Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 6, 2010; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Thursday, May 6, 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

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.


Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody, and thanks for coming on a Thursday.


Carolyn Hax: I am continually amazed, by the way, at the level of hostility people feel toward vegetarians. I'm still trying to clear my inbox of the verbally violent spew that has accumulated in response to yesterday's column. I just want to ask them all what, exactly, is so unspeakably awful about eggplant rollatini, for one lunch, one day of their lives?

Then again, if they've never had eggplant rollatini, that could explain why they're so ill-tempered.


Carolyn Hax: I am not a vegetarian myself, by the way. Just a cheerful defender of accommodating a guest of honor when the GofH stands on principle and when the accommodations are [stinkin'] minuscule.


Carolyn Hax: So where were we ... oh right, questions.


Washington, D.C.: I am struggling with being grumpy, snappish, and downright angry a lot lately and there's really nothing going on more than the everyday overload of part-time work, parenting a preschooler, marriage, keeping a house running, keeping up with friends and family, etc. I feel like I can't breathe sometimes because there is always so much to do and I rarely have time to myself. When I do have a few free moments, I'm usually too exhausted to do anything important to me, like write. I end up doing mindless things instead of what I really want, which depletes me further. Any suggestions for breaking the cycle of feeling like life is just a treadmill of constant activity?

Carolyn Hax: The big one is to stop trying to do other things with your down time, even things you consider important. Rest is important, too, and you're not getting any except in the form of the mindless free moments--which you're not even letting yourself enjoy. That makes them less restorative than they could be.

Some of the things making you busy are likely to be around for the long haul, but some--namely, those relentless young-child needs--are temporary. Embrace that. Pick a few things that you're willing to postpone until your preschooler is older and more self-reliant (I'm talking 6, 7 years old, so it's not far off). These can include your writing, or your preferred level of contact with friends and family, your preferred level of cleanliness--all of them are at least candidates for the back-burner.

Similarly, you can pick a few things that you consider your top priorities for right now. Those can include being available to live life at your preschooler's pace, or to make a set amount of time available for writing, or to put alone time on the weekly schedule, whatever.

Once you have these two mental lists prepared, put them into effect. Start postponing the less urgent things, and start consciously making time for your priorities.

And, maybe most important, change your outlook on down time. Make a conscious decision to stop beating yourself up when you spend your precious free time on accomplishing "nothing." Realize you are indeed accomplishing something: You're shutting down. We all have to do it. We can't be productive with every waking minute of every day. Accept this, and the mindless things won't feel like a soul-depleting failure. Slow down, ask less of yourself and others, ask less of this time in your life.

As always, if it doesn't work--if the angry mood persists--then it's time to consider talking to a therapist. Not the kind of you time you had in mind, I suppose, but it might be necessary to find out why you're putting so much pressure on yourself to be everything at once.


Waiting...: Carolyn,

How do I stop myself from going crazy WAITING. Right now I'm waiting on the results from a licensure exam that is my ticket out of my miserable (MISERABLE!!) job. I'm also waiting to hear back from an employer I sent a resume to in hopes they would be interested in me without the licensure just yet. And I'm waiting for my husband to be ready for kids. He knows he wants them just isn't quite there yet. I just feel like I'm going crazy waiting and I just want to get on with living my life dammit!

Carolyn Hax: Then do. I know you can't make these big what-ifs go away, but you can take the time you're now using to agonize, and use it instead to think about what you'd do if you don't pass the exam/get the new job/have kids. They're all possibilities, albeit unpalatable ones, and so it couldn't hurt to start thinking of the life you'd "get on with living" in the event of bad news.

Since some of the best life paths originate in bad news, this isn't as dreary a suggestion as it may seem.


Here's a Semi-Shallow One for You: My S.O. and I are moving in together later this year (after we've set a wedding date). We're going to share my smallish, rent-controlled apartment and store a lot of our stuff while we save up for a house.

