washingtonpost.com
Carolyn Hax Live: Superachiever on the brink, destination wedding blues, step-mom blogging, what's a tip between friends?

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 21, 2010; 12:00 PM

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.

Carolyn was online Friday, May 21, 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.

Got more to say? Check out Carolyn's discussion group, Hax-Philes. Comments submitted to the chat may be used in the discussion group.

Carolyn's Recent Columns

Past Carolyn Hax Live Discussions

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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We're not talking Lady Gaga hair here: Hi Carolyn, a straightforward question for you. Person A is a junior stylist at a hair salon. Person B is a friend who needs a haircut. B goes to A's house, where A does a fine job with a simple haircut for $40. (A's salon starts at $42 for a shampoo and cut.) B, who's not fussy about hair, thinks it went fine and enjoyed spending time with A. Later, B finds out via the grapevine that A is unhappy she didn't get a tip.

What was the proper protocol? B feels she didn't need to tip as A received the whole payment, which she wouldn't in the salon. Is the lesson not to mix business with pleasure?

Carolyn Hax: Pretty much. I can see giving A a little extra for working in her home during her off hours, and if A had charged less than her salon does, then the generous thing to do would have been to throw in a little extra. But in this scenario, B didn't have to add anything, certainly, and A also squandered any potential sympathy by taking it to the grapevine.

I do disagree with you on one point--there's nothing "straightforward" about a business transaction between friends. Imagine, for example, if you weren't happy with the cut?

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Oregon: I am a stepmom and I write a blog. Don't have a huge readership, it's for my own pleasure only and it's mostly friends and family reading. I do not post pictures of my stepkids and I only use their initials, but I do write about things we do and being a stepmom, among many other things. My stepkids' mom found it and is furious. I do not believe I am doing anything wrong, and I also believe she is just mad that she's not in control of me and what I choose to write. What do you think about this situation? I have never, ever written anything even remotely about her, and I am careful never to write anything I wouldn't want her to read.

Online only please.

Carolyn Hax: You know it's not about the blog, or else you would have told the kids' mom about it upfront instead of just hoping she wouldn't find it.

You're also clearly sensitive to the minefield that is current public opinion on privacy, because you've taken so many thoughtful precautions--using initials, withholding pix, and writing with a potentially hostile audience in mind. You may not believe you were doing anything wrong, but it sure looks as if you knew you were doing something that others (a k a the kids' mom) might think was wrong.

So while you do have one leg to stand on because you've been so careful, you gave away the other leg when you took on a blog that you knew might be contentious--and as a stepmom, you had to know the stakes of not being careful.

Apologize to the mother for not alerting her to the blog to begin with, then either shut it down or make it accessible only to these select friends and family. It's not "for your own pleasure only" when it's public.

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Richmond, VA: We've been saving really hard for a family trip to Europe. We plan to go for three-weeks in March of 2011. We're just now starting to book places and plan the route. On Saturday, my husband's sister announced her engagement and that they are having a destination wedding to the Caribbean--in April. We don't have enough money for both, and I'm upset because we've been really sacrificing for this vacation. It's our last big trip before our oldest goes to college. It's also my SIL's second wedding, but I really don't see the family accepting our choice to take a family vacation and skip a wedding. Any advice??

Carolyn Hax: Ugh. Another item for the why-the-destination-wedding-concept-is-loathsome pile.

I;m not sure which answer to give you, because there are two. There's the answer that works in a functional world, where you go ahead with your trip to Europe and your husband's family understands completely--it's the risk any couple accepts when going the destination-wedding route. You just can't dictate what other people do with such a huge chunk of their money and vacation time.

Then there's the answer for a dysfunctional world, where merely living as he has every right to do will cause your husband enduring friction between him and his self-absorbed and punitive sister, and their parents will side with her.

Maybe you live in a functional world--but I assume that your asking me this question means you don't, which is too bad. Living in the latter doesn't mean you all have to go to the Caribbean Me-Fest; you can (and I think, should) still choose to go ahead with your long-planned trip. It just means that you have to be prepared for there to be fallout.

One way to prepare is to have a compromise handy; for example, you send just your husband to the wedding, just for the weekend. Expensive still, and tiring, but it would show a willingness to wave the flag, and send a "Darn, I'm sorry we all couldn't come, such awkward timing" message.

(More)

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Carolyn Hax: This is all based on a second assumption, that your husband wants to stick to the Europe plan, so I should ask--where is he on this?

