Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 20, 2010; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Friday, August 20, 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

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.


Nick's articles on Zuzu: Please tell Nick thank you for his lovely tribute to Zuzu. I don't own a pet because I don't have a pet friendly schedule but man does this make me want to have that kind of unconditional relationship. As I sit in my office with tears running down my face its at times like this that I'm very happy that I wear no eye makeup.

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, I'm still getting snuffly at unpredictable times. We just went through a round of colds at home so at least there are tissues handy.

Thanks (to you and others) for the thoughtful responses. If you'd like to send something to Nick directly, you can use


Nowhere: Hi Carolyn -

You recently answered a question from a "nice guy but . . . ." I read that advice, but I think my problem is different.

When I ask women out, which happens a couple times a year, I usually get a response like "let's just hang out as friends." I don't always take up on that offer, because I -don't- want to be just friends, but when I have it's been an ok experience. (And even the women who avoid one-on-one interaction are happy to include me in group activities.)

So it seems to me that they really -do- think I'm a "nice guy" or want to be "just friends," and aren't trying to get rid of me. But what can I do to avoid this pattern?


Carolyn Hax: I'm not going to suggest ways to avoid this pattern because I think avoiding it would be a mistake. These offers to "just hang out as friends"--especially since the people who say it are then following through by including you as a friend--are solid opportunities for you to get to know not just these women, but also women in their orbits, without the pressure that comes with a date. You might even find some friends among the men who are included in the group activities.

Anything that increases your social circulation and, more important, gives you a chance to get to know people in a less guarded way than you would over a first-date dinner, will ultimately be good for you romantically. Please be patient, go into these platonic situations with your eyes open to all kinds of possibilities, and know that even if nothing romantic comes of it, the worst thing that can happen is that you've gotten to know a little more about people (and maybe even yourself).


Re: Nick's articles on Zuzu: What articles? Can you post a link? Thanks! Nick Galifianakis draws conclusions about man's, and cartoonist's, best friend, The Washington Post, Aug. 20, 2010

Carolyn Hax: There you go. Thanks for asking.


Patronizing Nick: Hi, Carolyn,

Does Nick sell his original artwork? I asked him directly but got no answer, not even about prints. -pout-

Love the chats!

Carolyn Hax: I don't think he sells his originals, but in the past he has done prints, as time has permitted (it doesn't always; he's pretty busy).

One of the things he's busy with now, though, is a Web site where he will make prints available. I think he's expecting it to be up in about a month, so I'll mention something here and at


MYOB (right?): My younger sister found out her roommate is sleeping with a married man. Sister really wants to tell the wife. I told her what the husband is doing is awful, but she should not get involved as she doesn't know the details of the situation. (My sister doesn't know the wife, but could track her down based on guy's name, etc.) Sister thinks "it's not your business" and "maybe she wouldn't want to know" is a cop out and that someone should "stand up for the wife." I still think she should stay out of it, but am having a hard time articulating why. Can you explain why staying out isn't a cop out? Or am I way off base on this?

Carolyn Hax: I think you're on base, actually. If your sister knew the wife well, then she'd know (as well as any outsider can) what kind of marriage this couple has. Just knowing that the husband is cheating doesn't bring your sister even close to having insight into this marriage.

As we all know from our own circles of friends, not all marriages are good and not all people are wonderful. So while the husband almost certainly shouldn't be having sex outside his marriage (the exception would be if they have some kind of agreement, which would be none of our business), it's an unfounded leap to imagine the wife as some poor innocent victim of a scurvy dog, and that the wife needs to be rescued by the other woman's roommate.

She may well be a wonderful person, of course, and her husband may be feeding her lines about working late and acting as if their marriage is some kind of fairy tale. But even though that's the image so many people have when they find out someone is cheating (man cheating on wife seems to bring it out the most), it's still just one possible scenario.

If your sister believes it's her duty to speak up no matter what the scenario, then you do just have to leave her to her own moral calculations. But since you and she are discussing it, I think you're right to point out that the details could be very different from the ones your sister is imagining. More important, I htink you need to underscore that her not knowing the details means that the possibility of unintended consequences to her meddling is much, much higher than if she knew both parties well.


