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Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 2, 2010; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Friday, July 2, taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

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

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Carolyn Hax: Hey everybody. Sorry I'm late--was being held hostage by a tetchy self-checkout lane at the store.

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D.C.: I am attracted to one of my husband's friends. Should I tell him? The friend flirts with me, but nothing has happened. Also, do you think it's a good idea to avoid this friend? Can men and women be friends?

Carolyn Hax: What (on Earth) would you be hoping to accomplish by telling the friend you're attracted to him?

Unless you meant tell your husband--in which case, what (on Earth) would you be hoping to accomplish by telling your husband you're attracted to his friend?

This has nothing to do, by the way, with whether men and women can be friends.

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Dilemma, USA: Hi Carolyn, love the column and the chats. During a recent visit to my in-laws house, my MIL told my mom that she has made the decision to leave my FIL after 30 years of marriage. My husband knows his parents fight a lot but that's all he knows. What do I do with this information?

Carolyn Hax: Tell your husband, unless someone along the chain promised to keep quiet.

In the case of a promise, the person who made the promise (presumably, your mom to your MIL?) needs to go back to the source and say that the secret is weighing too heavily and ask for the truth to be told.

Yuck. Another what-on-earth-was-to-be-accomplished-by-this question.

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NW, D.C.: My father didn't want children but my mother did. I was their only child. My mom has "made up" for my father's lack of love throughout my life. I was a real mess for a lot of years trying to figure out what -I- did to make my father not like me. I'm in my mid-30s now and as my parents get older, they seem to want me around more. Part of me is appreciative he finally -likes- me, but part of me will always keep a wall between us. I'm not really sure if he's trying to be nice because he's planning on needing my help in his later years or if he's genuinely trying to make up for everything. Is there really any way to tell?

Carolyn Hax: No, not really. But given your history, you'd certainly be withing the bounds of decency if you looked at this situation not for what you can do for your father, but instead what your father can do for you.

In other words, if you get anything out of his unexpected attention--if, say, you just enjoy his company---then don't be afraid to take him at face value, and leave behind both the what's-he-after? questions and the wow-he-finally-likes-me relief. Just take what he's offering without apology, and make the rest up as you go.

If on the other hand his presence in your life isn't adding much that you care to have, then don't be afraid to keep him at arm's length. You have nothing to feel guilty about by looking out for your interests.

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Self Checkouts: Why does such a good idea suck so much in reality?

Carolyn Hax: A question with applications well beyond self-checkout lanes.

I actually have pretty good luck with them, though. This one was special in that using my own shopping bags confused it, so it said "unexpected item in bagging area" after almost every item i scanned. PSYCHOTIC BREAK ON LANE 18/PSYCHOTIC BREAK ON LANE 18. And of course I had dashed out thinking i had juuuust enough time before my chat. Served me right I guess.

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Washington, D.C.: How come if a woman has dated both "nice" guys and abusive guys, you'll find out that in just about every case, her longest relationships have been with the abusive guys? Why do so many women require some form of drama to remain entertained in a relationship, and do you find this to be childish behavior?

Carolyn Hax: Not as childish as attributing this to women as opposed to people in general, and lumping all women as opposed to addressing some of them who have a similar set of circumstances, and blaming the victims instead of the abusers.

But other than that, I'm right there with you.

If you are a guy, and if you are angry that women aren't receptive to you when you see yourself as a "nice" guy, and you believe these women are instead receptive to abusive guys, then maybe it would be productive to consider that you're harboring attitudes about women (and men, for that matter) that aren't really "nice" at all.

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Sacramento, Calif.: I don't like my in-laws. I'm civil, I have a good time with them, they are good people. I -do- like them! But our common interests are limited and I seriously dislike certain characteristics about them (they are notoriously flaky when it comes to social events together, they can be somewhat nosy, did I mention we have nothing in common?). My mate goes over there at least every other weekend but I usually don't join, oftentimes without any excuse other than I just don't want to go; it's not how I want to spend my weekend. I suspect that I'm fueling a growing tension between us: I'm not really as part of the family as the other in-law kids and I'm not interested in the things they like to do. I feel the most tension from my MIL. My mate doesn't mind at all that I don't go. Am I being a selfish brat?

