washingtonpost.com
Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday Nov. 5, 2010)

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 5, 2010; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Friday, November 5, 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. I had a last-minute technical scramble on two fronts, but i'm here ...

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Narcissists & Pumpkin Pie: Dear Carolyn: Awkward Thanksgiving question. My parents are both suffering from serious illnesses, which could make this their last Thanksgiving. My husband and I are the only local relatives to a narcissistic family member whom we ordinarily invite to our turkey dinner. Maybe it's selfish, but I really don't want her there stressing me out at this point in my parents' lives. How does one handle this? Relatives who live out of state may give us grief if we don't include her, even if they rarely have to deal with her and found her difficult at a recent family reunion.

Carolyn Hax: If the only potential hurdle to excluding her is the grief from out-of-state family members, then go ahead and have the holiday you want. The frenzy of disapproval will likely taper off quickly and eventually end completely.

it might help if you had even one remotely sensitive and cooperative relative among the out-of-staters, who would agree to host the Me-ite this year. That would spare you both the relative's obnoxious company and any fallout for excluding her. Good luck.

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TGIF!: Is anyone else out there absolutely spent?

Thanks for being here, Carolyn; if I didn't take this lunch break I'd starve and go bonkers (actual order uncertain).

Carolyn Hax: Absolutely, flat-out, nod-off-at-9 pm spent. Yes. And thank you--I'm glad to be here, too, though going fetal on the couch is an appealing option as well.

BTW, today would have been my mom's 70th birthday. In her honor I've re-posted my walk team information on my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax

If I'm getting accurate results from my own experience, you can see the page without signing up for FB.

Oh, and I've also been posting info on Nick's book and various related events.

AND ... maybe the Best Update Ever went up this morning, from the wonderfully signed "Breaking with precedent," in Thursday's column.

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Lived together: Hi, Carolyn. I lived with someone for 16 years before we broke up. I'm now doing online dating (though I think this would come up with "regular" dating, too, though face-to face rather than by e-mail). Potential dates keep asking why I never married. That's too personal for e-mail, and it's no one's business as an opening gambit. How should I handle the question? Frankly, it seems rude, but I don't want to blow off everyone who asks; they don't mean to be rude.

Carolyn Hax: You could say, "I was married, for all intents and purposes."

Or you could write back with the actual reason you didn't marry this person (anonymous forum, go for it), and we could come up with a better semi-answer that more accurately represents who you are, which is what the question is really about anyway.

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T-day Dilemma: IT's the first Thanksgiving since my divorce and I won't be with my son. I'm devastated. I don't want to go to my parents' because my mother will focus on my son not being there. Many friends have offered to have me at their thanksgiving and while I want to accept, I'm nervous I'll feel like a third (or thirteenth) wheel. Vacation would be fab but too expensive. What can I do to not fall into depression?

Carolyn Hax: Accept the invitation from the friend whose company you find the most welcoming/relaxing and/or rewarding. Sometimes having to perform a little bit--if only to be genial company--is just the guardrail our spirits need to keep from plunging over the edge.

Also, don't get too caught up in the extra-wheel fretting. For one, it's rarely as much of an issue as people fear it to be. You were invited because someone wants you to be there. Don't over-think it. If it soothes your nerves, keep an eye out for ways you can be helpful. and then don't be afraid to jump in. If any of the invitations came from someone who would bristle at your clearing the table, then that's not the invitation to accept. I repeat, you want someone welcoming, relaxing, easy-going--or at least the closest to that ideal among your friends.

I would normally make an alternate suggestion of volunteering, but so many charities become inundated with symbolic do-gooders on TG that I advise it only with the caveat that you research it beforehand. Find a place that's legitimately shorthanded b/c of the holiday. You can even pair this with the friend's celebration.

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Anxiety: How do you know how much is normal? I mean what's normal, right?

No full blown panic attacks, but trouble concentrating on work tasks...could be lingering effects from a concussion too... So at what point does one go to the doc say "I'm worried I'm worrying too much?"

