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Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems

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

Carolyn was online Friday, July 16, taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

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

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Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody. If I nod off mid-chat today, it's because an earthquake got me up at 5:05 a.m.

Not many days I can make that particular complaint, for which I'm very grateful.

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Carolyn Hax: Of course, if I nod off mid-chat, it'll be a good 15 minutes before anyone suspects something's wrong. Sigh.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn

I am a divorced guy and wonder how to describe my divorce to women I date. After ten years of marriage, my ex-wife said that she no longer wanted to be married, did not want to be anyone's girlfriend and wanted to live the single life of an artist - she is a painter/graphic designer. She said I was a great guy and it had nothing to do with me. In addition, she refused to go to marriage counseling because there was no change that she or I could make that would allow her to be single.

I have two issues. First when I recount the experience I feel emasculated. Second, if I had not lived through it, I am not sure I would believe the story is true. Any advice?

Carolyn Hax: It sounds perfectly credible to me exactly the way you said it here. I also see no cause for shame or for questioning your manhood; an all-consuming drive to be on one's own is something a lot of people can relate to, and the ones who can't personally I hope would connect that it was about her, not you.

That said, there will be some people who do (a) doubt you or (b) blame you. But it's nothing but good news for you if you can weed out/scare off those people early.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm a single, straight, 30-year-old woman. I was told recently (by my therapist!) that I may have trouble dating because I appear too confident--that is, I come across as happy and independent on my own (I am), which gives the impression that I don't need a partner or maybe don't have space in my life for one. I don't NEED a partner, but I'd sure like one. Am I turning people off by being happy on my own? And here I thought that kind of confidence was attractive.

Carolyn Hax: Sounds fishy to me. I agree that confidence and a happy demeanor are generally attractive qualities. So I see two main possibilities: Your therapist is off, or your interpretation of what s/he said is off.

Is it possible your therapist meant instead that you're not approachable--i.e., so bold in your manner and/or hard on the outside that people don't dare to get close? That's certainly a real problem some people have. The inability/unwillingness to show any vulnerability can keep people at arm's length.

That's just a guess on my part, obviously, since I don't know what you're like or what your therapist actually said. I'm just throwing it out there as a close relative to confidence/independence that does in fact lead to troubles with dating.

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Lying Wife: Carolyn, my wife is a liar. I've seen her lie, reflexively, to other people when something is expected of her she doesn't want to do. Lies about reasons for not fulfilling obligations, etc. A tad more serious than little white lies. This bugs me for two reasons. First, she's demonstrating this behavior to our children, and I don't condone it. Second, I often wonder what she lies to ME about. Recently, I discovered something of mine missing. I'm fairly certain she threw it away. But when I asked her if she did, she denied it. So, now I'm really not sure what to think. The item is replaceable, but the trust is not. How to deal?

Carolyn Hax: Have you called her on this? E.g., when you've witnessed her telling a lie to someone to get out of something she doesn't want to do, have you pulled her aside afterward and asked, "Why did you tell a lie back there, when you could have just said, 'I can't do X because of Y"?

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Divorced Man: For the divorced man, actually, that's one of the least "problematic" reasons anyone could possibly give for a divorce in terms of meeting/dating new people. Honestly, if anyone has an issue with that it sounds more likely that they don't believe it could be that simple! I don't see anything "emasculating" about it, she just wanted to be by herself, not with any man at all.

Carolyn Hax: One take, thanks. Another coming ... (one I find depressing, to be honest) ...

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Re: Washington, D.C.: Although it was put very diplomatically here, I'm sorry, but I'd still question it. It's just too...perfect. I don't know what I'd think, but it's a very convenient explanation that says nothing of his role. (Regardless of what happened he had one.) Sure he's probably telling the truth since he posted it here, but if we were dating I'm not so sure I'd buy it. The spidey sense would be going off because the excuse is exactly that: perfect.

Carolyn Hax: Yikes.