The issue is that he wants to bring his (to be fair, newer and in better shape than mine) sofa and loveseat set. Carolyn, I hate it! It's nubby, frumpy and overstuffed. Plus, it's not very comfortable. I prefer my couch, because it's more modern and comfortable. Moreover, home decorating is my hobby and I tend to be quite particular about decor.

So, my question: Is there any way to keep my behind far away from nubby overstuffed sofas without being hurtful? And, since we're moving into my place, how do I keep from getting territorial? I'm worried that my dislike of his couches will expand into further fussiness, and he will wind up feeling unwelcome. I really do love this guy and want my place to turn into 'our home.'

Please do tell me if I'm being an awful person here.

Carolyn Hax: Only if you're keeping from him that you're particular about your stuff, and/or if you're unyielding on it without even weighing the idea of compromise.

When the plans for his moving in come up in conversation again, tell him you see decorating as a hobby and that you're a little freaked out about the idea of compromise. Maybe he doesn't care as much as you fear. and maybe if he does, he'll agree to shop for one you both like. However it turns out, it'll go better if you start by sharing your feelings with him, vs. just sharing your opinion of his couch.


Bethesda: The vegetarian thing spilled into the Food chat yesterday -one person said the graduate: "should learn to be accommodating, here is her first chance. I'm a little surprised you've let her entertain the idea of being queen of the world for so long. ALTHOUGH Queen Elizabeth would be much more gracious to her guests and make sure they're all comfortable and enjoying themselves. The very theme of the party is growth, maturity--let her exhibit some of that. The diploma is worth nothing if she can't learn to be a good citizen of her community" So being a good citizen means people need to eat meat? My mom grew up in a little village in Greece where meat was a rare treat. They were all good citizens of their community. Seems to be it's the people who feel they have to have meat always who are being selfish. And P.S. I love meat and fish.

Carolyn Hax: Exactly. I categorically reject the idea that good hosting requires people to serve meat. The mother is being parochial. Showing respect for her daughter's beliefs requires, again, a trivial accommodation.

A lot of people also trotted out the "the parents are paying for it so the daughter can shut up and like it" argument. To respond to that properly, the British have the best word: bollocks. It's in their daughter's honor. If the money makes it about them, then they might as well host a party for themselves.

Honestly, I thought we were past this. Oh well.


Last Straw?: If you tell somebody that if they continue to do something (and they agree it is a reasonable request) you will leave them, then they continue to do it, is that a clear sign they don't care about the relationship? Assume this is not about addiction but is a clear betrayal of trust.

Carolyn Hax: It's a clear sign that you need to decide: Stay knowing the unwanted behavior isn't going away, or end the relationship.

Trying to figure out what it means will only muck up your thought process. S/he is who s/he is. Stay or go. That's all there is to it.


re: "Gabe": If you hear an update from the woman pregnant by Gabe, you'll print it, right?

Carolyn Hax: Right. That does remind me--I have been neglecting my Facebook updates. I'm really sorry about that. It has been a difficult spring.

Here's the URL if you want to post complaints about my lack of updates:


Philly, Pa.: Law school is draining the life out of me, but I have one year left. I took my last final of my second year yesterday and now I have about two or three weeks to do what I want before my job starts for the summer. How should I use that time? (I'm on a broke student budget.)

Carolyn Hax: The one that comes immediately to mind is to be a tourist in your own city, mostly on foot. That'll give you exercise, get you out and about, get you out of your head and into places that are relatively inexpensive, since cities are motivated to keep a good number of their attractions cheap. Another would be to take short trips to see people who have a restorative effect on you, if you have any who live within Northeast Corridor cheap-o bus range.

Of course, there's also just the library-card-and-picnic-blanket vacation, which sounds great to me right now.

I'll throw it out to the nutterati.


Familes come in all types: It's not about meat (or strawberries, to which I am allergic, or anything else). It's about demanding the entire menu be only for one person, or understanding that one hosts for the pleasure of treating your guests well. It could be about anything, it just happens to be meat in that situation. The issue was an 18 year old girl wanting to be a princess and not understanding that adults accept variety without judgement.