Carolyn Hax: Today--or, at least one calls today to ask about getting in to see the doc. Why not?

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Southwest: My boyfriend and I have been together for just over a year. We've talked generally about long term stuff--that the concept of marriage is in the future--but nothing in specific or concrete. Our larger disagreement on the long term is that I want kids and he doesn't, a topic we generally avoid, but is probably the key to our not getting specific about marriage.

Recently he was presented with a job opportunity that will move him across the country. He is excited about the move and is more than ready to take the job. He wants me to come along for the move. I have no foreseeable job there. My career is very specific and limited. The move would require to become financially dependant upon him for the length of time that it would take me to find an entirely new career. All of this in a recession.

Neither of us currently live near family, we both moved to our current city to follow career paths. So, I wouldn't be losing anything other than a paycheck. While we both agree that moving away would be the best, I'm afraid to move away from my finical security without some kind of guarantee (i.e.--yes we will be getting married). So, how do I reconcile my fears with his opportunity?

Carolyn Hax: Why don't you take this as a timely opportunity to figure out the kids/no kids problem? Let him move without you, and you stay in your career--but play with the idea of career changes you could make. In the meantime, see whether you can find happiness without him.

You're facing a huge choice, whether you actually discuss it or not: Stay with this guy and accept that you'll never have kids, or continue to hope for/plan on raising kids and break up with your boyfriend. You already have an idea of what life is like with this guy and no kids, since it's what you're living now; there isn't any great way to sample what it will feel like to have kids, but you've just been handed a way to find out what it's like without the boyfriend. I might not like this idea as much if you had some great job opportunity at the new location, but since you don't, stay put and use this chance to "try on" a different possible future.

Be absolutely transparent with your BF about what you're doing, too--say you'd need time to make a career change anyway, so you're going to use that time to try to make peace with the kids issue, one way or the other. The exploration of alternate careers can even keep you occupied after he moves, to take the edge off the loss.

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"I was married, for all intents and purposes." : That could be interpreted as, "I don't believe the legal formalities are necessary." Which is fine if that is how the writer actually feels. But I wouldn't say this unless that is what is meant.

Carolyn Hax: Which is why I was looking for the real reason, so I could tailor a response.

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Lived Together again: Your initial answer is my answer. We both expected this to be the forever-and-always, and neither of us had a great interest in marriage (no intention to procreate, etc.). But am I too reserved to want to get into that right away (I'm fine with explaining later), or are other people perfectly normal in opening with this question when we haven't even had a conversation?

Carolyn Hax: Well that's the real issue, then, isn't it? You said in your initial post that "they don't mean to be rude," but that's more charitable than the slant I'm picking up between the lines here.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. If you don't think it's an appropriate question, then you're entitled both to have that opinion and to apply it in filtering through potential mates.

I will say, though, that this probably -is- more commonly a problem with online dating vs. traditional .. how did you put it? "I think this would come up with 'regular' dating, too, though face-to face rather than by e-mail." Yes, some "regular" dates would go down the why-didn't-you-marry path, but you can't discount the emboldening effect of communicating online. Many people will say stuff to you through their keyboards that they just wouldn't in person.

So, in a nod to your reserved nature, you might want to put in a little extra effort to try to get some dating momentum offline--and to steel yourself for added intrusiveness online. Either respond to people's questions that you're not comfortable sharing such personal information so quickly--or, as I advised initially, start thinking in terms of semi-answers.

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"I was married, for all intents and purposes." : And the next question is...

Why did you break up?

Carolyn Hax: "Why do people divorce? We hoped and believed it would last, but it didn't."

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Re: "married for all intents and purposes": What's wrong with "I was in a long-term relationship that recently ended"? It's true, and it's all the other party needs to know until things get more serious.

Carolyn Hax: That works too, I think. Thanks. Though "recently" will probably attract needless scrutiny, so it's almost better to give a time frame. September, last summer, last year, a few years ago, etc., are all more useful, both to storyteller and listener.