Washington, D.C.: First time poster - pick me! Love the chats. A friend and I (both married for 10 plus years with children) have a theory that will sound awful at first but I do really want your opinion. We find, as we get older, that our friends that are single are very self involved. As we take into consideration our husbands, our children, we inevitably end up being more aware of others in general. With our single friends, it's the polar opposite. They seem to only really have a focus of what is going on in their individual life with little to no awareness of how they come off to other people. This is something we have noticed for years. I'm sure I'll open the floodgates on this, but doesn't it make sense that because a person in a relationship/with children is constantly aware of others, that they just tend to have a better perspective than just their own selfish one?

Carolyn Hax: Nope, I don't agree.

People who are self-absorbed are going to be self-absorbed. When they have spouses and children (more the latter than the former) that usually means they expand their Ring of Me to include the spouse and kids. So, yes, they do care about and think about other people, technically--it's just that those other people are limited to their spawn and thus (in their eyes) to extensions of them. And, accordingly, they blather on about them without asking their friends (single or married, parents or not) anything about their lives.

People who aren't self-absorbed, on the other hand, will have an admirable capacity to consider the well-being of others in addition to and sometimes to the exclusion of their own. The ones with spouses and kids will often manifest this trait through generosity and inclusiveness in their approach to their extended families, friends, schools, neighborhoods, etc., as well as through more individual means. Those without spouses and kids are often the ones families count on to travel farthest to family events, to nurse ailing parents, to work late when everyone else has to bail, to throw themselves into volunteer work in ways that people with more demanding ties simply can't.

In fact, I have two friends in mind, single, sans kids, who are deeply involved in youth leadership at their churches. Your observation offends me on their behalf.

Now, one area where you might be onto something (and a sliver of a something it is) involves the people who dwell on a pre-awareness fence, who have it in them to see beyond their navels but their experience hasn't awakened them yet to this capability. The experience of having one's own family--ie, of having needs besides one's own that must be considered--can bring about that awakening. But so can, say, the death of someone close, or travel to a devastated part of the world (or just news footage of something tragic), or even just a friendship that opens you up--and all of these is available to people who haven't married or raised kids.

_______________________ Gus and Zuzu

Carolyn Hax: One thing that wasn't in Nick's piece was Zuzu's gentle and protective way with babies. This picture is wrecked, as you can see, because Gus carried it with him around the house for a while, but it's one of my favorite. Zuzu and Gus were nearly inseparable; I think he's about 9 months old here.


USA: Hi Carolyn, I just want to know whether you think it's okay for me to propose to my girlfriend at a point when I am not currently working? In other words I can't afford a ring or a wedding right now, but I want her to know we are on the road to marriage. Thanks

Carolyn Hax: This is a grayer answer than I thought it was going to be.

I started out by saying, of course it's "okay" to propose. But then I started to type out the reasons that it's okay--one of them being, the best time to let someone know you want to be with her for the rest of your life is when you're confident that it's true.

But then the next one stopped me. I also think it's important to share that information when you can be reasonably confident that this information will be welcomed by its recipient. And if your girlfriend would be reluctant to commit to someone who is out of work, then this might put her on a spot she doesn't appreciate being on.

You could alleviate that pressure a bit by saying that the engagement will be as long as it takes for you to get back on your feet--but then that raises the question, are you proposing just to "lock her down," to make it harder for her to break up with you in case the unemployment issue drags on?

This might not be an issue between you two at all--she may, for example, have complete confidence that you'll be working again soon, or that you could be working if you wanted to but you have the resources and patience to wait for the right job. Just as there are countless possible cheating scenarios in the prior question about the cheating husband, there are also countless unemployment scenarios, especially these days.

And so the answer really hinges on that. If you're a great risk, then there's no reason you shouldn't express the love you're feeling. But if your history says you're not a great risk, at least not yet (long unemployment, bad credit, lots of jobs gotten and lost, lots of reliance on parents to help you out, etc.), then you might want to spare your girlfriend the decision. Tell her instead that you want to marry her, but you're not going to ask her to commit to you until you get your financial [stuff] together.


Consider the floodgates open: Wow! As a person who for many many years was single and is about to be married, I am offended on behalf of single people AND married people! WHY must some people seek affirmation for their own life choices by denigrating the people who did not make those same choices. I am married, so married people are better. I am single, so single people are better. How about, none of the above? Don't even get me started on the beleaguered, broke single people who've been exorted to death at bridal showers, engagement parties, weddings, baby showers, graduations and so on.

