Carolyn Hax Live: Shaving yourself into a corner; disappointing proposals; antisocial uses of decorative ceramics; the definition of passive-aggressive; No wedding gift? No problem!

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 6, 2010; 12:00 PM

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

Carolyn was online Friday, August 6, 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

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

Carolyn's Recent Columns

Past Carolyn Hax Live Discussions

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


Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody.


Alexandria: Carolyn -

I have spent more than $600 already on a friend's wedding. I bought her a bridal shower gift, and I am paying for a plane ticket, car pooling, and hotel to go to her wedding (in a very remote location). Am I obligated to now also buy her a wedding gift? I love this friend, and am quite close to her. Would it be offensive not to buy a gift?

To clarify, I am a graduate student with very limited funds. The friend knows this.

Carolyn Hax: No, not at all--etiquette does not require a gift. If you would give a gift if it were not for your limited funds, then consider giving her a card with a thoughtful message. If you have a nice photograph that you can have enlarged for the couple, that works too.


Lexington, KY: My boyfriend proposed in a disappointing way. How can I get over missing out on what was supposed to be a beautiful moment and memory? He's not romantic in general (yes, I know I have to accept him as he is), but I can't help but wish I knew how he feels about me or why he wants to marry me. When I have asked, I have gotten short or jokey answers. Our relationship is otherwise great.

Carolyn Hax: I have a hard time believing the "otherwise great" part, because what you describe is 1. an inability on his part to handle intimate emotions, and 2. an inability on your part to feel content without expressions of intimacy.

To have intimacy, both of you have to lower your defenses and be honest. His joking gets in the way of that, I imagine to some extent deliberately--but if you haven't told him exactly what you said here, then you're not doing your part, either.

So, please say to him, "When I ask how you feel about me, you give me short, jokey answers. It would mean a lot to me if you game me a serious answer."


Carolyn Hax: I think I might have ended that answer too quickly.

If speaking directly to your fiance about the jokeyness

elicits only a new set of jokes, then you really (really) need to broaden your thinking beyond, "How do I get over my disappointment about the proposal." It's not going to end here, it's just -starting- here.

Should you go on to get married, every year, you'll have anniversary, birthday and maybe even Valentine's Day disappointments to get over, when your hopes of romance get dashed. If you have kids, that tender moment when it's just you and your newborn in the hospital might not happen, and that absence will be seared into memory. When you celebrate other people's milestones, you're going to be reminded with each touching, nostalgic speech that your husband will never stand up to say those things to you. And so on.

If seeing this all spelled out doesn't really affect you--if you think, "Good, I hate those forced/public moments," or if you think, "Nice, but not necessary"--then it might help you to realize that your nature and his are well enough matched that you'll survive a little disappointment over a proposal.

But if you're one to get choked up at these emotional moments, and if, when you're brutally honest with yourself, you have to admit that you'll come to resent sharing none of these moments with your soon-to-be husband, then you absolutely have to say this to him. Give him a chance to see exactly what these things mean to you, and to respond--either by lowering his defenses and letting himself feel and/or express intense feelings, or by making it very clear to you that you're not going to get that with him.


Another View: She thinks he's great, she knows he's not romantic, she wants to marry him, he wants to marry her, now they're engaged. What is disappointing about that? 29 years ago my boyfriend and I were just chatting about nothing in particular, when he said, "You know, I would like to be married to you." I replied "I would like to be married to you, too." And so it was, and still is. No elaborate set-ups, no bended knees or diamond rings. It is a pretty tender memory.

Carolyn Hax: See, I see that as a very romantic moment--I can't think of anything more so than an unguarded expression of deep and genuine feelings. No amount of flowers and gems can say that.

So, it would be interesting to know if this disappointing proposal had the honesty but lacked the trappings, or lacked the honesty (i.e., was wrapped in a joke).


Re: Alexandria's wedding gift, from a bride: As a bride, I just wanted to clarify that I do not expect gifts from anyone attending the wedding! The only reason we registered for anything at all was to give people some guidance if they wanted to buy a gift (and so we didn't end up with 10 ceramic decorative roosters). I suppose they are out there, but none of my recently married and soon-to-be married friends would actually be offended if someone did not give a gift. The point of the invitation is for the pleasure of your company at the big party my fiance and I are throwing for ourselves.