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Carolyn Hax: I didn't keel over--I'm just working on a doozie. Will try to post it in takes ...

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Missouri: Hi Carolyn,

I guess my husband and I are what the liberal East Coast would call conservative bigots. My question isn't about that, so I won't get into it. We are raising two kids our way, while being constantly told by the liberal media that it's the wrong way. Sorry, but we just don't agree, and neither do most of the people in our community.

The issue is that my husband's job is taking him to a liberal East Coast city, and we're now faced with the question of whether to uproot everyone and follow him there. If we go, I worry my kids will be exposed to a lot of hooey I have worked hard to keep out of their lives. If we don't, we're looking at at least two years' separation during which my husband will miss the last of his daughters' little kid years. It's well-established around here that you can't bubble-wrap kids, so basically I'm looking for suggestions on how to keep our values strong in our kids even if we choose to move them out east.

Carolyn Hax: You're right to worry--we liberal East Coast dwellers have two heads, learn a secret language at Ivy League schools so we can mock real hard-working Americans, make our preschoolers watch gay porn, and scream like pod people when we see someone going to church.

The exposure-to-a-lot-of-hooey ship has already sailed, I'm afraid--you've bought wholesale the whole idea that there's an "Us" and a "Them" in this country.

Here's a little welcome brochure for you in the form of my daily life, in case you decide to tough it out in the Eastern time zone:

I'm married, and we have three little boys.

We love them, work hard to teach them manners, values, civic responsibility, respect for adults, respect for themselves.

We care about the schooling they get, the food they eat, the bedtimes they keep, the community that surrounds them, the families that take them in for play dates. We care about setting an example of strong partnership in our marriage.

We have a hard time containing our frustration when we see even the slightest glimmer of entitlement in them, even though we know intellectually that all small kids see themselves as the center of the earth. We also know that it's up to us to teach them the value of hard work, of delayed gratification, of gratitude, of giving back as much as they take, if not more.

We also give them as much room as we can to be themselves, which means, at various times, letting them explore in stick and rocks and mud, and make play weapons, and fall off their bikes, and they've done target shooting and archery. (I hear a lot about attempts to "feminize" boys, and all I can say is, good luck. If it's in them to be house kids, then they'll gravitate that way whether they're pushed to or not, and if it's not in them, then they won't. Cultural norming works better in theory than in practice.)

We encourage them to play with neighborhood kids; these neighbors include four families with their kids in faith-based schools--one believes firmly in single-sex education--and four others with kids in public schools. (My kids go private because the classes are small, much better for their temperaments.)

Have you read anything yet that makes you tremble in fear for your children?

To be fair, I'll also say that I worship no higher power. However, I am also never in anyone's face about that, not even when someone of faith gets into mine, which does happen. I not only respect people's right to live as they see fit, but I also hope my kids will look to others as an example, compare other parents' choices to ours, and choose a path based on that exploration.

Which brings me to the point I could have opened with and quit (but then I wouldn't have been able to bring in the Pod People): If you are as assured as you suggest in the correctness--and righteousness--of the way you've chosen to raise your children, then there should be no reason it couldn't withstand the challenge of other points of view. Truth likes light, doesn't it?

Trust your choices, and trust your neighbors to be human--really, I swear they will bear an uncanny resemblance to you.

As as for Us vs. Them, may I please humbly ask of you to declare with me that enough is enough is enough?

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Brooklyn, NY: I think I made the mistake of mentioning too early to my boyfriend that I've been thinking about marriage. My best friend had just gotten engaged and yes, I admit I was acting at least partly on social pressure. I made a comment about how I'm hoping to be engaged by my nth birthday, about 15 months from now, without considering how soon that sounded to him. Now things are awkward and I want to take it back--but not really because I still think it's a realistic timetable. I just want to reduce the pressure. What to do?

Carolyn Hax: SAY this to him. Say that your friend's situation was on your mind, and by thinking out loud, you didn't really let him see the whole picture--which includes that fact that you realize this is not something he was ready to hear out loud.

