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Carolyn Hax Live: Dividing housework fairly, life-altering diagnosis, eye-rolling, epic birthdays, parenting styles and more

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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 28, 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 28, 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.

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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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Boston: Dear Carolyn,

I'm wondering if you or the people in the internet have any advice for younger people with chronic illness. I am 28, single, and live alone across the country from entire extended (and very close) family. Last year I was diagnosed with Lupus and a severe case of peripheral neuropathy, which is when you have nerve damage in your arms and legs that cause you to feel like you've got a thousand burning knives slicing you up. The medicines that I have to take for both of these problems also cause many unpalatable side affects, such as feeling like I am existing in a state constant state of intoxication (and I am a teetotaler!) However, except when I get a butterfly rash (which if I do say so myself is pretty cute), and when the neuropathy makes it so I can't walk (hilarious, since I don't own a car), the problems are fairly invisible. Well, except that the medicines make me a blathering idiot, as I am no doubt evidencing here.

I know I need to see a counselor to help adjust to this, but how can I live the rest of my life like this? I know I must sound so ungrateful, in most ways I am so lucky (believe me, I know, I write papers on things like fistulas and mass rape as a weapon of war for a living). But I don't want my whole life to become the pain. I am very close to some friends with similar chronic illnesses and frankly they bug the everliving crap out of me because the illness is their entire identity, and they are so angry all the time. But I know I will end up that way myself soon enough.

I just can't find happiness in anything any more. I was a runner, I can't run. I was a hiker, I can't hike. I can't wear my pretty clothes, because the medicine makes me fat. I would like to date but I can't imagine putting forth that kind of effort, or meeting somebody who only knows me as a cripple. I can't do my job any more because my brain doesn't work. But I can't lose my job, because then I'll be bankrupt. I can't talk to my parents about this in-depth because my mom suffers from crippling anxiety issues so she can't deal with it. I can't tell my cousins about it because they might tell my grandma, who will keel over and die from worry. My friends are too busy, plus I'll just bring them down, and I know some of them secretly think that I'm just lazy and complaining about nothing (its difficult for them, since what I have is mostly invisible, and yes I've heard of the Fing Spoon Theory). I want so badly to be a mother some day, its the only thing I've ever really wanted, but it doubtful that I'll ever be well enough to responsibly care for a child. This is what keeps me up at night most of all.

So I sit alone in my apartment, working from home around 12 hours a day to accomplish 5 hours worth of work (because my brain is so slow). And that is how its going to be? Forever? I would never kill myself because I believe that suicide is selfish. Plus, three close family members were killed in freak accidents last year, one of which I witnessed firsthand along with 15 of my family members. I refuse to put my family through any more horror. So I just keep existing for them, but I don't actually ever see them because they are on the other side of the country and I can't move back because I'd never get a job back there. (Really, I won't, I tried for 3 years even before the economy tanked and I got sick, and now my options are even more limited because I would be such a fraud applying for a job since in reality I can't work).

Is there something that I'm missing? Like I said, I do know that in many ways I'm a lucky person (I have a very nice apartment that I don't deserve), but I'm just having such a hard time focusing on that.

Well crap, sorry this is so long.

Carolyn Hax: Oh my. So much bad news at once, I'm so sorry. Obviously there's a lot here, and we can take it in many different directions, but I'm going to start with a practical one: Since you work at home, would it be possible to keep working from a new home across the country? Could you get any necessary face time via webcam?

The answer to your question, as I think you already know, is to move back among the people you're living for. Let them buoy you so that, eventually, you aren't just living on an anti-suicide technicality, but living for the sake of life.

That means we now have a logistical issue. If your employer will cooperate, then 90 percent of that problem is solved. Then it just becomes about moving--and that's where those cousins come in.

Also, you blow past the counseling issue pretty quickly, so I want to pause on it for a second: Yes, you do need to talk to someone--immediately, if you're crisis, and as soon as possible otherwise--but not just about coping with your illness. Grief is another player in your mood right now, and possibly a significant one. Close families don't absorb horrific losses and just move on. You have two wholly different, major losses weighing on you right now. Please reach out right away, to a therapist, to your employer, and to your folks.

You will find new things to inspire you, the way running and hiking once did. It's just in the human makeup to do that. Right now you just need to trust that, as you get over these initial obstacles.

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Washington State: I love your column! I hoped you could weigh in on a subject that has come up recently for me.

My friends and I are nearing thirty years old. It has been the fashion of some of these friends to call upon the rest of us to meet them at some expensive restaurant, and we should all pick up the tab and bring a gift. Or, they throw actual birthday parties (complete with balloons) and ask you to come, bring a dish, bring alcohol, etc. Then, they also believe that you should bring a gift. Not a card accompanied by your favorite ginger ale or fun candy, but an actual gift (popular stores include Nordstrom, Macy's, etc.). They then sit and open all of the gifts, like purses, clothing, etc., and everyone has to stand around and watch. You know, like when you were in fourth grade?

