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Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 15, 2010; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Friday, October 15, taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

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

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Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody.

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Washington, DC: I've been married for three years (early 30s) to someone I now realize is a classic passive aggressive. Our marriage has become a roller coaster of issues, silent treatments and then brushing it under the rug like nothing happened, only to repeat itself. I calmly try to discuss our problems and get stonewalled every time. I'm a strong woman but feel I have become the passive wife who is just trying to avoid the drama. I've realized I'm not crazy and I'm finally starting to see more clearly. Realistically, I know he can't change. Despite the fact that I love him, at what point do I just cut my losses (no kids) without feeling like I gave up on my marriage?

Carolyn Hax: Two things. 1. You don't -know- that he can't change. You can't change him, and he can probably change only so much, and waiting around for him to change is no way to plan a future, but these are all different issues from his ability to change. If he wants to change his behavior, then there's a good change you and he can at least tweak some aspects of your marriage for the better.

2. The time to pursue this, with all your might, is now, before the silent treatments and stonewalling wear your love down to nothing.

I wish I had a more creative suggestion than counseling, but that's really what you need right now--both to work on the communication and to make sure your husband gets the memo that you're seriously unhappy.

If he continues to refuse to engage, even when it's plainly visible that there will be consequences to his refusal, then you'll know you've hit the last wall. I hope for both of your sakes that it doesn't come to that.

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Boston, Massachusetts: Hi Carolyn,

I am dating a pregnant woman, and the baby isn't mine. In recent weeks I have begun to think I underestimated the role she expects me to take in this, and now I'm a little frightened. What is the most graceful thing I can do here? I would rather not break up with her, but I don't know if staying together without playing Daddy is an option.

Carolyn Hax: She's going to need someone who is fully on board. If you're not, then the biggest favor you can do for her is to tell her this--really. Even if you feel like a cad for doing it.

It may be that she agrees it's premature for you to stand in the daddy shoes, and is willing to "date" you after she becomes a mom. (The quotation marks are in deference to the yeah-right factor of her doing this for the first couple of weeks, if not months, with her newborn.) But if you're right that she's starting to see you in those shoes, then the best time for you to disabuse her of that notion is now, so she has time to process it.

Either way, honesty is a great habit to get into with people in general, not just with the pregnant ones whose need for honesty is on a timer.

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Rebuffed: Hi Carolyn -

I just got back from a school field trip where I met another mom who, wow, clearly did not seem to like me. We work in related fields although she's at the prestigious end of it and I am at a side of it she probably sees as parasitic (it's not, and was a conscious choice on my part having been on the prestigious side for a while). Anyway, she never smiled, contradicted everything I said even if it was agreeing with something she had just said, and generally radiated ill will. It's just an icky feeling. I guess I don't have a question, just needed to type this out.

Carolyn Hax: Okay. I will type out, though, for the sake of typing it out, that it may not have been you. She might just have had a morning/week/month for the books, or she might be a pill to everyone. The latter is especially worth considering if a pill-esque personality is an asset on the prestigious end of your field, and if that's part of the reason you fled for the other end.

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Sterling, Va.: No joke - you know how some websites have an encrypted word you have to type to prove you are human and not a robot? The word I just had to type was "bacon pants".

Carolyn Hax: Just as I was reading this, my dog let out a real stinker and then sighed contentedly. This all has to be portentous somehow.

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Olney, Maryland: To the woman with the passive/aggressive husband and the question of when should she cut her losses, I say: right now. She's only 32. She needs to get into a much better situation while she still has options.

Carolyn Hax: Noted.

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NYC: Hi Carolyn!

I'm temporarily displaced from my apartment and so staying with a friend of mine. He recently told me he loves having me around, and that he has developed romantic feelings for me. I like him too, but I'm more ambivalent about starting a relationship with him. We get along great and I'm attracted to him, but I don't have that googly-eyed feeling. You've said before that the butterflies-in-the-stomach thing isn't a reliable sign that a relationship has potential, but how do I know if I'm not just talking myself into this?