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Blog: Something about taking down the blog doesn't sit right with me - maybe it's because I'm a member of generation overshare, but it doesn't seem unreasonable to be allowed to have a blog where the stepkids are mentioned as long as their privacy is protected, which it seems like it is. Compared to what some people post on Facebook, it's almost quaint. Taking down the blog seems to set a precedent that the mother will always have a say in the stepmom's private life and be able to bully her when the two disagree - what happens when the kids are older and the stepmom tries to enforce a punishment that the mom doesn't agree with? As long as the blog was discussed with and agreed upon by the kids' father, I think the stepmom should stand her ground.

Carolyn Hax: At what cost to their relationship from now on? Or, to use the line I've used before in a similar situation, is this really the hill she wants to die on?

I hope not. I don't believe in slippery-slope arguments. Giving in on this doesn't mean the mother gets carte blanche to run the stepmother's private life; it means she takes down the blog, and fights any future battles on their merits as well.

I will defend the stepmom's right to a private life as fiercely as anyone, but I also have sympathy for the mother, who just got to read in a public forum about the way her own kids are being partially raised by someone else. This is, obviously, what having kids and divorce and remarriage are all about. But it's one thing to accept this both in theory (hard enough) and in practice while, say, dropping kids off at your ex's home or hearing stories from your kids. It's another thing entirely to sit at your computer and, surprise! read their other mother's stories about them. It sounds as if the mother overreacted--surely this could have been addressed civilly, perhaps with a, "Thank you for all the precautions you've obviously taken, but I'd still rather not see my kids' home life discussed in an open forum"--but I feel for her here.

Stepparenting is already fraught with all kinds of tensions, many unavoidable. This one is completely avoidable. Just because we have the technology that allows us to overshare doesn't mean we have to do it, and there's nothing that says the stepmom can't share her same thoughts with the same people on a platform that isn't open for just anyone to stumble across.

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Woodbridge, Va.: Why all the hate for destination weddings? You're assuming that the sister will be put out if they don't attend. Maybe she doesn't know they already have vacatioin plans for next year. I'm going to a destination wedding next year because I want to go to the destination and the bride and groom have made it explicitly clear that if you can't or don't want to attend for whatever reason, no problemo. They just want to get married there and isn't it their wedding and their choice?

Carolyn Hax: I believe that was covered by my functional-world version of my answer. If they're good sports, then any hissy fit is a non-issue, as I pointed out--the family goes to Europe and sends a nice gift or note to the couple, and all is well.

It's when the people hosting the D-Wed aren't so cool about it--and SO many aren't--that the whole thing starts to reek.

For what it's worth, D-Weds also present loved ones with a really tough choice. The brother may want to be there for his sister; witnessing a loved one's wedding is important to a lot of people. D-Weds set the entry bar really high for guests to attend, so there will inevitably be people who miss an event that matters a lot to them--elderly relatives, for example, who aren't up to the travel, or really close friends who are broke.

I agree that it's fundamentally a couple's wedding and so it's a couple's choice, but it is often a shortsighted choice that fails to take into account the built-in possibility of exclusion. Exclusion is almost always a problemo, which makes it at least worth considering and ruling out vs. breezing past as if it's no one else's business.

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Oregon Stepmom: I'm trying to get along, too. I was furious, however, to discover that my husband's ex uploaded pics of a birthday party that included my young son's presence for all the world to see. I do not want my son's picture plastered about. I know I need to talk to her about my preferences. I know "privacy" and safety issues are in state of flux. I don't want to come across as Luddite, but I do want to make clear that I don't my child's pictures (and identified) on Facebook or otherwise. What is the etiquette or realistic expectation?

Carolyn Hax: Your husband should be the one to do it.

If for some reason he refuses to--which is an issue unto itself--approach it as: "I realize reasonable people can have widely divergent views on the Internet and privacy, so I'm not trying to change anyone's mind, but I would appreciate it if you didn't publish pictures of my son online."

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Anonymous: Carolyn:

I recently relocated to start a new job. I've always been one of those type-A, super-achievers until, apparently, now. My primary boss told me earlier this week that I have a bad attitute. My co-workers think I'm stupid, stuck-up or both. At least some of my other bosses think I should be fired. I am going to be by myself this weekend and am scared because if I leave or worse, if I am fired my professional career is over (no exaggeration, there are only a handful of places in the country that do what we do). I am just numb. I don't want to live anymore. It's not worth it. The problem is that if I tell anyone this I will be branded a head case, or worse. It's like I have no options left.