I actually see his responsibility as self-evident. Each half of a couple is equally responsible for choosing a partner well, and for keeping things lively. So, either she wasn't the right one for him and he missed that initially, or she was right (enough) for him and he just missed a couple of signals along the way of her growing unhappiness. That's the baseline mistake when any relationship fails, and just because it's a common and shared mistake doesn't mean it's okay to discount it when you're scanning a story for signs of being "too perfect."

Really. "She doesn't love me any more"--which is essentially what he's admitting here by telling it this way--is hardly a snap for someone to say. My idea of too prefect would be ... well, actually, I can't think of one. How's that for a concept: I don't think there's a way to explain a divorce that makes a person appear perfectly desirable and blameless.

Discuss.

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Appearing confident: As an A-type male, I know that "appearing confident" is not necessarily a detraction but if you are an overwhelming personality that tends to be didactic, it is a very fine line before you get to arrogant, condescending and or just "too much" for some people. And that may scare of people who are looking for a more low-key personality. Stop and do some introspection. Independent and happy is good, as long as you don't go over the line. In my younger days, I was probably too overbearing and dated less. As I got older, I learned to curb my "helpfulness" and became a more attractive partner. And I've now been with my wife for 11 years, married for 8 (our very happy anniversary was Wednesday!).

Carolyn Hax: A useful take, I think, thank you.

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Baltimore: My sister's two (admittedly adorable) kids have become the focus of our whole extended family, and at the risk of sounding like an uberjerk, I think I am developing a complex about it. My parents missed the big 40th birthday party I had for my husband, but traveled 500 miles to get to my nephew's 18-month(!) "birthday" party. Am I allowed to copy the little ones and throw a tantrum about this, or do I have to suck it up and learn to enjoy all the kiddie babble for the next 18 years?

Carolyn Hax: I'll agree that kiddie babble gets obnoxious. However, you're comparing apples and oranges when you try to compare the magnetic pull of a son-in-law's 40th and a grandchild's anything. Not all grandparents go over the moon for their grandkids, but the ones who don't are the exception. Had it been -your- birthday, you'd have a much stronger case, but still not one worth pursuing.

Keep putting in the effort with your parents, certainly--and if you aren't seeing them as much as you'd like, start inviting them more often or go out of your way to visit them more. But please do yourself the favor of not competing with your nephew(s) for their attention. Talk about self-defeating.

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Re: Washington (explaining a divorce): I've got a weirder one I find hard to explain to dates: My husband wouldn't sleep with me the last seven years of our marriage. He wasn't sleeping with anyone. People find that impossible to believe. Then I get the incredulous question as to why I stayed so long. The answer has to do with love and commitment and ongoing (but fruitless) counseling, but I'm in the same boat as Washington when the questions come up.

Carolyn Hax: Again, it makes total, painful sense to me--but, then, given the number of first-person marriage-breakdown accounts I read on a weekly if not daily basis, my range of normal is a wide and heavily populated place.

All I can do is use this exchange to urge people to keep an open and forgiving mind when others are trying to frame, in a sentence or two, and incredibly complex and painful process in a way that includes both the information to which dates are entitled, and the discretion to which the divorced party is entitled.

I realize the whole point of sharing these stories is to allow others to judge for themselves what happened and whether it says good/bad/neutral things about a person. However, there's a fine line between judging and being judgmental.

To illustrate that, I can offer this: "Then I get the incredulous question ... ." It's a legitimate question for sure--and a non-judgmental one if someone asks it plainly. Registering incredulity, on the other hand, unmistakably implies, "What's wrong with you? I would NEVER have put up with that!" That's judgmental.

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Canada: Carolyn, Would you have answered Baltimore differently before having kids yourself? I'm asking in a genuinely curious way, not in a judgemental way.

Carolyn Hax: Funny timing on this.

Anyway, I can't know what I would have said Before.

However, my sisters started having kids 10.5 years before I did, and my mom was alive for almost all of that time, so for roughly a decade I was in the same demographic shoes as Baltimore. And, my parents (especially my mom) were really smitten with their grandkids--she was magic with them. And, I lived in D.C. while everyone else was in New England. Add all that up, and I'm traveling north to see everybody about 10 times more often than anyone's traveling to see me.

