washingtonpost.com
Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (THURSDAY Oct. 28, 2010)

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 28, 2010; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Thursday, October 28, 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, and thanks for remembering to stop by on Thursday. My kids' school has most of its special events on Fridays, so I'm grateful for your patience with these occasional schedule changes.

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Nick's Meet and Greet: How late will tonight's (28th) meet-and-greet run? I'd have to fight traffic from Maryland to get there and it seems like it will be midnight by the time I do!

Carolyn Hax: Nick says there's no specified end time, so he's going to stick around to make sure everyone has been met and greeted.

For those who missed it last week: We're talking about an event for Nick Galifianakis in Falls Church tonight at 7 at ArtSpace Falls Church, 410 S. Maple Ave., Falls Church, Va., Nick's neighborhood venue: http://www.fallschurcharts.org/

If you can't make it tonight, he is going to be signing his new book at the same spot on Nov. 11, and also on Nov. 9th at the National Press Club's Book Fair & Authors' Night.

I'll be posting details for these and other events (as Nick sends them to me) on my Facebook page, www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax.

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Easy Question: We are expecting our first kid (a girl) in a couple of months. I'm looking for some good book recommendations on parenting and/or child development. Any ideas?

Carolyn Hax: The easy ones are never as easy as I think they're going to be, but I'll give it a shot.

In general, I don't like using books pre-emptively, and instead choose books that address particular situations as they come up. Over the years, I've reached for different titles and authors for different kids, which to me validates that approach--you don't know whether your problems will involve sleep or food or sensory issues or friendship or discipline or whatever else until you know who your kid is.

That said, I think the best general preparation people can get is from reading "Nurture Shock" by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, (a) because it discusses a lot of general topics that almost any parent will deal with, like sleep and school and race, and (b) because its purpose is to collect in one place various areas of research that are blowing holes in conventional wisdom about kids.

Because of that, it's not only useful as a research based guide on helping, say, your infant learn to communicate better, but it's also a reminder of how important it is to be a skeptical consumer of information about child development.

Approaches to child-rearing are influenced by fashion, they're pressed upon new parents with great passion and fervor, and our "parental instincts" aren't always up to the job of weeding out the sound from the ridiculous. This book does a good job of positioning your mind to receive whatever other information you reach for as your child grows.

If readers have other books that helped them through the new-baby stage, I'll gladly post them as the un-vetted suggestions they are. For my kids, we just used the book given to us by our pediatrician, which was a really matter-of-fact, encyclopedia type reference book that helped us with questions as they arose (which were infrequent, and which we usually just asked our pediatrician anyway, vs checking the book).

And ... congratulations!

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Washington: I screwed up, big time.

I'm an active fitness competitor. As a result, I eat clean -- mainly vegetables, whole grains and lean meats.

This weekend, my husband and I were out with his mother and sister, when his mom, who has a habit of commenting on my food choices, looked at my salad and said, "I just don't see how you can do that to yourself."

I looked at her meal (chicken-fried steak and fries) and said, "I just don't see how you can do that to yourself."

She left the table in tears, everyone's mad at me and I feel terrible. And ideas on how to make this right?

Carolyn Hax: Okay, you screwed up, but I hope at least some of you are able to see that it was your mother-in-law who screwed up in a far bigger way. What exactly does she expect to happen when she goes stomping into someone else's business? A "welcome home!" ticker-tape parade?

By "some of you, I mean your husband, mainly, but also you, and ideally (but not bloody likely) your mother-in-law.

The appropriate apology for this is for the meanness of what you said, that's it. You don't owe anyone an apology for sticking up for yourself.

It might not be worth getting into it again with your mother-in-law, since she doesn't seem to have a very good working knowledge of boundaries, and the best you'll be able to do with her is to say "I am sorry for the judgmental comment; I find them reprehensible myself and I'm very upset that I stooped to that level"--and know in your private heart that she's probably not going to grasp the full meaning of your words.

Your husband, on the other hand, owes you a break here, and I hope he gives it to you. You do need to acknowledge your mistake, of course. However, if he doesn't show any sympathy for the crap you've been putting up with, then that's a problem, one you need to talk about with him. Don't just grovel and scrape and hope he eventually lets it drop.