Carolyn Hax: I would no more expect people of certain religions to want pork at a gathering in their honor than I would a vegetarian to have meat. Certainly some who choose restricted diets for moral and religious reasons are fine with serving these things to others; some aren't. The ones who aren't don't deserve to be called selfish for their preferences--not when there's such an abundance of permissible food that accommodating these preferences is TRIVIAL.

Seriously. If you feel so strongly about having meat, pack a bacon burger in your pocket and duck out to the car for 5 minutes. Cheez.


McLean, Va.: Honestly, why is it such a big deal to not serve meat at a graduation party? To me, if I arrived at a party where the buffet table had deviled eggs, quiche florentine, stuffed shells and a cheese plate, I might ask if I could move in and have my mail forwarded. I'll bet if no one makes a big deal about it, guests won't even notice that there's no pigs in a blanket.

Carolyn Hax: I couldn't have menuized it better. And also--thanks a lot, I'm now distractingly hungry.


Is it the job, or is it me?: Hi Carolyn, I have a job that does not feed my soul. I like the people I work with, and believe wholeheartedly in the organization's mission, but the work I do on a daily basis does not access my strengths, excite my passions, or arouse my interests. This lack of enthusiasm has began to show itself in the amount of effort I put into my work. It is still not noticable to others (at least I don't think it is) because I still work hard on the tasks I am required to. It is more a case where I no longer take initiative to "create" work when things are slow.

I am 31 years old. I know no job is perfect, and there are people living around the world who don't have the luxury of fulfilling their passion in the workplace. I don't think I'm special. And now I'm starting to wonder if I am just lazy, or if it's more than that.

How do you know when your lack of desire to come to work is the result of a bad match or the result of an immature attitude of entitlement to something better? How is it that people work for 30 years at places that don't feed their soul, and yet I start to feel restless, unhappy, and desperate after 2 or 3 years in that type of situation?

Carolyn Hax: There are as many answers to your last question as there are slaves to unfulfilling jobs. In general, I'd say there are some who just aren't as restless as others, and some who have other things motivating them, some passion or purpose outside of work that makes a dull job seem like a small sacrifice to keep the engine of that passion/purpose running.

I'm not sure that's the most apt question for your situation, though. It seems instead that, "What can I do for this organization that would make better use of my strengths?," is the question you need to be asking first.

As for the entitlement question, I don't think you need to ask it until you've scrounged around--mentally, to see what you really want to do, and then professionally, to see if you can find something more suitable--for something that makes you happier first. It's just a job; there's no shame in checking for greener grass.


For Philly's budget vacation: If you already have (or can borrow) camping equipment, this is a lovely time of year to get out and get some fresh air and exercise, especially before the families descend on national and state parks and other popular destinations. If you don't have (or can't afford to rent) a car, maybe you could find someone who has one to go with you. Or you could take a bus to such a location?

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. A few more coming:


Law School: I remember those days. Here's my advice: read a book. I mean a truly craptastic one that you might be ashamed to be seen with. One of the things I missed most during law school was reading for pleasure and not drudgery. So read a Patricia Cromwell with impunity.

Carolyn Hax: Another luxury: Quitting a book in the middle if it doesn't do it for you.


For Philly: As someone who used to go to Philly to get a break, you should come down to DC. All of our museums are free, and the Metro is cheap. Lodging can be expensive, but surely you know someone down here who can help you find something good and cheap. Even for a long weekend, the change of scenery will help.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, nuts.


Question I'm Sure You've Answered Before: Fiance revealed he never wants kids, so I shocked us both by breaking things off. I think the reason he waited so long to tell me is because he never expected I would actually end our engagement. Now he is beating down my door trying to get back together and is making what seem like empty promises. I love him and am losing my resolve about staying apart. Is there any chance this works out?

Carolyn Hax: Empty promises being, I assume, that he'll agree to have kids?

There's always a "chance" something could work out, but without knowing his reasons for not wanting kids, the vehemence of his opposition to having kids, the contextual insecurities that might lead him to promise anything to avoid being alone, etc., there's no way of knowing what the prospects are here. It doesn't look good from here, but that isn't worth much.