Carolyn Hax: So right. Thanks for saying it.

And because I have a spiteful streak, I'll add that the ones who would be offended by a non-gift are exactly the ones for whom you shouldn't buy a gift.


Bad Step-Daughter: I did an incredibly stupid thing. I invited my dad to go on a walking tour and asked him if it would be ok if he came by himself without my step-mother. I like my step-mother, but she doesn't like to walk. This trip was going to involve miles of walking each day. Well, my dad told my step-mother and she was furious that I would invite my dad and not her. After he told me how angry she was I called the whole thing off (well, I went by myself) I've avoided talking to her ever since because I don't know what to say. We live on opposite coasts so we don't see each other often anyway. I'm sorry I hurt her feelings, but on the other hand I wanted to go on this trip with my dad. For what it's worth I've taken several trips with both of them and spent agonizing hours following step-mom around shops. She's a shopper. I'm not. I didn't want my walking tour to get hi-jacked and turned into a shopping tour. Is what I did that terrible?

Carolyn Hax: Your maneuvering didn't have to be so bad, but the way you did it--and your intent as you did it--are probably what torpedoed your effort.

Had you called your stepmother and told her what you were thinking, in a considerate and inclusive way--e.g., "I realize I'm asking a lot, but I was thinking I'd like to take a trip with Dad, just father-daughter, just once for old times' sake"--then it would have been kind of sweet. Your stepmother would have been invited in as a co-conspirator.

Talking to your dad--and then letting her hear about it from him--positioned her as the last kid picked for kickball. That feeling, almost without fail, brings out all kinds of reflexive defenses.

So, call her now and apologize for your ham-handedness. Explain that you were just thinking of a father-daughter trip because this was something you and he would both enjoy. Then say that the way you handled it, it came across as an exclude-Mary trip, and that you totally understand why that hurt her feelings.

In other words, you need to eat [dirt].

If you find yourself not wanting to, then you'll know your own intentions were subversive. You may not like your stepmother, or just traveling with her, but she has feelings that warrant consideration. You'll have much better results with her if you stand up and deal with her honestly, vs. pretending to enjoy her to her face and then trying to work around her when she's not looking. Even if it means admitting, "I'm happy to go along to keep you company for a while, but I may have to back out at some point--shopping is not my thing."


10 ceramic decorative roosters: Man, we should have registered for those. I'd put them all in a line on the mantle. Maybe make them little hats to wear to match the holidays.

Carolyn Hax: Go for chicken pitchers, and you can make vomiting noises as you pour, because the liquid comes out the beak.

I know I shared this hobby of mine before, but that was years ago--and if we're going to revisit stepmother questions, we might as well revisit antisocial uses of decorative ceramics, too.


Raleigh, NC: I've been married to my husband for almost 20 years...the joking his way through intimate moments routine has never ended. I didn't have the self knowledge I needed when I chose him to realize what a bad fit this made us. He can't even approach me for sex without making a joke about it (and even him approaching me is rare). We have no tender moments, no loving shared memories of time with our babies, and I could go on. After years of therapy (together and separate) it has become clear that he can't go there and won't try. He's a very scared person, but also seems quite satisfied with that level of emotional connection. It's lonely for me and it sucks. I've never needed contrived emotional moments, but the natural moments of connection I've experienced with other people I love just don't happen here.

If you can't be a good example, be a good warning?

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry. I hope you've been able to connect with your kids (for their sakes and yours).


For Lexington : I'm married for 19 years to one of those guys, except that he is reserved, not jokey. I would love to get a romantic gesture, flowers for no reason, a little PDA every now and then. However, what I do get are thank yous for everything I do, offers to bring home dinner when my days are beating me, and the knowledge that I have a true partner at my side, who has my back. wow--awkwardly written!

Think about what you really want and what you really have. I wouldn't trade mine for anything.

Carolyn Hax: The post before this and your post combine to make the perfect argument for seeing what you have, and whether it's something -you-, and only you, can embrace for the rest of your life.

This marriage tends to be the one you get when you accept someone. The former, when you talk yourself into someone.


