Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems
Friday, July 23, 2010; 12:00 PM
Carolyn was online Friday, July 23, 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 email@example.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.
Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody. A couple of people wrote in last week to question the amount of time I devoted to the widower with the daughter, and ways he could host a party that wouldn't make other parents uncomfortable. These complaints were from people who felt they (and presumably others) had no need for slumber party advice themselves, and wanted more of a topic mix.
Unfortunately, there are times when I can't just drop a subject and move on. That exchange prompted a huge response from readers, who raised various objections and concerns. When one or two people flag something that I don't necessarily agree is a problem, then I won't post their comments. But when a lot of people weigh in with a similar concern, I feel it's important for me either to reconsider my advice, to augment it, or to explain why I'm standing by it as-is.
Sometimes, that means a thread starts to dominate a session. Not much I can do about it, other than what I'm already doing, which is to come on every week for new questions, and to stay on often for three hours or more.
Hope this helps.
Carolyn Hax: Oh, and I forgot to mention, threads that take over often aren't as narrow as they may appear--which is why they become such talkers (typers?). Take the slumber-party issue, for one. That was about a widower struggling to fill the roles his child's mother would have filled; it was about indulging kids, and when does special treat cross the line into excess; it touched on appearances and whether pedicures have a place at a little girl's party (didn't even have time to get into that one much). It was mainly about trust, and how people come to trust others to host their kids--which of course gets into the broader subject of how anyone comes to trust anyone else.
Just for what it's worth.
Rochester, NY: Hey Carolyn,
My husband is quitting his temp job today, after a week and a half. The office environment was so toxic and hostile, he was coming home ready to hang himself on a daily basis. We ran the numbers last night, and I can support us for quite a while on just my job, provided we're careful and stick to necessities. He's got leads on a few other possibilities, and a class he'd like to take (job-related) if nothing turns up by fall.
My family is going to blow their top when they find out he's unemployed again. And I might blow my top right back this time - he's not a deadbeat, and when he's jobless, he cooks, cleans, job-searches, and volunteers. It's not like he's at home playing video games all day! (Well, maybe for an hour or two, but me too.)
Any words of wisdom for keeping my cool when someone says something snide? If the money was better, he might try to stick it out, but 9$/hr is just not worth it.
Carolyn Hax: If your family is unloading on you despite your being okay with the circumstances, then it's time to stop sharing information with your family. Sounds drastic, but they're abusing the information you're giving them, and they were never entitled to it in the first place, so you're within your rights to withdraw the privilege of their knowing.
If that's not possible--say, they live close enough to drop in and notice he's around during business hours, or you'll see them this weekend and they'll ask him, "So, how's the temp job?" (and he's not quick enough to say the truthful but meatless, "I've had better")--then you need to be clear that their opinions aren't welcome.
E.g.: "Thanks for your concern, but this is our business."
And then: "I believe I said this was our business."
And then: "I'm sorry I have to be blunt: Drop it."
And then: The conversation/visit is over.
If it's just snide comments, then: "I might respect you if you spoke plainly, but there's no place for nasty asides."
These are all foundation comments--i.e., things you need to say only once to someone to establish your position. After that, if the nastiness continues, you can reinforce your position with few if any words.
In the case of someone who wants to lecture you, for example, all you need to do is remind the person you're not discussing this, and leave room/change subject. In the case of a verbal sniper, you just pause for a moment, and with your calmest [bleep] you face, look at the culprit and say, "Really?" then get back to what you were doing. A quick shaming and out.
DC: Hi Carolyn, I got married less than a month ago. My friend from college invited me and another guy to Miami for his unofficial bachelor party. His fiancee isn't coming and no one else is bringing women along. I don't think my wife wants me to go, and I feel guilty because we haven't really done a honeymoon yet. Would it be wrong of me to leave town without her so early in our marriage?
Carolyn Hax: Yes. There are only two ways you could do this without being a jerk to your new spouse:
1. If you haven't gone on a honeymoon for any other reason than you've got a big trip already planned for, say, this winter and it's all booked and paid for--and if doing it later were mostly or equally her idea;
2. If she's genuinely urging her to go.
Okay, maybe there's a third reason:
3. If you married after being together for years and years and you've traveled extensively together.
But if you didn't go on a honeymoon because you were out of money or vacation time and you both decided to make the responsible choice of waiting and saving, then your taking this trip would suck so much on a symbolic level that it could really do some damage. In fact, under those specific conditions, it could even do damage if you even seriously consider going. Marriage is a lovingly entered life partnership, not this annoying thing that's making you miss a guy bash in Miami.