Carolyn Hax: You're probably asking the wrong person; I think going to one's in-laws' (or just parents') home every other weekend is verging on oppressive, even if you really really like your in-laws (or parents).

I suppose I can see some instances where it's not a big deal--if there's no pressure to come at all or to stay when you do come, for example, and it's the hey-howaya type relationship you'd have with good friend, then, good for all of you.

But from what you describe, there is some pressure to make being One Big Happy Family a regular feature of your weekends, and that just sends my boundary-violation meter into the red.

So, with that disclaimer: You are not being a selfish brat, you are being an autonomous adult. I'm sorry you're being air-guilted for that. Maybe it's time to come up with less in-your-face rejections. "I'm excited to putter around my garden," for e.g., would be a vast improvement on "I just don't want to come over," even though they both say the same thing.

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Washington, D.C.: So you're saying that there's no segment of women that require drama to be entertained, and I have an attitude problem for disliking drama? Again, when you confront a woman who has been in abusive relationships, which is relatively common, why are their abusive relationships the longest relationships they have? You'd think that the relationship with non abusive men would be the longer relationships, right?

Carolyn Hax: Not if you know anything about abusive relationships. If they were easy to resist and easy to leave, nobody would be in them.

And if you don't see that men get into relationships with abusive women, and stay with them long past the point of reason, and generate enough drama per couple for a Lifetime movie marathon, then you're not looking for information, you're looking to score points.

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Queens, N.Y.: My partner has been unemployed for well over a year, after being underemployed for a longer period of time. I realize the state of the economy, but because of her employment history I cannot help but feel frustrated, angry, sad, etc. Yet, I know I would be much less happy without her. I have more fun and am better understood by her than by anyone I have ever been with, by a factor of a hundred. My question is - when do I know I should walk away? I don't want to now, but I also know that this cannot go on indefinitely. (No kids. I have taken up rent, meals, and entertainment, but her bills are her bills so I am not in dire financial straits).

Carolyn Hax: Why are you "frustrated, angry, sad, etc."? Is your partner just an unmotivated lump on the couch while you take care of everything? Or is she taking all this too lightly and maybe enjoying the somewhat free ride? Or is she in a fine mood, pulling her weight, looking for work and all that, but the financial drain is getting to you? Is the present okay but the future scary?

The "more fun and better understood" create cognitive dissonance with the "frustrated, angry, sad, etc.," so I'm looking for a bridge that connects it all.

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Silver Spring, Md.: And what is wrong with weekly visits with parents? There is a difference between "boundary issues" vs. enjoying each other's company. No broad brush please.

Carolyn Hax: "I suppose I can see some instances where it's not a big deal--if there's no pressure to come at all or to stay when you do come, for example, and it's the hey-howaya type relationship you'd have with good friend, then, good for all of you.

"But from what you describe, there is some pressure to make being One Big Happy Family a regular feature of your weekends, and that just sends my boundary-violation meter into the red."

Brush seems plenty narrow enough not to have painted you unfairly.

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Rockville, Md.: My husband and I have a 4-year-old daughter. I have a college age daughter from another relationship. When she was home for winter break, she got in the middle of an argument between my husband and myself. I was trying to take away his car keys, because he was drunk. She took the keys, and he physically assaulted her.

Game over. I put him out. My problem is, any cooperation I show to him regarding our young daughter feels like I'm a traitor to my other daughter.

Any advice?

Carolyn Hax: This isn't about "sides" you have to take. You have to raise your 4-year-old and, to a far greater extent than you do your college-age daughter, you have to protect her. If your older daughter is keeping score in any way, then I urge you to find a really good family therapist to coach you through these next few difficult years.

If your older daughter isn't pressuring you, and if this is just about your guilt about needing to do conflicting things to best serve both of your children's needs, then I'd suggest counseling just for you, at least for now.

Either way, make sure it's someone who specializes in alcoholism and its effects on families. If you're not sure how to find a therapist who fits that description, two ways to start are to ask a doctor you trust (yours or your pediatrician), or to call your employer's EAP, if you have one.

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Divorcing in-laws again: My MIL didn't ask my mom not to tell anyone and I would think she would know my mom would tell me their conversation. Should I bring it up with my MIL first? She and I are close and get together separately from my husband from time to time. (I work part time and she is job searching at the moment.) I also know that she "makes up her mind" many times about many things and often never acts on them.