Carolyn Hax: Are you consistently happy to see him? Like, smiling more than you usually do?

I don't think it's a good idea to get involved with someone while you're still concerned that you might be talking yourself into him. However, love does sneak up on people sometimes, so don't close your mind to the idea just because you might not be all the way there yet. If you want to give it more time, say you're really enjoying his company these days, but you're not ... well, you're not there yet.

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Passive aggressive DC: I don't want to contradict the poster, but that didn't seem like the definition of passive aggressive to me. It also sounded more like somebody who is a little tired of having to rehash issues. I wonder if the shutdown has to do with, "Oh, man, here we go again."

Carolyn Hax: I'm going to re-read the transcript for this. Hang on ...

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Carolyn Hax: No, I didn't see that. If anything, it sounds as if -you- might be in/have been in a relationship like that, and so your mind filled in all the gaps in the letter with a spouse who yammers on and on about stuff. There was just no evidence that this was--or wasn't--happening. All we have is that the wife is trying to talk to the husband and he's not having it. What got them there is not available to us.

Even without that information, I can say that a spouse who's shutting down for the reasons your propose absolutely needs to say, out loud, definitively: "I feel as if we've talked this issue/every issue to death, and I've reached a point where I just want to be myself without having to examine my actions after the fact." Or something like that, a clear statement of one's position.

That way, the other spouse can either see some merit in that position, or disagree deeply enough for them mutually to declare an impasse.

For that, I'd send them to counseling, too--unless the fact of the impasse freed them to start accepting that things wouldn't change. On their own, they could go a couple of healthy ways from there. They could separate amicably, or they could create a new dynamic together where they no longer expect/hope/push each other to change, and instead give each other a little more room in the marriage, in strategic places, to be different from each other.

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"While she still has options": You mean, before she gets too "old" to find another man? Just wondering. (I'm single and 41).

Carolyn Hax: I took it as a reference to the peak family-planning window, which is an icky bit of reality that women in particular who want to have children have to consider.

It's just as real as the "more likely to die in a terrorist attack than get married" eye-roller is false.

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Midwest: I find myself in a very stressful situation. I live in the Midwest; my friend lives in DC. Earlier this year I mentioned that my boyfriend and I would be in town in April; she offered to have us stay at her place, but backed out a few weeks later. In August I mentioned we'd be in town for Thanksgiving; she again offered her place to stay.

Last week she informed me that she cannot host us. This is very disappointing, for I never took her as a flake (although she has provided excuses). My boyfriend is quite irate -- we made these plans in the hope we'd be able to stay for even just one night each time.

My boyfriend believes I should again request one night over the holiday, since we are now forced into housing expenses we were not expecting. I am not so certain. How do I handle this situation with my friend?

Carolyn Hax: You don't, except to say, next time she offers her place, "No, thanks, we'll get a hotel room." Unless you -want- to say something to your friend.

Yes, she has flaked out on you twice, but that gives you two choices: Make a big deal out of it, or don't make a big deal out of it. The former doesn't warrant serious consideration, given that the only argument in support of that is that you're out some money--money you would have had to spend anyway if your friend didn't volunteer her place.

The latter, meanwhile, has so much to recommend it--less stress, no risk of staying with a grudging hostess, no gratuitous confrontation, no guilt-tripping, no risk of punishing the innocent (since your friend may actually have had two legit reasons to withdraw her offer, and may well feel as bad as you do about it), and no shaking up a friendship just because your boyfriend can't/won't roll with the punches.

Think about that last one; what he's really asking is for you to pay his anger forward. When has that ever been constructive?

Now, if you have a bad habit of being a doormat, and if your BF is making a well-meaning attempt to get you to stand up for yourself, then there are better ways to accomplish that than by demanding that your friend host you as promised. First, you say to your boyfriend: "You're right, I do need to be more assertive. But pressuring me to handle it the way you would isn't the solution. Please let me figure this out on my own."