Plastic Surgery: Hi Carolyn, this may be outside the normal range of questions you get (and I apologize if any of this sounds gross), but I thought I would give it a try. Until a few years ago, I was severely obese (tipped the scale at close to 300 lbs). After changing my diet and years of exercise, I'm now down to about 180 lbs. But because I was overweight for so long, I'm now left with a lot of excess skin. Without getting into costs of surgery, I've thought about getting abdominoplasty (tummy tuck), but I'm worried about some things: i.e. scarring, how people, especially if I start dating a woman, would react to knowing that a man got plastic surgery, etc. I know that probably sounds incredibly vain, but I'd appreciate any thoughts you might have. Thanks.
Carolyn Hax: Stop putting yourself down, cheez. Dropping (and keeping off) 120 pounds is a significant accomplishment.
Because weight has become basically our national struggle, and because that has been reflected in the news media, reality TV, publishing, women's/men's mags and on and on, the idea of surgery after significant weight loss is hardly an exotic idea. The problem you're facing is a well-known consequence of dramatic weight loss.
I can't speak (At All) to the medical side of the issue, so you're going to have to ask someone else about scarring, costs, risks or whatever else is required by due diligence. But as for the question of "man having plastic surgery" horror, I say, as long as it's medically responsible, do what you feel is best for your appearance and your sense of well-being. Very few people come to the first-date table without a story or two they wish they didn't have to tell. Some people will be put off by your story in general, and some people will be impressed by the way you handled it. That's true of any story anyone tells.
You were never going to win over the first group, much less want them if you did, surgery or no. I'd say worry about the second group only, but the second group is the one that won't make you pay. Good luck.
Louisville, KY: A girl that I used to close friends with has become super competitive and feels the need to "one up" me on everything that I say I did or going to do. Its become very frustrating to have a simple conversation with her. How do I handle talking to her so 1. I do not encourage her to keep doing this 2. I do not want to participate in the competition and want to make this clear
I need advice how to handle this situation. Its frustrating.
Carolyn Hax: The only way to make it absolutely clear that you won't compete is to decline to return her volleys. Any time you find yourself describing how good something is in response to something she crowed about, then stop yourself even mid-sentence and "Oh never mind" it, then change the subject. You want to respond to one-uppings with with, "Oh, that's great!" "Really? I'm so happy for you."
It will probably stick in your throat, since it will feel like rewarding a one-upper, but it's rewarding only in the short term. The long term reward for your friend is to be jealous of her--or just to compete with her and come up short in her eyes. If you decline to do either of these, then a competitive person won't get any traction with you, and she'll come off it around you. Either that, or she'll find other friends who will complete this mine's-bigger-than-yours transaction she apparently needs.
For husband quitting job: I'm sorry, he left after a week and a half? Because it was a "toxic environment"? And he's done this other times before? It sounds to me that instead of making excuses for him, he needs a visit to a therapist and/or career counselor. He might have ADD or be depressed or social anxiety--something that's keeping him from holding down a job. Just a thought.
Carolyn Hax: There was nowhere near enough information in the letter to draw this conclusion; for all we know, the other bouts of unemployment had nothing to do with toxic environments and everything to do with his career field and/or the recession. If his field has been hit by layoffs, then his idea of getting more/more specialized/better training this fall would make the most sense.
That said, if his inability to stay in a job is chronic and not related to the economy, then facing that and getting professional guidance is a solid suggestion.
Arlington VA: A friend is so angry at me. Her son who's about 11 is in a scout troop and I ran into them both outside the local supermarket. They were at a sales table and he asked if I would buy some merchandise to support the scouts. I told him very sweetly but firmly that I don't support the organization. He asked why, so I told him it was because of their policies on with religious tolerance and homosexuality. Now his mom won't speak to me. I don't have children so I didn't realize that at age 11 maybe kids aren't prepared to hear that kind of information? Am I a complete bozo and should I keep apologizing? I've already said I was sorry a few times.