The words didn't arrange themselves quite as my brain had imagined them, but I think the idea is there.

Even though you think it's a "realistic timetable," I hope you'll also consider that there is no such thing, at least not as neatly as you;ve set it out. By fixing on your deadline birthday, you've made yourself destination-oriented--marriage or bust--which puts you at risk of squandering many months of careful attention to the journey.

Whether you should marry this guy, and whether he should marry you, will reveal itself in a thousand little details between now and when you make a decision about each other. Please pay as much attention as you can to those.

Meanwhile, your friend's marriage says -nothing- about whether it's time for you to marry. Finding someone you can talk to, play with, trust, support with pleasure, count on with confidence, and agree with on the big stuff--that's your only timetable.

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16 years live in: You might be making it more personal than it needs to be. People live together without getting married for your reason all the time. To delay answering it, or to skirt around it might sound like you are avoiding it for a reason that you're not, maybe blowing it a little out of proportion. Just my own two cents.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. A lot of thoughtful opinions on this question, which I'll post in a burst, and which I hope will cover the many possible interpretations of the facts provided.

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Questiontown: "Potential dates keep asking why I never married."

I can't tell whether this means that people ask something like "Why are you X-years-old and still single? (And it's followup: Have you had serious relationships - what's your history?)" or is the question something like "Why were you with someone so long that you didn't marry?"

These seem like different questions. The first even seems pretty appropriate for first discussions on a dating site -- this is pretty basic "who are you?" kind of stuff. The second is more personal and probably harder to answer, but its gonna come up sooner or later, right?

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. And:

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If you're not ready for the question/answer, get out of the pool: When I was dating, one of the clues I took regarding a potential relationship was the ones that came before. That will be a question that comes up early and often, and it's a fair question.

If you're not ready to discuss it even on the most superficial level, maybe it's not time yet to dive into that dating pool. Maybe a little me-time after 16 years with someone is warranted, so you can answer the question when you're ready and with the information you are ready to give.

Carolyn Hax: Worth considering, thanks. And:

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I 1st married at 43: And yes, "why didn't you ever get married?" is a very common question pretty early on. Most folks would wonder why I never married, I don't blame them. It's the sort of icebreaker/get to know you question everyone deals with. If it's not that, it's why did you divorce, move to California, major in Art? It's how we get to know each other. Generally we're just talking, getting to know each other, but also listening for red flags. I think OP is putting too much importance on the question. Be glad someone is asking about your life and why you are the way you are. He wants to get to know you, understand what makes you tick. That's a good thing.

Carolyn Hax: Where there's room for interpretation, interpret charitably--why not? Thanks.

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RE: why I never married: My answer is, "Because I haven't met the person I want to wake up with for the rest of my life." Pretty simple.

Carolyn Hax: There you go.

I think that's it. Thanks again, everyone.

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Crystal City, VA: My current girlfriend is exactly what I was looking for till I dated my last girlfriend, who was absolutely perfect. I know no two relationships are the same, but I can't decide which would be more foolish: to settle for something less than what I now know is possible, or to discard a great relationship because it doesn't meet some pie-in-the-sky standard I happened to get once on a fluke.

Carolyn Hax: Why are you no longer with Ms. A. Perfect?

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Louisville, KY: I need help figuring out what to do for Thanksgiving. Since my significant other and I had our son we cannot figure out a good plan for the holidays. Thanksgiving this year falls on my son's birthday so everybody expects to see him. The problem? There are three separate dinners. One of them is on my mother's side, the other on my father's side and the last is my significant other's family. While I wish I could see everybody it's just too stress and not to mention my son would be very cranky. I would rather visit two dinners than all three. Is there a solution to this? I am afraid I would have to hurt somebody's feelings.

Carolyn Hax: If it's not feasible for you to host dinner at your home, then pick one dinner and stick to it. If people give you a hard time, then say it's great that there are so many people who love Son, and that they'll all get ample opportunities to spend time with him--including on future Thanksgivings, since you're going to make every effort to be fair in your decisions about where to go.