Carolyn Hax: Indeed.

I also didn't get into the whole related issue of introverts and extroverts, but it does apply, since personality type often determines peoples involvement with others in ways that get attributed, mistakenly, to quality of character.


Re: Washington, D.C: Clearly these "selfless" individuals never met the couple who had 750+ photos on their wedding website and four engagement parties they threw for themselves. These two "giving" individuals have also has not met my friend who had five children and a baby shower to go with each and every one of them because "it's not fair to only honor the first child."

Geesh. Okay I'm coupled up, but even THAT statement offends me.

Carolyn Hax: Floodgates are indeed open, and this one captures the spirit of many of the responses, so I'll offer it up as a spokes-post.


Roommate who wants to Tell: Does Sister have an issue with her roommate? The only person she actually knows in this scenario is her roommate, and if she's willing to track down a person she doesn't know to get involved, it sounds more like issues with the roommate than a crusade on the unknown wife's behalf. Sister might do better to actually bring up her living space issues. If she -wants- an ex-roommate, there are ways of dealing with that, like talking to the roommate and finding a replacement, instead of involving herself in others' drama.

Carolyn Hax: Well said.

It brings to mind another way one sister could lay out the logic of her position very simply for the other, using concentric circles. The sister is the center; the roommate is the innermost circle, the married man is the next circle out, and the wife is the next circle beyond that. Why jump to the farthest circle? Go to the closest one, do your best.


Wow: No, being married with kids does not make you superior to your single friends. Good try though.

Carolyn Hax: I was trying to find a counter-point, but this is really how it's playing to the crowd.


Re: USA's Proposing: Carolyn's answer is great for the "unemployed" part of your question.

But, if it's mostly the "can't afford a ring or a wedding" part that's holding you up, go ahead and propose. Rings and weddings do not a marriage make, and if your girlfriend's answer would hinge on those things, why would you want to propose to her in the first place? You can certainly prolong the engagement until you can afford those things, but the type of girl you want to marry will say yes regardless of whether or not they're there right now.

Carolyn Hax: Right you are, thank youse.


Boston, Mass.: My husband doesn't just not like kids, he is viscerally anti- kid. (Don't worry, we're not planning any.) He actually becomes jumpy and cranky when there are any in the vicinity. Originally I thought this quirk was kind of cute, but now it worries me a little. My siblings and close friends are all in baby-making mode and it isn't realistic to think we'll be able to stay quarantined forever. Can you think of anything I might do to help him?

Carolyn Hax: Ask him. Point out that kids can't be avoided entirely in your personal lives, nor can they be condemned entirely (as if this needs explaining) because one day one of them is going to be your husband's heart surgeon or accountant or lawyer, or he's just going to be rooting for a just-barely-grown one at the arena/stadium/ballpark. So if nothing else he has as much an investment as anyone in being patient and useful in the generalized cause of supporting the guardians of future generations.

With this in mind, how can you and he find/create/encourage some tolerance in him?

I'm not even going to ask how any descent into crankiness can be "cute."


Pittsburgh, PA: Hello, Carolyn.

I am overweight, not very intelligent, not very smart,don't have much of an education, and I don't have much money. My life is not the one I thought I would have by this time in my life. I am no longer young and just don't see a future that is any different.

Is there anything I could possible do to make things better?

Thanks very much.

Carolyn Hax: There are two things I can say about you, from your small contribution here, for which you don't give yourself well-deserved credit: You are brave, and you are honest.

And here are two things you can do, possibly starting today: You can enroll in a community college program that trains you in a skill or field that society values but doesn't want to take on itself; and you can volunteer in an area that fits the same general description.

Every one of us has the power to be of great value to others, and by that path, of great value to ourselves. In fact, I'm going to kick this over to Hax-Philes to solicit suggestions for jobs/roles that fill a great need.


Dog question here: Carolyn,

The picture of Zuzu and Gus is lovely. How do you know if a dog will be good with babies and small children?

We'd like to get one but are reluctant becuase our kids are six months and two years.


Carolyn Hax: Dunno if I'd get a dog with kids those ages just because you won't have a lot of time to care for a dog. Your kids are at a point of high need, and while an older dog might be all trained and mellowed and ready to be a member of a family whose attention is elsewhere, that's a pretty tall order to fill. (Though I will say, a -very- good rescue organization might be in a position to help you find such a dog. The kind that keeps dogs, trains them for their new homes, temperament tests them, etc.)