If you are seriously considering a reconciliation, then I would suggest you find yourselves a really good marriage and family therapist to help you talk it all out. It also might be good for you both to take some time to cool off before you make any big decisions. The anguish of a breakup is at its most intense in the first few weeks after it happens. If you resolve to get on with your separate lives for a few months, with a pre-arranged time at which you revisit the decision, you'll both be in a position to think more clearly. Not clearly, per se, just -more- clearly than you are now.


Can you post a link to yesterday's column on veg?: Thanks! Abide by vegetarian's wishes for a meat-free graduation party, Carolyn Hax, The Washington Post, May 5, 2010

Carolyn Hax: Thanks Jodi.


Dogtown, USA: Hi Carolyn, Love your chats and hope you can take my question. I went to a Cinco de Mayo party last night and arrived separately from my boyfriend. He showed up with his 8-month-old puppy, Fanny, who can be very hyper. I asked BF if he had asked the hostess whether he could bring Fanny, and BF said he hadn't. Hostess has two pet rabbits who, though caged, probably did not appreciate having a dog around. Moreover, this is not the first time he's showed up with Fanny unannounced. Every time he does it, I say "You really should ask first," but he doesn't seem to agree with me on this as an etiquette must. I've never brought up this issue independently from an incident, as in, "Listen. You really cannot bring around a puppy unannounced. It is rude." But now I'm wondering if I should. FWIW, the puppy is often well-behaved, but she's a puppy and she's often hyper or needy. BF is blinded by love for this dog, and our friends have been too nice to call him out on it, though a couple of them have told me they would have appreciated a heads-up. What should I do in this situation?

Carolyn Hax: Tell him exactly as you proposed to here, in the exact words.

And, realize your BF's head is made of granite. And that you're all a bit "too nice."


Re: Ungrateful Teenagers: I just wanted to give another perspective to those who believe that their teenage relative is ungrateful. It's possible that the teenager does not know that they are expected to send a thank you note for the gift that they received. As someone who could be accused of being an ungrateful teenager, I will say, no one in my family ever subtlety or overtly let me know that a thank you card should have been sent for the gifts I received for, say, graduation. Moreover, my parents never sent thank you cards for gifts they received from their kids or other relatives. There was no way for me to model that behavior as it was behavior which wasn't present in my everyday life. I realize that teenagers may give off the I know it all vibe, but sometimes they do actually need guidance. So before, writing off your teenage relative as ungrateful, have a talk with them about it. Punishing or labeling them without the guidance just seems like a harsh response. I don't know, maybe that's just me.

Carolyn Hax: Good point, thanks. This is in response to a Hax-Philes posting from earlier this week.

Oh, and the grandmother who sent in the question asked me to thank everyone who responded.


Beachbummed in D.C.: My parents (who admittedly are rather formal) have treated for vacations for years. This year, my husband and I rented a modest beach house for a week. We invited my parents to come with us for all or part of the week, thinking it would be a fun time for them to spend with their grandchildren (and children!).

The result has been an exercise in family weirdness. They apparently are totally creeped out about us paying (they keep listing things they will pay for - groceries, dinner, tolls) and keep saying they "don't want to intrude." We keep saying, "You're not intruding, you're invited." The result? They are not staying even two days, insisting that they will leave "first thing Monday morning" and will "let us get back to our family vacation."

I can't think why they would think they were intruding. They've been invited. Repeatedly. We're happy to have them. They're part of the family too. Any advice on what we can do or say?

Carolyn Hax: They're admittedly rather formal. Reinforce one more time that it was your hope that they would stay X days--in other words, leave nothing open to interpretation--and then drop it. The one possibility is that they're afraid of overstaying despite your assurances, which means you're not going to change their minds, and the other possibility is that they're not comfortable being somewhere when it isn't on their terms--in which case you're even less likely to change their minds. Enjoy the days they're there, and then enjoy your family vacation after they go. What can I say.


Childfree fiance: I would think the having kids question is a little bit secondary (as secondary as something that life-changing can be). He deliberately withheld information to manipulate her into staying with him until he felt she was so invested she would accept his position on kids - scummy thing to do. I would be wary of sharing a life with someone who would do that.