I.e., the solution is for you and your SO to be the adults and do what's best for your family, particularly your son, and expect these other adults to respect that. If they don't, it might feel like your problem, if they pull out the guilt trips and garment-rendings, but it's really their problem. You just have to keep your cool and hold your course while they deal with it.

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pot meet kettle: Funny, because I love your common-sense advice, I'm willing to ignore your gratuitous slaps at the scary right wingers, and how they're snickered at when offered by commenters. But given today's question from Missouri, and your self-righteous response which I'm sure will be praised to the heavens (can I say that on a WaPo chat?) by the bulk of the readers, I gotta throw a flag.

From your chat two short weeks ago:

Woodbridge, VA: "Is that the way you regard other people who haven't, for whatever reason, been able to bear their own children? As broken losers?"

Not everybody thinks that, but the vast majority of people do. If you don't have kids, or are not married, there must be something wrong with you. Cheez Carolyn, don't you know there's only one ideal life to live - married with kids?

Carolyn Hax: "The vast majority of people"? I refuse to believe people are this willfully rigid in their beliefs, the popularity of Fox News notwithstanding.

If your response and its needless insult isn't seeing the world as us v. them, much less perpetuating that stereotype to readers like Missouri, then I don't know what is.

Carolyn Hax: I wish I hadn't made that comment about Fox News, and I said as much to anyone who wrote to me to protest it. I regret it because it lacked context. I have no beef with people who have conservative beliefs, and in fact I believe I have a slap-free record on the issue of "scary right wingers."

The one time I did throw a flag on an issue that may have been dear to religious fundamentalists was years ago, when I said I was intolerant of intolerance, in reference to a girl who repeatedly said to her friend, of another faith, that she was going to Hell. That forced me out of my live-and-let-live chair.

Where I do stand by my objection to Fox News is in its employing demagogues. Conservatives deserve better commentary than the fear-baiting that mars some, though not all, of Fox's coverage--liberals and moderates who are looking for a 360 view of an issue, by stopping by a conservative channel, deserve better, too.

For what it's worth, I may be socially liberal, but I am otherwise politically centrist, on taxes and regulation and foreign policy an such--quite conservative on many of these, in fact. But cultural warfare has all but swallowed up such distinctions, which has the potential to be tragic.

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why I never married: The catch phrase of the noughts: "It's complicated." lol

Carolyn Hax: Works for me, except it's not a silver bullet against follow up questions unless you're ready to say, "I'm not ready to explain that in depth."

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re Missouri: Carolyn, well said. But I wish your rebuttal to this worldview was even more inclusive. There are a lot of great people out there, with solid values, who aren't married and don't have kids.

Maybe you should forward her letter to Dan Savage, and have him respond! He is wonderful in explaining (and exemplifying, himself) how many different ways one can live a moral, responsible life. I have only respect for your own situation, and what you said--but it still leaves a lot of us out of the common ground you're trying to build.

Carolyn Hax: I appreciate what you're saying, but I wasn't trying to be inclusive or comprehensive. I was making the point through the immediacy of my daily life, speaking only for me.

That's because trying to be comprehensive on the fly is something I'm leery of, given that it's a live forum (I took extra time as it is). Instead of taking the risk of leaving someone out, I left everyone out. I'd be happy to hear from someone who wants to make his or her own case, though I'll say upfront that I'm not going to turn all of the rest of our time to this thread.

Thanks.

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West Coast: My dad has had cancer for 3 years. He's been doing well until about 6 weeks ago. I recently got back from a long visit to visit my parents on the east coast. Soon after I got home, I was told that he's being moved into hospice to await the inevitable. I am 33 weeks pregnant. I don't know if I should make a mad dash out there while I'm still able, or whether I should wait it out, or be happy I just saw him when he was doing relatively well, or what. It is possible that he could make it 6 months or 6 weeks. Any thoughts? I am so confused.

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry, that's a lot to have weighing on you.