I don't recall ever questioning any of it, because it all made sense to me.

So, that's a lot of why I answered the way I did today.

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Single Dad wants to crack sleepover code : Hi Carolyn,

I'm a widower dad of a daughter, 9, and two younger boys. Sleepovers are the Big Thing in my daughter's life this year, and especially this summer. She has been invited to and attended several, and she is desperate to have one at her own house. However, as we learned after our first attempt, and which now seems obvious, her friends' parents aren't comfortable sending their daughters to a house without a woman in it. This goes for visits of all kinds, not just sleepovers. I am acutely aware of how outnumbered my daughter is and I don't want her to lack for things she would have had if her mom were here. Can you help me solve the sleepover conundrum?

Carolyn Hax: This just makes me sad--it's unfair to you and to your daughter (I mean, haven't you both been through enough?), but on the other hand, parents who feel any sort of discomfort are supposed to listen to that little voice.

The most important thing is for these parents to get to know you. Maybe you can reach out to a few of your daughter's friends' families, and invite parents and friend over for a cookout or something.

Another possibility, if there's a grandma living and/or if your daughter has an aunt, is to have a female relative over the same night as a sleepover.

Finally, there's also the option of not seeing this as The End of the World. While it's natural to want your kid to have every social advantage possible, it's just not possible for kids to have every social advantage. They're going to say the wrong things or wear the wrong clothes or have the wrong parents (who say the wrong things and wear the wrong clothes and, bonus, drive the wrong cars and live in the wrong houses). Friends are an essential part of a kid's learning process, but just as essential is for kids to develop the ability to manage setbacks.

For obvious reasons, you probably feel she has had more than her share of that kind of opportunity. However, obstacles aren't distributed evenly. Do what you can to remove this obstacle (and I'll invite people to weigh in with their ideas), but also know that it's okay not to have an answer for every obstacle you encounter.

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Murfreesboro, Tenn.: Stupid question, but if she is so happy, why is she seeing a therapist?

Carolyn Hax: To figure out why she struggles so much with dating? That's what I figured, but it's not a stupid question, so I'll post it in case I figured wrong.

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Deciding to Date a Divorce(e): I was on the hearing end of this years ago, when my now-longtime-boyfriend was describing his divorce to me.

I found that the actual story wasn't as important to me as the -way- he talked about his marriage and his ex-wife. I felt ready to proceed with him because he showed neither longing nor anger. He expressed regret, but he was quite even in tone when he talked about the mistakes that he and she had each made.

Carolyn Hax: Makes sense to me, thanks.

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New York, N.Y.: To the divorced man's query - my husband, also an artist, also left me because he didn't want to know if he wanted to be married or in any relationship but did know he wanted to be an artist. It was all somewhat more ambivalent than the poster. But it did do a number on me as well. It's hard to be so deeply rejected. Even if it's technically not about you, or at least not mostly your fault, you are the person who's ended up rejected. It took a long time for me to realize it's not about me and believing that is still a challenge. Without presuming, I'll just say that that is the bigger challenge - reconciling it with yourself in a way that's fair but kind to yourself - so you know who you are when dealing with other people. And then they can deal with it how they may.

Carolyn Hax: I think this gets at another element of it, thanks. The "reconciling it with yourself in a way that's fair but kind to yourself" can apply to so many other things, not just divorce. It's a given that people screw up, but what we do with those mistakes is anything but a given.

To tie the two posts together, one of the main elements is the way people take responsibility. If we don't, and we find ways to shift blame others for our mistakes, that betrays immaturity. That should be a blaring alarm for anyone looking to get into a relationship with a person who does this.

As it happens, though, there are also those who are intolerant of frailty, and looking only for people who haven't screwed up--you know these people, they fancy themselves as hard to impress, etc.--and they buy the stories of blame. Think about it--haven't we all heard someone say, "His ex was a total psycho"? That's immaturity finding immaturity and declaring that true love is born. (Pity the people who have to listen to the tales of dysfunction that get told and retold by this couple, but never addressed ...)