To answer your question, though, there were lots of things we looked for in determining whether Zuzu was baby-friendly. One is breed; there are just some kids of dogs that aren't good with kids. Too high strung, etc. Another is upbringing. Zuzu, from puppyhood, was trained to be submissive to her humans. We could put our faces or hands in her food bowl while she was eating, and she wouldn't react or defend her food. She could take a treat from our mouths and be extremely gentle doing it. Stuff like that. Another is temperament. There are variations within a breed and varied responses to training, so a lot comes down to the personality of the dog.

if you're not confident in your ability to read these things, I'd really wait till your kids are older. Your ability to be an alpha is a big part of mixing kids and dogs.


Re: My life is not the one I thought I would have: Congratulations and welcome to the human race. You are completely normal and, dare I say it, very well-adjusted. I strongly suggest reaching out to your fellow humans for support as a lot of us have similar experiences to yours.

Carolyn Hax: I second that, thanks.


Sacramento: I hate to ask, but who is Gus?

Carolyn Hax: My youngest. Sorry, should have included that.


Family vacation pressure: Is there any way to dissuade my mom from continually asking (read: insisting) that my husband and I join her and my dad on extended vacations at a location that requires a 10-hour drive? I'm running out of ways to say "No" without completely losing it and saying something that'll hurt her feelings. I love my family, we visit them several weekends per year, and I'm sure we will do the big family-trip thing once there are kids in the picture. But in the meantime, Husband and I are newlyweds in our late 20s and want to enjoy our limited vacation time together, on our own schedule, at places WE want to visit.

I've told my mom this, in addition to explaining that driving time/cost/limited vacation allotment make this sort of trip really difficult for us, but it's like it just doesn't register. I sent her a very firm email this year that put a stop to the requests for a couple months, but she's already talking about next year and saying that she "won't take no for an answer." I know this is my responsibility, it's my family, but how can I explain this without wrecking my relationship with my mom?

Carolyn Hax: Have you asked her why it's so all-fired important to her that she's willing to go against your expressed wishes (i.e., risk alienating you) to keep pressuring you for it?

Not that you should change what you're doing--if you don't want to go, then you don't want to go. Knowing what she's really after might just help you be more effective in dealing with her.

BTW, why a 10-hour drive? It's a no-fly zone?


re: floodgates: I don't agree with the post, but I can understand how the person likely go there. They probably noticed a bit of a pattern amongst their friends and then decided the pattern was more than a pattern and was actually a really strong theme and then every single thing they noticed thereafter just served to reinforce this great theme they discovered.

It's some stinkin thinkin, but how do you break out of it? I catch myself doing this too, and usually it's innocuous, but if it's say "oh my gosh that coworker is a self absorbed jerk!" then it just builds and I get angrier and angrier when that person is probably no more self absorbed than anyone else, but I suddenly can barely tolerate being in the same room as them.

I'm really trying to stop this pile-on thinking, but even once I realize it, sometimes the damage has been done. Thanks for any thoughts.

Carolyn Hax: You;re so right that this happens. I believe the best antidote is forced charitable thinking. You have to force it because the piling-on, the looking for evidence that supports your theory, seems to be our default, so you have to work your way upstream.

The charitable thinking can be in whatever form happens to stick. You can imagine what the person's home life had to have been like to produce this kind of behavior; you can imagine the current circumstances of this person, given that s/he probably alienates a lot more people than just you. You can imagine the person doing mundane things, like buying shampoo and socks, thus supplying yourself a visual of your common humanity. Again, whatever moves you to feel sympathy toward an erstwhile intolerable person, use it.

Also, try to think of what you gain from vilifying this person. If it's a self-absorbed colleague, for example, you might be gaining a sense of professional superiority. Parents scoff at other parents to reassure themselves that they're the ones doing it "right," etc. If you can spot your culpability in reaching for a crutch, then you can soften and open up your thinking a bit.

And, finally, consider your proximity, and adjust as needed. If you're too close to the person, then stepping back might help your thoughts about the person become more abstract, and thus more malleable. If you're at arm's length, then your distance might be allowing you to dehumanize the person--and taking a closer look might help you identify common interests/motivations/feelings and become more sympathetic.


