washingtonpost.com
Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 17, 2010; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Friday, September 17, taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

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

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Alexandria, Va.: Normally I think you are spot on with your advice, but your September 15 column about the "controlling" boyfriend made me cringe.

This guy is not controlling, he's just asking for same amount of information that his girlfriend is apparently willing to give "other people" about her schedule. Is he supposed to keep vigil by his Blackberry waiting for her pronouncement that she is now home and willing to discuss what she wants to do for the evening?

It's obvious that she is either trying to dump him, or is a self-centered shrew. I would bet money that if he suddenly wasn't available at her convenience, or had eaten dinner on his own without letting her know, she would fly off in a rage.

And yes, I've been there, and it took me too long to realize that waiting for phone calls and being expected to be available at the last minute for someone (who also had no problem pre-planning with others) was not the life for me. I hope the guy sees this and finds someone who will treat him with respect.

Carolyn Hax: The response to this column has been frustrating, and I take most of the blame for not writing it as clearly as I thought. I do think the headline was also misleading; I didn't say the desire to know her schedule was controlling, just that his continuing to press for something she clearly wasn't going to give him is what crossed the line into controlling behavior. There is a very big difference between the two.

I was a headline writer myself for years, so I know how much care and thought goes into them. I just think this one missed in an important but subtle way.

That said, I clearly didn't get my point across that both parties were behaving badly. What I couldn't say for sure, without knowing her side of the story, was exactly which mistake the girlfriend was making, besides her running to get a colleague's opinion and then beating her BF over the head with it. I did say and still believe that was totally unacceptable.

In laying out the possible ways the GF was wrong, instead of just declaring that she was wrong overall, I believe I didn't make the point sound forceful enough. Yes, it's possible she was herself using control tactics to keep the guy on a string--and that the real issue is that she wasn't someone he could trust. It could also be that her way of dealing with this situation was just passive and unproductive.

What it comes down to is that neither of them is handling this disagreement with any discernible maturity. A mature person in the BF's position would stop asking for her ETA start setting his own schedule as he wanted, and let her deal with the consequences. I never, ever think it's right for people to, what did you call it, "keep vigil" by their phones. The answer is to carry on without the information that's being withheld, as if it's no longer relevant. Either she'd get the message and start being more considerate about volunteering her plans, or she'd scream at him for starting dinner without her, at which point she'd be handing him his reason to dump her, gift-wrapped.

She, in turn, either needed to make some effort to compromise--say, by notifying him as she was leaving work, or just by urging him to plan his evening without her and save the plans for weekends--or she needed to speak openly about what was holding her back, be it a loss of interest in him, a desire to keep her options open, a paranoia about 'checking in" with someone based on past experience, whatever. Not that these rationales are all defensible, just that she owed him the truth, instead of a counter-accusation that she's right and he's controlling. Totally unproductive all around.

I had no intention of making the answer all about his being controlling, which seems to me is how it came across--the issue of control, in my opinion, was a very narrow one, limited to his continuing to press her, believing he was justified.

I hope that clears things up.

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Carolyn Hax: Oh, and, hello.

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D.C.: When is it time to let a relationship go especially if it requires a cold hard push?

My girlfriend and I have the best of times and the worst. Most of the time she is fun to be around, attentive, and provides a depth in thinking that I don't have. But sometimes she completely spazzes out. She gets vulgar and confrontational. She sees a counselor and the wig outs have lessened but I'm never quite sure when it will happen again. I'm a little ashamed of myself to bring around friends and family who have been there for me after a wig out session.

Carolyn Hax: Um. Do you have any idea what the underlying cause of the wig-outs might be? Is it illness, hard-wired impulsiveness, a learned behavior ...? It does matter, since it tells you whether it's a character issue or not, whether treatment can eradicate the problem or not, and whether you've represented her fairly to these friends and family.

If anyone's wondering where I say the part about "This is who she is," or the part about "She's being abusive and he needs to get out," it's here, but with an asterisk: She's getting help. That means the capacity for improvement is part of who she is, too, and is worth factoring in (even if the decision is ultimately to break up).