And, finally, I'd just like to say--zing! With all the fallout, you probably haven't received any compliments on your finely tuned retort. Even though you should never have said it. Of course.

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SLC, UT - more parenting book stuff: Hi Carolyn,

I recall you mentioning that you were in the midst of reading "Protecting the Gift" by Gavin DeBecker. Have you finished it and if so what were your thoughts?

Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Oh, right--I stalled, but will get back to it, and I think the chapter on hiring someone to watch your child (a very clear how-to/how-not-to, including questions to ask when interviewing a candidate) is worth a read.

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Online dating site vetting?: Aside from hiring a P.I., how can I tell if a guy who looks fine on a major dating site is in fact OK? (I don't mean nice per se, but like...not a felon, on abuse registry, con man.) I am not a worrywart but I am not comfortable....

Carolyn Hax: Remember, the people you meet in person who aren't friends of friends, established colleagues, your mom's friend's kid, etc., are just as unknown to you as someone you see online. Your senses do add a layer of screening to help you decide whether to trust someone, and a dating ad doesn't give your senses much to go on--but taking some obvious precautions can allow you to meet an online prospect in person and let your senses get to work.

What you have there, either way, whether you initially met in a supermarket checkout line or on a dating site, is a stranger. The process of getting to know someone from scratch hasn't changed just because of online dating. You still have to take your time, be skeptical, pay attention to small things, jump as quickly as possible to the point of meeting his friends (if only to make sure there are some), introduce your friends and get their takes on him, listen to the way he talks himself, you, other people, and I could go on. It's something we all do on a regular basis without thinking a whole lot about it.

Where online dating adds an element of risk is in the way it enables people to get lost in a crowd. If you're in a town with a dozen or two places to hang out, someone can be a jerk for just so long, to just so many people, before everyone knows s/he's a jerk. Online dating allows people to outrun the reputation-forming process, at least for a lot longer than was possible without it.

All that means, though, is that you keep that in mind as you get to know someone--this is a stranger, I need to move slowly, I need to verify basic information, I need to trust my gut if something sounds iffy, etc.

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Re: Chicken Fried Steak girl: I think the opportunity is perfect for this girl to say to her mother-in-law something like this: "I felt badly too, after leaving the table, so let's sign a virtual a treaty: Food choices as conversation topic are off-limits. And now let's try again." I think you were too harsh on the mother in law. The crucial crucial thing we were missing was tone. Did the mother in law say it meanly, or joking? Was the girl responding matching a joking tone, or turn it around into a much harsher situation than it should have been? Addressing it head on will do both parties good I think, particularly if they can agree not to go there again.

Carolyn Hax: I agree that it's an opportunity for the DIL to address it head on, and your phrasing sounds just right, however I don't think I was too harsh on the mother-in-law. Given that she has a history of commenting on the DIL's food choices, her comment was out of line, even if it was meant as a joke. There comes a point where the volume of comments acquires more significance than the substance of one individual comment.

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Pelham, Alabama: Something is missing. Why would someone cry over having a meal criticized? Is the mother-in-law really that fragile?

Carolyn Hax: See the next comment--I think it's on the mark:

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RE: Washington: Am I crazy for not thinking this is a screw up at all? What was she supposed to say? (Besides, the poster is right. All the food IS terrible for your body.) This woman was passing judgment on her food. What's wrong with sticking up for yourself? The simple fact that everyone else was faux-horrified at this woman's retort just shows to me that mama rules the roost.

I guess I don't see where her response was rude and awful.

I wouldn't be apologizing at all.

Carolyn Hax: I do still believe she needs to apologize for the (again, absolutely delightful) loss of verbal control, and I don't believe her being "right" on the food issue is relevant, since that is in fact stooping to the MIL's level; DIL can't make case for how wrong the MIL is for being judgmental by being judgmental right back at her. It's fun but it also concedes the high ground.

Where I completely agree is that mama rules the roost. It's why I focused on the husband--it sounds as if he is so deep in his mom's apron pocket that he can't see how unfair she has been to his wife.