Carolyn Hax: You have options, lots of them. First you can call a crisis hotline just to talk: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Second, you can call people around whom you feel like a superachiever. That can be a family member, a friend, a former colleague--touch something that reminds you who you really are.

When you feel more collected, then you can go back to your boss for specific, concrete suggestions on ways you can improve your performance. Ask for a mentor.

Finally, you can also make quick plans to be somewhere safe this weekend. I don't know how far you are from people you know, but anyone within a 7 hour drive is worth calling to see if you can visit them (or they can visit you). These are four ways you can reach out for something solid. Please do reach out.

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Destination weddings: I see your point, but how do you feel about a destination wedding when they are a compromise? What if they're doing it so that a couple from opposite coasts doesn't have to pick which set of family and friends has to travel across the country?

Carolyn Hax: Like I said, there are two worlds here. There's the functional world, where people plan thoughtfully and with an eye to inclusion, and hear "no" gracefully--and there's the dysfunctional world where it's me-me-me and "no" is a fighting word. I have no beef with what people do in the former world.

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Anywhere, USA: Our son is a year old and my wife and I have had sex exactly once since he was born. I do most of the household chores, a lot of the child care. I tell her she's beautiful on a regular basis. I have yet to find a way to talk about this that doesn't turn into a fight. I feel so trapped, please help!!!

Carolyn Hax: Find a really good marriage counselor so you can talk with a referee. It's too important to let this continue to drift in the direction it's headed now.

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Seattle: Hi Carolyn, I'm in the middle of a very contentious divorce after a long marriage. I was the one who left, and my almost-former husband is very, very angry at me. He sends me almost daily emails and texts telling me how much I suck, how hurt the kids are, how much I suck, etc. etc. He uses violent language at times. The emails can be very, very abusive (and he was never an abusive guy during our marriage), and he tells me to just stay away from the kids because I'm a symbol of hurt to them. He uses the same rote language, says the same things, over and over again in his emails and I've begun to get scared, although he hasn't directly threatened me. I know he's angry and hurt, and I know the kids are upset by our split, but I still think it was the right thing to do. I've asked him to stop emailing and texting me, and that his emails are frightening me, and that I know he's angry at me but it's been almost a year now and he only seems more, not less, angry. I've put a filter on my email so that his don't go into my inbox, but he won't stop emailing me and I can't block his texts. I'm at my wit's end. He's also emailed associates of mine with inappropriate information about me. Any suggestions about what I can do in this situation? I don't feel I have legal protection given that he hasn't threatened me. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Have you shown them to your attorney to confirm that? That's the first thing you need to do if you haven't. Show them to the police, too. Also read "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker to give you a quick tutorial on what constitutes a threat of violence and what doesn't.

I'm saying this at the risk of sounding exploitative, because it has been in the news so much--but I think its educational value outweighs that risk: Anyone who read de Becker's book and saw the news about the killing of the UVA lacrosse player knew, just knew, that the follow-up coverage would include reports of past violent behavior by the alleged killer, and that those incidents would show a pattern of escalation.

Take this very seriously, get help, and get educated. And warn your kids.

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photo releases for minors: red alert! a public blog has been been cited in case law as "published" and therefore identifiable minors need signed parental releases before being pictured on a non- custodial person's blog. exceptions would be crowd shots, i.e. stadium scene. if the child is dual custody, both parents would need to sign off. just as both need to grant written permission for international travel, school registration or non-critical surgery. stepmom is on thin ice here.

Carolyn Hax: Can't verify this but anyone in the picture-posting habit should look into it, thanks. it's just decent practice anyway to get permission. If parents don't mind, then it's no big deal to get their permission, and if they do mind, their objections warrant respect.

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Anonymous SuperAchiever: From a senior executive who spends much of his time working with overachievers in a research lab.

You probably are a superachiever. You've just landed in a job where your methods of superachieving don't mesh with your new company's way of doing business. And, being a superachiever, this "square peg/round hole" problem is visible faster because you're pushing to achieve (a good thing!) and so you're revealing the disconnects quickly.

A more tactful employer and boss would sit down with you and explain the corporate culture and the disconnects and how you can work around/through them. Then you could decide whether you could fit that culture or needed to polish your resume. Unfortunately you are getting the tougher version. The result is this all feels like your fault -- it probably isn't your fault -- you're driving and achieving -- and for cultural reasons the company is fighting back. So chalk it up to learning and move on.