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, in that case, definitely talk to your MIL directly. Explain that you can't keep this information from your husband, and ask her either to tell him herself, or to assure you that she's just talking her way through it and really hasn't made up her mind.

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Denver, Colo.: My 30-something brother-in-law is "trying out" cities around the country to help him decide where he wants to move. He told my husband and I that he will be trying out our city soon, probably for a month, and that he will be working remotely while doing this. He is a nice guy, but not so good with boundaries or reading signals. I am sure (although he hasn't mentioned it) that he assumes it will be ok to stay at our house for the whole month. My husband and I would like to have him stay with us for a week and help him find a room to rent for the rest of the trip. This may hurt his feelings or annoy my mother-in-law, who correctly notes that we have a very large house and plenty of money while my brother-in-law struggles a bit more. Should we just suck it up and let him stay for a month? This is my husband's brother, after all. But I really really don't wanna!!!

Carolyn Hax: Assuming you feel confident that a month would stay a month, and not bloat into an indefinite stay, then I could argue for sucking it up.

However, I could also argue for using your resources (or going 50-50, or whatever makes sense) to house him somewhere other than your home, because crashing with one's married brother in said married brother's big house is, in most cases, not the best way to get a realistic look at a new place. If he's really trying this on as a possible home, then he should live as closely as possible to the way he'd live if he moved there.

That raises two other questions, primarily whether such housing is even available for rent. Short-term stuff is usually the hardest to find--but if you have a line on it, then go ahead and start doing the research.

The second question is whether that will cause more trouble than it's worth with your MIL, but that's where your paying for it/partially paying for it comes in. Opening your home for a week and then helping to underwrite his authentic experience would leave very little room for anyone to criticize you as being cheap or inhospitable.

Not that anyone looking for opportunities to criticize won't find them, since there will always be something, but it's otherwise a generous way to protect yourself from an overstaying houseguest, boundary challenged or otherwise.

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Burtonsville, Md.: Hi Carolyn,

I'm coming to terms with the fact that my 2-year-old is not very likable. Compared to the children of my siblings and friends, she is very fussy, clingy, and unengaging, while the others seem so charming and can light up a room. I'm her mom, so I know I must accept whoever she is and whatever she becomes, but it hurts my feelings to watch the grandparents play with the other kids, then smile at mine out of duty, or to have to leave playdates with my friends early because my kid fusses every time she is left in a room with other children. I was really looking forward to this time in my life, and instead i feel embarrassed all the time. Can you suggest anything that might help me out?

Carolyn Hax: First, I can beg you not to be embarrassed. It's not like you mixed her brain chemicals yourself from your signature recipe--you, like every other parent out there, got what you got. It may be the pet sport of newish parents to attribute, even just internally, every little kiddie triumph to the excellent effort of said kiddie's parents (and the failures of other people's kiddies to the failings of said kiddies' parents)--but so many of these incremental successes and failures end up coming out in the wash. The kid who walks months before everyone else and quotes Shakespeare at Gymboree can round out into as average an adult as you'll ever see, and, likewise, the fussy playdate killer can grow into a charming and thoughtful adult. Really.

So while you're right that you have to accept the child you have for who she is ("You get what you get and you don't get upset!"), you really don't know who she is yet. What you do know is that she's a tougher kid to raise, at least as far as you can see, than the other kids in your orbit right now.

That's a bummer worth a reassuring answer of its own, but it's not the far-reaching bummer you seem to be taking it to be. Try seeing it as a tough assignment that is most likely temporary.

Next, I can float my idea of where parental input does really count: The better you rally yourself to be there for your daughter, long-term, through difficult spells especially, the more pride you'll be able to take in the person she is and eventually becomes. Hang in there.

Finally, I can suggest that you find someone you trust to talk to. A good pediatrician is one; a supportive parents' group is another, either in person or online; a knowledgeable parent or sibling is another. What you're after is both a sympathetic sounding board/sanity checker, plus a potential troubleshooter.