Fayetteville, WV: I'm self employed, make decent money and have plenty of free time to do the things I like. Living the dream! My wife, on the other hand, is in grad school and works part time, makes little money and doesn't have much free time. For some time now, I have felt frustrated by her attitude toward my free time. If I say, I'm headed to the gym, she says petulently, "I wish I had time to go to the gym," and a diatribe ensues on how busy she is and when the last time she exercised was. No matter what it is I'm going to do, if I tell her about it, I feel guilt tripped. I've tried talking with her about this, and she apologizes, but soon reverts to doing it again.

Very recently, I find that I've stopped telling her when I leave to do something. She's typically at work or her internship, so she never knows. I know this is the wrong path to take, but oh my God, it's so much easier if she just doesn't know.

I hate that I've become this. Any advice?

Carolyn Hax: I'm not entirely convinced it's the wrong path to take. If your having free time isn't the problem, and instead it's just hearing about it that sets her off, then what's wrong with a little discretion? I'm a huge fan of easy, practical solutions.

Now, if the fact of your free time is an issue, and if she thinks, for example, that you should be using some of that gym/hobby/whatever time to lighten her load somehow (grocery shopping, meal prep, housework, etc.), then hiding will eventually make things worse. She'll be angry, you'll be living your life independently of hers, and your marriage will be dying slowly right under your noses.

So, you need to be really tough on yourself her: Are you doing everything possible to support her through this big push of hers? If yes, then stick with the discretion plan. I don't believe in taking on an extra part-time job for money you don't need just to make yourself as miserable as she is.

But if the answer is no, if there are things you could be doing to help her out that you aren't doing, then please do those before you leave for the gym. The good-faith payoff in a gesture like that is enormous.


Tech question (RSS): Sorry to clutter the feed but I'm hoping your tech person can help with this -- I put all my favorite advice columns onto a single Google Reader feed, but lately yours keep popping up again and again, so I'll get 30 "new" columns but most of them are like three copies each of past columns. The problem compounds every time there's an actual new column, because now it starts refeeding. We'll look into this. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: I have called this to Web editors' attention, but it would also help if everyone having this problem submitted a ticket here:


Antisocial uses of decorative ceramics: Put price tags on them, as well as your other stuff. Demand your guests play "Wheel of Fortune" and shop your living room for prizes.

Carolyn Hax: It wasn't a contest, but we have a winner.


Raleigh, NC: YES! Well said...I completely talked myself into him. And really, that's the ultimate emotional contrivance isn't it?

Carolyn Hax: Tis. Thanks. I don't know if this is something people can recognize as they're doing it. However, so many people recognize it after the fact that I hope just talking about it here will nudge a few lucky souls to catch themselves early.


Washington, DC: Hi Carolyn -

I'm a female that's known her best friend (male) for about 15 years, although we haven't always been best friends, and at times even lost touch for months or even a couple of years. However, we've been constant best friends for the last few years. About a year ago, when he began to get serious with his then-gf/now-fiancee, I gave them as much space as possible to both avoid any jealousy issues as well as just to let him enjoy the relationship (he hasn't had many of them). Now he's getting married at the end of this month, and I've been told several times that I'll be in the wedding party in some capacity. Come to find out that I'm not an official part of it, but they'll "find something for me to do."

I'm happy for him, but I can't help feeling a little sad that this is what I've been reduced to. I know that perhaps the bride may not be interested highlighting our relationship, but as far as I can tell it's not really her anyway. I think he just didn't care enough. We used to joke (before he met this girl) that I would be a groomsman in his wedding (I've actually been a groomsman at another wedding so he knew it was a role I would completely embrace). Now I'm just feeling down about the whole thing and would like some perspective, so I can go to the wedding with complete enthusiasm and let the rest of this stuff go. I do understand it is their day and all that, I just want some help in adjusting my thoughts.

Carolyn Hax: He might care, but be feeling awkward (he hasn't had many relationships, you say ...). Or, that "space" you started giving him about a year ago, out of love and respect, may have come across to him as your losing interest in him. There are many possibilities here.

That's why the important thing to think about is not the fact of your not being in the wedding, but instead the fact of your friendship. Remind yourself that there's often an explanation for things that you haven't considered, reserve judgment, and keep being his friend.

The friendship may be done, even if he cares about you; some people just aren't good at carrying people over from one phase of their lives to another. If the friendship is meant to last, though, then your patience and flexibility will carry it through this awkward wedding phase.