Carolyn Hax: Excellent take, thank you.

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Oregon Again: OP here. Thank you for your thoughts, I appreciate your point of view. A couple of quibbles: I have never NOT wanted my stepkids' mom to see the blog. In fact in a weird way I'm glad she's reading it: I write about what I care about, who I am. I also would like to keep it open to the public for a selfish reason: I have recently published a small book for stepmoms that I would like to sell. Sales have been slow and I am trying to increase them. My blog is mentioned in my book, and I would like for readers, or potential readers, of my book to be able to read my blog.

I do get what you're saying about it being hurtful to her to read about how her kids are being raised half the time...but honestly, I don't have a lot of sympathy for her in that. She's the one who chose to have multiple affairs and then to divorce their father. In my opinion she lost her right to have 100% control over every aspect of their lives by her own choices.

But then again I know I am biased here. I do appreciate your input and that of the 'nuts.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks so much for following up. That she behaved badly in her ex-marriage adds credibility to the she-reacted-badly side of the argument, but they're still her kids, and she still read about them without having been told you were blogging. While you may have been open to having her read the blog, you didn't tell her about it early on, which was a mistake.

As for your book, that's a tough one. A blog is an important way to market your product--but your product and your marketing mean that you're making public property of your stepchildren. This new detail also makes the use of initials sounds like more of a fig leaf than actual protection of their privacy.

This is very touchy territory; many writers who are parents are torn about discussing their children, because their needs and rights have to be taken into account. In your case, the kids' needs -and- their parents' needs have to be taken into account. I see in another post that you have your husband's support, which is essential. But you were remiss in not getting their mother's support.

If that wasn't realistic, then at least you should have talked to a lawyer first, found out whether there were limits to what you could publish and what they were, and informed the mother of your plans as a done deal--since I agree that the mother can't be given the last word in everything you do. I just think that giving her some say might have acted as a buffer to what's happening now.

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Destination Weddings (ARRRGGGHHH!!): Speaking as a travel professional, when destination weddings were first developed, the intent was people were going to have to travel to get to the wedding, so why not travel to a fun destination. Usually Mom & Dad did not live in their city or state of origin, children were at all four corners of the states, and no grandparents to speak of. Everyone meeting in a neutral setting to celebrate. It was understood at that time that not everyone (even close siblings) would be able to attend, and that was O.K. These weddings were small, intimate affairs for small groups.

I would advise keeping to the plan to go to Europe in March 2011, you've had these plans in the works for what looks like several years at least. Check on where the destination wedding is to be, it might be an affordable weekend destination, you and your husband could go in that case. And, there could be a chance that the destination wedding won't come off as planned (I've seen it happen).

Carolyn Hax: All so sensible, thanks.

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Photo Release - no way: As long no identifying information is posted (full names, contact info - putting "Johnny" is not enough), you actually don't need a release of any type. My sibling does photography professionally, and while he gets a release (because it's smart business), legally it's not necessary.

Besides, would the mother really want to go down that path? Does she have her ex- husband's signature for every picture that she's posted up?

Carolyn Hax: Like I said, the information wasn't vetted, and neither is this "no way" counterpoint, for that matter.

Just in the interests of using best practices, I think it's smart to shoot friends and family an is-this-okay e-mail before you post pictures of them, and certainly to parents before you post a captioned picture of their kids. So it slows you down--better than freaking people out.

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SuperAchievers: I second the anonymous Superachievers take, and would like to add this: if you're a Superachiever, you've probably had little experience with things not going your way. It's hitting a rough patch and keeping going that makes a real Superachiever. Hokey, but true.

Carolyn Hax: Hokey is okey, thanks.

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Stressing: Hi Carolyn, Love your chats. Right this minute I am demoralized and overwhelmed by work that just keeps coming and parenthood obligations and, just, pressure. It makes me so exhausted, and I respond with avoidance and retreat. Any words of wisdom to Just Keep Going?

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry. The words of wisdom are ancient--that this too shall pass. The words of advice are also ones I've used a lot before: Start streamlining. There's always something you think is necessary but just isn't. Scratch off your to-do list anything that can be skipped, ignored or farmed out to someone else. You don't have to contribute to every bake sale, yknow?