Beginning to get creeped out.: Dear Carolyn,

To start this question off with something positive, I left my last job three years ago for a wide variety of reasons, and love my new job. At my last job, there was a man who desperately wanted to date me. I had and have absolutely no interest in dating him, and frankly, I found him irritating. I simply told him that I do not date coworkers, which I do not. When I left the job, I was in a long-term relationship, so he didn't pursue things further, though he continued to email me several times a week, about news stories, the old office, and sometimes his thoughts on my life and what I should be doing with it (borderline creepy). At times, he sent me messages about what he'd read on the web regarding organizations I am involved in, and called out events/efforts he thought he was involved in (just plain creepy). He continued to do this even though I rarely replied. It was a minor nuisance to delete the messages, but I didn't want to tell him to back off because our field is so small that I believed this could potentially hurt me career-wise.

This past winter, my significant other and I parted ways. This man eventually found out that this was the case and immediately emailed me to say that I was now single and not a coworker - implying that I should date him. I told him that I was not interested in him, and that I needed time to myself (I know I shouldn't have added that, it left him with false hope). The frequency of his emails increased to multiple per day, his commentary on organizations I work with, the work I do at my new job, etc. became to be more personal and more invasive.

I would continue to ignore the messages, but I recently learned that an entry-level employee at my old job, who I have never met or spoken with, asked him whether or not he and I were dating. Carolyn, it really disturbs me that a man I constantly ignore and literally have seen once since leaving my last job talks about me in such a way that somebody would think I was his girlfriend. I feel as if he is obsessed with me, and also feel that my boundaries and sense of security have been deeply violated. I have two areas where I'm looking for advice: 1. How can I get past feeling this way, given that he does not try to do anything like follow me, threaten me, or otherwise do anything that should make me scared? 2. How can I get him to leave me alone? I can't just ignore him anymore, his recent behavior seems out of line.

Thanks for any advice you can give. For what it's worth, I'm already in therapy, though I have not brought this up.

Carolyn Hax: 1. Bring it up in therapy, immediately. it may not help you specifically with this problem, but your therapist needs to know that you can and will omit something significant from your conversations.

2. read "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker. It spells out exactly what people in your situation need to do. I;ll give you a sneak preview here: You haven't said "no" to this guy. In his language, all you've said, over and over, is, "I'll go out with you later." He's simply at a point now where he believes "later" has arrived. You need to learn his language (from the book) and speak it unequivocally.

Also, you do need to "just ignore" him, because you haven;t done that yet. Instead, you've ignored him for a while, and then communicated with him. In his language, that says, "She's ignoring me now, but if I keep contacting her she will eventually talk to me."

You need to get educated and very, very disciplined about the way you ignore him now. And you also need to keep all evidence of his contact with you in case you need to prove anything.

I repeat, this is just a preview. Don't count on what I said here. Get the training from the source.


Washington DC: Hi Carolyn, I'm having a hard time right now wrapping my brain around marriage, kids, the whole shebang. Everyone in my family (except one lone aunt) has been divorced, some of them multiple times. I see my friends with young kids who already want out of their relationships but won't leave because of their children. I'm female, 30, unmarried, and in a relationship with a very loving person. And yet, the idea of marriage confounds me. There is this "why bother" kind of attitude that I cannot seem to shake. Like, this inevitability that it will all fall apart. I have seen the pain firsthand, too many times. I know people get past it, but it's hard, hard, hard, and exhausting. Part of me thinks "This is life! Roll in the mud with the rest of them." The other part of me thinks, "Maybe we're all trying to fit some mold that doesn't fundamentally work, and I should choose a different path." To sum it up, lately I've been saying things like, "My friends think that when they land a man and get a ring, all their troubles are over. They're kidding themselves. That's when the poo REALLY hits the fan." Am I too cynical?

Carolyn Hax: Well, yeah, if that's what you're saying out loud. Though it sounds more as if you're begging, in a carefully cynicism-buffered way, to ask the question that's really on your mind right now: Is it possible for -me- to be happy?

For reasons you spelled out pretty well in a small space, you're not inclined to make yourself vulnerable enough to find out the answer to the question.

I'm not going to push you to find out. You don't sound ready to drop your defenses, and a "What the hell" marriage probably isn't a great idea, either.