Carolyn Hax: For the record, I think this mom's refusing to accept your apology and let you off the hook is the way bigger bozo thing to do.
But next time you see a friend's kid at a table selling things to raise money for his group, and his group is not Skinheads of America, pay the $5. Even when you don't agree with the policies of the parent organization, the kid is still 11 and your five bucks is sending him camping.
Mindreading: I don't think my girlfriend expects me to be a mindreader, but thanks to a family that shut her down at every opportunity, she has difficulty raising concerns or making requests of me. Any tips on how to gently encourage her to be comfortable sharing her opinions and desires?
Carolyn Hax: There is nothing better for this than proving to her, day after day after day, that you will NOT punish her for telling the truth. When it's an awkward truth about herself or about you, the preface statement is, "It's okay, I can take it." The follow-up statement, when she shares with you something she would normally be inclined to withhold, is, "I'm so glad you told me"--or, "I'm so glad you felt comfortable telling me that."
If instead it's just small things--you suggest Chinese, and she's afraid to speak up and say she's sick of it--then it would likely help if you got into the habit of phrasing your preferences as questions: "I was thinking Chinese, but is there something you'd rather have?" Or even better (at least as she tries to develop a habit of articulating what she wants): "How bout takeout--Chinese, Thai, barbecue ..."
Carolyn Hax: One thing you do have to watch is that the whole idea of taking a certain, ongoing, "gentle" approach with her is that it's right on the line between encouraging her to trust herself, and manipulating her into someone you like better. From your brief description, it sounds as if her family pushed her around until she learned to keep her needs carefully concealed. She doesn't need another strong influence in her life pushing her in another direction.
What she needs is a safe place to be herself--it's what any of us needs, really. So, it also needs to be okay that she's reticent sometimes, if that's what she wants. Be non-punitive and let her decide how open she'd like to be.
Even when you don't agree with the policies of the parent organization: WOW. Absolutely NOT. I know of the organization in question, and I, too, choose not to support it for the same reasons. And I do tell the scout masters that. Look I get it that the kids aren't to blame. But you're essentially condoning discrimination when you give them money. Remember the protests and sit-ins in the 1960s? Same thing here. Just because a cute kid is peddling stuff doesn't mean the bigger picture isn't important.
If we dont' stand up to this, who will then?
It's wrong. I don't want my money going to such a group.
Carolyn Hax: I knew this was coming, and I don't disagree--absolutely tell the scout -masters-. Tell the parents, too, out of earshot of the kids. "I'd really like to support Johnny, but I take strong exception to X policy of the parent organization, and I can't in good conscience contribute to a fund-raiser." Bonus points for adding: "How would you like me to handle this with Johnny right now?"
But my answer was honest based on what I would do if put on the exact same spot: If my friend's 11-year-old were standing there with boxes of Not Overtly Inappropriate Do-Gooder Club Cookies, I would give him the $5. For the kid.
Now that we're on the subject, I wish kids wouldn't be asked to sell things to raise money. It just hits me wrong. I realize that means I shouldn't encourage the practice by buying things, but it's not the kids' decision to do this stuff. And I did once win red line seats to the Caps from a raffle ticket Kenny and I bought from some Little Capitals players ...
Carolyn Hax: Between periods, I paced the concourse, rubbing imaginary beer off my hands, saying, "Out! Damn spot .."
Arlington, VA: Hi Carolyn,
I am 24 with a slightly older boyfriend for 6 months. I do not see myself marrying him nor am I ready to get married in the next few years. While he knows the latter, he always talks about how I am the girl of his dreams and he would love to marry me.
Do I owe it to him to tell him that I do not see this relationship lasting forever?
Carolyn Hax: Set aside for a moment the question of what you owe him. Assuming you have in fact made it clear that you're a few years away from being ready to marry anyone, doesn't he owe it to you to stowe his marriage talk? At best it's harping, and at worst it's pressure.
If it's important to him that this relationship have a future, then he needs to make himself clear, hear your response that you (presumably) haven't changed your mind, and then either date you on your terms, no warblings of marriage at least for a few years, or break up with you.
Still leaving aside the question of what you owe him, you also need to ask yourself what you owe you. Are you enjoying this relationship, unevenness and all? Or is it getting on your nerves?