(more)

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Carolyn Hax: Then you have the people who do assume blame, but who seem all torn up about it, angry at themselves. That's better, but still not there yet. This is where the ex is often (but not always) put on a pedestal, where you hear, "S/he was the best thing in my life, and I wrecked it." That's someone with growing up to do as well.

The last is what you describe so well-- the person who has learned, grown, healed, made peace.

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Washington, D.C.: Blameless excuse for a divorce: my spouse decided s/he was gay.

Carolyn Hax: I thought of that, but that explanation is hard to hear without concluding that something had to be noticeably wrong--in the bedroom, if nowhere else--and that opens the door to the judgmental, "How on earth did you not notice THAT?"-type question.

Which, again, is left unasked by compassionate people. I'm just saying the possibility is there, so someone who has to share that information probably isn't going to feel blame- or shame-free.

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Boston: I am thoroughly confused. I've been casually dating this guy for a few months now. He's moving in August, so we decided not to get too serious. That said, I doubt with our personalities that this thing would have the legs to go long term anyway.

I thought everything was going great, but he recently told me he thinks we spend too much time and email/text too much if we're casually dating. He basically implied he thought I was very into him and he was concerned about that. That's not the case, but I took it in stride and said I'd step back if it made him feel uncomfortable.

I did, and a few days later he is texting/calling all the time. I'm sort of bugged by the implication that he was annoyed to spend so much time with me but now seems to not be able to get enough attention.

I feel fine about things but he is sending mixed messages and it feels like it was a power trip. It's not really a big deal because he's moving and it'll end soon enough, but in the meantime, what gives? Sort of annoyed by it but not sure why or how to handle this. (I've given minimal response back)

Any ideas?

Carolyn Hax: Maybe his mixed messages aren't about a power trip at all, but instead about mixed feelings. If he's a good guy in general, why not give him the benefit of the doubt?

I can see why dating gets adversarial, since you're in the awful position of trying to figure out how much you can trust someone; it's hard to have a good time when you also have an eye on not getting hurt or looking stupid. But unless you're with someone really cold-hearted or opportunistic, the other person is in the same awful position you are, right?

That's why it's important to be diligent early on in looking for signs of opportunism--and why I keep going back to this, the immense value of watching how someone treats waiters. You can't discount evidence that someone can be mean or dismissive or self-interested.

Once you're fairly confident you're with someone who is good-hearted, though, then go ahead and let yourself stop thinking of him as an adversary, and allow for favorable interpretations of things that are open to interpretation.

I.e.: Maybe -he- really likes you and that's what he was concerned about.

Just a thought.

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Lying-town: Hey Hax, I'm the wife who lies all the time. I do it out of habit and because I'm trying to avoid confrontation or making people feel bad. So yes, I tell someone I couldn't make it for reason X so they don't feel bad about Y or I say that we'd love Z but we're busy with Q when really we hate Z. It's how my parents functioned and how my extended family functioned. I feel guilty about it but I can't seem to stop myself. The lies just slip out. I do my best to not lie to my husband or to come clean about it immediately but short of serious therapy time I don't think I'll be able to change. And I'm not even sure I need to, my lies aren't hurting any one and if my husband ever asked me 'seriously, be honest did you...' I wouldn't lie.

Carolyn Hax: Fair enough. Does your husband know all this? Have you been open about it, enough to be confident your spouse couldn't have been the one writing in today?

If you think it could have been his question I(thematically if not in fact), then you do need to have a talk.

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For the single Dad...: Honestly, the sleepover thing may not happen this summer, if the other parents don't know you beyond a nod at drop-off.