So, when you weigh a breakup, you need to figure out under what circumstances you can live with her potential to wig. If you decide you can accept it only if it's something she can't entirely control, then I would advise you to ask her to explain to you what's going on, and even ask to see her counselor with her, to help you understand and also respond productively when these outbursts happen. You're also going to have to figure out how you're going to bring your friends and family into yout decision. E.g., "The cause of these outbursts is X, and she's fighting it hard, and I'm going to stand by her."

If on the other hand you decide you can't live with the suspense of wondering when she's going to explode next, regardless of the cause, then this thing's done. The best way to let go would be directly but kindly: "I'm glad you've gotten help, and I want the best for you, but I don't feel prepared to handle the volatility of or relationship. I'm sorry."

Anyone, feel free to post better phrasing ideas.

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Hyeres, France: I'm on vacation, I read your column every day. I never have a chance to read it live. How come I can't find it? It's past noon and when I search WP all I get is past stuff. Where is it live? Google doesn't even come up with it.

washingtonpost.com: A link to Carolyn's chats, past and present (most recent on top!)

Carolyn Hax: But how does a person who can't find the chat, find this? Hm.

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GF with no ETA: What's been driving me crazy about the column where the LW gets no ETA is this: it's entirely possible the GF doesn't know what her ETA will be, because of that it cannot be accurately estimated, let alone communicated. And people are condemning her for something that may well be beyond her control, or simply don't believe this can ever happen. I worked in an environment this unpredictable, so I know it's a possibility. It's not rude not to communicate what you don't know.

Carolyn Hax: Right, thanks. I think I included that possibility in the list, that he wasn't respecting her situation.

To be fair, her trotting out the "My colleague says you're wrong" eye-roller did weaken her case, even in the (I think unlikely) event that she was absolutely above reproach in her insistence that she couldn't give an ETA. And, she could have just agreed to calling as she left. But, still, there was no fact in the letter that ruled out the possibility that her departure time was genuinely unpredictable.

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A thought: Do you occasionally get questions where you just want to smack all the parties involved about the head and tell them to stop being such twits?

Carolyn Hax: Occasionally? You're funny.

We all have people like that in our lives every day, even the people who themselves are acting like twits and need to be smacked. Being a twit is a common affliction that's tough to spot up close and blatant from a few paces back. Maybe it's an evolutionary adaptation to give us all something to talk about.

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Third party: Also from the Sept. 15 column: You said that it is incredibly childish to use the colleague or other third party as leverage, to announce "so-and-so agrees with me that you're a [whatever]".

Really? When two people have a fundamental disagreement, there is no value in running the situation past an outside observer? Whenever I can't get my husband to see my point of view, I start to wonder if I'm in the wrong somehow. He is a reasonable guy, so if I see him as being unreasonable, I question myself as well. And I seek outside perspective. This is "childish"? Wouldn't it be more childish to sit in mulish certainty that I'm already right, instead of getting outside confirmation (or otherwise) of my take on a situation?

Carolyn Hax: Did you read the column? This isn't dukes-up, it's a straight question. The column is directly on point:

"While it can be healthy to compare notes on your relationship with others -- since the alternative is isolation, the perfect environment for abuse to take hold -- it's inexcusably childish to announce to one's friend or mate, 'X agrees with me that you're being [whatever].' Either you own it as your viewpoint -- 'I think you're being [whatever]' -- or you make it clear you're still turning things over in your mind. 'I looks to me like you're being [whatever], but I'd like to hear your side.' There is no place for the 'everyone agrees with me' panel of friends in any adult discussion."

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Charlotte, N.C.: My wife has a male friend that she texts, e-mails, Facebooks or talks to every day. She says that it is a normal friendship and that I shouldn't worry about it. I notice that she talks to him only when I'm not around, usually when I am asleep or out of town. Is it normal for a married woman to have a relationship with another married man that entails that level of daily sharing of small details about their lives, or am I trying to make more out of this than is there (what she says).

Carolyn Hax: It's an automatic alarm when someone pushes responsibility back on the person who expresses concern. If she used the phrasing you gave here--that you're -trying- to make more of this than there is--then that adds an extra level of accusation and confrontation, since the "trying" tags you as having a conscious intent of starting a fight. Hm.