Carolyn Hax: That's how it sounds, true, but the letter just say "I think the reason he waited ...."; it's also possible that his position wasn't clear to him until now. A lot of atheists start out by being agnostic, and the whole children-no children tussle can be just as incremental and agonizing.

Had he told her right after they were married, then his scumminess wouldn't be in doubt.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn!

This is going to sound ridiculous, but how bad of an idea is it to start a kind of "friends with benefits" situation with my roommate? We get along extremely well and are sharing a small 1br to save money for a while. Not much privacy to bring other people over...We are open with each other and I THINK we could both handle this kind of living situation like mature adults. Your thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: I THINK you need to throw out whatever you THINK.

Here's what you KNOW: Once you get the ball rolling, you will have far less control than you ever imagined over where it eventually rolls.


Beachbummed parents: I think that for the parents not to pay is a role reversal that is not at all comfortable for them. They are not seeing it as being reciprocal because in their minds, they are still the parent and the parent pays, period. Perhaps the way to approach it is to tell them that having them there at your treat is about being accepted as grown ups. If they see that they are actually doing you a favor maybe they'll relent.

Carolyn Hax: Good thought. If it makes sense in their relationship to put it this way (i.e., if the parents aren't booby-trapped with cultural sensitivities), then it might help, thanks.


Childfree: It's also not clear whether the OP had asked him before, and his not wanting children is a change from previous statements, or just previously unknown. Which matters, it seems: if she hadn't asked, then yes, it would have been great for him to tell her before the engagement, but she also has some responsibility for asking such a large question before agreeing to marry him.

I'm not trying to throw either of them under the bus, just to point out that we really don't know all the information here, and there are various implications of that.

Carolyn Hax: Amen. Thanks.


For your producer: Is there anyway to limit the 3rd party scripts which run on the Post site? This new Facebook deal is killing my page refresh, and I'm not even on Facebook!! Opting out of Network News Hope this helps! - Jodi

Carolyn Hax: "Killing my page refresh" is the new "harsh my mellow."


Mom question: So as my mom and I are getting older (I am 41, she is 62), I have come to realize that she is extremely critical, self-centered and superficial. She was verbally abusive to me growing up, and now that I've shut that down she lashes out at my stepfather and other friends. She screams, throws shoes at people, very tantrummy. And she expects to be feted on Mother's Day as if she is the loving matriarch of a large family (I'm an only child.). We live in the same city. Any ideas for what to do with her on Sunday? Historically my husband and kids and I go out to brunch and my mom expects to do something in the afternoon.

Carolyn Hax: Depends on the consequences you're prepared to withstand. If you're ready for flying shoes (or if they're nice and in your size) then do know that you're -absolutely- entitled to skip the Mother's Day charade with her. My shoe snark notwithstanding, we're talking about abuse, and you owe her nothing.

It's also completely fair to decide it's easier to go through some celebratory motions than it is to take a huge stand. If that's the way you want to go, then I would suggest you choose a place that's either really easy for you logistically--your home, say, so you're comfortable, or her home, so you can leave, or a neutral site, so she'll have to tantrum before an audience or not at all. Also build in some other, dependable source of pleasure for you, be it a favorite food or a great view or friendly staff or an activity you love.

The important thing to know is that, either way, you're calling the shots here. She can scream and throw things all she wants, but YOU know that you're seeing her, or not seeing her, at your pleasure. YOU know attention is her lifeblood, putting her at everyone else's mercy. Just having that fundamental knowledge of your freedom takes away the greater part of her hold over you. Good luck.


Kind of a last straw: Example of Situation: Husband has intermittent and unpredictable memory problems due to a brain injury. I have PTSD and get very upset if I am startled awake. I've asked him to put his work badge (which hangs on a lanyard) in his pocket when he puts it on so it doesn't bang me in the face when he gives me a going-to-work kiss. He remembers for a day or so, then forgets. If I complain, he gets huffy/defensive because he's embarrassed he's forgotten. I've taken to waking up earlier (not always a good thing) just so I won't be surprised by a whack in the face by his badge. This is just a small example of how I can't get something I need because he cannot remember it. I don't want to be his mother, always reminding him of things. I vowed "in sickness and in health," so I don't plan on leaving, but how do I get my needs met when he's not quite present?