If you'd like to get the parents more comfortable with dropping their daughters at your house, consider getting involved in as many of your daughter's activities as possible. Coach soccer, help with girl scouts, teach Sunday School, whatever fits for your/your daughter's life. Activities that require that you've been through a background check would be ideal. I'm sorry, it's insulting and unfair that you're treated differently because of your gender. Also, consider reading "Queen Bees and Wannabes" it gives interesting insight into girls this age and older.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

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Centerville, Ohio: Re: Sleepovers: I'm 50 yrs old and the mother of 3. I have great memories of the sleepovers I went to as a girl but they were pretty infrequent. I think this trend has gotten much bigger and, frankly out of hand! Every weekend - sometimes twice in one weekend! So several years ago we instituted a "no more sleepovers, period (either at our house or elsewhere)" rule. We did agree that friends could come over any time we were home, and stay late. But at the end of the day, every one goes home to sleep in their own beds. We got a lot of push-back from our kids at first, and even some parents who thought it was kind of harsh. But now that our kids are in high school (and at least here in Ohio even boys are still doing "sleepovers") we are all aware that there's a lot of potential for mischief at sleepovers, once the kids get into middle school. By then, though, many parents have been lulled into thinking it's harmless. Just a thought.

Carolyn Hax: Nother good one, thanks.

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Recent Divorcee: Carolyn,

My husband and I recently split, and I've surprised myself thinking about getting into the dating field so soon after. On one hand, I am a bit fragile, but on the other, I haven't had a caring, initimate, relationship in years. I've been mourning my marriage for longer than it's been officially over. I do feel renewed since the split, but it's quick. Is there a standard period of waiting to make the best choices for myself?

Carolyn Hax: I've been saying this for years, the time since the end of the relationship (in other words, your recovery time) doesn't always correlate with the calendar dates of separation and/or divorce. In so many cases, it's over years before it's officially over.

Since you're feeling fragile, I would suggest caution. And, too, people whose hearts have been numb for a long time are really vulnerable to a wild jolt, which isn't always the path to the kind of lasting intimacy you want so badly. (That's the rebound phenomenon in a nutshell, by the way--it's not just the first relationship after a breakup, it's the first relationship after a spell of deprivation.)

That doesn't mean you shouldn't date, though. It just means you should be mindful that, if you get such a jolt, it's most likely time to enjoy the ride, vs. time to book the church. Give any new love a lot of time to prove to you that it's for real.

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Re: Baltimore: My spouse and I have encountered similar behavior with my in-laws and our niece and nephew. What bothers me even more, though, is the way my mother in law talks -through- the kids. For example, if there's an activity she wants to do she'll say, "I think Maddie really wants too..." (Really? 4-year-old Maddie really wants to go to a classical music concert?)

She's never been good at saying what she wants; I think she's discovered the kid is a good projection for her own emotions. Still, maddening. Should we say anything next time it happens?

Carolyn Hax: Dunno. Do you have any realistic expectation that you'll change her?

I can see how her behavior can make you nuts. But, "She's never been good at saying what she wants"--I don't know, from my cushy distance, that invites compassion more than anything else. People who can't express their needs aren't the happiest people around. Their relationships won't be as good, their interactions will be more frustrating, and their lives in general will always be marked by a larger than usual gap between what they envision and what they actually have. If you think of your life as a house under construction, imagine knowing exactly what you want, but being unable to convey that to the builder.

So, the outsize emphasis on the grandkids could just be her way of staying in her comfort zone. A 4-year-old is a forgiving, and therefore low-risk, confidant--she'll accept Grandma in a way Grandma thinks isn't possible with adults.

This, too, is just a theory, but it wouldn't surprise me if her relationship with her grandkids grew more problematic as the grandkids became adults themselves.

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It's not really a big deal because he's moving and it'll end soon enough, but in the meantime, what gives?: Why not just go ahead and end it now, if you don't care either way?

Carolyn Hax: Yes, there's that.

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Lying wife redux: Yes, I've called her on it. She thinks it's perfectly ok to make up a story for why you don't want to attend an event instead of just decling without explanation. I suspect she's lied to me in the past about money -- telling me a reimbursement check was in the mail from someone when I don't think she even asked for the reimbursement. This time, I believe she threw out something she considers puerile (a DVD set of a TV series that I enjoyed -- very G-rated) because she doesn't like the store. It makes me feel like a child (which I would tell her if she would admit she lied -- i can't prove it).