While most kids' charmless phases are just phases, sometimes there's a health issue underlying bad moods or lagging communication skills. Friends and family have a really hard time saying to a parent, "Is it possible your child is unwell/delayed/whatever?" and for good reason--it's sensitive stuff.

Meanwhile, the best way to keep such health issues from being a problem in later life is to catch them early. So, this pair of reasons makes it absolutely crucial that you run any concerns you have by a trustworthy audience--again, pediatrician first, and others as your circumstances warrant.

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Visiting bro-in-law: Assuming that you trust your brother in law to be alone in your house, why not make plans to leave for a week or so while he's in town? You'll get a vacation AND a break from him, and he'll get to experience living in your city on his own. Also, it seems like it would have less possibility of resulting in resentment than if you were paying for him to rent a place (even if the actual out of pocket cost would be the same). Of course it depends on work schedules and vacation times and everything else, but even getting out for a long weekend with some friends - you could say you want to give the brothers a chance to reconnect! - might make the time more bearable.

Carolyn Hax: Like it, thanks.

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Hot Springs, New Mexico: I hope this doesn't sound too pathetic. My wife asked me what I wanted for Fathers day this year - I said "sex". I figured it would be free and not too much trouble. Well, it's been almost two weeks and I still haven't gotten my "present". Worse still, she doesn't really seem to care -- no apologies or "I'll make it up to you", or anything. We are in our mid 40s - married 12 years. Am I wrong to be disappointed? I guess I'm just looking for validation for how bummed about this I am.

Carolyn Hax: Ouf--tough one. Validation freely granted. I'm sorry. Any chance she thought you were kidding? That wouldn't make it okay, but it would make it a little less of a snub.

You do need to talk to her about it, "I feel"-style. As in, "I felt really pathetic for having to ask for sex for Father's Day, and now I feel even more pathetic for having to ask again."

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For Burtonsville: Hey, my kid is a whiny jerk too. Want to have a playdate? At least you'll feel better.

(Also, he's much better than he was three months ago, and his Perfect Cousin is much worse. See how things are in October.)

Carolyn Hax: The other argument for finding a sounding board. Thanks.

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Oppressive MIL: My mother-in-law also wants to see us every other weekend. She thinks that by keeping quiet every other weekend, we have to make plans with her on the next weekend. We do have a new baby (less than a year old) but we also both (husband and I) work full time and I really cherish my weekend time. She is divorced and is much too focused on us....what to do?? I feel bad but I want my limited free time for my baby, husband, and myself.

Carolyn Hax: No way to turn this into a positive? MIL comes over to stay with baby every other Saturday while you and your husband get out for a date? Or, if her coming to you is a non-starter for some reason, can you equip her place for babysitting, and you and your husb. go out from there?

There are very few cases (alcoholism, emotional problems, infirmity) where encouraging a bond between baby and grandma is a bad idea.

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Edmonton, Canada: I had the child that no one liked, did not get invited back a second time for play dates, etc. He is now 25 years old and one of the most social and charming young men you could meet. My family jokes that I traded him for another child when he was in his teens. This did not happen without years of counseling, being his advocate at every step in school and a lot of hard work on my part learning to parent him differently from my other son. It was all worth it, he is delightful and a hard worker as he learned early to take responsibility for his own life and happiness.

Carolyn Hax: Happy ending as lifeline. Thanks.

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Re: Washington, D.C.: I believe Mr. DC suffers from what I like to term: Nice Guy Syndrome (TMM). Since he's busy making generalizations about women as a monolithic unit I feel comfortable making generalizations about people like him who suffer from Nice Guy Syndrome (TM). Guys who label themselves as "Nice Guys" and then complain about women are just as manipulative as any abuser. Guys who label themselves as "Nice Guys" aren't actually nice at all. They are especially un-nice to women whom they somehow think owe the Nice Guy something (attention, friendship, sex) for simply being "nice." Sorry Mr. DC, no woman owes you anything for being a Nice Guy. If you were an actual nice guy, as opposed to a Nice Guy, you would not be making your generalizations about women, you would not be bitter, you would have more self-confidence and, perhaps most of all, you would see women as fellow human beings instead of some subspecies. Women are in fact human beings and respond quite well to being treated as such.

Carolyn Hax: A lot of comments along these lines, but this one hit the target squarely. Thanks.