Carolyn Hax: Can you put a hook for the lanyard on the door he uses to come in and out of the house? Or actually on the door, so he sees it as he's going out in the morning? He might forget to put the badge on when he comes home, but you can do it for him before you go to bed; then he'll see it as he leaves and put it on safely post-kiss.

This is obviously an answer specific to this one example, when it seems you have a lot of others like it, but there's a general answer to all of them: When reminders don't work, the next step is to find a practical work-around. Otherwise you end up either nagging or tolerating things that fester into resentment.

He apparently never forgets to give you a kiss before he leaves. It's worth trying to find ways to adjust your lives for each other.


Virginia: My partner is returning to the workforce after a year of stay at home parenting. My parents have offered to be daycare providers, but refuse to accept payment. They plan to both retire early, and, as we live 2 hours away, rent a second home to avoid "getting in our space." Thoughts? We love the idea of grandparents caring for our child - but are worried about the whole no money, costing them money, thing.

Carolyn Hax: 1. Offer to pay part of their rent.

2. Presumably that will go nowhere.

3. Figure out how much you'd want to pay them, and put that money into a separate savings account.

If they ever need money, then you'll have it to give them, and if they don't need money, you can give them a great thank-you present--a trip they've always wanted to take, or a renovation to their home, whatever.

If even that makes them uncomfortable, then you'll have a great stash for college for your kid(s), courtesy of your parents. If a legacy of care is all they're after, then that will honor them nicely.


Carolyn Hax: I think we can file that one under "good problems to have," even though people who refuse compensation can be complicated in their own way.


Washington, D.C.: I have a twist on "Last Straw." What if you are the friend of the person with the bad behavior in the relationship and has to go throw a cycle every couple of months of bad behavior, presumption of breakup, only to be no breakup b/c s.o. has decided to forgive - again. Its draining. A great friend to me, but maybe not so much to their s.o.

Carolyn Hax: "through a cycle." Just a reader aide, since I had to read this one twice.

If you're really just worried about the s.o., then don't worry. S.o. can handle self. If your concern instead is that you're tired of hearing about these cycles, then feel free to say to your friend, "Don't you get tired of this crap? Doesn't S.O.?" It's a point-making pair of hypotheticals, but any answer might be interesting.


It doesn't matter how old you get, you'll always be my baby...: Yes, I still hear this from my parents while I'm in my mid-40's and the youngest of my siblings. Like the beach-family, my parents treat for everything when we're together. The times when they let the "kids" treat is when they are gifts (like when my siblings and I took the extended family on a cruise for their 50th anniversary) or as a thank you. LW should say that the beach vacation is their way of thanking their parents for all of the family vacations over the years and that LW and spouse would like them to enjoy the whole week on them for a change. Then, the parents will feel more like guests of honor rather than impositions. Right now, they probably feel like they are intruding on the younger family's vacation, but this can reframe their view of the vacation. And after the first time, successive vacations like that should become easier.

Carolyn Hax: Another good idea, thanks.


Wanting to give the perfect gift...: Hi Carolyn,

Love the chats. Thanks.

I feel like a horrible friend - I've been to a number of good friends/family weddings over the past few years, and for some, I intended to get a gift, but got hung up looking for something "perfect" (I was usually looking late enough that the registry was empty). Long story short, I have a list of gifts that are between 6 months and 3 years "late" (post-wedding), that I do intend to give. In some cases, I actually have the gifts in a closet. I just don't know what to write in the card.

Any advice to inspire me to cross this off my to-do list?


Carolyn Hax: Oh, come on, you can do this. "Best wishes from your devoted friend and procrastinator"; "Thought I'd send this before my memory goes"; "Happy 33-month Anniversary!" It's all good, so have fun with it.


