or no Maryjane: My husband and I made the mutual decision that we were going to try getting pregnant later this summer. I made an appointment with my OB, had tests done, etc. to ensure I was healthy. I've even started to take a prenatal vitamin now based on my doc's recommendation. So we are set to go in a few months. Except for one thing. My husband is a recreational MJ smoker. This doesn't generally bother me, until I read that it can greatly affect fertility. I've asked him to stop smoking for the 3 months before we start trying (what's recommended) and until I'm safely pregnant. After that he can go back to his habit (though no more smoking around me or in the house obviously). He was upset and said that I was being ridiculous and overly paranoid. Am I? I work with kids with all kinds of learning/mental disabilities and my husband and I are both in our mid-30s, so I'm just trying to be cautious.

Carolyn Hax: He was upset and called you ridiculous? If he had nothing riding on this, then he would be willing to do research with you to find out whether he needs to stop, or should stop just in case, or there's no science to support stopping at all. That he got angry before even weighing the issue says where his priorities are, and that's with M.J.

And I haven't even gotten into the fact that it's an illegal habit; we're just talking about the health thing, and crossing T's on the implications of his smoking. he won't even do that. Has he even agreed to stop smoking around you and in the house?

Or, better Q: Sure you've got a good dad picked out for this baby?

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Way up North: Probably beside the point, but the guy's description of his mother screamed "alcoholic" to me. It's a little unusual, but entirely possible, to grow up with an alcoholic parent and never notice the drinking, just the mess. The guy's responses also seemed typical of adult children of alcoholics. Just a thought.

Carolyn Hax: Interesting take, thank you.

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For Georgia: You might also consider that if the girlfrieds are meeting mom and THEN being upset by the way you talk about her, that part of the problem is that they're meeting a woman who doesn't match the expectations of your words.

By your own descriptions she is NOT currently the way you describe her because she has a rock to stand on.

Trying to view your Mom in a gentler light is a good thing, but being clear that her current stability is a result of the rock she has to stand on rather than her own feet on the ground may go a long way towards others understanding your view of her.

Carolyn Hax: Another thoughful look, thanks.

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Cake: I could totally be misreading, but the letter writer sounds like she's getting perverse enjoyment out of being the "good" girlfriend. Like she's hoping her "coolness" will ultimately lead the guy to pick her.

The other woman could be a total pain in the tush. I don't know -- I've never met her. But at least I give her credit for stating what she obviously wants -- an exclusive relationship -- rather than doing this weird girlfriend/therapist hybrid.

Carolyn Hax: I don't think you're misreading; this is the angle I think she's working. Thanks.

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Grudgeville, USA -- continued: It was the death of a sibling, and the "grudge" is more of a constant animosity for the widow, because of the way my parents were treated about and at the funeral (i.e, my parents paid for all the expenses, but had no say in any of the planning -- the parents-in-law reigned; the widow destroyed, gave away or otherwise discarded my sibiling's personal effects without telling us, etc.)

The "oh, you should just let it go," came up at a funeral I attended on Wednesday. Someone asked if I had any contact with said widow...I replied in the negative...and then was lambasted by the questioner about "why couldn't I gust let it go."

Any thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Oh, that's awful. I have to think the person who asked you wasn't privy to what happened, in which case, you think charitable "They don't know what they're saying, because if they did they'd be horrified" thoughts toward people who presume to judge you. If you need a response to "Why can't you just let it go?," then consider, "I'm sure you mean well," and walk away.

I hope, too, that you've at least tried to ascribe charitable motives to the widow--people do strange things with shock and grief.

I also hope you've talked to, or will consider talking to, a therapist about this, one who specializes in grief. Anger is a common place for grief to wander when it can't find a constructive place to go, and anger, when left to sit, is so corrosive to the vessel.

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Albany, Oregon: MJville: It doesn't sound very recreational if he can't quit for three months.

Carolyn Hax: Zackly.

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For Georgia: I suspect I'm older than the poster -- my mom I always thought was "flighty" and protected and we had issues -- well, now my Dad is sick and my mom is amazing. She is handling finances, doctors, etc. etc. She is driving (she never drove). She is amazing. Sometimes people don't shine because all the light is being put elsewhere. Now I can look back and rethink some memories and wonder about the "true" story. I am ashamed it took me so long but the "story" of our family seemed true. I am a better listener now to other people, or try to be. Try to be more accepting of little personality traits. Hope this helps.