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Asking for Sex: What is wrong with these people? I'm middle-aged, and I've heard directly from at least 20 acquaintances/friends that their partners absolutely refuse to have sex with them. How is this acceptable? I guess those spouses remember the 'for as long we both shall live' bit of their vows, and conveniently ignore 'with my body I thee worship.' And then they say, "I never saw the divorce coming." There is a reason that every religion and therapist in the world sanctions happy sex within marriage -- 'cause there is no marriage without it.

Carolyn Hax: Unless the done-with-sex spouse says, "I'm done with sex, but I realize you aren't, so let's talk about what we do now."

There's no marriage without communication, either.

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To Burtonsville, Md., mom of 2 year old: And most important -- give yourself a break -- both in the sense of cut yourself some slack for not feeling overjoyed every time you are with your child and in the sense of find someone you trust to watch your child and get some time to yourself.

I have 4 kids -- every one of them is different and what I've learned is that I should take no credit for the easy ones and no blame for the more challenging ones. They are who they are -- your job is to help them get along in the world and learn to like themselves for who they are. Those parents who think they have all the answers just got lucky to have a kid that plays by the rules.

Carolyn Hax: Or fits their expectations. Otherwise, weeping with agreement, thank you.

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Bethesda, Md.: Love you, love your chats!

How do I force myself to stop counting the minutes 'till the end of the day (and the start of my vacation and birthday weekend) and DO MY WORK? Nothing is helping--I think my brain has clocked out before my body is allowed to!

Carolyn Hax: Work 15 minutes, treat yourself to a reward for 5-10 minutes, repeat till work is done. Happy birfday!

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Whiny kid: So what if you know your kid is delayed? Just hope he eventually catches up? Our son's social skills are lacking because he had limited contacts with other kids until about 3 because of health issues. Is he getting better at them? Yes. Is he doing it fast enough that the kids are still around? No. Will it be different later? Hopefully. But in the meantime, it's hard to see other kids tell him they don't want to play with him.

Carolyn Hax: Don't just hope, get help. The kind of help depends on the type of delays and the extent, but your pediatrician, again, is (or at least should be) the best clearinghouse for these resources. Another good clearinghouse is your child's preschool/day care. If he isn't in either of these, and if his health problems wouldn't rule it out, then it might be worth putting him in some kind of program for even just a few hours a week. Many child-care providers will offer 2- or 3-hour programs, anywhere from one day a week to five. The good ones will also have social workers and/or child psychologists on staff or under contract for consultation, who observe classrooms for the sole purpose of catching issues that warrant intervention.

All that being said, one of the key things to do (and one of the most difficult) is to keep your cool and lay off the tempting doomsday thoughts. Just as the days with little kids can seem to last forever, the problems can seem momentous. And then, suddenly, it's two years later and the "huge problem" is a distant memory. Often, not always, but often enough that the default approach for anyone dealing with a delayed child should have two parts that almost seem mutually exclusive: active intervention plus all-is-well attitude.

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Carolyn Hax: Oh--and almost everything about a child's struggles is heartbreaking. Even the so-called "normal" struggles. But kids don't live and die by every little obstacle, and so neither should their parents. They look to their parents, in fact, to gain confidence that the latest struggle isn't the end of the world.

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Boston: Really feel for the man whose wife seems to have decided that the marriage will be sexless. I have a friend like that and I think it is totally unfair. People need to realise that once you get married, you are responsible for someone elses sex life - not just your own. And unless you are willing to have that person find satisfaction somewhere else, then you need to step up to the plate once in awhile. And I won't even get in to the 'how do you think it feels to be rejected over and over again by the person who loves you most' side of things.

Carolyn Hax: Another bit of validation to drive the point home. Thanks.

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Brother-in-law stay: Umm, it's not clear to me that this couple has ANY obligation to support this bro-in-law while he tours/vacations/whatevers his way around the country. At 30-something, he should be able to support himself and mature enough to take full responsibility for his choices. The fact that MIL would be upset if this couple didn't enable this guy's irresponsibility goes a long way towards explaining why he behaves the way he does.

Carolyn Hax: Yes, true. I don't see any obligation either, just to be clear. I just think that someone who wants to be inoculated against hard feelings for not wanting a month-long houseguest--where such hard feelings are likely, no matter how unfair--can throw money at the problem. That's all.