First of all, I think this whole idea is ridiculous. Not the idea of hosting a party at your house, where you provide the refreshments and no one brings gifts, but of expecting people to either take you out to a place of your choice with a gift, or come to their house and provide food and drinks and a gift. It seems to me as adults, we have passed this stage. Also, the friends don't do anything for anyone else's birthday unless the person plans it themselves. Which I guess is why everyone plans their own every year.

Am I crazy to think this is weird? It's not some epic birthday (maybe 30? 40?) but 26, 27, etc. I try to now avoid these parties and say I'm busy, but a friend recently brought up at another gathering how "tacky" it was of people to show up to her birthday without a real gift. What are your thoughts? Maybe I'm wrong?

Carolyn Hax: Agh, such a missed opportunity. "Really? I think it's tacky for 27-year-olds to expect gifts."

You'd need new friends after that, possibly, but it's abundantly clear that you need new friends anyway.

And for the record, I think expecting gifts on "epic" birthdays is ridiculous, too.

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Minneapolis MN: Is there such thing as too sensitive? I rolled my eyes out of frustration when I realized that my GF was going to do things her way no matter what I said. She saw me and it hurt her feelings. I reluctantly apologized but we had to have "the talk" for a week. If I show the slightest frustration or annoyance with her, she gets upset, cries, and expects an immediate apology. I think the relationship is doomed and I told her so.

Carolyn Hax: Not sure there's a question here, but I won't let that stop me.

Yes, you did ask if there's "such thing as too sensitive," but that doesn't count because you clearly think there is such a thing. And if your GF really needs a week of negotiations to get past an eye-roll, you may be right.

But the thing is, there's no need for anyone to be at fault here--an idea both of you urgently need to embrace. What you've described is an unspoken competition for Most Aggrieved. "If I so much as twitch in a frowny direction, she cries!" "He's got this huffy attitude with me all the time, but refuses to admit it!" Right now you're both looking for behaviors in each other that prove you're the righteous one, and, really, has anyone looking to justify him/herself ever not succeeded at it?

It could be that you're just not suited to each other, which happens all the time. People have their comfortable ways of expressing emotion, and not all ways are compatible with each other.

But it could also be that you're so far up in each other's business that you've forgotten just how to be. If you think it's worth it to give it another week, see if she'll agree to spend those seven days letting everything go. Specifically, I mean deciding upfront: "This is how s/he is and it's not a referendum on me." If you can go a week without taking each other's each-other-ness personally, then you might actually start the see the outline of the people you fell in love with.

Or, not. But we can all say we tried, right?

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Lupus:: The poster may also want to contact her local chapter of the Lupus Foundation of America (www.lupus.org). One of my extended family members was also diagnosed in her 20s, and has continued to have a good life (education, career, marriage, baby,...).

Her local LFA chapter is quite active and I'd be willing to bet money that any Lupus veteran would be willing to help guide the poster through the initial adjustment period.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. Contacting the special interest group for ______ is one of the first steps for anyone struggling to deal with ______. The Web has lowered the entry bar to such groups so low, it's almost negligible. Open browser ... type "_____" ... read (with skeptical eye, since not all are legit). If there are any questions about legitimacy, a call to a known authority on ______ --doctor, etc.--can clear them up quickly.

I think it's just easy to forget these things when in the midst of a crisis, and it also feels weird to ask for help, since part of the adjustment frustration is the unpleasant sensation of having to ask for help when one never needed to before. But we all need it at one point or another.

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RE: Boston: Writing as a fellow Bostonian who has had LOTS of health problems. This town is rich in resources for those coping with illness. Ask your doctor for a referral to a social worker, and ask the social worker to help you find a support group. If you can't find a group for people with your specific diagnosis, you can find one for people generally coping with chronic, ongoing health issues. If you try a group and it doesn't feel like the right fit, try another. This can be a great source of support and advice on how to live with ill health.

Even if you are able to move home, I'd recommend finding a support group there. Family and friends often aren't up for the marathon/triathalon of helping you cope.

The social worker can also help you figure out what kind of workplace accommodations you qualify for under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), and how to navigate asking for that.

Counseling (meaning therapy) may also help. However, realize most therapists are trained and incentivized to apply a psychiatric diagnosis, whereas you are having normal reactions to being suddenly physically ill. (I mean no disrespect, I'm a trained clinician myself.) So you may not need psychological 'fixing', just ongoing support...which is another reason to try a support group even if you seek counseling/therapy.

Good luck.

Carolyn Hax: Another excellent suggestion, thank you.

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Re: Minneapolis: Don't roll your eyes at other people. It's dismissive and communicates underlying contempt. I used to roll my eyes at everyone and everything, and one day I realized that it's a profoundly immature way to express oneself. If you have something to say, have the courage to say it. If it's better kept under your hat, really keep it there. It's irrelevant whether the recipient of your eye roll reacts badly; YOU are communicating a lack of respect for that person when you do it. Is that the person you want to be?