Innocent friendships do happen, but they find their way into the open; you would know the guy, or you'd be able to read over her shoulder as she typed, if you wanted to--and, likewise, you wouldn't want to, because she'd just be typing to a friend. She'd do thinks like leave open a half-finished missive while she went to the bathroom or answered the phone.

Unless you have a history of chronic jealousy (which would necessitate a whole other answer), she's failing to show you the natural respect felt by someone with nothing to hide. She'd say, "Wow, I'm sorry--no, this isn't some kind of illicit friendship," followed by some factoid about the friendship that made inherent sense, like, you just realized you have a friend/school/town in common and you were just having a running catch-up session, or something along those lines. Or even, "He's a great friend, and I find it easy to talk to him, but I have no ulterior motives--and maybe I am giving him attention that I should be giving to you."

Short version: Her furtiveness + defensiveness = her having some explaining to do.

What you do now is harder to piece together, but I think your best bet is to create an environment conducive to coming clean (for both of you): Without anger, sit down with her and say that you believe you've earned her respect, by having a history of not being jealous or making baseless accusations. Then say that you didn't object to this friendship of hers lightly, and that you would appreciate her taking your concerns seriously instead of deflecting them back at you.

The most important thing you can do to create a truth-friendly environment is to make it clear you're not going to yell or scream or punish her for telling the truth. Just say that you'd rather hear the truth about the friendship than be left to wonder why you have these uncomfortable feelings that something is going on.

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Uncertainville: Carolyn, Just curious - do you ever find questions hard to answer based on the information given? For example, in the question about the "wig-outs," it's really hard to tell if these are normal bursts of anger/frustration that she's working on controlling better, or really crazy moments that he should be truly wary of. Same with the column mentioned above - is he looking for general times that she'll be home (early/regular time/late), or trying to pin her down to the minute? I imagine that these variables would change your answer a lot, but the questions are often vague enough that it's hard to tell what's really going on.

Carolyn Hax: That's why my answers are, as someone said to me once, like "flow charts"--a lot of either-ors, ifs-and thens, creating different paths to different conclusions.

Some questions do come with too much information missing, sure, and I try not to use those, and sometimes (if the premise is interesting) I'll write back to someone to request more information. But in general, I look at every question as having something missing, since they're by necessity one-sided, and people have to leave out huge parts of the story just to put their situations into e-mail form. I know some people hate the flow-chart nature of my answers, but I don't believe my answers can be useful (much less correct) if they're too targeted to the limited details I have. I think it's more helpful to offer possibilities the writer may have missed, or different angles to think about.

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Wash-Baltimore Metro: How long does the hurt from marital infidelity take to heal? Wife cheated some years back, finally admitted to the affair two years ago. I kind of knew during the affair, but put blinders on. After the admission I feel like I got squashed by a falling piano. We've talked about it, her attitude is it is in the past, lets move on. I don't normally like to pick scabs, but sometimes I feel the need. What's the best way to deal with this and how long before it is truly in the past?

Carolyn Hax: I don't think it can be truly in the past until you are satisfied that your wife has been honest with you.

I don't mean gory details (ack, no), I mean honest about where her mind and heart were when she started this affair; why it ended; what she feels about you now; whether she regrets anything, what she regrets and why; what you and she can do now to avoid this mess or other messes in the future. These are the materials you need from her for both of you to start building trust all over again, since the old foundation was wrecked. If she doesn't give you these things, then all you have is the fact that it happened and it's not happening any more--and that's the building equivalent of a rubble-strewn hole in the ground.

Now, if she has given you these things, and you just have no sense that any amount of truth will be enough for you, and you keep pressing her, then the onus is on you to fix the problem. You'd need to make up your mind once and for all: Can you take what you know, put it behind you and start trusting your wife again? Or, do you have reason to believe that the rest of your marriage will involve wondering when she's going to cheat and/or lie to you again?

It may seem like a tough call to say which of these is going on, but it's not. If she hurried the conversation along to, "It's in the past, get over it," then you have grounds to say, "No, I need more--you have every reason to want this to go away, but there are some things I need to know, and that I think I have a right to know. I would like you to be honest with me, and in return I will happily let this be in the past." If instead she has answered your painful and awkward questions and now just wants to be free to be more than the wife who cheated on you, then she has a right to that, too--whether she does so as your wife or ex-wife.