Carolyn Hax: Not that I think it would work at this point, but I'd be interested to know her response if you explained to her why it isn't "perfectly okay" to make up a story: Her comfort with fiction means you, her husband, now wonder when she's being honest and when she's making up a story that she thinks is "perfectly okay."

And, not that I have any more confidence that this would work at this point, either, but counseling seems to be the next step in a relationship that has deteriorated to the point where you 1) don't believe what she says and 2) don't trust her to admit lying. I would start with talking to a reputable marriage and family therapist on your own, to lay the foundation and to make sure you've found someone you're comfortable with, and then bringing your wife in (or not) as the therapist recommends.

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Divorced dad w/daughter: I'm a divorced mom with a daughter and I don't let my kid go to houses unaccompanied if I don't know the parents, period. Much less for a sleepover. It might not be simply the absence of a "mom" in your case. I have and do know fathers and single fathers of daughters I'd trust to have my child stay over with--but only because I know them. It's not about a female presence. Bad things can happen no matter what the in-home adult configuration is. Get to know your kids' friends' parents. That's the answer. (You don't have to like them. Just be reasonbly sure your kid is safe in their care.)

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for weighing in.

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For the widower Dad:: If you really want your daughter to have some of these experiences, you are going to have to go all out to win over her friends and their moms. Let your daughter have a grown-up nighttime party, but one that doesn't involve sleeping over. Say, a party from 6-10, have manicures or makeovers, or do a cooking theme, and boldly advertise these women on the invite: Mary Sue Blue from Avon will be here to do makeovers! Chef Donna from The Restaurant will teach us all how to make her chocolate chip cookies! It needs to be something no kid wants to miss, though, so ask your daughter for her wildest dream party and get as close to that as you can. Also, you may need to do this more frequently than birthdays, since you are trying to become known and trusted. So have a back- to-school cook-out, a football watching party, etc. and invite these families. You are courting these people, and if you do it well, not only will these parents let their daughters spend the night, but the women will be falling all over themselves to help you with your daughter.

PS -- Carolyn already suggested roping in the aunts, grandmas, etc., where possible. If this isn't realistic or for whatever reason doesn't work, and it is at all financially possible for you, hire a nanny for your daughter. She may not -need- one, but it will help your cause for her to be seen in the company, consistently, of the same woman.

Carolyn Hax: The nanny idea isn't one that would ever have occurred to me--and I can see a 9-year-old resisting it, so it has to be a gradual courtship of another kind. However, I can see the value just in having a steady female presence--or just another adult in a position of day-to-day authority. A non-parent trusted adult in general is, I believe, an under-appreciated resource. Thanks.

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Gimme a break!: Hi Carolyn! Thanks for the chat.

I need to take a vacation. I am burnt out at work and with day-to-day responsibilities, and I have an obscene amount of leave accrued at work. I don't need a long weekend, I need a traditional take-a-week-off, unplug-from-the-world vacation. And my office empties out in August, so my opportunity is fast approaching.

My challenge is that I'm a single woman in my early thirties. None of my close friends are in a position to travel with me - they're either coupled or married or don't have the financial means. I have traveled by myself, and I know that a week is too much "me time" for me and I'd just end up feeling lonely.

I cannot be the only person in this boat. Are there cruises or other kinds of vacations out there for singles that aren't hook-up-focused meat markets? Or is everyone else just staying in the office like I am?

Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: This isn't my area of expertise, but you can e-mail The Post's Travel section at travel@washpost.com to find out places that aggregate this information.

it is in my area of expertise to say, AAAAGH! Take your vacations! Break a week into smaller trips if you don't find an opportunity you like--e.g., bike trip for three days, travel day, three days visiting friend/relative, day or two to regroup at home. don't burn yourself out waiting for just the right kind of relief.