Carolyn Hax: So good it belongs in a frame.

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For Boston: I read this letter with a hand to my mouth, wondering whether I was seeing the words of a friend who was diagnosed with CIDP. You could be her. I want to beg you not to discount the willingness of those close to you to be there, lend an ear, keep you company. The fact that your illness is invisible also makes it hard for people to know what you can handle, whether an invitation to have lunch or take a walk would be insulting, whether it's okay to call/email/reach out or whether the repeated contact is just an exhausting nuisance. I can't speak for everyone, obviously, but I know that if my friend sent me an email saying "I'm having a good day, let's get coffee" or asking if I'd come help make dinner, or just wanting to talk, I would be there in a heartbeat. It's just so hard to know what form support should take when the problem is a mystery. So... just in case you are my friend, but even if you're not, please don't shut down. You don't have to be so alone.

Carolyn Hax: Another one. You guys are on your game.

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Epic Birthdays: For my 40th birthday the best present I got (and the only one I remember and know I still have) is a magic wand that a friend's 6 year old picked out and insisted that she buy. It was the hit of the party and I still have it on my bookshelf where it cheers me up every day (and how can a bright pink magic wand with feathers & a big star not cheer you up?) Forget Nordstrom & Macys and friends like that.

Carolyn Hax: The idea of a pink magic wand with feathers cheered me up.

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Washington, DC : I knew someone who, each year on her birthday, took her friends out to dinner and picked up the tab. She expected no gifts, saying she couldn't imagine a better present than the company of her friends she loved. And she meant it! I think I'm going to implement the plan on my next birthday.

Carolyn Hax: See, now we're hearing what good friends look like.

Not everyone has the $ to pick up big restaurant tabs, but that's nothing a pot of chili can't solve.

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overachiever update?: Any word from the overachiever? How are they doing this week?

washingtonpost.com: Nothing so far.

Carolyn Hax: Will keep an eye out, though.

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Parenting styles: Hi Carolyn (online only please)

My husband and I have been together for 6+ years. For the first 5 years, we rarely fought, felt similarly about many things, discussed and agreed to disagree on others, and have been so lucky to share a close bond and friendship as well as romantic relationship. Then we had a baby. She is the love of our lives. But also the subject of many recent disagreements. I think in principle we agree in our parenting philosophies, but, in practice, we fight A LOT more than we used to, about everything: nap schedules, bottles, diaper changes, toys, how long to let the baby cry, feedings, etc. A lot of it centers around his perception that I'm coddling, and mine, that he's being too strict. (She's a baby! FWIW, I don't feel I spoil her, but, I also don't think she's old enough for me to be very strict or let her cry for more than 5-10 minutes). We both end up on the defensive. It's so frustrating because I don't even feel like we're on the same team anymore. Do other couples go through this when they become parents? we're both in individual counseling but have never had to consider going together. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Ask your counselor--or even better, pediatrician--to recommend a good parenting class that you and your husband can attend together. If s/he recommends a few with different approaches, sample them all to find the best fit. You want to find one that teaches you what babies are capable of doing/understanding at various developmental stages--so you can base your approaches on fact--and one that aligns well with your shared philosophies on childrearing, if that's applicable.

Once you're in a class that both of you feel is appropriate, then you've essentially gotten a mediator. You can agree, for the sake of your child and marriage, to use the class's teachings as a tiebreaker on the issues that are tripping you up. You'll have to allow exceptions for when the middle ground is something one of you finds unconscionable--and in those cases, you can agree to consult with your pediatrician.

I suggest this because there is a whole range of ways to raise children well; there isn't just one perfect way. One sure way to screw up children, though, is to raise them amid constant parental conflict.

I.e., either way you want to do things would probably be okay in most cases, but the power struggles you're staging over your methods aren't okay. Call in a referee, and get past this.

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Charlotte, NC: Hi Carolyn -

My brother has some absolutely amazing qualities - he's a great friend, he's amazing with kids, and he's willing to drop everything to help out if he's asked. Unfortunately, these strengths haven't resulted in his achieving some of the "traditional" measures of success (i.e. college graduation, steady job), which wouldn't be a problem if he had been able to achieve success on his own terms... but he hasn't.

For the last 6-7 years, he's drifted between construction jobs, being a waiter, doing odd jobs. Right now, he's jobless and broke. We (bro and I) recently talked about how aimless he feels and how he is not at the place he wanted to be at 30. So what, as his family, should we do to facilitate/support/stay the h-ll out of it/to help to get him where he wants to be and is happy with himself?

Our parents have been supportive but are frustrated the he seems uncommitted to making a change.... He has a habit of getting really excited about something and then abandoning it when something new comes along. His latest thing is to move to the Carribean and charter fishing boats. Problem being that there are apparently classes/licenses which he needs to get that he doesn't have the money to pay for. My parents aren't willing to pay for the classes and the move, because they don't feel there's a real future (i.e. career) in fishing charters. However, they have offered to help him pay for technical school/trainings to become a plumber/mechanic/etc. Bro is frustrated/annoyed and accuses parents of being "controlling" and also accuses them of "looking down on him" because of their career suggestions.