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MD: Hey Carolyn,

Sorry for the late question. I'm supposed to leave for the beach tomorrow morning with a friend and one of her friends. Thing is, I just don't feel up to it, and I feel like this happens a lot. I just don't want to feel trapped in VA Beach for 3 days, doing activities I only reluctantly agreed to with people I don't really share any interests with (ie they'll probably be drinking the entire weekend, and I'll be mostly sober). I know I was an idiot to agree in the first place, so should I just call the hotel a sunk cost and bow out? If it makes any difference, I feel like they only invited me to make the joint hotel room cheaper, but I didn't realize that before I said yes.

Thanks - love the chats!

Carolyn Hax: Thank you.

I'm wondering why you have to do "activities [you] only reluctantly agreed to"? Why can't you go, and then do your own thing when you get there? Forfeiting the money and going to bars aren't your only two choices.

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For Hot Springs : Been there. Done that. Tried lots of different approaches. Great marriages evolve into friendships between lovers. Sometimes, though, the friendship is there, but the loving is gone. You may be married to a wonderful friend who just doesn't want sex anymore. Then you have to decide whether you can live with that.

Carolyn is right to say a good friendship/marriage deserves a concrete discussion. But father's day aside, your wife has not felt like having sex for two weeks. I don't think she's really in the dark about how you feel.

It's just something she doesn't want. So best case, you negotiate some duty sex at agree intervals, not to exceed two week, or whatever.

Is that a marriage?

Carolyn Hax: Another argument for the conversation, thanks.

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Break-up brouhaha, California: I have tried to break up with my boyfriend three times in the last two weeks. I told him that I need to move on, don't see myself with him for the rest of my life, and I love him more like a friend. There is also a 13+ year age gap - he's mid-twenties. I chickened out and couldn't keep pulling the trigger when he begged me not to do it the first time. Since then he has brought it back up twice - saying he can't keep walking on eggshells - but when I say OK, then, we need to break up, he pulls out dark phrases like "How would you feel if I was just 'gone'?" I am taking this as a suicide threat, although I really don't think he'd follow through. The upshot is that he wants some sort of concrete reason - keeps asking me "what is wrong with me?" and I have no answer other than I just don't love him any more, at least not like a romantic partner. Final, horrible complication: we work together, same department, same office, and he will quit if we break up. HELP.

Carolyn Hax: You are being manipulated, expertly, and you need to get out of this relationship asap. If you have fears that he will hurt himself, enlist the help of a psychotherapist to walk you through the steps of ending this relationship.

The one option that you need to regard as not acceptable is to stay with this person. Really.

You don't need to give "concrete" reasons--"I don't see myself with you for the rest of my life" is as concrete an explanation as you owe anyone--and you are not responsible for his life or his job, and he is putting those responsibilities on you. "Boundaries" is overused shrink-speak and a lot of people dismiss it as such, but what it refers to is exactly what you need to see: He is blaming you for things that are squarely in his personal jurisdiction.

I suggest therapy because if you don't know intuitively or otherwise where those lines fall between two people, then you're going to have a difficult time pulling off this breakup--both in getting it done, and in getting over it without crushing feelings of guilt. So, find a teacher, learn where the lines are, and extract yourself from this entanglement.

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For no-sex Father's Day: Is it possible that their marriage isn't always this sexless, but in this particular case she found his "gift" request tacky/crass/disgusting/unfair/intrusive/manipulative/whatever, and is still punishing him for the offense against her sensibilities?

Carolyn Hax: If that's the case, then she should have just said so to his face, instead of punishing him silently by withholding sex.

Seriously. It's not that hard to play fair with other people, once you internalize the idea that speaking your mind about something "mean" is a lot less mean than imposing silent punishment for this thing you decided was too mean to mention.

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D.C.: My mother-in-law is really annoying. One of the minor things she does is call me "Type A" as a criticism of my parenting. For instance, if I ask her NOT to allow my baby to chew on a pair of reading glasses, she laughs and acts like I am this crazy overprotective parent. It is really offensive but I can never figure out a way to address it that doesn't sound defensive or petty. I end up biting my tongue a lot when I really want to say something, and that makes me think that I am putting my kids' health/safety second to my desire to avoid conflict. Help me, please, come up with a better way to address this behavior!