Arlington, VA: I work as a peer mentor at a small nonprofit. Which doesn't make me any kind of licensed counselor, but it does mean that people let their guard down and I hear some things from them that they'd never say in polite company.

Because of the rather virulent homophobia of one person I help, and the likely homophobia of many others, I have chosen not to keep a photo of my partner on my desk. This saddens me, but so it goes.

But lately with all this Prop 8 stuff in the news, I keep thinking about what would/should happen should she and I ever be able to get legally married, which I think I might like to do. What would I do about my ring? Put it on after work, when I get home? Wear it and tell them point blank my wife's name is Susan? Wear it and wave away any questions about my personal life?

Carolyn Hax: As someone in a listening profession, you probably want to wave away questions about your personal life anyway, sexual orientation notwithstanding. You aren't friends; their sharing of their personal stuff is a business transaction.

Regardless of your profession, I would say to share (or not share) as much information about your personal life as you would if you were hetero. You wouldn't say, "I'm married to a man, and his name is John"--you'd just refer to "my husband," or say, "John and I ...." And, because of your profession, I would advise setting that orientation-neutral bar very, very high--say and display little to nothing about your life outside of work.


"talked myself into him": Do you have any tips on what to say if you see a friend or relative talking themselves into a life with a person that's just not a good match? Not abusive or criminal, just not a good match. I have one sibling who's engaged and I see him talking himself into this and believes that the "minor" problems they have now will be smoothed out as they learn to live with each other. This isn't the first relationship I've seen go this way but if there's magic words to help the involved realize what they're doing, I've yet to find them.

Carolyn Hax: I think you can say, when the moment is right, "I like Dana just fine, so I don't have ulterior motives--but when I listen to you, I can't shake the feeling that you're talking yourself into this relationship."

I offer this with the usual disclaimer: Prolly won't work, so think of it as planting a seed.


Breaking with Precedent: I'm in a relationship that's entering its 6th month. I've been very vigilante in my grooming habits, curbing bodily functions, etc (I'm a girl). I've realized that I think I've inadvertently made him think I never get a zit, I don't poop and my legs are always shaved. In the last couple of weeks there have been some occasions where I haven't worn make up and he's commented. He doesn't say it with judgment, he just makes the observation. It's starting to really get on my nerves. Short of just ceasing to wear make up at all and farting constantly, how do I get myself out of this. I'm not a slob or anything, it's just that sometimes I just don't feel like shaving and $65 for a bikini wax every three weeks adds up. I really really like this guy, but I don't know how much longer I can handle keeping up with all of this grooming and ignoring the fact that we perform bodily functions (dude, I can hear you through the bathroom door). I think bodily functions are hilarious and delight in them! Do I have to talk to him about this, or do I just gradually "let myself go?"

Carolyn Hax: Does "vigilante in grooming habits" mean you roam the streets shaving other people's stubble?

The guy is making the observation when you don't wear makeup! He's propping open the bathroom door for you. So, next time he says something, just say what's on your mind: You've been on your best cosmetic behavior, and in being so you've possibly misled him. Don't leave out the part about taking delight in farts. It'll either be the best date of his life, or the most necessary of yours.


What Carolyn?: "The friendship may be done, even if he cares about you; some people just aren't good at carrying people over from one phase of their lives to another."

I've been staring at this for five minutes. What does this even mean? I don't think I get it.

I care about you, and if I were the old me, you'd still have a place in my life, but I have a new person in my life and even though they don't replace you, my quota is full so you've been lifted out?


Carolyn Hax: See, that's how a good manager of people would see it.

I may be speaking only of introverts, but I don't think so. There are some people for whom it takes everything they've got to manage the relationships in their day-to-day life--a spouse, co-workers, neighbors, people with whom interacting isn't optional.

Where some people would have no trouble placing an "optional" call a day to a best friend who lives across town, a call a week to out-of-state Mom, etc., there are others for whom a call every month, three months, etc., constitutes caring and keeping in touch. People who get it might not think twice about that.

But people who manage daily contact just fine might think, "I can't believe you supposedly care about me and then go months without calling."

That's what I'm saying. He might be in the I-care-but-I'm-immersed-in-all-I-can-handle" camp, in which case he'll call this friend of 15 years far less without caring even a bit less about her than he used to.