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Somewhere: I am 45 years old expecting my third child. I have a 12-year-old and a 4-year-old. I kind of thought I was past my childbearing age, because my second child came at great effort and after a string of miscarriages, which the doctor told me was a result of old eggs. In any case, our family is in a good place, emotionally and financially. My health is good. I am past the 12 week mark and a a detailed ultrasound shows the baby is healthy and thriving, with no markers for Downs or other chromasomal abnormalities. All good news for me and husband, but when I told my family, all they could do is bemoan my age and past fertility issues, and think of worst case scenarios. I think part of the problem is that my sister, who is in her mid 30s, is having a hard time conceiving and somehow, the family perceives my pregnancy to be very unfair to her. I am very aware of my age and the risks. I also have tried to be sensitive to my sister and have tried to keep this pregnancy as quiet as possible without hiding it. What do I do about snide remarks from her about my age (she commented yesterday that as soon as I was through changing this baby's diapers, it would be my turn to be on the one in diapers.) And what do I do about all the doom and gloom scenarios that my mother seems to constantly be replaying in her mind and then in her conversations with me. This is becoming somewhat upsetting and my inclinationis to withdraw from them for a while, but my kids love their grandparents and auntie.

Carolyn Hax: "I'm happy. I hope you can be happy for me, but if you're too upset or worried to do that, then I understand. I just ask that you keep any negative comments to yourself, out of respect for my peace of mind."

That's for your mom, at least. For your sister, the Teflon needs to be both harder and softer at the same time, I think: "Fire away, if it makes you feel better." Meaning, I'm happy, and I realize you aren't, so I'm not going to fight with you.

When I say this, though, I'm taking your word for it (esp. since the situation supports it) that your sister is sniping at you out of resentment. If your sister were excited about and totally supportive of your pregnancy, then her comment would actually be pretty funny.

In fact, you could catch your sister completely off-guard by genuinely laughing at her age jokes, though I realize the hard feelings are probably too deep for that by now.

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Cleveland Park: "Aside from hiring a P.I., how can I tell if a guy who looks fine on a major dating site is in fact OK?"

Don't you think there is something at issue in the question itself that indicates a certain unhealthy level of paranoia or mistrust? I'm a man and I'm on an online dating site and I've noticed that some women have a weird reaction to meeting someone online that I suspect they don't have if they meet someone in bar. I've had email exchanges with women who are too afraid to tell me even their first name and will cite the dangers of the Internet (though I'm not sure what damage I could do with only a first name). And I seriously doubt if I struck up a conversation with these women in a bar that they would be wary of telling me their first name.

Thank you for pointing out that the people of the online world and the real world are pretty much the same people and that one doesn't require a higher level of vigilance than the other.

Carolyn Hax: You're welcome, and yes, I did think the poster had lost a little perspective. However, for what it's worth, sometimes people do give out fake names in bars, and there is just, in general, a keener sense of vulnerability among women than there is among men. For obvious reasons, I think.

Although, also for what it's worth, and as long as we're speaking in generalizations, I think men in general would benefit from a little extra vigilance before trusting women. It's common for guys to be all over the possibility that a woman might be clingy or annoying (as just about every beer ad during football season reminds us, aaaaaagh), but I think a lot of guys have no defenses ready against abusive women--and by abusers I mean not just women who hit, but also women who are emotional/verbal abusers.

So, short answer, since I'm now way off the original subject, defenses are appropriate, as long as you're realistic about where you need them and why.

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Maryland: Carolyn: I'm about 20 weeks preggers with twins (I'm in my mid 30's if it helps), and while I'm thrilled to be pregnant, I'm miserable. I'm still sick all the time still, and my patience is at a breaking point. I've spoken with my doctor, but there isn't anything really they can do (small meals, eat before getting out of bed, etc. - nothing helps). I'm feeling very guilty because I've lost weight, my performance at work has taken a nosedive and my poor husband has to deal with me throwing up and sleeping all the time whenever I'm not at work. Everyone keeps saying that things are going to get worse once they're here - how do I make it through without feeling like I've made a huge mistake by wanting to have these babies?

Carolyn Hax: No no no, things are not going to get worse once the babies are here, because you won't feel sick all the time. That's just an enormous obstacle and it can't be minimized.