Carolyn Hax: Actually, calling you Type A isn't minor, but I;ll get to that in a second. First: It's quite possible you are being too tight about what you allow your mother-in-law to do when she's holding your baby--and note, I wrote it this way on purpose. I didn't say you're maybe being too tight about what you allow your -baby- to do, since taking away reading glasses is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. However, when your MIL is holding the baby, -----unless your baby is in serious danger-------, you might want to back off on the things MIL allows. Nit-picking the way she handles the baby is basically telling her you don't trust her, which is a really divisive way to approach Grandma.

Now: Your mother-in-law, instead of choosing a reassuring way to ask you to trust her with your child, is being just as divisive back at you when she labels you as Type A. As I said, that's not minor, that's a relationship killer.

But I don't think you're going to make much progress unless you acknowledge that you have your dukes up, too. You find her annoying, and there's no way it doesn't show. But the one who loses out most in this battle of mismatched personalities is your child. Please, instead of making your child the battle line between you, try really hard to find some common ground in your baby. You both love the child, presumably, and you both mean well, and want the best--and while you're going to have different ideas about things, it couldn't hurt to try letting some little things slide.

(more)

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Carolyn Hax: As for what you say when you're on the spot, where now you're just biting your tongue: Some honesty about your feelings and frailties might be disarming. "Maybe I am too protective. But I'm doing what feels right, and I'd appreciate a little leeway as I figure things out. When you call me 'Type A,' I just feel defensive when what I'd really like is your support."

If she scoffs at you then, you'll at least have solid footing for a decision to keep her at arm's length. If she really does have your family's well-being in mind, though, she'll be receptive to your request for support.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: For Break Up Brouhaha -

It sounds like she is very, very young - if he is mid-twenties, and there is a 13 year age gap, how old can she be? Just saying, this is cause for concern...

Carolyn Hax: Really? I just figured she was 13 years older than he.

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Hot Springs (again): My wife and I do not have a "sexless marriage". We just have very different sex drives. We try to have it once a week, but that sometimes doesn't happen. With the Father's day request, I was just hoping to get a little extra - it sure beats another tie!

Carolyn Hax: Since you seem to be in some sort of compromise-forged harmony, now I'm going to advise you -not- to make a big deal of the Father's Day Freeze-Out. I mean, it's still a bummer and the validation is still there for the taking, but the fact that you've found once-a-week harmony in very different sex drives strikes me as fairly unusual. Unless you really feel hurt and will harbor those hurt feelings at the expense of your relationship, dredging up your unhappiness with this one day/request might do far more to harm to compromise than it's worth. I.e., if she's feeling like you're both really rallying to make this sex-drive mismatch work, then it could be really frustrating on her part to have you harp on this one thing.

I;m not muzzling you, just urging you to think greater good before you zero in on one tree out of the forest.

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13-year gap: Good gravy, did someone out there REALLY think she was some 12-year-old girl seeking Carolyn's advice?

Carolyn Hax: Apparently. But I thought it was pretty cool for the reflexive assignment of older man/younger woman. One of those biases that probably surprised the person who had it (as most do).

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More on unlikable kids : This is going to sound really awful, but with a baby girl on the way, I am worried about passing along my husband's physical genes. He is 6'8" and fairly husky, and his son and daughter from a previous r'ship are enormous for their ages. I was eager to have children, but as the day draws closer I worry I've done my daughter a disservice by sentencing her to a big, awkward life. Any advice on learning to feel less guilty about this?

Carolyn Hax: Oh we have to revisit this. I have to go, but please re-post for next week?

Eek--which has to be on Thursday again, July 8. Sorry I keep announcing these at the last minute. I'm getting flaky in my middle age. Thursday 12 to 2, vs. Friday. Thanks!.

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Anonymous: Could I get a free hotline number for depression that might be open over the weekend? Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Go to nami.org--they have a help line.

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Carolyn Hax: That's it for today. Thanks all, have a great weekend, happy 4th and all that, and see you here next Thursday.

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In her daily column in The Washington Post Style section, Carolyn Hax offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there. Hax is an ex-repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.

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

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