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Wig-Out Sessions: I hope this gets included. Both the girlfriend and boyfriend need to look at physiological - I think this is the word - reasons for the wig out sessions.

I used to have completely wig out sessions too. Something that might not usually bother me or just be somewhat annoying would set me off in a big way.

I started with a counselor who suggested I see a physician as well. It turns out that most of my wig out sessions could be traced to a drop in blood sugar. Once I learned the symptoms and how to correct for it, things were much better.

Just my two cents.

Carolyn Hax: It bears repeating, thanks, that any erratic behavior warrants an effort to rule out physiological cause(s).

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New Haven, Conn.: Is there ever any place for a "Carolyn Hax agrees with me" in an adult conversation?

Carolyn Hax: It's okay when I say it, but it sounds really weird.

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Cold Feet, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

How do you know the difference between cold feet and the wrong relationship? I'm getting married in a month to an amazing man but lately I've found myself remembering how 10 years ago at 25 I wanted to be a spinster forever and looking fondly back on my studio apt that I didn't have to share...I've also started noticing more men I'm interested in just on a surface level (good looking, etc) and thinking about my life with any of them vs. my soon-to-be-husband. We are blessed in our relationship, he loves me, I think I love him, we have a wonderful dog and a great condo. I'm not marrying him for children, I'm already 35 and that's not a path I want to take so I feel like I've gotten into this for the right reasons but why now am I so suddenly luke-warm about it? Is this cold feet or is there something I'm overlooking?

Carolyn Hax: Ew. It's normal for people who share space with others, even others they love, to daydream about having their own space. There's just nothing like it--though if you have a mature relationship, you can find temporary stand-ins for your own space, say, by having each of you agree to travel alone for a weekend here and there, thus leaving the other to a blissfully empty house for 48 hours.

What I can't shrug off is the loveless way you described your life with your fiance. You're on board with the dog and the condo!? What a lucky guy ...

If it's not about his companionship, then it's not about the "right reasons." That's it.

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I'm Fine, USA: I have fallen into the pattern of acting as if things are okay and they aren't. In this case, it's that things are fine and I am happy in my relationship. It's becoming clear to me that I'm going to have to say something to my boyfriend soon, but I don't know how to approach the topic, because I can't put my finger on a specific reason things don't feel right. Communication shouldn't be this hard, I know, but I'm really pretty bad at identifying--much less voicing--my emotions and needs. I guess a big part of it is being afraid of how he'll react. How do I begin a conversation that I should have started months ago?

Carolyn Hax: What would you say if you had no fear of a bad reaction? Tell us--what's the truth you desperately wish weren't true?

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Fake a headache?: Hi Carolyn,

What the hell is wrong with me? My husband wants to have sex this afternoon, and I just don't feel like it. We're parents of a six-month-old (who's in daycare), I'm working from home, and he's looking for work--hence the midday opportunity for some alone time. We've both been too tired and busy to be intimate, but the last few days he's been making little overtures (lingering kisses, loving looks) . . . which I've rebuffed. I want to be responsive, but internally I recoil and think, "ugh, not now." What with being a mommy, our money stress, and our conflicting schedules (he usually comes to bed after I'm asleep), I just don't feel sexual At All, and our pending rendezvous just feels like another duty to fulfill. I can't even believe I'm typing these words--they feel like such a housewife cliche.

Any practical suggestions for waking myself up and getting into the mood? How about some reassurance that my libido's just on sabbatical and not dead?

Carolyn Hax: A lot of people are going to disagree with me on this, but I think it's really important for you to get past the "Ugh, not now" thinking. Your life is legitimately packed with things that are beating your libido into full retreat, and that's exactly -why- you need to make the effort, even though "effort" and "sex" are two words you've been led to believe are an abomination in the same sentence.

You need to keep the sexual part of you alive, even if it's on life support, and you need to keep the sexual part of your marriage alive--that's more important to your family right now than the work you're doing. Your husband's being out of work just adds to the urgency of your need to drop the walls you've put up against his advances. He needs to feel good about himself, he needs you to want/enjoy him, and, again, you need each other as badly as your baby needs you.