At this point, I haven't voiced an opinion, but generally agree with my parents-- mostly because he doesn't seem fully committed. If he were willing to continue construction work while he saved up for the classes, and didn't just expect my parents to hand him the cash, I would have an easier time being supportive.

Should I just continue to stay out of it, even though I see that both parents and brother are unhappy? Are there any resources out there for adults trying to find a vocation?

Thanks for your help!

Carolyn Hax: Sorry for the short answer to the long question, but, has he been screened for ADD? I don't have the credentials to diagnose something like this, but I do know that the kind of hunt-and-peck professional problems your brother is having are one of the known byproducts of adult ADD/ADHD. Worth a look.

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Arlington, VA: I've finally put my foot down and told my husband our discussion about housework is over and he needs to increase his share of the work or else. He wasn't too pleased with this, but I feel I need to stand my ground. We each estimated the number of hours we put toward housework and watching the kids. I end up with almost 60% of the work. I excluded things on his side that I don't really call work, because I know he enjoys the solitude (lawn care, weeding, finances, cooking, etc.). He doesn't think that's right, but I don't think these tasks are any comparison to vacuuming, doing dishes every night and cleaning bathrooms. I also don't buy his argument that he works 10-15 hours more than I do at work each week. That is a career choice, and while it's enabled him to earn far more money than I do, it doesn't excuse him from his share of housework. Short of threatening divorce, how do I convince him that he is wrong? As a reality check, I threw this out to friends and family and everyone agrees with me.

Carolyn Hax: Let's play "one of these things is not like the other," a la "Sesame Street":

a hot bath,

a long walk,

a good book, and

hunching over to claw at dirt for several hours!

How do you like to get your solitude? I guess it's something that you still have friends, because I might have thought otherwise after reading that you count weeding among "things on his side that I don't really call work." Wow.

Anything you wouldn't already be doing as a leisure activity counts as housework. Period.

And if he is at 40 percent of the household load with all of the yard work, cooking and finances excluded, and if he's carrying this nearly-half-to-possibly-more-than-half of the domestic load while working longer hours than you do and bringing more money to the household than you do, then you owe him one of the fattest apologies ever owed a spouse--not just for failing to respect what he does, and not just for standing your arbitrarily you-centric ground, but also for dragging his rather domestically generous self through the mud of everyone you know as you sought approbation.

To deliver this apology, you might need to track him down at his attorney's office.

Now, if he's cooking only for himself and not you, or if he's gardening/doing lawn care as a way of escaping from you, or if he isn't contributing his extra money to the marital war chest, then you've got something--something different from what you're saying, but a legit gripe nonetheless, one that's worth taking to counseling.

But if you just don't like him any more, then, okay--end the marriage, don't make up a reason to trash him.

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To parenting styles: FWIW - We went through similar difficulties after our twins were born--accented by having special needs (autism). I developed some toxic habits such as muttering under my breath.

A lot of little things helped keep us together while we worked out how to be parents and a couple. Apologizing when you've over-reacted. Remembering to give compliments when appreciating something. Taking some couple time away from your baby. All of these helped work through the rough spots. We both took a few conscious steps and gradually worked our way back. We will still have disagreements that didn't occur before the kids arrived.

Carolyn Hax: Oh yes, the muttering under breath--just as bad as eye-rolling. Thanks so much for that honesty, and for the good ideas.

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Eye Rolling: If I'm getting periodic eye rolls, generally with a wild-eye-look and dose of angry, I can understand that I should say something, since I don't want to be the recipient of that behavior. But, what exactly do I point out? Will it do any good to point out that the person is being disrespectful, or does he have to figure this one out on his own? FWIW, it's my husband, he didn't used to be like this, and I really don't want to have the kids think this is an appropriate way to treat others.

Carolyn Hax: "If there's something you'd like to say, then please show me the courtesy of saying it." Calm as can be. You'll show your kids that eye-rolling stinks, which is really important, and you'll show them what it looks and sounds like to stand up for yourself. Really really important.

Now, you'll also be making an example of your husband, which isn't what you want to be doing with any kind of frequency, so I also urge you to find a good marriage counselor. I say this knowing that an eye-roller is very likely also to be a therapy-scoffer (and wishing I could get a royalty for therapy recommendations, given the way this chat is going today), but at this point you've at least got to try. And to go alone, if he does indeed scoff at the idea.

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Thyroid Advice: Hi Carolyn, You get lots of people writing to you about depression so I thought I'd just do a little PSA. I have longstanding issues with both depression and my thyroid. I just came through a really rough patch where I was feeling pretty worthless. I just found out my thyroid has been low. I didn't think to check, even though I know it's been an issue in the past. So just a little reminder to anyone out there feeling blue - get your thyroid check. It's easy to do. Easy to treat. And it can make a world of difference.