When the babies come you'll be tired and running all over the place and wondering what you got yourself into, but that's different--that's stuff you can manage, share with your husband, delegate to family or hired helpers, etc. You can't delegate your nausea to someone (wouldn't that be a neat trick, tho ...). Plus you'll have two little bubbleheads who eventually smile at you, learn to do cool things, and tell you you're a bad mommy because you won't let them have cookies for breakfast.

Please find a hidden reserve of patience in the fact that this phase will not only pass, but also seem, in retrospect, fleeting. Really really. Hang in there.

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Food comments: I think food just brings out the worst in a lot of people. I have recently modified my diet due to a medical condition and people just can't stop commenting about my "dedication and self-control." I try not to raise it at all, but it is everyone else's favorite topic. I see it as a lot of self doubt, and I try to be sympathetic rather that annoyed. It is not easy, because what I would like to say is, "thank you, I do deserve a lot of credit and you could do it too - it is not magic." Anyway, I think that the snappish tone of DIL deserves an apology, but the content and sentiment can stand on its own. I wish people can just respect each other's choices - healthful or unhealthful.

Carolyn Hax: It is an especially sore spot right now in our culture--people are getting heavier, fingers are pointing all over the place and defenses are high. Your approach, though--"I see it as a lot of self doubt, and I try to be sympathetic rather than annoyed"--is beautiful for calming any one of the many finger-pointing frenzies that seem to be going on, over debt/foreclosures, child-rearing philosophies, you name it. Thanks.

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Chicken-Fried Screw Up: Me again -- thanks for all the input.

My husband has been very supportive. By "everyone" being mad at me, I meant my other in-laws. My husband didn't think I should apologize at all, but you're right: I was just as wrong as she was.

She left the table in tears because she took my comment to mean I was calling her fat. All I wanted was for her to keep her mouth shut about my food, and in retrospect, that's what I should have said.

I'm going to apologize again and try asking for food to become a no comment zone. Maybe I'll send a fruit basket too. :P

Carolyn Hax: Sounds good to me--though, a quibble, I don't think you were "just as" wrong. She's the one who put you in the position of having to defend yourself, giving her the greater responsibility.

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Rehoboth Beach, Del.: Dear Carolyn,

Uh, are there any acceptble reasons as to why my father's wife actively avoids my brother and I? My dad remarried after my mom passed away; both my brother and I were happy. For the first year or so, my dad and his wife visited us once, but when we visited them, suddenly she had to be out of town. Fast forward four years, and I haven't physically laid eyes on the woman for 3 of them. My father - when he visits, which is rare - now visits alone. Planned visits to see them results in them cancelling plans an hour or two beforehand, and/or her being "too busy" to see us to say hello. They've just moved across the country (which more or less solves the problems of visits with me) and now ironically live within 30 minutes of my brother. He reports the same kind of behavior.

We've asked the point-blank question to my dad, and have received a rounding "Huh." from him about it. What gives? Shouldn't my brother and I have some passing relationship with our father's wife? (And, FTR, he is actively involved in her family/her children's/her grand children's lives; sure, we're jealous, but WTF?).

Carolyn Hax: If her reasons were acceptable, would it make a difference? Maybe she doesn't like you. Maybe she's insecure and jealous and sees you as competition for her husband's affections. Maybe you look like your late mother and she has some weird hangup about her and her life with your dad. Who knows.

And, in a way, who cares. When you get so far into a bad situation with absolutely no promise of its getting better or even being explained, that's something you need to train yourself to say.

Of course you're going to care that you're not seeing your dad as much or as naturally as you would if he married someone who embraced you, and of course you're going to care that your own father isn't telling her to grow up and face the fact that he has grown children who deserve a place in his life (I promise I didn't plan this as a follow-up to the men-are-often-oblivious-to-the-risk-of-abusive-women suggestion I made earlier). That's not the kind of who-cares I'm talking about.

I'm talking about the whole notion of getting to the bottom of this problem. At this point, since you've gotten zero satisfaction in your quest for answers, the best thing you can do now is concentrate entirely on the logistics of maintaining a relationship with your dad under these adverse conditions. Your only job is to figure out what does and doesn't work. Even say it out loud to your dad: "I realize [wife] wants nothing to do with us, but I miss you and I'd like to plan a visit for" X day/Y holiday/whatever.