It sounds as if, even if you weren't far along in a pregnancy, you wouldn't necessarily be able to travel to his side to say goodbye at just the right time. You could wait till you get the nod from his caregivers, and still arrive a moment too late--or a week too soon.

Being pregnant adds an extra reason not to make a "mad dash," but it doesn't preclude going back for a short-notice but well-thought-out visit.

So, I think the best way to approach it would be to figure out what you'd want out of a return to his bedside. Do you want to go once more, since you said goodbye last time thinking he had more time? Do you want to be there at his deathbed, so he goes with his family around him? That, again, might not be something you can choose.

Do you instead feel that he knows you love him, knows you'd be there if you weren't 33 weeks pregnant 3000 miles away, and maybe even would prefer that you did stay and concentrate on your baby? Then give yourself permission not to go.

It's obviously hard to think through intense emotions, but you have stuff to go on and you have a decision in you. It's just a matter of slowing down enough to see it all.

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strong personality?: Got dumped after two months by someone who said that while he'd felt he was falling in love with me and I was perfect for him, things were "too easy" with me, that he would just keep being himself if he dated me because we're both introspective introverts, and he realized he wants an extrovert with a stronger personality to challenge him to greater heights. Ouch. What can I make of this feedback? How can you fall in love with someone but reject their personality?

Carolyn Hax: The only thing to make of this is that you dodged a bullet. He wants an extrovert? Okay, good luck, buh-bye.

Or, he was just spinning a yarn because it sounded better than, "I want to break up and I have no good reason other than I'm not feeling it"--which, after two months, isn't so much a personal insult to you as a common case of two people who are perfectly fine and don't go great together.

Easier said than done, but, shake it off. Maybe he isn't a doink, but his breakup logic makes him sound like one.

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"Why are you still single?": Honestly, how can this not be a rude question? Points against anyone who asks this in online dating. Basically because there is no quick and good answer. "Because I haven't met the right person." Sure, but this should be obvious to everyone involved. That's why we're all there.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, you just made a possibly accidental argument that it's a stupid question, because you're right--what other answer is there? (Unless one's spouse has died, of course.)

What people are really looking for--to know you better--could ask much better questions toward that end, like, "We both obviously have our reasons for not being attached; do you have any you want to share?" or just anything along the what's-your-story? lines.

Thanks.

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From Nick Galifianakis:

Hello, everyone and thank you for letting me cut in for a bit of shameless self-promotion! Watch as I magically string together a series of self-serving links that I desperately hope you click on! Be awed by my breathtaking ability to use "self" a third time in one paragraph!

A collection of my cartoons, "If You Loved Me, You'd Think This Was Cute: Uncomfortably True Cartoons About You," comes out in a couple of weeks. The foreword by my cousin, Zach Galifianakis, will make you laugh and yes, choke you up a bit with how sweet and sappy my family can be. The preface is by our adorable Carolyn Hax, the genius of half all these words and pictures you are so wonderful to follow.

You can go to my "blossoming" website and click on the "pre-order" link to Amazon (Barnes and Noble, Borders, etc will be added shortly) and PRE-ORDER to my heart's content. I meant "your." Oh, please pardon the absurdly electric over-saturation of color on my book cover on Amazon- it looks like it was processed in Las Vegas.

While you're there, sign up for my hilarious and life-altering newsletter (I'm only halfway through this note and I almost can't stand myself. Must. Rally. Now...)

For those of you who, understandably, JUST CAN'T WAIT, you can get a signed copy this coming week, either Tuesday evening, November 9, at National Press Club Book Fair.

Or, come pal around with me at the the more intimate Falls Church Arts Space, right off Rt 66, on Thursday evening, November 11, 7pm until... I'll hang out for quite a while.

And finally (because if you're going to sell out, well...what's another piece of luggage on the Queen Mary) you can not only find this and more info on the above mentioned nickandzuzu website, but also on my new Facebook fan page.

Hope to see you there. Okay, back to the substantive half of this endeavor. Thank you so very much.