Carolyn Hax: A fine reminder, thanks. Some people will turn out just to be depressed after all, but it should be on the checklist whenever someone's dealing with sluggishness and/or blues.

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Newly single: Hi Carolyn,

This week I finally grew the ovaries and left my emotionally stunted, manipulative and (proven this week) serial cheater husband. I am angry, but keeping my emotions in check because I think this will be better for me and our son in the long run. I do want to yell, cry, tear my hair out.

I want a peaceful divorce and I want this over as soon as possible. How can I check my emotions/anger at the door and work with mediation etc? I want our son's life to remain calm throughout this storm. Dragging the negatives in will make everything worse. But at the same time, I want the toxic negativity released.

Carolyn Hax: Counseling.

Ka-ching! (My imaginary royalties.)

Seriously--find a disinterested party to help you air this stuff out. It doesn't have to be though appointments with a therapist, per se; a support group would also serve the same purpose, if it's just a matter of getting it off your chest. Just find a safe place.

Oh, and keep an eye out for getting carried away. It's one thing to sort out your anger through guided conversation, and it's another to make "angry victim" your new persona. Former: yay. Latter: boo. You really don't sound as if you're headed that way--you sound like you're doing really well, actually--but I like the warmth and security of a good disclaimer.

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Housework vs. yard work: As a single woman with a house and yard that I have to keep up all by my little old self, can I just tell the woman complaining about her husband to count her blessings??!! To think that I would NEVER have to think about cutting the grass, weeding, cleaning cutters, pruning shrubs, sweeping the sidewalk, makes me want to swoon. Cooking too??.sdakkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk....sorry I just passed out for a second.

Carolyn Hax: No problem. People think I do that all the time during these things.

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Re: Arlington Housework: I don't really buy your reasons for thinking my husband is correct. He does contribute all of his salary to our family, but that's beside the point. The big difference is that I absolutely hate cleaning bathrooms while his chores are not that big of a deal to him - mine just get weighted more heavily in the calculation. Also, you might call asking friends about this "dragging him through the mud", but I think it might be the only way he changes his ways. If nothing else works, I think my next step would be to have my Mom talk to him and then discreetly get my friends to mention this as often as they can when we get together. Another option is to hire someone to do my share of the work - then I'll have nothing to complain about.

Carolyn Hax: Seriously--if this is just about cleaning bathrooms, then hire someone to clean your bathrooms. Or switch it up with your husband, and alternate weeks where you clean 'throoms and do yard work.

If he refuses to do that, then you have a leg to stand on.

However, I maintain that your airing your grievances to "friends and family" makes your husband look bad--and I maintain that that stinks. Consulting with one friend and your Mom, okay, but surveying everyone? And doing it, you now admit, as a means of leveraging him? That stinks even more.

As for enlisting your mom and friends to talk to him, well, that's so mind-boggling I have to wonder if this is a fake question.

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Re Re: Arlington Housework: One other thing I probably should have included in my original post. You might think I'm self-centered, but I have a different take on it. My husband was pretty socially awkward when we first met. I don't want to say I did him a favor by marrying him, but it's not that far from the truth. I'm much better looking than he is, I'm much smarter, and I have a much better personality. We have what you'd call an unbalanced marriage and I expect him to compensate for that, in some way. So even if he is doing slightly more work than I am, I don't think that even comes close to what he really owes this marriage.

Carolyn Hax: Okay, you officially can't be real. Too bad.

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I just can't find happiness in anything any more...I would like to date but I can't imagine putting forth that kind of effort, or meeting somebody who only knows me as a cripple. : You've discounted one of the things that may make the most impact on your life. Many human beings need close companionship, gather strength and mutually support each other "for better or for worse, in sickness and in health". A person who willingly tries to share your life with you will not know you "only as a cripple" but will know you as a strong person dealing with a often debilitating illness and surviving. You recognize what you are still able to accomplish and struggle not to feel sorry or give up. You are being uncharitable if you feel that another person could not see those same strengths in you that you live with. Give someone else the chance to recognize that, love you and give you mutual support. As a married caregiver, I can tell you that although I have to do a lot for my wife, I get back a lot as well. Give someone that chance.

Carolyn Hax: This is lovely, and we needed some lovely--not as much as Boston does, but we all get to share in it. Thank you.

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Baltimore, MD: Hi Carolyn,

I've recently been called "patronizing". Since no one aspires to improve upon their skills at being patronizing, can you provide examples, and suggest ways to overcome this negative trait?

Carolyn Hax: I'm curious. How do you, in general, see yourself? Other people? We don't know you, so you can be honest without having to answer to anybody for it.

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Dental disaster: Carolyn I just came back from the dentist where I was informed that I need $12,000 worth of work. It's ALL my fault. I have a massive phobia and did not go to the dentist since I was 17. But how the heck do I pay for this? How can I handle this?