Dupont Circle, D.C.: How do we know if we're talking ourselves into someone versus accepting the way they are?

Carolyn Hax: Accepting means you wouldn't want the person to change even if it were possible, because changing one thing would mean losing some of the best things you've ever shared with someone.

Talking yourself into it is when you want this or that thing to change, but if it doesn't change, it doesn't "seem worth breaking up over."


West Coast: For "Breaking (Wind) Precedent":

Uhm... you TRAINED him to believe that you're a woman who's ALWAYS neatly spiffed and completely non-malodorous! And you're irritated at HIM for seeing you exactly as you've presented yourself?!?

Rather than being irritated with him, maybe show a little humility and apologize for giving him a mistaken impression of you you really are, and say you hope he also likes the real, less spiffed, slightly more stinky you!

Carolyn Hax: Yes, yes, I didn't call her on the misplaced blame. Thanks for the catch.


De Nile, A River in Egypt: Hi Carolyn!

I'm in an awkward situation that I think a lot of other readers might relate to. My parents are very deep in denial about a lot of things, from their culpability in my siblings' and my very stormy childhood, to acknowledging some of the very difficult and stressful times we experienced later in life.

As long as I play by their rules they are lovely and fun but I hate to feel like an enabler and I don't like the open disrespect with which they treat my life choices. They have been passive aggressive and aggressive aggressive about our careers and our chosen life partners (and conveniently denied this at the subsequent weddings!) while praising themselves for how successful we turned out.

Every time one of us tries to confront them they blow up or freeze us out. I'm the peacemaker sibling and the one closest to them. I feel like if I keep them at arms length they'll be cut off from all their kids and I know they love us a lot. I know I should just give up trying to get them to be reasonable but it's very hurtful to me.


Carolyn Hax: Hi there. It's rare that I just come out and say this, but please get into therapy. Put in the effort to find someone reputable and compatible, and then start digging.

Just for openers, I think you'll want to explore the fact that the behavior you're modeling in your description of your role in the family--turmoil smoothed over by sturdy non-acknowledgment--is an echo of the behavior you deplore in your parents.

And, they are (from your short description) unapologetic boundary-crossers--while you seem to be stepping beyond the line of your business into managing the feelings of your entire family. That's another echo.

If you feel you have it in you to start living honestly, come what may, then maybe the therapy isn't a necessary first step--but being true to your feelings when you've been taught otherwise, and setting firm limits when you still feel responsible for others' feelings, can often bring unexpected and confusing results.


RE: West Coast: Whoa whoa whoa! You mean I could have shown up on a first date with no make up, hairy legs, and excessive farting? No one told me.

Face it. If you'd seen someone like that on a first date, you wouldn't ever see him/her again so don't give this person grief over it. Yeah she might have been overly groomed, but her alternative was what...showing up to a first date dinner in sweatpants? Please.

Carolyn Hax: No one's saying that--the penalty was assessed for blaming the guy for the corner she shaved herself into.


Not sure I understand your answer...: I'm not sure if I understand your answer to the lesbian social worker. In the last paragraph you state to be as honest as you would be in a hetero relationship. And then one sentance later you advise to keep everything private. Can you clarify please?

Carolyn Hax: I;m saying that even if she were hetero, she should keep her personal life quiet. People are coming to her with things they feel they can't tell anyone else. Why? Not because they know her intimately, but because they -don't- know her intimately. She's a neutral, and therefore safe, presence.

Were she in some other profession, one that didn't involve people coming to her in this quasi-therapeutic capacity, then she could certainly plop a pic of her GF/wife (or BF/husband) on her desk and make unstudied reference to "My wife ..." or just, "Renee and I ..." (or, "My husband ... or "Bob and I ...).



Anonymous: Carolyn Hax: "Accepting means you wouldn't want the person to change even if it were possible, because changing one thing would mean losing some of the best things you've ever shared with someone."

I think that goes a bit too far. I think accepting means you like/love the person, warts and all, ignore, shrug off or laugh off the warts, acknowldge your own warts and decide that overall, you've got a good deal. But I don't think deciding that you PREFER the warts (i.e. not wanting the person to change) is required for acceptance.