Second, you say to your friend, if and only if you want to: "This is the second time you've given us the bait-and-switch, so may I ask if there's something else going on? This time in particular you've left us in an awkward spot."

In case it's not obvious from my answer, I'll underscore it here: You're in a stressful situation not just because of your friend, but also because of your boyfriend. Both of these pressures need your attention, in the form of figuring out what you want from each of these people, and standing up for it gently but firmly. The only big deal is that you feel free to handle things the way you see fit.

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Narcissists in DC: Hi Carolyn: How do you deal with a classic narcissist? I am often around a particular friend who constantly complains about her life and acts very much like the victim--whether it's her job, toddler, etc. She often intimates how much harder her life is than everyone elses.

As someone who works long hours and has a generally busy lifestyle (one that I've admittedly chosen), this gets annoying quickly. While I want to be sympathetic, I'm not. (especially since she doesn't even work parts of the year)

DC seems to have more than its fair share of narcissists. Any suggestions for how to deal with this? I'm not sure that my fantasy of screaming back, "You've made these choices, now deal with it!" would work.

Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Surely there's a middle ground between expressing sympathy you don't feel, and screaming your fantasy truth?

One of those middle positions is to spend less time with people who think their lives are harder than everyone else's. This is a friend, not a cubemate; you're not yoked together.

Another is to reflect her feelings back at her--"Wow, you seem really unhappy"--and then ask leading questions of the stop-biatching-start-doing variety: "What are you planning to do about it?"

Another is to fight self-absorption with perspective: "I don't know--you're employed, have a healthy child, you have rights and freedom, maybe it isn't all bad." Sanctimonious, yes, but some people really are asking to be bopped on the head with their own whole grain artisan baguettes. And if she has any awareness of anyone but herself, she'll know she can't whine to you anymore.

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Re: passive aggressive: And just to throw out the counter point to people who are saying cut your losses, I grew up with the passive aggressive relationship as my model and got into some very bad habits. My husband is much better at communicating than I am and pointed this out to me a lot early on in our relationship. We both pushed through some tough things (him getting frustrated, me feeling defensive), but I have learned over time to be conscious of when I'm being passive aggressive and to push myself to communicate better and it has helped us grow even closer. People can change, but they have to at least be aware of the issue.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks muchly.

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Columbia, SC: I just had a fight with my long-distance boyfriend of two years over his tendency to very audibly multi-task while we are on the phone with each other. We speak on the phone for about 20 minutes every night. He tends to rummage around the kitchen, pack a suit case, and straighten up. There's a lot of background noise as a result. Basically, my feelings were hurt last night when he was packing for a business trip and I was just focusing on the conversation. Do I just need to get over this and stop feeling like a chump for focusing solely on our conversation while he multi-tasks?

Carolyn Hax: It is possible, of course, that he's less attached to you than you are to him, and that this is an early sign.

But it's also possible he hates being on the phone, with anyone, and you're about the only person on earth he's willing to talk to for 20 minutes about his day, and he's doing it just because he thinks you're swell and it's totally worth it to him to suck it up in this small way to make you happy. But he sometimes, um, gets a head start on the stuff he was postponing to talk to you ...

So, two completely different interpretations are possible here, as are others, no doubt--and the two I gave you mean you're either on your last days with this guy or you've got something great with this guy.

So I wouldn't say you need to "get over this and stop feeling like a chump"--maybe you do, maybe you don't--but you do need to listen carefully to what the context is telling you. If you're surrounded by signs that the affection is waning, then maybe it's time to step back a bit and see whether the relationship can survive without your doing CPR on it.

If instead the signs say you're still close and still good together, but the distance is starting to wear on you, then consider trying a more flexible approach to staying together--namely, loosening up on the day-to-day contact and re-committing to both a regular visiting schedule and a long-term plan to be together. Sometimes your best chance at staying close is in understanding that there's a point where the effort to stay close has diminishing returns, and where forcing it can set you back.