Carolyn Hax: I'm posting this for you, but also as a cautionary for others who have these doctor/dentist phobias, since I know there are a lot of you.

1. talk to your dentist about a payment plan.

if you don't have dental insurance:

2. get some during your next open season.

if you have dental insurance (I'm thinking not, since you don't go, but:)

2. find out how much work would max out your benefits for 2010, then have your dentist prioritize the work so you can get just the covered amount done now (plus whatever else you can afford out of pocket on a payment plan).

3. if you can set up a flexible spending account through your job, set aside extra pre-tax dollars for 2011, and put off as much of the work as you can (per dentist's advice) till then.

oh wait, i forgot the first thing. So:

0. Tell your dentist about your phobia, if you haven't already. You want to receive care that's not going to scare you off again.

Good for you for finally going. That's a big deal.

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Fing Spoons: Can I just say that it took me a failed search for the "Fing Spoon Theory" before I realized the LW meant the "effing spoon theory". Der.

Carolyn Hax: I did that too. Der + der.

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Re Re Re: Arlington Housework:: I'm not sure why you think this isn't real. My husband is upset about the whole thing and maybe my take on things is skewed --- that's why I wrote in. It's hard to think my view is really so off when I get validation from just about everyone I talk with and even my husband would agree with how "unbalanced" our marriage is. He just doesn't agree there needs to be a remedy.

Carolyn Hax: When you married each other, you deemed each other your equals--emotional equals, equals in status and your standing in life, equal partners in each other's happiness. You became equals who would then divide the household chores more or less equally, with that "more or less" being determined by your responsibilities outside the marriage, such as jobs and ailing relatives and such.

The marriage you're describing is a business arrangement--and, as it happens, as a business arrangement, it seems to be pretty fair.

A straight answer, just in case.

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For dental disaster: 1. Get a second opinion!!! You may not need such extensive work, and even if you do, you may be able to get the same quality work done at a better price. I had to get braces again as an adult. I was quoted $6,000-10,000 at different dentists. I ended up going with one of the lower quotes because that orthodontist came the most highly recommended, and it turns out people had some bad things to say about the one who gave me the $10,000 estimate.

2. See if you can get the work done at a dental school.

Carolyn Hax: Right! Right. Thank you.

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Re: Arlington: Carolyn, I think she's real. In fact, I think I know her.

Honey, I am one of the "friends" you dragged this to, and I agreed with you just to get you to shut up. You may be more outgoing and better-looking, but take my word for it, he has the better personality. The person who married up is you.

Carolyn Hax: Oh dear.

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Decatur, GA: For the dental patient, what about going to a local medical school with a dental program for some of the work? Students perfomr the work under supervision and it's more cost-effective.

Carolyn Hax: Another vote for the trainees, thanks.

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Re: Arlington Housework and Boston: Sheesh. Movie script: the Arlington Housework husband cuts loose, moves to Boston and falls in love with someone who appreciates him. Arlington Housework starts a new job as an party planner for self-centered 20-something's.

Carolyn Hax: Casting ideas?

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Re Re Re: Arlington Housework:: I appreciate the straight answer. Maybe what I can take from all of this is that I need some individual counseling and that my husband and I need some marriage counseling.

Carolyn Hax: Yes, I think that's fair. I'm sorry I put you off as insincere. I do get fake questions, and your declaration that he owed you more housework because you have the better personality really was shocking--enough for me not to believe you.

Why? Because I don't believe there's such a thing as altruism in marriage. No one marries someone as a favor to the other person. What happens instead is that the people who marry perceived inferiors get something in return for doing that, be it money or security or a place where they don't feel threatened--as in, an abiding sense of superiority to prop them up through life.

I guess what I missed is that there is such a thing as -perceived- altruism in marriage, where one spouse -thinks- s/he has done the other a favor. And when you get a few years into the marriage and feel your spouse hasn't delivered the benefits to which you believe your altruism entitles you, then that's seen as grounds for divorce.

If that's what happened here, then I have only this to repeat--marriage made you equals--and this to say: He is a human being. Please grant him the dignity that affords him, and stop shouting to everyone who will listen about his social awkwardness and his relative worthlessness as a person against your high value. Start noting and appreciating what he does for you. And yes, counseling, stat.

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Casting Couch: How about Mark Ruffalo for the husband?

Carolyn Hax: Like it.

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For the $12,000 dentistry work person: I had a similar thing, a dentist recommending $6,000 worth of work. I was stunned, as this seemed out of the blue and I had, in fact, seen a dentist regularly. This new dentist was after I moved to this area and was someone recommended in the city magazine on some "best dentists" list.

His office staff then sat down with me and tried to work out a payment plan, but I noticed didn't spend nearly that amount of time explaining why I needed all this expensive work.

I went to another dentist for a second opinion, and he said I was fine, no extraordinary work needed at ALL. I have been going to that dentist ever since, twice a year for nearly 10 years now. My teeth are fine and I never needed anything out of the ordinary.