Carolyn Hax: I think it's broadly applicable, even if it turns out that Georgia's mom is nothing like yours.

I had a similar awakening after mom died and I realized that qualities of our family life that I had attributed to Pops had been Mom's doing all along, and vice-versa. I had just never seen one of them function independently of the other, so I never had my assumptions tested.

It's in our nature, I think, to create a narrative to explain our lives and organize our memories--and when that narrative is based on a misconception, it's really easy to carry on for years without ever noticing the mistake. We even subtly adjust what we see to fit that faulty-yet-comfortably-familiar narrative, which cements it even further. Hard as it is, though, going back to challenge old assumptions is an important and rewarding process.

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Not liking Mom: My issue with a grown man talking disparingly of his mother is that this behavior/thoughts about his mother may be transferred to MY mother (his potential MIL) and other women, including myself. Also, it just seems like a very narrow-minded way to view things. By the age of 35, I've determined that no one's perfect and we all deserve to be cut a little slack or viewed with some perspective. Your Mom's not just your Mom, she's a woman with a whole life story before you came along. I wouldn't want to be with someone who couldn't see people, as, you know, real people.

Carolyn Hax: You can see someone as a real person and really, really dislike that real person. Even if that real person is your mom. Some people have been dealt some really crappy parental hands, and to punish them for that seems like the insult upon the injury. It's all about the details, and the context, and the quality of the grown person who has emerged from that unhappy history.

If your inner alarms went off during a grown man's disparaging talk of his mom, then of course you would have to respect those alarms and not pursue a relationship further. But healthy, mature adults are capable of harboring even a strong dislike of even the closest of relatives without letting it spill over into their opinions of others. This, too, is an argument for taking people in context, and seeing them as "real people" before vetoing them on one narrow point.

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Anger: Facebook fights, holding grudges, not liking Mom - so much anger. Anger can kill you. It's not about forgiving the other person or not wanting to seem "weak," it's about making sure you don't die alone in a puddle of of your own bile and vitriol.

Carolyn Hax: Or so dependent upon your painkiller that you get upset at the idea of a limited hiatus in the interests of your would-be-baby's health.

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Why does this bother me so much?: Carolyn,

My parents and I aren't exactly close. My mom and I have developed a comfortable relationship of bemused friendship since we're so very different people. She wanted a 50s housewife for a daughter, one who'd live down the road and go shopping and need her in the delivery room. I'm ... not that daughter. I like who I am, and I'm not that. So why does it bother me so very much that my brother's new fiance is all those things and enjoys calling herself my mom's "replacement daughter"?

Carolyn Hax: Because the fiancee thinks this is a competition, and is using her domestic nature (or calculated appearance thereof) as proof that she's winning? And even though you know it's only a competition if you choose to compete, your uneasy peace with your mom leaves you vulnerable to feeling like you've lost emotionally, even when you know intellectually it's NOT a COMPETITION?

It's a theory.

Focus on your relationship with your mom, and don't give your SIL-to-be ANYthing to go on. "Yep, ha ha, you're the replacement daughter, okay, now run off and make cookies!" Smile!

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Speaking of anger: I am so angry at MaryJane dad I can barely contain myself. Is this the level of responsibility he is going to exercise after the kid is born? Poor kid. Mom-to-be, please reconsider -- sounds like you already have a child.

Carolyn Hax: You speak for many, thanks. Much angst over this.

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The real question: Is it time for us Caps fans to panic? Last night was painful.

Carolyn Hax: I know. How bout saving any panic for Satuday night, if it looks like last night.

The way I see it, they came through with a wildly entertaining season, so I'm shooting for gratitude no matter what happens.

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PIE: Blind baked crust, coated with melted chocolate, sliced bananas and filled with banana cream pudding and topped with real whipped cream.

Carolyn Hax: I have no idea what a blind baked crust is, and I;'m still weeping with the glory of it.

And on that note ... buh bye, have a great weekend, and type to you 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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