Oh, and nothing the hell is wrong with you. It's completely normal for people in the small-kid phase to need some time and encouragement to drop their I'm-purely-functional mind set and to get into the Oh-yeah-I-can-be-fun-too state of mind. It's why scheduling time for you to be alone together without the kid(s) is so important--otherwise you're just going to keep marching on all your responsibilities (they will never let up, or at least not any time soon) and then fall (not naked) into bed in a snoring heap.

It's also why it's SO important that a couple share the heavy household lifting fairly. You didn't say anything about this as an issue, so i hope and assume it isn't, but in couples where it is an issue, the heavier-lifting partner is just not going to respond to sexual overtures, at least not for long. You think being busy, preoccupied and tired is killing your libido, but these have nothing on the affection-killing power of anger. Wow.

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Concerned:: My long-time friend, who is married with young children, has befriended a man at her church. He is in his late 20s and is not married. I have never met him and I only see my friend once a year as she lives in another state. The only reason I know about him is that she has posted pictures of him with her family on Facebook. Based on her postings and talking with her I'm pretty sure that the relationship is a newer one (within the past year).

My concern is that he may be a child predator and is "grooming" the family. Here are the red flags for me: 1) His Facebook profile picture is of him with her oldest daughter, who is 10. 2) He has joined them on a family trip to Disney World (a 20+ hour drive away) and 3) It seems that this the relationship has blossomed very quickly.

Do I bring up my concerns with her or is it none of my business since I have no evidence of wrongdoing?

Carolyn Hax: First, I'll say that it really stinks that unattached men have to deal with this kind of suspicion. It came up a few chats ago when we were talking about ways to teach kids about stranger danger, and I see it occasionally when people balk at hiring male babysitters, etc. So many men, obviously, would never lay a hand on a child, and to be lumped in with the ones who do has got to feel awful.

That said, one of the most dangerous, self-defeating things people do is overrule their gut sense just because the thing their gut sense is telling them seems "mean."

You don't know the guy, at all. That means it's possible for you to say to your friend that the -situation- gives you pause, for the reasons you state here. Spell it out for her that your not knowing him means you aren't maligning anyone personally. You're just be speaking in general terms, because a little alarm went off, and just because you'd feel remiss if you didn't say something.

Tough one, for sure.

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I'm Fine, again: I guess I would say that the truth is that what seemed beautiful and right initially is not right for me. Or that maybe I'm not even ready to be in a relationship. Maybe I would say, I can't give you what you need--I can't even give myself what I need.

I thought I was finally on the road to things I wanted--a partner, children. Now it feels like I'm back to square one (do not pass Go, do not collect $200). I'm in my late 30s, and I'm feeling like there is this time pressure (I know, not rational, there are many ways to become a parent). And it feels like everywhere I look, people are happily coupled and/or pregnant.

Carolyn Hax: People who are coupled because they felt pressure, from time or anything else, may be happily pregnant, but they're rarely happily coupled. A sense that you have to grab X because it's your last chance has to be the most common element in regretted decisions, whether X is a person, a car, a house, or a pair of shoes on sale. It's not irrational to feel the time pressure you're feeling, it's just not productive; the pressure creates artificial demand. That's why it's so important to concentrate on what you have, and not on what you fear not having.

That said, the much bigger issue is that it doesn't sound as if you know what's going on with this relationship; you had an opportunity to be ruthlessly honest here, and you didn't take it. You didn't say, "He bored me to tears," or, "I think I'm smarter than he is," or, "The way he interacts with family and friends leaves me really uneasy," or, "I enjoy him but something keeps me from trusting him," or even, "His little mannerisms turn me off."

It is, I agree, a notable lack of self-awareness. Since the result seems to be your toggling between feeling okay and a vague sense of malaise, the path that might make sense isn't to breaking up, but instead to finding a good therapist who can help you tease out who you are and what you want.

BTW, if you want to take another crack at saying what you feel is missing from your relationship, feel free.

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"he usually comes to bed after I'm asleep": Maybe because he doesn't want to feel more rejection. He's out of work; he could come to bed anytime, but he stays away till you're asleep.