If it's the latter, then we're at the point of what you owe him: You owe him the truth, that his continuing to talk of marriage is getting on your nerves.
If instead you're generally content but -time is doing nothing to soften your position- that he isn't the guy, then, yes, you do need to be clear that you don't see this as having a future.
Re: Scouts: I think the asker actually did the right thing here, though in the wrong way. It's completely legitimate to say, "I'm sorry, I can't today." without getting off into apparently judging both the kid and his mom. I am gay, support lots of youth organizations, and do not support the Boy Scouts. For that matter, if I had a kid who was doing a fundraiser for his GLBT group, I probably wouldn't be mad at my fundamentalist friends for politely declining to give, though I'd be VERY upset with any of them who preached at him about it.
Carolyn Hax: Wraps it up nicely, thanks.
And those of you who agreed that just saying to Johnny, "No, I'm sorry, I can't buy anything today," is the way to go, you're right. It is okay to say no to Johnny. I'm just a sap.
Oddly enough, I've never had to face the Boy Scout fund-raising question myself--never been asked. Girl Scouts, different story.
Out, damn spot: A college professor told me that she had named her dog Spot so she could say "out, damn spot" when he needed to go outside.
Carolyn Hax: Poor Spot.
Phoenix, AZ: I have a long time friend that is driving me crazy. Whenever we eat out she will not order until I do. She wants to see what I am going to eat. In the rare case she has to order before me, she will almost always change her order to match mine. No matter what we eat, she always finds something wrong with the food. If I quit eating, she will quit eating, too. I'm not the only one who has noticed this. So-I've just mostly ignored this over the years. However, now she has lost weight (on purpose) and in addition to the above she orders and then doesn't eat, saying she's not hungry. And then she talks about how much weight she has lost and her stomach is smaller and her clothes are now too big, etc. I have always had to watch what I eat. So it's a constant battle for me. Her behavior is just driving me nuts, not to mention that I can't seem to shake being irritated with her.
Carolyn Hax: Um. Is it realistic to stop going out to eat with this friend? I'm thinking movies/plays/concerts, if your friendship is about shared experiences (or just about knowing each other so long you can't bring yourself to "break up"), or taking walks together if you enjoy the conversation.
If you can't avoid meals or if she's a close friend ("longtime" isn't the same thing), then please just say what you've noticed. It sounds as if she has a serious enough food hangup to warrant mention by someone in a position to do so.
Anonymous: Not to get too far off track, but you're refusing $5 to an organization whose primary purpose is to teach boys to lead lives of service. As far as I know, the Boy Scouts do not deny service to any individuals, nor do they teach boys to deny service to any individuals, but do deny some relatively well-off men the ability to take boys camping; contrast this with the Salvation Army, which actually does deny service to vulnerable individuals because of their sexuality. As a gay person myself, not that it should matter, I would happily give an 11 year-old $5 for the Boy Scouts, because they serve a much larger purpose than the one I object to. Bottom line: keep principles in perspective.
Carolyn Hax: I was going to move on, but I thought this was really interesting, thank you.
I like it in particular because it speaks to nuance--I think we all know intellectually that thoughtful, principled people can disagree on moral issues, but it's so much more useful to see people spelling out the thought processes that take them to different places.
Girl Scouts:To be clear, the Girl Scouts don't have the same anti-gay policy. The organizations aren't related.
Carolyn Hax: Yes, I know, sorry I didn't put that out there.
Roch, NY, Toxic Office: Me again - All his other jobs for the past two years have been temp contract work, which he finished out without leaving early. But, all he can find right now IS temp/contract. My family has been less than understanding about that.
We're both fairly young, which I think contributes to the attitude. He gets it from his parents as well, but all I can do there is support as best I can. It was fairly bracing to hear that I AM allowed to tell mine to just butt out.
Carolyn Hax: You are indeed. Just, y'know, make sure you don't need their money any time soon.
Silver Spring, Md. : Dear Carolyn,
My brother hasn't seen his own two kids in over a year but is gaga over mine, which I find deplorable. I know how judgmental I probably seem, but I believe all the energy he invests in his nephews should be going to his daughters, who only live about an hour away. How wildly inappropriate would it be for me to say I don't him hanging around my kids till he starts setting a good example of what it means to be an involved father?