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Potential Bully problem: Hi Carolyn -

My 7 year old first grade son has a friend Jack, whom he's known on and off since they were infants, but much closer since they started K last year. They've been in the same class for two years and sit together every day on the bus. Jack to us just radiates a negative vibe. I've felt like this since he was little, there's just something about him that worries me. He's loved and well looked after, his parents are very involved in his life, there's no issue there. But we've always joked that Jack's the one who's going to introduce our son to cigarettes and pot in high school (hopefully not middle school!). There's nothing we can do about this right? There have been a few small incidents of Jack leading our son astray/breaking rules, but nothing big, and the teachers handled it and we talked to our son about it and once briefly to the mom (who said "too bad about the misunderstanding!") We have nothing concrete, so besides helping our son make his own decisions, do we just sit by and watch? Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Certainly you can have Jack over, so you can see for yourself what kind of relationship (and influence) he has with your son.

You can also read "Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children," and also "Nurture Shock," to give you a better general understanding of the way kids socialize, interact, learn from each other, tell lies and rebel against their parents.

BTW--yes, middle school.

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DC whiner: I once whined to much to a friend repeatedly, and he finally said: "Cindy, you need to talk to someone." Period. I realized he was saying so much: "you can't unload on me like this, you need to move forward, you have to learn to fix this."

Carolyn Hax: And you said a lot by getting his hint: namely, that you're receptive to hints. Well done.

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Passive Aggressive: Hi Carolyn,

My oldest friend is in a marriage with a man that hurts her terribly with his passive aggressive behavior. She's no saint, but she doesn't deserve the treatment he gives her. They have a 8 month old, and she's already planning her next child, even though in the same week she's talking about divorce and having to make it as a single parent. I don't know how to support her, when she's clearly unhappy, it's going to affect the children etc. When she talks about planning her next baby how do I act excited rather than saying "you're planning another child when you're in a marriage that makes you miserable?!"

Carolyn Hax: Again, why express sympathy you don't feel? This is your oldest fried; you need to say, "You're planning another child when you're in a marriage that makes you miserable?!"

No one deserves to be mistreated, but your friend can be both undeserving and complicit in the mess that is her marriage. Tell her you're worried about her and her child, tell her you worry even more for another child coming into this unhappy home, urge her to talk to someone who is qualified to help her sort out her feelings and her options. It's her life, she can mess that up all she wants, but messing up kids means someone with the standing to do so has to try to step in.

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Alternative to potential bully: Another option is to introduce your child now to some other healthier friends. Children who are friends in K, don't always stay friends through high school. If you introduce your son to other kids, he and "Jack" may naturally drift apart and it may no longer be a problem. You can include other kids in activities and arrange play dates with others. Now is a good time to do it when you have a little more influence over who he spends time with.

Carolyn Hax: True. But this is something a parent can -try-, not do unilaterally. Even though a parent of a first-grader can invite other kids along, the first-graders themselves are old enough to choose not to mix, so it has to be done with the child's cooperation. Otherwise there's the potential for nightmare play dates.

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Why do you ignore adoption?: Carolyn, I love you and think you're both a great writer and a great advice-giver, but ...

I don't understand why you constantly act as if adoption doesn't exist. Today you wrote that age is something "women in particular who want to have children have to consider." Women who only want BIOLOGICAL children have to consider age, but women of 40 or 50 or 60 can still adopt, something you ignored.

You do this a lot: Someone will write in talking about their problems conceiving, and you'll offer an answer that doesn't say a word about adoption. Why?

Carolyn Hax: If I were talking solely of biological children, I would have said women; not "women in particular." It's women and men, because adoption options do narrow as people age, and because being an older (and older and older) parent brings other limitations when it comes to raising kids; and, it's women when it comes to bearing children. My answer was an umbrella meant to catch all the facets of having children--bearing, adopting, raising.

I.e., it was written in such a way as to inoculate me against accusations of omitting or ignoring some aspect of the situation. Ah well.