So I would suggest, for starters, that the LW at least get a second opinion and see if the 2nd dentist agrees. Then worry about how to pay for it, but first, you need to be absolutely sure that you really need whatever it is. The first dentist could be taking advantage of your guilt feelings for not having had regular dental checkups.

Carolyn Hax: I know I already posted the suggestion for a second opinion, but this is such a good cautionary tale. This actually happened to me--$1,000, not $6,000 but still. Thanks.

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Noplace, Nowhere: Hi Carolyn:

My sister has been an anorexic for almost 20 years. She is sometimes better, sometimes worse. I have burned some serious family bridges trying to talk with her and trying to get other members of the family -- who acknowledge to me that she is ill but who refuse to talk with her -- to participate in the discussion. In short, I have done everything I can to get her help, but have gone nowhere.

My first question for you is, is there a book that you can recommend -- similar to "The Gift of Fear" for those in abusive relationships -- that I could possibly send to her in a last-ditch attempt to help her tackle her illness? She's in a really good place in her life right now, which I want to take advantage of and start the process now, rather than waiting until she's miserable again.

My second question is, do you have any suggestions for dealing productively with my feelings of helplessness, frustration, and yes, probably some sibling rivalry/jealousy that my parents, in particular, have made it clear that they are taking her "side" in this?

Thanks for anything you can offer.

Carolyn Hax: Mm--I don't like the book idea. For one, it doesn't sound as if your getting involved so far has helped your sister, necessarily; you've showed you care, which is important, but from what you say she has her ups and downs independent of your expressions of concern. And, intervening has strained your family, which ultimately doesn't help your sister. And, she's doing okay; maybe she has gotten help without telling you?

I think your second question is the place to concentrate here. Please do your homework, and find a psychotherapist who has experience and a great reputation in the field of eating disorders. Make an appointment, tell your story, and find out what is and isn't productive when dealing with an anorexic family member.

Two reasons for this. 1. Well-meaning people can unwittingly do harm, especially in situations where the illness is serious, notoriously difficult to treat, and associated with a complicated emotional state.

And 2. I'm getting the impression that you're caught up in this to a point where it's not healthy for you. Please be careful.

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Carolyn Hax: Mark Ruffalo was so right for the husband that I posted it before remembering that I'd thought better of following the movie thread. Just to explain why I'm not posting your suggestions. Thanks, tho.

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NYC: For the 'lost' brother: I don't know about ADD/ADHD. But should't we consider that some people just don't fit into the mold of finding a job because you're supposed to work and shop and consume so you can wake up again and do it all over again. Perhaps this guy wants to live a life that might bring him some more unconventional fulfillment. That said, he should do it on his own without asking for money from his folks.

Carolyn Hax: The "that said" is everything. I am all for breaking out of ruts, but there are so many focused and responsible ways to do it: In the case of the brother, there's getting the idea, researching the possibilities, forming a plan, taking any and all available jobs to build a little seed money (and even moving to the preferred harbor town to take those jobs, if financially feasible), getting experienced and educated in the business in question, and then pulling the trigger.

People with supportive families will often see exactly that progression taking shape, and kick in the kind of money the brother's looking for; seeing someone dedicated to a plan is persuasive. It's not about being traditional, it's about being purposeful.

Now, certainly some people will get off the 9-to-5 track because they feel entitled to something more impressive/creative/romantic (read: cushy), and they don't have any specific passion but instead will hop from scheme to scheme, with the common denominator being an unwillingness to do the hard work to follow through--entitlement is such an insidious disease--and that is a possibility we might consider here that has nothing to do with a diagnosis of any kind.

But "lost" brother's story is not about breaking the mold. It's about dropping the ball, for whatever underlying reason.

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Arlington, VA: For the sister of the anorexic girl...

I had my own bout of anorexia. I was even aware of it and knew it wasn't healthy. However, one of the side effects of anorexia is the chemical imbalances made you nuttier than a loon. My well-meaning friends tried to "inform" me, or "lecture" me or try to point out things they were sure I didn't already know. The only one who got through was my then-boyfriend, who only said one thing once -- "I know you've got some stuff to work out, but you'll only deal with it when you're ready." No threats to leave, or lectures. Then, he would say at random times "let's go out to lunch". I would go, just because it was him, and it was amazing what one good meal would do for my mental balance. At one point I told him, "you know, if ever I'm nuttier than usual, just take me out for a cheeseburger". Which he did, without ever mentioning that a) I seemed nuttier than usual or 2) any lectures about my (lack of) weight. I eventually got my head on straight, and ate enough solid meals in a row that I don't have that issue any more. In fact, a two-year old toddler and the resulting lack of energy to focus on myself means that I'm actually a little chubby right now, and that's not making me nuts any more. Five years ago, that would have made me suicidal.