Last straw?: In her first post she's talking about "clear betrayal of trust." In her second post she's admitting he has memory issues due to a brain injury and that she's upset that he forgets to take his badge off before kissing her. How long before he no longer wants to kiss her? He's got a brain injury. He's got memory problems. He's going to do well a few times and then forget, that's how it is. How is that a "clear betrayal of trust?"

Carolyn Hax: These are different posters. The "last straw" post inspired two others to voice what they see as similar concerns--though that in itself is something, just seeing a betrayal of trust and a kiss gone wrong as related.


Mother's Day: Another suggestion for the carping mother is to try to control the activity so that she doesn't have the option of making a scene/throwing a tantrum. For example, take her to brunch and a movie, or a play or a concert. This allows you to have an event together that makes her feel special, but also at a venue where she can't really throw a tantrum. If money is an issue, rent a movie and show it at home.

Carolyn Hax: Well, she's doing brunch with her fam, but the rest is a great idea--togetherness without interaction except before, which can be kept short, and after, which can be about discussing the movie/play concert. Thanks.


Lanyard Problem: Place Post-It note on Headboard or Wall above your side of bed "Tuck Badge in Before Kissing" with an arrow pointing down.

If it works, leave it up there until it becomes an ingrained habit for him.

Carolyn Hax: Very sweet, actually.


No where: Carolyn,

My husband does not handle stress well and several times a year, a "confluence of events" arises and his anger is out of control. These incidences have grown increasingly more violent. I never thought I'd be one of "those" wives but here I am. I'm not blameless by any means, but I truly believe words should never be answered with a physical response. I'm so close to paying off all my credit card debt and growing a savings account. Am I being a complete and total fool for staying while I plot my escape? I live in an expensive area and my family and friends are a continent away. I'm fairly certain I'll be ready to go in a few months. I've done research on apartments, I've started smuggling my belongings out of the house to a storage unit. Our money is still separate (thank goodness) so I'm able to stash more away than I think he realizes - I need to have at least first & last months rent available. I'm not in a financial position to leave just yet but I'm working at it. I figure I'm safe here for another 4 months but I just wonder if I'm deluding myself.

Carolyn Hax: Please try to get help with that last stage, instead of taking your chances for another four months. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799 SAFE; RAINN, 1-800-656-HOPE; or Google the House of Ruth to find a local chapter. Make it clear where you are in your preparations, and what you need. getting all the T's crossed is not going to matter if he hurts you.

And please stop with the "I'm not blameless by any means." There's always responsibility to be shared when a marriage goes wrong, but once a spouse becomes violent, sharing becomes irrelevant; you need to get out and get safe.


Carolyn Hax: With full knowledge, I must add, that the likelihood of violence is highest when the victim tries to leave. The hot line people will tell you that but it's something that can't be said enough.


"My parents have offered to be daycare providers, but refuse to accept payment": Virginia and partner may wind up paying, and paying, and paying, in other ways should the partner's parents become too controlling, and want to raise the child in some ways that the child's parents don't want. I'd urge Virginia and partner to look this gift horse in the mouth before accepting.

Carolyn Hax: Agreed, but: There's no need for it to get to the point of "paying and paying and paying." When the person on the receiving end of a bad deal is an adult, then s/he can do the adult thing and pull the plug. Still difficult, but doable.


Mother's Day: Are you kidding me? Send her a card (if anything) and tell her that her behavior has made it impossible for you to get together. Get a spine and enjoy the day with people that love you. Pandering to her gives her ammo - ignoring her takes away the power. She will either get the message or not but in either case, it is on her not you and your family. If you need a little oomph, remember that you are the model for your kids. Do you want to raise children that allow themselves to be subjected to abuse long after they have a chance to escape? To the people that suggest mollifying the witch, what next when that doesn't work? Life's too short to deal with mean people.

Carolyn Hax: Remember, that was Part 1 of my answer--that it wasn't necessary to do anything with the mother.