But you have the seed of something in your thinking that "Maybe we're all trying to fit some mold that doesn't fundamentally work, and I should choose a different path." You're with someone you regard as "very loving," so there's nothing wrong with deciding just to stay with that. As long as he's a willing companion on your quest--I do hope you've talked openly about marriage as you've witnessed it--it's fine just to keep living your day-to-day life without any stated goal for your relationship. Let it tell you what it has to tell you about -you two.- That's all that matters anyway.


Credit a reflection of self?: You've mentioned a bunch of times about how bad credit is, to paraphrase, a reflection of the individual. Not an -entire- portrait, but certainly something.

I have bad credit. I don't think I'm a terrible person. I'm a good friend; compassionate, a good listener, funny, kind, etc. I love to cook for people. I have hobbies and interests. I plan on doing more volunteer work once my work days slow down, (currently clocking 111 hour days, plus a long commute.)

However, my credit isn't good. I've only recently started to make a comfortable living. It's not bad because I bought cars I couldn't afford, or designer clothes, or whatever else. It's really a mish-mash of minor things that ended up in collections, and defaulting on my student loans, (which I'm starting to pay back).

Does that make me non-marriage material? Honestly, I hope that when I do get married it's to someone more responsible with finances than I am, but I don't think this makes me a bad person.

Carolyn Hax: No no no, it's not a state of one's character, except when the circumstances point to that--like continued charging for things that aren't about sustenance and the continued stiffing of creditors.

It's merely a snapshot of one's state of affairs--and if that state is chaotic, then that matters in the context we're talking about.

In your case, you are battling the chaos and getting organized again. That says something, too--something good, in progress.

Though those 111 hour days are going to wear you out right quick.


Alexandria, VA: Somehow I always read your headline as "Carolyn Hax: Live Advice Columnist Tackles Your Proglems"

Just had to share.

Carolyn Hax: I think it involves torches, and the storming of castles.


Is there any way to dissuade my mom from continually asking : I have a similar issue. Every spring my mom relays an invite to Passover from my religious aunt and her family on Long Island.

I always found this to be offensive because my aunt never invites me to anything else and I never hear from her directly. They didn't even call after Sept 11 even though they knew I worked a mile from ground zero. So to me this is just a gesture of someone who's fulfilling some sort of Jewish obligation.

It used to anger and upset me whenever my mom passed along the invite. But then I realized why should it bother me. I'll just keep saying no every single year. Either they'll get the hint, or they won't. But no matter what I'm not going over so what do I care if they get it or not?

I would suggest that the woman who wrote in not worry about dissuading her mom from asking. Just keep saying no, and no need to come up with new reasons. It's working, right? The daughter's not going on these extended vacations. She's just annoyed at being asked all the time. So let it become annoying to the person who keeps asking it all the time.

Perhaps mom will get the point and stop asking.

Carolyn Hax: I do like this--and it is absolutely right that all she has to do is keep saying no--though I am still interested in why the mother is forcing the issue.


Centreville, VA: Hi, Carolyn!

I recently got engaged to a wonderful man. A few of my dearest friends have asked me if I have told my ex-boyfriend about the engagement. It was a bad breakup that took place nearly two years ago; we've spoken once since. Should I tell him or forget it? We have some mutual friends, but none that I would consider "close friends."

Thanks! Love your column.

Carolyn Hax: Feh. I don't see why you have to tell him.


Anonymous: I am confused. How was your son, gus, inseparable from Nick's dog? Do you all live together?

Carolyn Hax: Zuzu spent most of her time with Nick but lived with me for some long stretches while Nick traveled. The longest stretch, about two years I think, came when my kids were babies.


For Borderline Creepy: You need to be sharing all aspects of your life with your therapist. Things you consider minor may speak volumes to a therapist. Your therapist may already be aware that you have boundary issues, but this one is big and potentially life-threatening.

And the things you listed that this guy is doing aren't "borderline" creepy. They're red-flag creepy.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for spelling it out. Therapy is not the place to withhold things. You're actively obstructing your own progress when you do that.