I'm sorry.

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Everyone keeps saying that things are going to get worse once they're here : People are sometimes really unhelpful with statements like this! For one thing, nobody knows what your particular experience is going to be like. I don't know that things overall get "worse" or get "better" as your kids arrive and start growing up. There are stages and the things you are dealing with keeping changing and you figure them out. It's not always easy, often very difficult, while at the same time fun, rewarding, exciting... I suppose you could say the first couple for many people are "more difficult" than being pregnant and that might be true, but then you're leaving out all the good stuff. Just because something is difficult doesn't make it "worse."

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, people are often unhelpful. They also often don't mean any harm, and just stumble into saying the wrong thing when they mean only to make a lighthearted comment. Have a look at this one:

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Oakland, Calif.: Dear Carolyn, I just gave birth to my third boy. I am not planning on having any more children. I love my boys dearly. Ever since I was pregnant and continuing now, when people ask "boy or girl?" or "So you have 3 boys?" I get hit with responses like: "Good luck with that." or "I assume you are going to try again for a girl?" or "Were you going for a girl?" I've even had people laugh in my face that I have three boys. These comments come from my friends, acquaintances, young, old, parents and non-parents alike. My question is: what do I say when I get stung by a comment like that? I'm usually so shocked that people would say such rude things to me, I can't stammer out a snappy and witty remark. I just grin and bare it. Any suggestions?

Mom of three lovely sons

Carolyn Hax: Laugh. Or, please, just try to see the humor, or even just the attempts at humor, in these comments. If you had all girls, you'd also be getting, "Good luck with that," or, "Are/Were you trying for a boy?" or "It's easy now, but wait till they're teenagers"--which is the flip side of the all-boy comment, "It's tough now, but you'll be grateful when they're teenagers."

In other words, the vast majority of people are probably just trying to have a communal moment with you, not ring you up for your unacceptable use of X and Y chromosomes--and the ones who are trying to score points don't deserve your consternation. (In fact, thread weaving moment no. 2, they're best suited for the "I see it as a lot of self doubt, and I try to be sympathetic rather that annoyed" treatment.)

The laugh-in-your-face especially, though, is -funny.- Seriously--they have a mental image of you with these smudgy, stick- and rock-collecting beasties climbing all over the house in sweaty socks, and they're taking joy in it. The type of comment to worry about is the one ... well, there isn't one. Even the well-intentioned, happy-commiseration comments will get old, but any comments are still best received in the best spirits you can muster.

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I'll send a fruit basket too: Just in case she isn't joking, don't send her a fruit basket. Sounds like she'll take it as another comment on her weight/poor eating habits.

Carolyn Hax: Right. I took it that she was joking, but, just in case ...

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

I've been a long-time reader but this is the first time I've had a question to which I can't find the answer.

In a nutshell: best friend dated a great guy for two years. He was kind, honest, smart, and treated her so well. They broke up (timing issues- both going to grad school) five years ago. She is now dating another guy (been together two years) with whom she has considered breaking up several times because he doesn't make much of an effort. He's nice enough, but he just doesn't treat her like the wonderful person she is. I suspect my friend thinks it won't work out but is holding out hope because she has invested two years and she's 30 (not justifying that rationale, just stating fact.)

Now, to the point: the old boy friend of five years ago recently admitted that he's loved her throughout the past five years and never really gotten over her. Best Friend has mentioned several times over the past few years that she still thinks about him. Many of her friends (myself included) think they are a great match. So do I tell her that the old bf admitted he still has feelings for her? I would hate for her not to know, especially when she's been doubting the current relationship, but it feels disrespectful to tell her when she's dating someone else.

Carolyn Hax: I hesitate to say this because it feels as if it's needlessly complicating something so simple, but:

The things I'd like to see said are, to your friend, "Why don't you just break up with this guy, since it's obvious you're unhappy?" when she mulls breaking up with him, and "Why don't you call him?" when she mentions still thinking about her ex--and, to the ex, "Why don't you call her?" when he talks about missing your friend.