Carolyn Hax: I was saying that you PREFER the warts given the alternative of not having the good side of those warty traits. For example, a wart might be a lack of ambition, and the upside of that wart might be an ability to live in the moment, to spend time on/focus on you without being mentally in five other places, or just to bring your blood pressure down.

That's what I mean.

Though what you describe works, too, IF (that would be a big "if") you are realistic about your off-shrugging abilities. Some people have that in their natures, and some don't. i.e., that's one of the cracks through which denial can work its way in.


California: As someone in the thick of wedding planning, I'd like to repeat that a gift is not necessary, but a thoughtful card or note would be much better than nothing. I think that's what offends some brides/grooms - not the lack of gift, but the lack of sentiment, especially from someone close.

Carolyn Hax: I hope that's not true of people who've gone to the wedding. The investment of time, enthusiasm and often travel certainly stands as a statement of their support, doesn't it?


Somewhere in teh internets: FYI, I tried to link to this chat my usual way (on the hax chat page) but this chat didn't show up--nor did last weeks while it was live. I only managed to get here using the tiny url on Carolyn's facebook page. Sorry about that. I've republished her chat archive.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, Paul.

Jodi's on vacation. Say hi to Paul ...


for dupont circle: How about.... Talking yourself into it is when you accept responsibility for all of the problems, not just your contributions. So if he jokes or snarks as a way to get around important conversations, and then responds that you that you don't get his sense of humor/need to lighten up/need to stop taking things so seriously -- when you start to believe that he's right and you are asking too much, you may well be on your way to talking yourself into it. There's taking ownership of your own issues, and then there's taking ownership of both of your issues. What's that story about the frog in boiling water?

Carolyn Hax: A myth, since apparently the frog jumps out at some point. But anyone who doesn't want to become even a half-boiled frog would do well to consider this point. It's excellent, thanks.


"Passive Aggressive": What does that even mean? Someone recently called me passive aggressive and I think I was right to be offended but I am not sure why. From what I can tell, it seems like people use the term whenever they want to call someone a Pain in the Booty.

Carolyn Hax: It means that you make a hostile statement (the "aggressive") by -not- doing something you know you're expected to do (the "passive").

A classic example is a spouse who refuses to do any housework even knowing it's all falling to the other spouse: The hostile statement is, "I'm not part of this marriage, whether you like it or not," expressed through the decision not to hold up his or her end of the communal labor. Another one is not showing up to something your friends invited you to do. The hostile statement is, "I'm the one who decides where we go, not you" and the inaction is a refusal to show up.


Carolyn Hax: But, yes, it has become a catch-all for annoying behaviors--mainly used on people who ask for things obliquely instead of just coming out and saying what they want.


Arlington again: I'm not quite a social worker, but yes, people do reveal some very personal stuff, and I think Carolyn's spot on with the neutrality point. That's something we have to carefully cultivate, and why I asked.

I wouldn't volunteer information about my life or relationship, so I was wondering about how to deal with someone seeing a ring and asking questions like "What's your husband's name?" when a person who might really not like "My wife's name is Susan" is someone I am supposed to be serving.

If I weren't in a listening profession, I could say "My wife's name is Susan" and give someone who went "Whoa" or "Uh... oh... Sorry, but um, I feel kind of uneasy around you now, sorrysorrysorry!" the Glower of Doom. In the profession I am in, "My wife's name is Susan" could poison the trust someone has for me, if that person is prejudiced and didn't realize I'm gay.

So the question was, in essence, "Wear it and hope that never happens, or leave it at home?"

Carolyn Hax: There are ways to deflect, if you'd like to do that: "Oh, we're not here to talk about me," or some such.

But I would argue for a simple statement of fact, after which you move on: "Her name is Susan. So, have you tried those strategies we talked about last time?"

There may be all kinds of political noise surrounding gay marriage, but that doesn't change the fact that gay couples have been mainstream so long in so many places that they're almost whateverstream at this point. Going far out of your way to conceal your marital reality--hiding the ring, deflecting questions, etc.--would almost be a disservice to the people you're counseling.

Yes, they may have these deeply held and rarely spoken prejudices, but that doesn't change the fact of who you are, and the fact of who so many people are who play supporting roles in their lives. The surgeon, the tailor, the guy leading the training seminars on the new computer system, anybody, right? So, show them you aren't judging them based on who you married, and indicate by example that they're welcome to do the same.