Carolyn Hax: It would be wildly inappropriate if you and he haven't talked openly about your concerns about his girls.
You're his sibling, you apparently see a fair amount of him, and he spends a lot of time with your kids. It is your place to ask about his daughters, pointedly, and to say you'd like to include his girls in these visits. If the time is right--when it's right--say that it pains you to see the attention he gives your kids knowing he's not being a dad to his kids.
Then, let him say his piece. He may accuse you of butting in, an opinion he's certainly free to have. But then you can counter with the fact that his prominent place in your sons' lives means you--and they--will someday have to reckon with his approach to his own children. Examples do matter.
All this is a way of inviting your brother to work through the complexities of the issue with you, instead of your just slamming the door on him. It may turn out that just raising the issue will move your brother to slam the door himself--but it's better to have at least taken an inclusive path, even if it didn't go where you'd hoped.
Ohio: Hi Carolyn, I am excited to actually be on for a live chat! I hope you can give me some advice. I am in a large amount of debt from stupid decisions combined with a year of unemployment. I make a very good salary but have little to actually spend after I pay my bills. I am on fixed payment plans with my credit cards and while I will be totally out of debt in four years, I will have basically zero extra money for those four years. My boyfriend and I had planned to get married, but with my financial situation we aren't going to be able to save up much, and having children is completely out of the question for four years (at which point I will be 30.) I guess I am asking how I survive the next four years getting nothing I want and not being able to move forward with my life at all?
Carolyn Hax: Who says you're getting nothing you want and not moving forward? You have a great job, you've found someone you want to grow old with, and it's mutual, you'll be debt-free (but presumably with spouse and great job) in four years. So, no big vacations or other indulgences, but that's the way most students, nonprofit types, many hourly workers, etc., are living. Your situation, you -know-, is temporary.
If you have a small informal wedding, you'll be moving forward. If you find ways to travel on the little bit you can save, you'll be moving forward. If you learn to cook frugally and healthfully, or to do without things you used to regard as necessary, or scour your area code for cool things to do for no money, or pick up yoga by getting dvds from the library, you'll be moving forward.
You don't have it bad, you have a challenge. Rise to it.
RE: Silver Spring, Md. : Does the sister know all the legal aspects? The brother may have very restricted custody or none at all. Or could have a very toxic ex who makes visits miserable for the daughters. I wouldn't try to answer that question without a few more facts.
Carolyn Hax: Thus the discussion with the brother, no?
NW: I slept with a good pal of mine a few years ago - we're in grad school together. It turned out we work better as friends, and we're still very close. He now has a girlfriend, who is a little younger and a tiny bit insecure but very nice - she and I have become friends. Against my advice, he told the girlfriend about our (brief) history. She never said anything to me about it, but our friendship changed instantly, and now things are very uncomfortable. Any time I spend with them goes sour after an hour or so, when she suddenly decides she's ready to go home. Whenever I'm around, she's pretty nice to me, but very rude to my friend.
I don't feel that I'm the one who caused the problem here - I think my friend did, by insisting she know all the details of our friendship - but I do feel guilty enough to want to fix it. What do you think I should do?
Carolyn Hax: How long ago did he tell her? Could be this one solves itself--either by her getting used to the information and seeing for herself that there's nothing romantic still lingering between you and your good pal, or by their breaking up for any of the million reasons people break up. Including, inability to get past jealousy.
If it doesn't clear up on its own, then talk to your friend about your impulse to fix it. As long as he's okay with it, then you can take the GF out for a drink or something and say, "just for the record, you've got nothing to worry about."
Washington DC: I asked this last week but was too late, so here goes. Do you have any advice for telling my grandparents (with whom I am very close) that I will not be attending my sister's last minute announced wedding in another state? I have thought about it a lot and there has been too much absurd drama caused by my sister, and after the last episode I decided I was done indulging her until she put on her big girl panties and started acting like the adult she is.
I know my grandparents will be upset and want me to dismiss her behavior yet again, but I can't. Especially when it would cost me and S0 nearly 1000 dollars to take of work, fly there, buy a present etc. 0h, and if it matters, my family isn't invited to the ceremony anyway, just a party.