In other words, if they want each other, then it seems a bit ridiculous for the people who know them both to have to pass notes to get them to talk after class.

At the same time, it seems a bit ridiculous for these friends not to say, "Dude, s/he talks about you all the time, call her/him"--which is, in the end, what someone needs to say to one of them. getting all the pronouns straight and such.

As for where the current boyfriend comes in, I don't think there's anything "disrespectful" about giving someone information about her own life. They're not married, and the information isn't going to end the relationship unless his availability is enough to make her lose interest in her current guy, in which case, better now than later.

That would seem awfully cold if Current Guy were smitten with her vs. not making an effort, but it would still be true, i think.

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RE: Rehoboth Beach, Del.: Carolyn,

Would your answer change if there were grandchildren involved? My mother died when I was in my late teens. My dad remarried a few years later and we were happy for him. My sisters and I now have children. All of the grandchildren know my step-mom as Grandma, but she rarely acts like a grandmother. She leaves the house when we visit them, makes excuses as to why they can't visit us, and does not attend the grandchildren's concerts/games/etc. When they last visited she refused to say good bye to my children because they were in a hurry to get to the airport (which is ridiculous because they were giving themselves 3 hours to get to BWI from Laurel, MD). My sisters have decided to not call her Grandma anymore, but rather call her by her first name. I'm not there yet. What to do? Keep calling her Grandma even if she refuses to act like one?

Carolyn Hax: No, the answer doesn't change, except that more of you lose out. But your kids are going to figure out soon enough that they drew the short straw when they got this Grandma, and they'll deal with it.

They'll have an easier time of it if you're careful not to create any sort of expectations in their mind of having an involved grandmother. Don't complain to them, for example, that Grandma doesn't come to their games. This is your mantra: It's her loss, it's her loss, it's her loss.

That's even something you can say if your kids ask why Grandma's leaving or why she didn't come to the concert. "Oh, that's just Grandma's way--her loss."

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Oh, brother: Three years ago my brother said and did some extremely hurtful things to me out of the blue (I still don't know what started this). Our mother witnessed the clash and said nothing. There was some abuse in our family growing up, so maybe I shouldn't be surprised at that, but I thought she'd go into mother mode and say something like "Don't talk that way to your brother," but no. Now we are cordial at holidays but don't see each other otherwise. I've always found him difficult, so I don't feel I can say "Yo, Steve, why all the hate?" Still, it bothers me that our small family is stained, and I worry about dealing with Mama's inevitable age-related problems together. I'm sure you'll say to talk with him, but he's very prickly and has a history of lashing out. Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Actually, no, I'm not going to suggest you talk to your brother. I was thinking more along counseling lines, because, from your short description, it sounds as if there's some unhealthy stuff in your family--past and present--that a trained, objective, and reputable listener could help you sort out.

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Cheshire, Conn.: Hi Carolyn, I love the chats and read them every week. I have a dilemma that I don't know if I should keep quiet about. Let me start by saying in my group of friends, I am nicknamed "Queen of the Impossible" (yes, seriously) because I have always been able to put together events (birthdays, congrats, bridal showers), figure out gift ideas & basically be "Mary Poppins" when people are stuck. The other thing you need to know is my husband & I have been dealing with infertility issues and, due to health issues, have been turned down by adoption agencies as potential parents. This is common knowledge in our group of friends, as well as the fact I am going to therapy to get through this issue. My dilemma comes that one couple is expecting and, since no one seems to have planned anything, the daddy-to-be has asked if I can "work my magic" and put together a baby shower for his wife. My husband is furious that I was asked to do this and I want to say no, but I also don't want to seem bitter or not happy for them ( I am happy for them, it just hammers home the fact I am not happy w/me). Should I do it and shut up or say no and try to explain?

Not quite Mary

Carolyn Hax: No, don't do it and shut up. You have other options. You can say no without sounding bitter--you just tell the husband, "I'm sorry, I'm over the moon for you guys but planning a shower would be too painful for me right now" (if he holds -that- against you, he ought to be ashamed of himself)--or you can tap one or two of your other friends to take it over for you. Surely they'd do that?