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Hyattsville MD: Hi Caroline,

How do I go about forgiving my mother who died a month ago but who never appreciated me. All my life she favored my brothers ( am the only surviving daughter) No matter what I did all credits went to my brothers.. she willed everything to them. Just you know I do not recall anytime in my life I ever offended her.

Hurting

Carolyn Hax: Even if you had offended her, her playing favorites against you for your entire life would have been cruel and unusual punishment for any offense a child could bring upon a parent. What could you have done to her as a child--blow a raspberry her way?

Shunning a child is the work of a very damaged person. It's possible your mom's hangup was a preference for males--in which case, you have to wonder at the quality of life of a woman who hates women. The self-loathing involved is staggering. If it was something else--say, you resembled a hated relative or in-law--then that wouldn't be self-loathing, but instead an emotional stuntedness that, again, points to her having a broken pathway between the outside world and her heart.

I suppose there are seeds in these possibilities for you to grow forgiveness for your mom--but the forgiveness I'd really like to see from you is for yourself. It sounds as if you're still looking for something in yourself and your life and your actions that turned your mother away, but the situation you describe says you did nothing wrong. Stop blaming yourself, free yourself to say, "Mom, this was all you, whatever it was, and whatever your burden was that moved you to treat me this way is NOT something I'm going to carry for you anymore." Bury it with her, please.

I'm sorry you were on the receiving end of her dismissive behavior--but now you're not. It's over. I hope you'll start looking for ways to secure an abundant and reliable source of appreciation. Volunteering your talents with a cause you care about is probably the highest-percentage place to start.

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why adoption is "ignored": Because we're all aware of it as an option for bringing childen into the family, frankly. As are single women and gay men aware of IVF/surrogacy, etc.

Carolyn Hax: Yes, yes. It comes up when it comes up--like last week (right?), when the pregnant sister asked her gay brother if he would adopt the baby--but I deliberately do not write itemized lists of ways people can have children, because even suggesting that someone "can adopt" is a potential slap in the face. I've watched friends go through the process and it's expensive, difficult, filled with spiky ups and downs and (sometimes) international quirks and intrigues, it's affected by age (and sometimes family-configuration) limits, and it's by no means a sure thing.

And since bearing children also is a crap shoot, I decided long ago to generalize my phrasing to "have children"--this allowing for natural conception, IVF, surrogacy, adoption, fostering, and whatever else science or politics or the legal system may bring us in the future. We all know what the means are, so there's no need to spell them out unless a particular one is relevant.

I do the same thing, for what it's worth, when issues arise of someone who doesn't want children. An unwanted pregnancy has four possible outcomes: miscarriage, abortion, carriage to term--at which point there are two more choices, keeping the child or placing the child for adoption. These too are all well known, and spelling them out takes time that needn't be spent.

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Indianapolis IN: I am starting to really not like my sister's boyfriend. And the main reason is that in 3 years they've been together, I've never met him, and neither has any member of my family, despite numerous attempts to get together (he's always got an excuse). The reason she tells us is that he's nervous that we'll judge him for some of his life choices. It makes me mad because she should be telling him that we're not judgmental people (we're not ... all we care about is whether he makes her happy). But even if she told him "My family's totally uptight and insufferable," if he's a stand-up guy, he should meet us, right?

Carolyn Hax: Tell her the only life choice you're judging him on is his refusal to meet his girlfriend's family.

And you might want to ask your sister if she has thought about the many possible implications of being with someone who is so lacking in emotional courage.

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living arrangements: My significant other wants us to both move in with his mom. She's single and struggling some and the move would potentially help us all out (financially). I like his mom, expect to marry her son, and know we would all benefit in the long run, but he and I would literally be sleeping across the hall from her--and the idea of so little personal space makes me cringe... especially since this is not completely necessary (I could easily afford to rent my own place... but that doesn't help them both). What questions should I be asking myself before we commit to this?

Carolyn Hax: I'm all for practical solutions, but if I were you, I'd be very wary of a practical solution that derives its benefits from your sacrifice, and when the person you want to marry--i.e., the person you plan to promote to the position of chief watcher of your back--is looking to watch someone else's back at your potential expense.