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Cincinnati: Dear Carolyn,

My wife and I didn't plan our baby (in fact, we once said we didn't want one at all), but now we're excited about becoming parents in October. One thing that confuses me is that after a bit of cramping and spotting a little while ago, my wife is now positively petrified about miscarriage. At the risk of being prosaic or unfeeling about it, I don't get all the worry. We weren't planning for parenthood anyway, and she's pretty young (30). If this pregnancy doesn't pan out, and if we decide parenthood is what we want, there's time for another. The vast majority of pregnancies end in miscarriage in the first trimester anyway. So it's a little frustrating watching her in this state of constant panic. Can you help me get my head around this?

Carolyn Hax: Your head is in an abstract place still. Her body is in an anything-but-abstract place. If I haven't lost the ability to count on my fingers, your baby's due date means your wife is feeling the baby move around inside her.

The comparison that leapt to mind is of shelter dogs. We all know that many unwanted pets are euthanized--but when you go to the shelter and make eye contact with the doggies, this idea becomes almost too painful to think about. The only variable that changes is your proximity--in the first case, it's an idea, and in the second, it's the furry thing whose ears you're scritching.

Does that help?

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Re: Widower: Ugh, an Avon lady? For 9-year-olds? Really? I'm not sure the kind of over-the-top suggestions are a good idea. Might raise more suspicions if Dad appears to be trying too hard. And I don't know the dad's financial state, but I don't think hiring a nanny is a realistic suggestion for most Americans.

Carolyn Hax: I don't know, one party doesn't seem too over-the-top, to start. If anything, it's a change to reciprocate all the hosting these other families have done for his daughter.

As for the nanny, why disclaim what came with a disclaimer? yes, a nanny would be expensive. But there are alternatives to full-time live-in nannying. It could be someone who comes once a week on a school day to run the afternoon/evening routine. That still wouldn't be affordable to many, but it's certainly way more reasonable than hiring a daily household employee--and it would be enough to establish that other adult presence.

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Single Dad, one last time: Wow, I really am overwhelmed by the outpouring of great suggestions. I just wrote in to say I don't have the time to jump through hoops for these other parents, but the makeover and cooking class idea is such a good one that I'm tempted to make the effort. If I can make it work, maybe I'll write back in someday to let you know how it went. As I'm sure your readers secretly know, many dads are clueless and direly uncreative about this kind of thing.

Carolyn Hax: Eh. Many people are. The whole point of what I do, really, is to offer other views that people may have missed, and this forum allows for a lot of people to check for blind spots.

I did stop at the "jump through hoops for these other parents," though. If the hesitation of other parents really is a trust issue, then establishing that trust is more than show-dog stuff.

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Or is everyone else just staying in the office like I am? : No, other single women just like you are taking those cruises, going on safaris, and travelling to Asia. A friend of mine does this every year, picking a new destination each time. She searched the web and found a travel company that arranges vacations for groups of individuals. She's been all over the world and has made a few lasting friendships with people who she met on the trips. She gets to have fun all year researching the interesting parts of her upcoming trip while someone else arranges all the logistics.

Carolyn Hax: Sold, thanks.

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Sleepovers: I question the need to throw an extravagant "dream party" or hire a nanny just so a widower can "win over" other parents, and I'm surprised you let that one through, Carolyn.

Carolyn Hax: Gah. It's not about "winning over" parents, it's about having a responsible female presence at these parties to put any nervous parents at ease. Note, the "dream party" involved an adult professional to lead a cooking lesson or to do hair or nails. Anyone who thinks 9-year-olds don't need any more emphasis on beauty crap can go with the cooking or even an art focus.

Since we're talking surprises, I'm surprised at the resistance to these ideas based on the money/image stuff, when the underlying idea seems so sound to me--make the chaperon either (a) the draw of the party, or (b) a pinch-hitting member of the family.

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Single Girl, Interrupted: Hi Carolyn,

On the advice of several friends and even (blush) some pop-culture dating advice books, I decided to stay single through the end of 2010. Before I broke up with my boyfriend in January, I had been serially monogamous for the past eight years, since early college, without any significant breaks. I know I need time to be myself and grow as a person, but I just met THE perfect guy, who has no idea I'm on this timetable and is displaying serious long-term interest. So far we've kept things light, but I don't want to keep him waiting. Is this worth breaking my (arbitrary) vow for?