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Re: Gaga: I sometimes get a massage from a friend who is a licensed masseuse. I found the whole tip thing awkward, especially since you don't usually tip the business owner. I take her a bottle of wine, as I would if I were a guest. Seems to work for us both.

Carolyn Hax: This from way back, but I'm just seeing it and it's a great problem pre-empter. Thanks.

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From last week: Did you ever hear back from Boston from last week? I'm super curious to know: (a) what the husband was thinking, and (b) where the wife got her suits...

Carolyn Hax: I still want to know if Boston was the suit buyer or suit plotzer.

No, I haven't heard back (not that I've seen; it does get a but busy there in the queue).

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"veto" : I'm a guy. I've always been close to my twin sister. A few years ago she mentioned that she would never marry a guy I disapproved of, and that she would honor my veto power as long as I didn't abuse it. I have liked all of her boyfriends until this one, who ironically seems to be the one she wants to marry. My question is whether I can take her seriously about exercising veto power. Under ordinary circumstances I would never try to interfere with someone else's dating life.

Carolyn Hax: Yikes. I certainly don't think you "veto," because that was years ago and, more important, it's very possible she had no idea what she was really saying. Specifically: If she said it before she had ever loved someone, or even just when she wasn't in love with someone at the time, then she may have had no idea what kind of body blow she was in for if you told her this kind of truth about someone she really loved.

At the same time, I'm not comfortable advising you not to take her seriously. She said it, presumably she meant it, and if she marries this guy without hearing a peep of protest from you, then she might be devastated to find out down the road that you disliked him all along and said nothing.

These two concerns do have some ground between them, and I think that's where you need to set up camp. Think carefully about what you don't like about this guy; see if these things affect how your sister behaves or how she seems to feel; see if there's anything self-serving to your concerns. For example--you might not like this guy -because- he's the one your sister is finally serious about. If that's the case then it wouldn't be fair to speak up.

Anyway, once you have it all sorted out in your mind, and assuming you feel you have a solid foundation and benevolent motives for your suspicions about this guy's suitability/character, then you can approach your sister: "Remember when you said you'd honor my veto power? I don't think it's my place to veto anyone, but I've got some doubts about this guy that I'm hoping you can dispel."

The key is to show that you;re receptive to seeing the good in him that she does, and asking her to be the tour guide. That show of good faith will help blunt the impact of your doubts.

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Releases: I am a media professional - work in non-news tv production, and that advice about not needing a release is absolutely dead WRONG. If you are not a member of the news media (such as the Post or broadcast news) or (in some cases) a non-profit, unless the photo subject is a public figure, you need permission to use someone's image, whether their names are published or not. If their faces are recognizable, you need a release.

This is ESPECIALLY true with minors. Because the blog is also being used to publicize the book, which I assume is being sold for profit, having a release is even more important. Obviously if both parents are on board and you're part of the family, it's not a big deal, I post plenty of photos of my own baby, but if the mother is not on board with this, she could absolutely make trouble for you and even sue. It doesn't matter how many affairs she has had.

washingtonpost.com: I believe our photographers have to get permission too, certainly for minors.

Carolyn Hax: Just putting it out there as a final plug for asking people first before you put pictures of them or their kids online. It's just the right thing to do.

I also want to point out that the original poster, the stepmom/blogger, made it clear she was -not- posting pix of her stepkids. Just want to keep the facts straight. The kids were discussed in the blog, with initials instead of names, which raised an issue of privacy in itself, but not this issue of privacy. Thanks.

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Gift of Fear: I know Carolyn has recommended this book (almost) ad nauseum in these chats and many may think "I don't need to read that, I know what the bad guys look/act like." I'm a 43 year old man and I just finished it, I found it amazingly useful and am having my 17 year old son and 13 year old daughter read it as well. Carolyn - about the UVA murder, you are right on......it was the first thing I thought, that there had to be a ton of warning signs that went overlooked and past violent behavior.

Carolyn Hax: Right right right, and the people who didn't recognize these warning signs/incidents for what they were--accurate predictions of escalating violence--were, as far as I can tell from this distance, smart, educated and caring people. The ones who might have pieced it all together weren't told because others weren't reporting. It's a very specific education. We live in such relative safety--and we're so motivated to find reasons to believe everything's okay--that we put all kinds of things under the umbrella of normalcy, often completely missing when something is off. That's why I push the book so hard, when I so rarely push books at all.

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Alexandria, VA : Why do women keep believing in marriage when all evidence points to the contrary?