Human flaws: My boyfriend is moody. He is also adorable, creative, smart, a good parent, loving, and many other things. He thinks I'm pretty insecure, and he's right. But my insecurity is limited, mostly, to romantic relationships. Because I grew up in a chaotic and for lack of a better word, "moody," household, I doubt that the people I love most love me back. Intellectually I know this isn't true, now, as an adult, but I can still feel insecure sometimes. It doesn't manifest in any ugly ways, but I'd like to feel less anxious in my relationship(s). How do I allow someone their moods without feeling like I am being personally rejected? I'm old enough to know better.

Carolyn Hax: Your putting yourself down is not useful. Please give yourself credit for being a thoughtful and functioning adult, and approach this on a factual basis, vs. an I'm-broken-and-shouldn't-be basis.

That means taking what you know: You struggle to trust people; your words for your childhood are "chaotic" and "moody"; your most significant adult relationship is with someone who is "moody" and whom you struggle to trust ...

And listing what you don't know, but want to: why you don't trust, what level of trust is healthy, and how you can learn to trust at that level ...

And then figuring out what you're actually doing to reconcile these two lists. If your answer is just, "I don't know," or if you can list a bunch of things you've tried that haven't made much progress, then please consider counseling.

If instead you have general ideas but lack clarity, I might be able to offer some here: When it comes to intimacy, what's familiar to you is chaos and moodiness. You've sought those things out (prob subconsciously) and now you're in a relationship with someone moody. And you feel as if, now that you're an adult, you should be able to take these familiar puzzle pieces and master the puzzle by now. And you're upset that you can't.

The thing is, you can't solve your past by re-enacting it in your present. Understanding it to the point where you don't need to re-think it any more is the only reliable way to put it to rest. Ask yourself what your family members were really like, why they created chaos, and what behaviors and attitudes of theirs you've carried with you as normal, not yet understanding that they were part of the problem.

Again, if it's not clear to you even now, there's nothing unusual about that, and it's not some kind of personal failings. It just means a fresh and disinterested set of eyes might be really helpful to you in sorting through what's useful to you emotionally, and what undermines you.


Stuck in the Middle: Ok, I'm not afraid to say it: 2010 is kicking my ass. January: my 6 year old suffered a serious brain injury. He's recovering but has major emotional trauma and anxiety and has behaviors that are very difficult to manage. June: I get sick, then get sicker all summer; turns out I likely have lymphoma. Husband suffers from major depression, and though he's finally getting help, he still takes more than he gives emotionally. Cherry on top: my dad moved into our very small house last summer in an "emergency" situation (was getting evicted) and is still here. Not because he's too old to live alone but because of a lifetime of being unable to manage his finances, etc. It's just too much! I would like to find Dad another place to live (we can help with money) but my husband is resisting. He thinks it's too mean and will hurt Dad's feelings. But I am drowning here, and something's got to give. I'm looking at chemo for the next 8 months and I can't take care of one more person. What do I do?

Carolyn Hax: First, wow. I'm sorry the sky fell.

I think I can at least help with one thing: This is your dad, not your husband's. You can absolutely talk to him yourself, and just say that you can't do much about the other things that are making your life difficult right now, but you can do something about too many people in too small a house. Then get into the issue of helping him out financially and even get the process of apartment-hunting underway.

Now, if your husband is really just worried about the next 8 months, and thinks having your dad around will be helpful when on the days you're sick from the chemo, then he needs to say that explicitly, so you can deal with that together. But if it's really just about too-meanness, you're just going to have to rise up and do what you need to do.

As if you don't have enough of that going on, I know, but you're fighting for your life (and child) so you don't have to make the usual apologies for doing what you need to do.

You also might want to talk to a social worker through your oncologist/cancer center, to see about securing some support through all of this.


Toronto, ON: For Borderline --

She also has to stop deleting the messages! When/if this becomes a police matter, she needs to be able to show them a pattern of repeated harrassment. Also, if she wants to get a restraining order against this guy at some point, she'll need to have documentation about the pattern.

Carolyn Hax: I believe I said to save all messages, but if I didn't, here it is, thanks.


Creepy boyfriend wannabe: A simple way to find out if this is serious or just a geeky guy who can't take a hint...she should send him a note that says explicitly that she is not interested in dating him and that she would appreciate him not contacting her. From everything she said, she has been trying to keep things open to avoid burning bridges, but so much so that she has never actually said, "No, I'm not interested in you. Please leave me alone." I work in government IT and I can say that a ton of geeky guys have absolutely no understanding of nuances or hints and think she is just waiting for the right time to say yes. And her not saying no only encourages that.