You can't fix someone else. She knows she's in trouble, but something is stopping her (body chemistry plus psychology). Occasionally offer to take her out, and then shut up. No comments on her weight, what she's ordered, etc. I hope your sister comes out of it on the other side okay but you can only do so much.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you, thank you.

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Shouting to everyone: Huh, wonder if I am guilty of some version of what Arlington is doing. My spouse is smart, attractive, good at his job and interesting. He is also lazy to the bone around the house and tends to be very moody at home. I vent about both. Should I not? It is true, not likely to change, and venting does make me feel a bit more able to cope with it.

Carolyn Hax: It's okay to have discreet outlets, it's not okay to air to any and all.

And while I'm here: It's okay to accept tradeoffs in mates, because no one will be all that--but it's not okay to hide behind "venting" when you;re really just miserable.

Talk to fewer people, sure, but also listen to yourself.

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This is who he is and it is not a referendum on me: I liked your answer about that - I am not in quite as dire a place as the weeklong eye-rolling situation, but I think I generally have a hard time being able to see my boyfriend as who he is, and not a referendum on me.

What's the difference, though, between that, and determining that who he is may not make me feel as valued as I'd like to be? How do I know whether the problem is my attitude, or our compatibility?

Vague, I know...

Carolyn Hax: That's okay, what I'm suggesting will be vague, too:

Try to change your attitude, and see if that helps. If it does, then ask yourself if you like where you are in this relationship. Is it comfortable, do you feel good about yourself when you're with him, can you be unguarded, etc.

If you cant' change your attitude or if it doesn't help, then you might not have the specific answer you want--attitude vs compatibility--but you have all the answer you need. A k a, "It's not working."

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Politics of housework: Everyone, ever, who has housework issues that are also partner issues should read the should-be-dated-but-definitely-isn't "The Politics of Housework," which is a (short) essay by Pat Mainardi (easily googleable). I say this not because I necessarily agree with the woman who wrote in about her husband, but because it's a good way to separate the issues from the other issues.

washingtonpost.com: The Politics of Housework

Carolyn Hax: Haven't seen it myself, but will have a look, thanks.

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Amazing Birthday: When I turned 40 I was working a second job delivering pizzas to make ends meet. The store manager must have said something to the staff of mostly teenagers - because I came back from a delivery and was greeted with a hideously beautiful pizza box decorated and signed by everyone in the store. It is one of my most treasured belongings now.

Carolyn Hax: On that awesome note, I'm going to sign off. Thanks everyone, have a great weekend, and I'll see you here next week.

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Noplace, Nowhere, Part 3: FWIW, I have only ever spoken with my sister about how unhappy she seems and how maybe talking with someone can help her. I spoke with her 15 years ago about her health, but I have never said a word about her diet (other than to try to meet her dining requirements when we've had her over) or her size.

Carolyn Hax: Okay--your post suggested otherwise, what with the burned family bridges.

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Noplace, Nowhere, Part 2: Hi Carolyn:

Thanks for the reply. I did talk with a therapist who deals with eating disorders, and she emphasized to me that anorexia is a life-threatening disease, and made me think about how I'd feel if I just gave up and didn't try anymore, and then my sister had a health crisis. Answer? I'd feel pretty crappy.

I was thinking of saying that if sis would see a specialist for a consultation, and the specialist said there was no problem and no cause for concern, I'd drop the topic. And if the specialist wanted her to receive treatment, and she proceeded to do so, I'd also never mention it again.

I think I'm mostly concerned that if I don't do something, nobody's going to do anything, and then if/when something happens, I will have been the only person who could have prevented it, and I won't have. I want to at least have the knowledge that she spoke with somebody other than me about this, and that this other person said she was/wasn't fine. I want to not be the only voice on this.

Now I'm worried about what damage I've done as a well-meaning person who's gotten caught up in it!

Carolyn Hax: Didn't see this before--sorry.

If the therapist didn't suggest what you could do, specifically, then she did you a disservice.

I will say this: The only person who can prevent something terrible from happening is your sister.

What you can do: Care about her, love her, be there for her, stay in touch with her, not judge her--and you can get into specific intervention with the guidance of a pro.

That's where I'll leave it.

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Talking about your spouse's shortcoming: Is this really that common? I just don't talk about issues we have from time to time with others. A few things in passing, sure, but nothing like our split of household chorse. It's not that we don't have our issues, but we tend to talk about them ourselves and I don't get anything out of talking to other people about them. My husband is the same way. Does that make us strange?

Carolyn Hax: I think it means you get along well. But let's take this up next week?

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Fairfax, VA: Airing spouse's laundry: a friend once told me something that has stuck with me. "You are your partner's best advocate. Or worst."

It's true. My friends and family will remember long after I've forgotten that Spouse -forgot our anniversary, doesn't help around the house, told me I was fat on our firstborn's first birthday].

I will talk to my friends/family about things in my head, but I never forget that what I say can't be unsaid.

Carolyn Hax: I like this too.

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