Carolyn Hax: "All" evidence? That seems a bit skewed. There are definitely some significant, generalized benefits to marriage that women enjoy, and there are some individually awesome marriages.

That said, I think it's a mistake to believe in marriage. You have to believe in the person you're marrying; then, and only then, does marriage make sense.

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sloths: These sniping moms/stepmoms are making me sad, so I am sending this link to sloths in Costa Rica. They are supercute and made me smile.

Carolyn Hax: I'm all for them, of course.

It's a sloth orphanage, btw--if that was deliberate, nice one.

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For "veto": In thinking about why you don't like the guy, remember it's not about YOU, it's about your sister: if he makes her happy, brings out the best in her, etc., it doesn't matter that you and he don't click. If your reasons for disliking him have to do with HER - you see her unhappy, or holding back some part of herself for him, etc. - then yes, please tell her; otherwise, you smile, and find a way to like this man who makes your twin happy (a likeable thing in and of itself).

Carolyn Hax: Good breakdown of the thought process, thanks.

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Prague, Czech Republic: I'm a 27 year old woman that in the past six months has become especially interested in shoes. Kind of out of the blue, but i'm going with it. I just got a pair of wedges I can hardly walk in, and has caused my boyfriend to laugh at my wobbling. Will I ever learn how to walk in high heels? What kind of shoes are you obsessed with? I know, weird question, but you're the only advice columnist that admits to liking shoes, and my mom just keeps telling me to get some "comfortable flats instead." UGH.

Carolyn Hax: Well, I can't let that advice can't stand.

For novice high-heel walkers, I recommend platforms--so your foot isn't at as steep an angle as with regular heels--and anything with secure ankle straps. Also turn the shoe over so you can see how much of the bottom will touch the ground. With a stiletto, for e.g., the heel can be as small as the eraser at the tip of a pencil. Not conducive to remaining vertical (which, ah, in some cases is the point). Heels with a bigger footprint will be more stable.

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Keyboard and forehead: "Why do women.." Why, why, why, do people keep referring to Women as a monolithic group? Yeargh. Though I suppose not surprising in the context of this particular question.

Carolyn Hax: Or men, or people. I hear you.

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Gift of Fear: I read the first chapter of Gift of Fear and it gave me nightmares. I never did get through the rest of it. Not sure I'd recommend it for a 13 year old.

Carolyn Hax: okay, for nightmare avoidance purposes, you can skip to chapters ... hold on a sec ...

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Carolyn Hax: 8 through 11.

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Twin Sister: I'm not the poster's twin sis, but I do have a twin brother- a 6'4" marine. If he said the word "veto" with respect to a bf of mine, I would tell bf to hide, and then I would kick my bro's -rear]. I value his opinion greatly, he's brilliant and sensitive, but our opinions about life differ GREATLY, and I would hate for our relationship to dissolve over a matter of taste in spouses. For the record, I would have "vetoed" his wife, but it turns out she's a great mother and very supportive and accepting of the military lifestyle, just not someone I love to hang out with.

Oh, and since you're getting wildly conflicting (and wrong) -opinions- on the release issue: I'm a lawyer, and I can tell you: this is a matter of state law, so each poster may be correct, or everyone could be wrong, or maybe one answer applies to many states, etc. The point is, do the research or hire a lawyer if you're worried about the legal implications.

Carolyn Hax: okay, but remember, this twin in question invited the brother to veto. Different case.

And thanks re the law. I was hoping it was a state-by-state issue, since that explained the disagreements. (Though someone will probably write in to disagree with you.)

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Maryland: So Carolyn, when are they going to let you do video sessions?

Carolyn Hax: It's not a matter of letting; it's a matter of my not wanting to talk to a screen and to presume to call that interesting video. We'd like to get something going with Nick doing animation, but we haven't found a way that we can afford--so far, all of our ideas cost time and money we don't have to spend.

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Washington D.C.: Any advice on where I can find a free therapist/counselor? I don't have a lot of money, but I really need to talk to someone.

Carolyn Hax: Places to try: University or hospital clinics, professional organizations (there's one for just about every therapeutic credential), hotlines that serve people with your problem (abuse, addiction, depression, etc.). That's just a start. I realize this research is the last thing anyone wants to do in the midst of a crisis, but it's worth doing. Good luck.

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nitpicking?: Wife is a congenital liar.

I'm tired of lies.

My lawyer friend says get out if you're not happy.