Come out, say it. Then if he doesn't leave her alone, then it becomes creepy and she should pursue what is in the book. But give a clueless guy a chance to back off by explicitly telling him so. It may also do him a favor by letting him finally let go of a pipe dream and looking for his own future elsewhere. Sometimes those dreams take on a life of their own and you can't see anything around it (like the nice girl that he sees regularly, but also doesn't see as dating material while he still has hopes for this girl to say yes).

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. This is actually in the book, too--the clear statement you suggest, followed by avoiding all contact. The book does focus on violence but it's useful in so many other ways that it's worth reading even if you don't have anyone in your life who's creeping you out.


Borderline creepy again: Thanks for the advice. You are correct that I do need to say "no" to him exceptionally clearly, but I worry about potential detrimental effects my career. How on earth do I handle that?

As far as not bringing this up in therapy, I wasn't truly creeped out until I found out what the entry-level employee asked about us dating (which was this week, after therapy). Before, I was just annoyed most of the time.

Carolyn Hax: Your personal security has to be paramount. Be polite, clear, firm in rejecting his advances, and be good at your job at work.


Human flaws again: Thanks so much for answering. And for pointing out that I was putting myself down. I didn't see it that way, but I think that is one of my defense mechanisms overall, which can't be fun for others. He's the first man I've ever trusted this much--despite his moodiness(which isn't toxic moodiness, I should clarify.) I guess you're saying that if I don't really believe he loves me then I really don't truly trust him? I think what I need is clarity--I understand the overall dynamic and have gained some of that through therapy years ago. In some ways I appreciate his moodiness--he's a sensitive human being and that's to my benefit. I just need to find a way to not internalize other people's emotions, if that makes sense?

Carolyn Hax: I.e., you need to trust yourself. That's what this is about--trusting yourself to be lovable, and to survive it and move on if someone falls out of love with you.

When you've gotten used to an erratic supply of something, it's normal to then become focused on the steadiness of your supply: Is this going to disappear tomorrow? Will it take a while to come back? Will I be okay without it? Will it turn out to have been the last I'd ever get?

You got used to an erratic supply of love. So, you're acting that way with your boyfriend. If you felt you could trust the supply and/or thrive in its occasional absences, you'd be a lot more trusting of its effect on you. You'd feel like it was serving you, vs you serving it.


For Mrs. Moody (nee Moody): Has the boyfriend exhibited any behaviors, either in his relationship with you or in past relationships, that make it difficult for you to trust him?

Maybe it's not you!

Carolyn Hax: There's that too.

one more and I really have to go ...


Huh?: What kind of field do you work in where, "She wouldn't date me." would kill a career. If what you're getting at is that, once angry, he will lie about you, then there's nothing good or bad you can do or say to avoid that.

Carolyn Hax: I think it is about the potential for lie-telling,and you're right.


Re "Proglems": I always misread the Post's boilerplate intro as saying "her answers may appear strange, or in an upcoming column."

Carolyn Hax: That works, too. Too well.

Anyway, bye, thanks, and type to you all the Friday after next. I'm off next week.


Lymphoma and the world falling down: Been there, done that last year. If I had had live-in help, how much better my life would have been. Is Dad good with the grandkids? Does hubby enjoy Dad's company? While she's down with the ickiness of recuperating from chemo and later the radiation, having a helping hand to keep the kids distracted, keep Dad company, and help around the house would be a godsend. I have no close family so my mom coming over the treatment weekends was helpful but a strain. Maybe this is a blessing in short-term disguise.

Carolyn Hax: S/t to consider, thanks, though it didn't sound as if he was helpful ...

I almost typoed "helful." A key letter, that P.


Re: Career Issues: How can saying no to personal relationship date have such a negative effect on your career? Seriously, think this through - that's all you're talking about doing, saying no to a date. If he then tries to destroy your reputation, you have the evidence in hand to show his motivation -and, I have to say, someone who's willing to engage in this kind of behavior has to have set off some red flags with others. Your career is not at risk here - I'm not sure you are, either, no one is trying to terrify you, and he may be harmless - but you do need to pay attention to these boundary crossings and take care of yourself.

Carolyn Hax: Lots of responses and this one sums them up well, thanks.


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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