Carolyn Hax: You tell them that you know it means a lot to them for you to go, and it pains you to disappoint them, but this is something you feel strongly that you have to do. Then say you hope they'll respect your decision. If they say they're afraid you'll regret it, or upset your sister, or something along those lines, then you say, maybe so. But, you are prepared to live with the consequences.
Brother with his own kids:: Maybe there are forces at work that she knows nothing about. My husband's ex-wife does everything in her power to manipulate their daughter into not wanting to come visit or do anything with us. Yes, there is a custody agreement, but my step-daughter is to the age where if she doesn't want to come, his forcing her to do so just exasperates the situation. He may be spending so much time with her kids because he is having difficulty getting to his own.
Carolyn Hax: Thanks. I would think some, if not all, of this would be know to a sibling, but spoze we can't assume--in which case, it's good stuff for the sib to keep in mind when raising the subject.
For Silver Spring: Are Silver Spring's children boys? SS didn't say so. If they are, then the possibility that the brother isn't interested in girl children should be part of the discussion.
Carolyn Hax: It might be a factor, thanks, because Silver Spring did give the sex--nephews.
Since we don't know anything about the brother or his situation--beyond that his own kids are an hour away and he doesn't visit, and the sib who wrote in has apparently not heard any satisfactory reason for that--this is all just stuff for the hopper, and may not have anything to do with the reality of the situation. Just to be clear.
Wilmington, DE: Dear Carolyn,
My mother-in-law doesn't like me because she thinks her son married me too young. This may be true, but a. it was his idea, and b. five years and three kids later, we are still doing really well. The problem is that my MIL has always thought of me as a "starter wife." She thinks my husband will eventually come to his senses, leave me and our kids, go back to school, and marry someone better in his thirties. She talks about this openly with my husband, who vents about it to me. I think those suggestions are positively toxic to our family, and it drives me crazy to know he can't just tune her out because she's his mother. I can't control my husband's behavior, but is there anything I should do?
Carolyn Hax: Can you talk to your mother-in-law? Face to face, "I'm here. I love your son. I love your grandchildren, and I want them to grow up in an intact home. For all of this, I would love to have your support. But if you don't feel you can support us, I hope you at least will know that your objections have been heard, and that there's no need to repeat them any more."
You'd need your husband to know you're doing this, but, otherwise, it's your family and it's your right to stand up in its defense.
Now, the whole "go back to school" thing got my attention. If your MIL thinks her son was destined for X greatness, and blames you for his now being at Y station in life, then I think you are--or, more appropriately, her son is--going to need to deal with that if he ever hopes to get his mom off his back. She won't listen to your brave opening speech if she thinks you and the babies are the reason he doesn't have a degree.
If he has chosen a path that he knew all along would freak her out, and if he's hiding behind you to avoid facing her, then you've been set up.
It could be more benign, too--that it wasn't a deliberate choice so much as one made on the fly--but it's still fair for you to ask him to own that with her. You're right, you can't make him do it, but you can point out the need.
Or, if he also doesn't like that he left school (one reason he can't tune her out?), then that's something you and he need to talk about and, ideally, start planning to fix.
nothing to worry about: for the grad school friends - you say that the new girlfriend never gets mad at you, just at her boyfriend (your friend). Could it be that your friend still pines for you? If that's the case, there's not too much you can do. The new girlfriend is picking up on it and it pains her.
Carolyn Hax: Oh duh, right. Thanks. Definitely a possibility.
Carolyn Hax: Okay, that's it for today. Thanks for coming, and type to you here next week.
Way up North: Why does Washington DC have to give hizzer grandparents any reason at all for not going to sister's wedding? "Looks like we won't be able to make it" seems to cover it, especially since there are last minute and long distance issues.
Carolyn Hax: S/he said they're close, and this is an ongoing issue. I would expect, "Gosh, can't make it," to be too transparent.
For Willmington: Would it be possible for Willmington to show her obviously strong character by having a chat with MIL about how they BOTH want to see the husband/son succeed in life (as well as the rest of Wilmington's family)? It seems like she could take a stab at positioning herself on MIL's team by showing that they share similar goals, even if they think there are different routes to getting there.
Carolyn Hax: I was inching this way, but you got there. Thanks much.
In her daily column in The Washington Post Style section, Carolyn Hax offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there. Hax is an ex-repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.
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