Re: Passive Aggressiveness: I always thought that passive-aggressive meant denying that anything was wrong while making it perfectly clear that it is, a la the jewish mother joke:

Q: How many jewish mothers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? A: "Oh, that's ok. I'll just sit here in the dark."

Carolyn Hax: Nope, that's just popular (mis)usage.


Precedent Again: This is definitely my fault for not being totally real. Whatever I say will definitely include an apology for not being on the up-and-up. But to be fair, I have spoken up upon occasion, especially recently. He's a genuinely nice guy and when I say something hurts my feelings or something he does bothers me he apologizes and stops. So I really have no one to blame but myself.

Carolyn Hax: Well you can blame society and mass media an eensy bit each, and if he hasn't been receptive when you talked about it, you can blame him a little, too. And if you have some blame left over, you can always blame your mother and the people who were mean to you in middle school.

But if what I'm hearing is that you've already talked to him about your being made up and gassed up beyond your comfort point, and you're no closer to solving the problem than you were before you said something, then it might just be time to present yourself in the form you care to maintain from here on out.

(Cue Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings")


Passive, AR (gh): So wait...then what IS the proper term for the behavior exhibited in the joke?

Carolyn Hax: Martyrdom?

Here's a blurb from the Mayo Clinic's site:

"People who are passive-aggressive appear to agree with the requests of others. They may even seem enthusiastic about them. But they don't perform a requested action on time or in a useful way, and may even work against it. In other words, they use nonverbal behavior to express anger or resentment that they can't express verbally. An example is showing up very late to a meeting that you didn't really want to attend and then making up excuses for your lateness that deflect attention from the real reason you were late."

Me again. I suppose this can be stretched to cover people who say one thing ("Oh, that's okay, I'll just sit here in the dark") when they mean another. But my understanding of the definition is that it involves inaction/resistance to doing something.


I could have written "De Nile": I saw the "De Nile" post and thought it was possible that I wrote it in my sleep, but every time (three so far) that I've sought therapy about my family life it seems like betrayal. Each therapist has said some variant of "your mother has a disordered personality, she doesn't want a real relationship with you, and there's not much you can do about that." But while my mom is a mercurial prima donna, I don't doubt that she loves me the only way she can. I get defensive about my mother being judged. Any suggestions on how to profitably work past this, with therapists or without?

Carolyn Hax: Did you admit to your therapist that you felt defensive and that your mother was being judged? Sounds like you hit a normal obstacle, one that you could push through with honesty.


For Arlington: If it helps, I wear a wedding ring and I don't think I've ever had anyone, upon seeing the ring, ask my spouse's name. They may ask if I bring the topic up, but personally I haven't been asked, out of the blue, what his name is. So it may end up being a non-issue. But, it's good to be prepared.

Carolyn Hax: I can go one further, and say no one has ever mentioned my ring ever. But, yes, preparing for situations like this is the professional thing to do.


Carolyn Hax: Was scanning for a quick question to part with, and there weren't any with quick answers ...


changing one thing would mean losing some of the best things you've ever shared with someone: I have a friend who says the thing you love the most about your partner is also the thing that drives you crazy (ie: he's high energy vs. he just won't shut up!). For me: my husband is not materialistic at all vs. he doesn't pay enough attention to money, saving it, making goals). That is accepting that every good and bad has another side of the same coin and you accept the entirety of the coin, both sides, the good and the bad.

Carolyn Hax: That's more like what I was trying to say, thanks.


What about wooden ducks?: My father in law gave us a whole set of them as a wedding gift. I have been trying to think of an antisocial use for them for nearly two decades now.

Carolyn Hax: Since the intended purpose of wooden ducks is usually as hunting decoys, their antisocial purpose is built in. So why not try a social use of them--start seating them at tables with their own place settings (a soup plate should do it) and give them names, like Aunt Shirley.


Living the dream!: Why is he making her work part time for little money if he's so flush?

Carolyn Hax: I took the part time work as part of the graduate program--this was three hours ago, but didn't the Q mention somethign about an internship?


Carolyn Hax: Okay, I've gone deep into the queue for my elusive quick question and now it's 3:16. So, buh bye, thanks for coming, and see you here next week, I hopeses.


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company