Listen, I have a 3-year-old and a job, and I understand not feeling sexual at all...and my husband does too, but we both agree that if we "force" ourselves to be intimate when we really don't feel like it, we don't regret it. We feel so much closer to one another and we know it's important for our marriage and thus for our son. Just do it.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, that's an important thing I was thinking but forgot to add: So many people have written in over the years to say the exact same thing you do here, that it's hard to switch gears but they never regret it when they do.

Important because we're talking about sex somewhat against one's will, which is so heavy with baggage that all fine distinctions are best spelled out.

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Re: concerned: Child predator? My first reaction is that your friend is having an affair.

Carolyn Hax: Interesting. More coming:

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Anonymous: Re: Concerned friend of married woman with potential child predator from church..where is the husband in all of this ?

Carolyn Hax: He too could be ignoring danger signals (of affair or predator or whatever else), but he is a missing variable, thanks.

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Doesn't keep him from being a doink, but: I see a lot of single guys on Facebook (mostly friends of friends) posting photos of themselves with someone else's "too old to be mine" kid(s), which I always interpreted as a succinct way of presenting themselves as good with kids. In his late 20s, the 10 year-old definitely fits the "too old" bill, depending on how young this guy thinks he looks.

Carolyn Hax: I'll have to take your word for this ...

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Single Man and the Family: Two thoughts: If you're uncomfortable with the subject, imagine how uncomfortable (to put it mildly) it must be for the child if something is amiss. Second, even if your friend gets angry with you, ten to one she'll be more diligent about watching this fella (warranted or not). You're looking out for her kids - that's never a bad thing.

Carolyn Hax: Works for me, thanks everybody.

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Feeling sad: Over half of these questions feel like they were written by me or about me in some way - burgeoning wedding I'm suddenly anxious about & a host of other things. Blah it's going to be a long weekend - today's chat was like a long series of band-aid rippage.

Carolyn Hax: I feel your pain. Good luck, and, if it helps, leave time for something funny---favorite movie, sibling who makes you laugh, whatever reliably works.

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Call Me Polyanna: Hi Carolyn, I love reading your chats! I'm at a stage in my life right now where I'm ridiculously happy, pretty much all the time. I'm madly in love with my husband, we're both employed, we have no kids. We've got fun things planned for every weekend in the forseeable future. I'm normally annoyed about the cold weather setting in, but all I can think of is it's an excuse to go make hot mulled cider (maybe with some rum!). I feel like I'm in college again, except with income, and no finals. Almost all the freedom, though! I just want to wish the world a good weekend (and shake the feeling there's another shoe, up there somewhere). Happy Friday!

Carolyn Hax: There is another shoe! And, another set of things that will make the world seem like a calendar packed with great things to look forward to ... and a series of boring spells that sometimes annoy you, and sometimes feel comfortably predictable. It's all there.

Embracing cyclical living doesn't have to be the same as waiting in suspense for shoes to drop. It can be about knowing full well that nothing's permanent, and taking comfort in that--in being aware that you're in a great stage that's begging to be enjoyed fully, and in being aware that a crappy time will pass if you just gut your way through it. Happy Friday to you.

--Pollyanna, too, I swear

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"It's in the past.": Just a comment--my ex-husband used this phrase to justify all kinds of bad behaviour. He behaved without regard to me, our marriage, or our child. If I didn't like his actions, they were all "in the past," so I should move on. Ultimately, it killed the marriage. His reasoning gave him carte blanche to do what he wanted. (In his mind, anyway.) So now I bristle at that phrase--I find it dismissive and feel it should rarely be used. (If someone feels pushed to saying it out of exasperation, then you have a different problem.)

Carolyn Hax: Makes the distinction nicely, thanks.

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In the coffee shop: Dear Carolyn,

Our close friends are getting divorced, after he discovered that his partner was a serial cheater and liar, and has otherwise endangered their family in terms of health and finances. We worried that she might be unfaithful but had no idea of the extent of the betrayals. Obviously we are sticking by our friend, who is in pain but handling things. It is very likely that we will run into the perpetrator in multiple contexts. I am itching to stage some sort of confrontation, or say what I really think of her, but I wonder if that is a fair or ethical response (she lied to us, too). There's a small child involved, whom she has little to do with. Can I justify in any way speaking my mind, or should I butt out?