Now, your SO might have some grand plan in mind--save X dollars, and in Y months buy X house for just the two of you--or he just might be really worried about his mom and not thinking much beyond that. But your position as independent adult and, possibly, as chief financial contributor means you have to be especially careful to look out for what you need, and to make sure he has that in mind, too--be it a little more hallway distance from Ma or a partner who takes your needs as seriously as he does his own and his mother's.

BTW--one of the fastest ways you can find out where you stand here is to look at the other options available to his mom. If she could, say, move to a smaller apartment but won't, and this is his answer, then you have flashy red lights and screaming sirens. If instead she's in his beloved childhood home and he's awash in fear and sentiment, then the possibilities of his taking everyone's interests seriously are a lot brighter.

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Sister's Boyfriend: When reading this, the first thought that occurred to me was, does she actually have a boyfriend? I know that's extreme, but maybe the problem is with the sister or her relationship with her family, not the boyfriend.

Carolyn Hax: Interesting. Thanks.

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"You need to talk to someone" : My grown children have said this to me many times too, and it's true- I unload on them and my husband (which has caused great stress in our marriage), have unresolved issues with my parents, get anxious about things that other people don't.. But how does one go about therapy/counseling when they don't have fancy insurance? We have decent insurance but not one that covers mental health. I have a co-worker who went into debt paying for therapy, and I'm not interested in doing that. My daughter said that I was making excuses and that there are options out there, but I really don't know where to start.

Carolyn Hax: If your workplace offers an EAP (Employee Assistance Program), you can get a limited number of sessions for no charge. From there, you can have the counselor assist you in finding a longer-term arrangement if needed.

If you're in the DC area, you can contact the Women's Center, www.thewomenscenter.org, and ask what's available.

If you live near a university or teaching hospital, you can find out whether they have a clinic where they train students and offer reduced- or no-fee counseling to patients willing to receive supervised care from a student.

If you are a church member, you can find out whether any of the clergy people are trained/licensed counselors. Many are.

You can also contact the various professional associations and ask whether any of their members offer care at a low fee or on a sliding scale. I've taken too long to list them all here, but I'll look around for a good site that lists them and try to post a link next week.

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Indiana: Do you think perhaps your sister is ashamed of her boyfriend and makes up his excuses, but really, it's her who isn't bringing him to introduce you? I dated a lot, but I only ever introduced my parents to one guy...I'm marrying him in the spring. Didn't need the family chorus to tell me I was dating someone not right for me because I already knew that. I just wasn't ready to take a big girl pill at that time.

Carolyn Hax: If this is the case, then the sister is making a serious mistake in setting it up as the boyfriend's choice not to meet them, no? Duck the criticism pie, sure, but don't duck and let it hit an innocent bystander.

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Carolyn Hax: Not sure big-girl pill is any improvement on big-girl panties ...

No, I am sure. Not an improvement.

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Not judgmental?: So, Indianapolis, you're starting to not like a guy you've never met, and you have all these opinions about what a stand-up guy should do even if your sister claims that you're insufferable--and you must be right, "right?" But you're NOT judgmental. Ooookay, if you say so.

Carolyn Hax: Sorry, not feeling your outrage. The guy is being a total doink (or the sister is being a total doink and upping the doink ante by letting the blame fall elsewhere), and there comes a time when one's friends and family have a right to call it as they see it.

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Burlington, Vermont : Three years is a long time. Maybe there is no boyfriend. Maybe there is a girlfriend. Maybe he's married to someone the family knows.

Carolyn Hax: Seems like it's time to start a pool.

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Also for sister's boyfriend: My first thought was whether he's abusive. Worry to that extreme (if it is truly worry) sounds almost controlling, i.e., isolating the sister. And the whole "being judged for life choices," sounds like a lame excuse, but it also makes me wonder about the severity of these "life choices." But then, I guess one person's choice to attend art school could be as extreme as another's choice to manufacture crystal meth.