Carolyn Hax: I don't think I'm capable of defending an arbitrary deadline. There's just nothing that says you'll be any more grown up in January 2011 than you are now (which can be used to argue for or against dating again--that's deliberate).

I do think it's necessary for you to defend your original purpose, if not the exact way you've chosen to achieve it.

To that end, ask yourself how good you are at deciding things for yourself, and sticking to those decisions. Are you as likely to stick to your principles when you're coupled as you are when you're single? If you have it in your nature to be a pushover, to see personal relationships as having a buy-now-before-the-deal-expires kind of pressure to them (or, er, if you "don't want to keep -him- waiting"), then I think it's really important for you to resist the pull of THE perfect guy.

When you like him to the point where YOU don't want to wait, because waiting seems arbitrary and silly, and when you fundamentally trust your ability to choose a good mate for you (especially in contrast to the way you've chosen in the past), then you go for it.

When in doubt, summon up your willpower and establish that you want to be friends. Even say that you got out of a relationship earlier this year and you're still catching your breath. That at least can slow things down enough for you to get a good read on his character ( not to mention your own).

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Re: Nanny post: Sigh, why call it a nanny when it's clearly a babysitter? There's a difference, which is why I think it stuck in the last poster's craw.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I see the difference as a regular/day schedule (nanny) vs. as-needed, esp. evenings (babysitter). So I would call this a nanny.

I thought "nanny" had lost its taint of privilege. I guess not.

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Cincinnati tuning in : Um, the shelter dogs analogy helps a little. If I get what you're saying, actually being pregnant is more concrete than hearing about other people's babies? And yes, we've felt the baby move.

Carolyn Hax: But concrete in a way that makes your emotions do 180 (or at least a 90). It's visceral.

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Ohio -- miscarriage : I'm confused that the man said the vast majority of pregnancies end is miscarriage. Can that really be right? Vast majority?

This is especially pertinent to me right now because I am very newly pregnant, and am feeling confused about something. Everyone says not to tell people until 12 weeks, but I don't want to wait that long. I'm not a very private person, and if I miscarry I would tell the same people I want to tell now about the pregnancy. Also, I don't want to announce it because I'm so proud and happy (although I am) but rather because this is a second pregnancy that I am terrified of because my first was so very difficult and scary. I want the support now, but worry it's not appropriate somehow to burden friends and family with this news yet given that it might now work out. But can't they handle hearing that if it doesn't?

Still reeling over the "vast majority" thing too. . . . I think I need to look that up.

Carolyn Hax: You do, but it's my understanding that he was overstating it. Sorry I didn't catch that.

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For widower: Wait! How do you know your daughter's mothers aren't comfortable sending their girls to your house? Did they say that? I only ask because we have a widow in our group of friends and we choose to host her kids rather than send ours because we know it can be a huge burden/responsibility. Is it possible they don't send them because they think you're just being nice and reciprocating but might be overwhelmed by the task? I'm just asking.

Carolyn Hax: Also a possibility, thanks.

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Please! For the single dad from the daughter of a widower!: Caroyn, my mom died when I was nine, and I was raised entirely by my dad (he never remarried). The single best thing he did for me was befriended my friends' moms. So, when I wanted to have girls over, he invited the moms and dads too -- had a pot of chili for the parents while we girls played wherever we played. That way, parents got to know each other. After that, sleepovers were not a mystery. And my dad made some friends, and friends he could call on to help "mother" me when he had no clue what to do. Some of those moms just attended my wedding with their daughters, with whom I am still close friends 25 years later -- and our parents are close too.

Carolyn Hax: Aw.

See! It's not just jumping through hoops!

Thanks for posting.

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D.C.: I have a date tomorrow night? Any first-date tips to help me win over this gorgeous man?

Carolyn Hax: Yes. Look past the gorgeous to see if you actually like him.

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Carolyn Hax: Okay, gosta go. Bye, thanks, and see you here next week.

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

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

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