Carolyn Hax: What would you want to accomplish by taking her on? Making a scene rarely gets you the results you envision going into it.

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Faking headache II: "It's also why it's SO important that a couple share the heavy household lifting fairly."

Yeah, that's a factor too. He does want to feel that he's contributed his share, but things are definitely out of balance in the housework arena. If I ask him to do dishes or make dinner, he'll do it--but that means I have to see and assign the work to be done. If I mention that I'm starting to get resentful, he'll pick up the pace for a little while, but he just doesn't naturally notice and deal with clutter, pet barf, and the like in the course of his day as I do. And I've started to give up doing more than the bare minimum, which means things pile up and I get stressed and pissy. He made some noises early on in the unemployment phase about taking the lead on household chorse, but . . . well. Here we are.

It's a running joke that women get turned on seeing men do housework--but it would definitely help improve my mood. I just don't want to say, "I might feel like sex if you would pick up your #-@$ing socks," because even then, I would probably still rather just sleep.

Carolyn Hax: Ah. So there is more to it.

I realize this is a lightweight suggestion for a heavyweight problem, but you have to start somewhere: Would it help if you framed it as his having two jobs: 1. to find a job, and 2. to run the household? The first job can have a set number of hours, say, 8:30 to 1:30, every day, that he dedicates to researching opportunities, sending out resumes, setting up informational interviews, keeping his skills up to date or learning new ones, etc. Then, 1:30 to 2:30 is break time, and 2:30 to dinner time is for running the household. The thing that seems to snag so many people is the sense that X person is the one in charge of domestic life, and so Y never really owns the job. Maybe a schedule and a semantic change--paired with your ongoing refusal to be the one in charge--could nudge him to take ownership.

There's nothing wrong, btw, with spelling out that his doing housework would be an aphrodisiac. Just don't bring that up this afternoon.

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Faking headache, bedtime: On him coming to bed later: He says he does it because of his snoring, so I can get to sleep first (which is likely true, and which I really appreciate). But also it's just because he's on the computer and gets sucked into surfing or emails, or is so wound up/stressed that he can't sleep. Sometimes he tries to initiate something, but by that time I'm usually half asleep and don't react well to being pawed at. Sometimes he hints in advance that he would like to have some intimate time, so I try to stay awake, but then he takes too long to come to bed.

I'm trying really hard to be aware of his needs, and we talk freely and compassionately about our respective stresses. I know the job hunt has been devastating to him, and I'm trying to be there for him. But when your head says "be supportive" and your libido says "go away," it's hard to buck up. Especially if, as I indicated earlier, there's a bit of anger turning things sour.

Carolyn Hax: (I just stumbled upon this cache.)

Just as the I'm-not-in-the-mood-but-I-never-regret-it- when-i-try thread stretches back years, there's also a huge precedent for the problem of one spouse who stays up late with aimless TV or surfing. Often affects those who are also fighting depression, but not always. It can just be the less self-disciplined way of getting some alone time when the daylight hours are given over to being in service of job/job search/partner/home/kids/pets.

If you're talking about it, that's better than building up quiet resentment, but still, you're saying he "hints" about what he wants. Sounds as if it might help if you talked as freely about sex as you do about each other's stresses.

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Faking headache III: Sorry to bombard you, but I wanted to send an update on something I did to help my mood: I took a shower and shaved my legs. Smelling good is an underrated mood-lifter, I find.

Carolyn Hax: I think we'll leave you two alone now.

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D.C.: Carolyn,

Today you are reminding me of Dr Laura. One of her big ideas is that women should have sex with their husbands whether they want to or not if hubby is in the mood.

Carolyn Hax: I hope her idea is more nuanced than that, if I'm going to be associated with it. We're talking about something very specific here--people who love each other but have significant external stresses that are sapping their sex drives.

If the randy spouses in question are taking partners for granted, treating them like crap, etc.--i.e., if the marriages to said spouses are broken--then advising someone to have compliant, dutiful sex with them is unthinkable.

In general, I believe that people in functioning marriages should go out of their way to make their mates happy (b/c in a functioning marriage, those efforts will be mutual)--and that people in broken marriages should undertake the most honest efforts possible to create something that works, be it a repaired marriage, a mutually acceptable and agreed-upon arrangement, or an ex-marriage.