Part of me is embarassed that the lies are 'white lies' and would seem petty for divorcing somebody. Part of me says why stay with somebody who lies at all.

I am 95% sure that I am going to leave but what do I tell my parents, brother, etc? She said is was raining when it wasn't? She said it cost $50 when it cost $150? She said nobody else was traveling for work when they were?

For what it's worth, I laid down an ultimatum and the lying has kept going. I guess I know what she wants to happen.

Carolyn Hax: It sounds as if you've got your mind made up, but two things I'd like to flag:

1. Her continuing to lie doesn't mean she "wants" the divorce to "happen." It just means that the impulse to lie is overpowering any marriage-preservation impulses she might have. They're two different things.

2. The only things you cite as undermining your confidence are concerns about appearances. In the end, it's just not important how people view your divorce or your reasoning. What matters is the health of the marriage, and if it's sick beyond healing, then you're right to get out.

This actually might be common ground you've shared with your wife. She's lying to adjust the appearance of even minor things, no? If this interest in appearances is part of what brought and kept you two together, then that's something you'll want to scrutinize about yourself as you figure out what to do next.

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free therapist: You may also want to try your employer's employee assistance program, if you have one... They can help point you to someone.

Carolyn Hax: Righto, thanks.

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Why read the Gift of Fear?: Carolyn,

Why did you read the book, "The Gift of Fear?" I understand that it might really be a good book and a god way to learn the "warning signs." Nothing wrong with that. Did you have to read the book for a course or did you decide to read it because you might be able to help a "friend" one day? I'm asking because I don't know if people just pick up random books to read or if they select books because it might be relevant to their life, if even tangentially.

I'm not trying to belittle abusive relationships--they happen, all over, up and down race class and gender lines. i think it's smart for anyone to learn some information because you never know what the face of abuse will look like.

Just curious. Thanks

Carolyn Hax: I read it for the column. I got a letter from someone who thought she was being stalked. I contacted a police ... lieutenant, I think, it's been a while ... who I was told was a go-to for domestic violence issues. He's the one who told me to read "The Gift of Fear."

So with that kind of endorsement, I read it right away.

There are things about the book I don't like, but even through that, it was like someone switched on a light. It just made -sense- and, in explaining the workings of violent people, it also made the work of controlling people seem suddenly so obvious. Yes, I'm thinking as I read it, this is exactly what they do, and this is how they do it, and this is why they get away with it so often.

It doesn't just explain the guy who kills his girlfriend, either. It explains the woman who starts dating a man you know well, and who makes unreasonable demands of him, and has jealous fits, and acts in ways that appear outrageous to everyone watching--and whom your guy friend marries anyway, to everyone's mystified horror. It helps you see why he gets sucked in.

In explaining the worst people, G of F explains a lot about people.

That's why I flog it.

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Dallas, TX: My first day off in a month. Took the kids to day care and planned to clean the house. It is now 2 p.m. and all I've done is read and eat cold cereal in bed. How guilty should I feel? Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: 0. Enjoy.

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Waiting to go home...: I've decided to leave work and start the weekend as soon as you sign off. So, could you please sign off???

Carolyn Hax: Gak, sorry, lost track of time. Go home. I hope you've already left. Bye! And thanks everybody.

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Chantilly, Va.: Free therapy -- The Women's Center in Vienna VA is great. They've got a sliding scale. They have therapists, various support groups, and that's where my daughter and I took our Meyers-Briggs tests (I'm an ISFJ, she's an INTP: no wonder we don't see eye-to-eye).

Carolyn Hax: Yes, can vouch for TWC, thanks.

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Carolyn Hax: And it's not just for women, did it say that?

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Free Counseling: George Washington University has a community counseling center where doctoral candidates provide counseling on a free/or fee-scale basis to the public. They are under the direct supervision of professional counselors. There's a location in DC and one in Alexandria. Check out GW's website.

Carolyn Hax: Great, thanks. Hope this person is local ...

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RE: sloth: Thank you, sloth bear video poster. That made my day.

washingtonpost.com: Now you must take this incredibly important poll.

Carolyn Hax: Incredibly important! Glad I saw that before I signed off.

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Gift of Fear: Does Gift of Fear focus on physical abuse or does it cross the gamut of abuses...verbal, physical, emotional?

Carolyn Hax: It's mostly about predicting violence. But it nails control, which is why I recommend it. Don't rule it out because it's mainly about physical harm.

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