Either way, something's very off.

Carolyn Hax: So by my count we have: married man, fictional man, abuser, meth addict, generalized wuss ...

If the sister and the BF are trying to hide the fact that he dropped out of med school to become a painter, they'd best get on her family's Sunday dinner calendar asap.

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New Haven: For the poster whose insurance doesn't cover mental health expenses: check this. I believe a federal law passed last year mandates that insurance plans must cover mental health treatment at the same level as any other health service.

Carolyn Hax: Yah, heard of that there law ... another thing to check is when relevant mandates kick in, since different parts of the law phase in at different times.

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Cube-ville, Mass: My cubemate has done nothing all day but now that Friday's coming to a close she's clipping her nails. Fingers AND toes.

Can I go home????

Carolyn Hax: Sure!

Okay I don't know if you can. But I can share that twice in three recent train trips, the person right across the aisle from me clipped his nails. So I feel both your pain and your complete inability to concentrate on anything but your own skeeved-outedness.

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You left one out...: She's gay. That's my sentimental favorite, though meth addict is also charming.

Carolyn Hax: You're right--I forgot that one, thanks.

Speaking of, I love Dan Savage's project for addressing exactly this, helping people who are young and gay and hiding from disapproval: http://www.itgetsbetterproject.com/

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Nail Clippers: That train ride is tame compared to my ride home last week. . .when a drunk threw up on me!

Carolyn Hax: Duly humbled, thanks.

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Maybe the family is scary on their own turf: I know that some families are rather scary and intimidating in their normal habitat...mine is. After the first time my wife (then my girlfriend) came to a family gathering with me, she said "Wow...that explains a lot about you." Maybe brother should suggest meeting sister's BF one or two at a time instead of the whole clan and picking neutral territory, like a restaurant.

Carolyn Hax: Or a train!

Your point is well taken, but still, it's three years we're talking about. Even if this family is known to all line up to make a spanking machine inside the front door, one thinks adults would eventually just face it, vs. hide in excuse-flecked perpetuity.

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Insurance coverage for mental health: I think the issue that many people run into is that many therapists will not work with insurance. Not that their insurance won't cover it. When the therapist is "out of network" it costs more and you have to front the cash and do all the paperwork for reimbursement. I had to search but did find a group that were "in-network" and only have to do the co-pay per visit. Not saying it's easy...I probably called 15-20 places before finding one with openings and I live in a very populated area. Don't give up!

Carolyn Hax: And also, paying upfront/filing paperwork/receiving reimbursement check isn't ideal, but it's still coverage.

And now I need to do exit-age. Bye everyone, thank you, and type to you here next week. Early notice, I won't be online Oct. 29, so watch this space for an alternate date and time. Buh bye.

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You can't meet my boyfriend beecause: he's in prison

Carolyn Hax: Doh! Right. So: married man, fictional man, abuser, meth addict, woman, inmate, generalized wuss. Vote early, vote often ...

Oh, and I almost forgot, I have updates. www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax

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In my cube farm...: I have, clockwise: - A person who is the only competent professional alive, and he's not afraid to say it. Also a nail clipper. - A sunflower seed eater. In the shells. - A cell phone addict, complete with yelling so the other person can hear. - A cougher who on more than one occassion has stopped breathing. Or vomited.

And people wonder why I wear headphones.

Carolyn Hax: In my cube farm...: I have, clockwise: - A nail clipper. - A sunflower seed eater. In the shells. - A cell phone addict, complete with yelling so the other person can hear. - A cougher who on more than one occassion has stopped breathing. Or vomited. A headphone-wearer who doesn't seem to realize s/he's singing out loud.

:D

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Poor life choices: For some reason as soon as I read that I thought the BF must have numerous facial tatoos or piercings or perhaps dresses as a pirate. How else would you know that someone made poor life choices just by looking at them?

Carolyn Hax: DRESSES AS A PIRATE. Where was this last week, when we had grumpy people in need of cheering up.

$%^&adoodledoo!

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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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