I do have a problem with spouses who cut off the sex supply from a loved partner, and do so without a real effort to make that part of their marriage work; freezing someone out causes such awful pain and doubts, and can lead to alienation. If that's what Dr. Laura's "big idea" is, then it's mine, too.

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washington Dc: I just found out I didn't get a job that would have been the most perfect job I could imagine. It was a government position, and the application process has spanned 5 months. I made it through the screening, interview, skills test, etc. And then didn't get it. My feeling is that I didn't get it because I'm not good enough at what I do, and my husband says that's pessimistic and I was just up against stiff competition. But I'm not good enough, right? Because if I was better, I would have the job! How do I stop thinking this way? Should I?

Carolyn Hax: You may have been good enough--they may have had a handful of candidates who were all good enough. Decisions among several qualified candidates can be very random, like the way one candidate clicks with the person making the final decision, or even anticipated chemistry. People who make the hires often regret the person they chose and wish they'd played a different hunch. Don't beat yourself up with information you don't even have.

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Help: I lie all the time and cannot stop. I lie that life is good. I lie about how much I spent on clothes. I lie that my project is almost finished. I lie that I love my husband. I lie that my sisters and I are close. I lie that I didn't have a greasy hamburger for lunch. I lie that I don't find our new neighbor so sexy I could die. I lie that I don't want to run away and forget I have a family.

OMG that felt good to write.

Carolyn Hax: Please please please get into therapy. Arguably you can get out of this rut by making a commitment to start telling the truth, little stuff first--own the greaseburger!--but the thing is, you know you're doing it, you know it's wrong, and you're doing it anyway. That's that argument against the simplistic answer. It's a compulsion, which usually has a reason, which is probably significant given that you're so set on not dealing with it.

And, too, you seem to have built a life around you that's just right for the fake version of you--and that means there's going to be some seismic activity when you start living truthfully. Both of these point to your faring better if you have a -good-, reputable professional guiding you through the process.

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To In the Coffe Shop: We are in a similar situation, but we are choosing to very carefully be polite with the chronic-lying ex-wife. Two reasons: one is their kids. Wife is an emotional abuser on an extreme scale and loves to draw the kids into conflict. We don't need to add to the kids'loyalty conflicts by being openly anti-wife. The other is compassion. It's hard to feel genuinely compassionate toward her when we know what she did and continues to do to our friend and how she manipulates the kids. But the evil behavior is strewing out of her totally F-ed up mind and life. She's a MESS.

Carolyn Hax: So important with a villain, to take a complicated view. it's not so much to help the villain, but to help you not get carried away in response. Thanks.

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Why compassion: Carolyn, why should I show compassion to someone who has taken every opporunity to be manipulative, thoughtless and mean? Gets mad if I respond, gets mad if I don't respond. Your advice still applies?

Carolyn Hax: You don't have to stay friends, or give this person anything, or keep offering yourself up as a victim; you can be the one who sends this person to prison for life, if need be (the Unabomber comes to mind, turned in my his brother). But you can still allow for compassion in your view of the person, to allow for their humanity and frailty.

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hartford,ct : I am a dad and I just found out my daughter who is 15 is seeing a man of 21. After sleeping on it I have pretty much decided to call the police. My daughter is obviously not an innocent party is this but he is 21 and knows she is 15. I have asked people whose opinion I trust what they think of my going to the police. They all say not to because I will ruin his life. I did not decide to date a 15 year old, he did. My plans for my daughter are the following, no computer in her room, Internet turned off at 10:00, no going over anyone's house for at least a month (she used this method to meet up with him), counseling and at least 20 hours of community service. I also plan on taking her to Planned Parenthood to get tested, etc. I see this guy as a predator, I doubt this is his first 15 year old and if gets away with it she won't be his last. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: Late-breaking bombshell--I'm sending this to Philes right now, if that's okay with Jodi, because I have to go and it sounds as if a lot of lives depend on the right decision here.

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Carolyn Hax: On that note ... wow ... I'm going to say goodbye, thank you, and I'll type to you here next week.

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

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

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