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New York City: What's the etiquette for canceling a date with someone? I met someone online and we have plans for Saturday to meet for the first time. We at first seemed to connect through a few emails and some chats. But all this week she seems less than enthused. I've tried to continue the emails or chats and even suggested a phone call, but got little from her. No conversation via email or IM and nothing on the phone.

When I did contact her via IM about the kind of place she would like to meet and what part of town, etc, she seemed rather blase with answers such as "doesn't matter to me" or "Sure, why not" or "if you want to." Then she signed off abruptly.

There could be all kinds of good reasons for this, but I kind of don't care. It's put me off and I don't want to meet her. I think her attitude is "what the hell, nothing to lose, why not go on a date." But I've been on too many of these dates to go on them just for the hell of it anymore and would like to meet someone who is genuinely interested in me. Is it OK to cancel for Sat and tell her this in a blunt but not rude manner? Or am I being unreasonable?

Carolyn Hax: No, you can ditch. Just say straight up that you need to cancel.

For what it's worth, is sounds as if you over-pursued her and/or tried too many different ways to reach her when the first one(s) didn't work out. Possible? That could explain a sudden loss of interest in someone she didn't really know to begin with.

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For woman asking about father's wife: I don't know if I help here or volunteer this as a chance to be told I'm wrong. I'm a step mother and we live in a different state from my late teen step-child. I spend time with him and try to show I like him so I'm not sure I'm like this woman... but, I do stay away sometimes. My husband goes to see him about 5 or 6 times a year. I don't go on one or two, in part to not miss so much work, but also in part because in my mind I think maybe sometimes my step-son wants time with just dad and I also think he'd never say that. Is that crazy?

Carolyn Hax: That doesn't sound crazy, it sounds thoughtful. What makes the difference is that you're there for 3 or 4 of the visits, which makes it clear the two you skip aren't because you're unwilling to be in the same room as your stepson. That's everything.

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Carolyn Hax: That's it for today. Thanks everyone, happy almost-weekend and type to you next week at the regular Friday time.

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Babyville in Haxland?: Is there a baby theme today that I didn't know about? With chicken-fried steak being served as the side course? I'd like the pregnancy, chicken-fried steak on the side, hold the mother-in-law.

Carolyn Hax: I know, I noticed. There were even a bunch I skipped because it was getting out of hand.

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Oh, brother ii: Thanks. I have been in counseling, which has helped me let go of my anger at the abuser and generally lighten up about stuff. "Steve" did some therapy, too, years ago, but I think he stopped. He's very into projecting the perfect family life and being the upstanding man of our (larger) family, and I admit I cede that to him because it's not really my thing. I don't think I'm shirking anything, but it's going to get tough when and if we have to deal with Mama's later years.

Carolyn Hax: hm. By your "stained" comment, it sounds as if you value that image of perfect family life, too. Since a lot of this is going to be up to your brother, and since his actions so far say he's not going to budge if it's the last thing he does, I suggest you make a conscious decision--and effort--to roll with all of this. Give up on getting it to work, and work on accepting Steve as someone who took a different direction in dealing with the past abuse.

When it comes time to work with him during/about your mother's later years, pick your battles carefully.

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Carolyn Hax: Egad, it's Cliche Bowl, the Rematch. I meant the advice, but I apologize for the phrasing.

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NYC Online Dater: I met someone once online and he kept texting, calling, emailing. His frequency of contacting me was greater than I expected with good friends of mine. He may have been a nice guy, but he was trying way too hard and I felt a little like I was being stalked. Maybe you could consider keeping the date to see if it goes well. But please don't contact her multiple times until she returns your first message/email/etc. If that date goes well, you could always tell her that you're concerned that maybe you came on a bit strong, but you were nervous because you were really looking forward to meeting her...and now you're glad you did.

Carolyn Hax: Worth weighing, thanks.

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Re; Baby questions: I think it's the Snowpocalypse babies arriving 9 mos after the blizzard!

Carolyn Hax: Wouldn't that be funny.

Speaking of, I've gotten snowed under by baby-book suggestions. I'll put a list on my Facebook page, and also kick it to Hax-Philes so people can keep adding on.

Bye for real ...

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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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