Washington, D.C.: To: Dogtown, USA: My wife and I are friends with an unmarried couple, one of which has a habit of bringing their large dog with them when invited to the house. We avoid inviting the non-dog partner (whose company we particularly enjoy) because it invariably involves inviting the partner who will bring the dog unannounced.

Carolyn Hax: You can't say explicitly that the dog isn't welcome?


Beachbummed: Best advice from someone who lives it...ask Mom & Dad to do/bring something specific and easy. "The kids really like your peanut butter cookies; can you bring a batch?" Or "I would love your help finding those large-size plastic picnic plates." Or even "The kids would love it if you would stay until Wed so you can go to movie night with them." It's amazing how asking for "help" makes it so much easier.

Carolyn Hax: Nice, thanks.


Arlington, Va.: Hi Carolyn,

I love your advice and could really use some right now. I am vegetarian and my wife is not. This is not a problem, as we compromised long ago and agreed that our house would remain vegetarian (except for some frozen lunches), and our children would practice a vegetarian diet until they reach an age where they can independently choose to break from that diet (that age is still being discussed, but likely no younger than 12). We discussed this early on in our dating life. My wife is fully onboard with this plan, and we are planning for children soon.

The problem is her family. Several of them (siblings and dad) have made it clear that they will not respect our decision, and will feed our child(ren) whatever they want while at their house. My wife has made it clear this is unacceptable, and they know my opinion. I have no intention of depriving my kids of their grandparents, aunts, or uncles. But short of escorting them on all visits to their grandparent's or aunt's house, what can I do? Thank you.

Carolyn Hax: Two ughs for this one: one for the relatives who are being boundary-blind and pre-stubborn, and one for you for being so dramatically pre-worried. You don't even have kids yet! I can see two parents working out the details of their child-rearing philosophies before having kids--wish more people did that--but with the extended family thing, it seems to me that you've gotten a bit ahead of yourselves.

Wait till you see how you visit these relatives, what the logistics are. It may all be easy to manage--you bring the food and do the feeding when they're little-little, and as they get bigger their own preferences might kick in and obviate your worry. Some kids won't touch meat, or just any unfamiliar food. The whole "we'll feed them what we want" idea is laugh-out-loud funny to the parents of picky eaters.

There's also the larger issue of the boundary-blindness. If they're inclined to dismiss your parental say and treat your kids however they see fit, you could be escorting them on visits to Grandma's whether you like it or not, for a pile of reasons.

You're in agreement with your wife. With other people, just get there when you get there.


2:40 p.m.?: Wow...this is even longer than the usual one hour chat that stretches to two hours...are you feeling guilty about not being here tomorrow? :-)

Carolyn Hax: No no no, the usual chat is two hours that stretch to three. And I don't feel guilty--I moved the chat for an event at my kids' school, so I'm all warm and fuzzy about it.

But you do have a point, and I do have to go.

Thanks, everyone, for stopping by a day early, and I'll see you back at the usual time next week.


Re: Nowhere: Carolyn,

I'd go even further than you did with the "I'm not blameless" bit. While it's true that most relationships going bad is a two-way street, abuse is different. Abusers are the way they are because they're messed up, not because their partners are annoying. My abusive ex-gf, for example, was very clear about her love of biting wit and "snark." It's not me who "turned that into" verbal abuse being the "bad girlfriend" she told me I was. It's totally predictable behavior based on an obvious pattern of behaving as if other people deserve to be cut down and it's funny/amusing/warranted. Nowhere may be annoying sometimes. We all are. Nowhere did not cause any of these "confluences." They'd happen anyway.

Carolyn Hax: Bears spelling out, thanks.


Tucson, Ariz.: Re: the dog question: No, you can't just explicitly say the dog isn't welcome -- dog lovers get really angry with you when you act like their dog isn't human!

Carolyn Hax: No, obnoxious people get angry when you exclude their dogs. Not all dog lovers are obnoxious.


For Brain Injury: The Brain Injury Association ( and the National Resource Center on Traumatic Brain Injury ( have an abundance of resources for living after TBI, including dealing with memory problems and behavioral changes.

Carolyn Hax: Excellent, thanks.

Bye for real now.


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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