Nick

Carolyn Hax: Yay, thanks Nick. I was going to have to scramble for links.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

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Opposites attract?: I guess I am the opposite of you politically, then, but I still think you are the best. :-) I look forward to reading your column every day, and to your chat on Fridays (it's hard to make it through to the weekend otherwise). Thanks, Carolyn!

Carolyn Hax: Thanks! But how can you be the opposite of a centrist ...?

Pro extreme, maybe, no matter what the extreme is?

Down with moderation!

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Thanksgiving Baby: We went through that hell (though it was Christmas not Thanksgiving). After our first mind-numbingly draining Christmas, I told my wife that we were going to come up with a fair schedule. One family could have Christmas Eve evening, one family could have Christmas evening and Christmas morning/afternoon was for our family (though much of the afternoon is for travel time). We also let them decide which time they preferred or if we should rotate years. The first year was HORRIBLE (silent treatment, resentment, etc.). But, everything has been great since then (15 years now). So, my advice is don't ruin the holiday for your family. Find a solution that works for you and is fair to everyone else. And don't give in if the first year doesn't go well. The short-term pain is far exceeded by the long-term rewards.

Carolyn Hax: A relief to those still on the front lines, I hope, thanks.

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san francisco, ca: Hi Carolyn. I keep finding myself in 2-3 month relationships with men who turn out to have pretty serious emotional problems. I am realizing that I am the common factor here, and it's more than bad luck. How can I figure out why I keep "selecting" these dudes, and stop doing it? I am aware of the issue, but it seems to keep happening nonetheless...and each time I get dumped and feel burned. Thanks for any insight.

Carolyn Hax: I know it's getting late, but can you describe the two or three things you found attractive about all of these men? I.e., the attractive common denominator in them, vs. the unattractive one of serious emotional problems. That will help point to what you're doing/missing.

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Germantown, MD: Any advice on how to not be bitter while playing the hand you were dealt?

Carolyn Hax: It's not a snap-your-fingers process, but I think defeating bitterness requires you to embrace fully the idea that the hands other people have been dealt aren't relevant. Dwelling on them doesn't inform, doesn't encourage, doesn't help.

If there are instructions to be gleaned from someone else's experience, that apply directly in ways that improve your experience, okay--but that's very limited license to peer over the wall and compare lives. Otherwise you need to develop a mantra that so-called "better" hands aren't relevant, better hands aren't relevant, better hands aren't relvant.

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New York, NY: What to do when you 100% love the person that you're with and want to be with them forever, but the two of you aren't on the same marriage schedule? I'm 26 and have been told by my doctor that fertility problems mean I will need to try to have children sooner rather than later (before 30, was the exact time-line.) My boyfriend is not ready to get married yet. I don't know if he understands that if he doesn't propose soon, I'll be 28 when we get married, which means we'll have to start trying for children right away. I don't want to break up with him and look for someone who's on the same schedule as me, but I don't want to force him into marriage before he's ready either. How to deal with something like this in my own head?

Carolyn Hax: Given your body's limitations and your life goals, I think you need to give your BF this information about your fertility straight-up. Respect him enough to let him figure out if he can change his thinking on marriage, or not--and respect yourself enough to give your very real considerations the priority they deserve.

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personalities: I don't think that's being a doink. We all want to compliment and better ourselves. I don't want to be with someone who I'll just sit on the couch with. I want to live!

Carolyn Hax: Then:

1. get out and live! Don't expect your extroverted date to be your cruise director.

If that doesn't work with an introverted date, try

2. saying to your couch buddy, "Let's go see X/do Y/try Z."

If that overt effort doesn't take, then you can say:

3. "I like you a lot, but our interests are too different," followed by the goodbye and good luck formalities.

In other words, there's no need to drag the personality analysis into it. There's a fine line between describing the failings of a relationship (fair game) and the failings of a person's personality (not fair), but it's a line worth trying to walk.

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Re: defeating bitter: I hear what you're saying about not letting the hands other people have been dealt lead to more bitter. But what about when the hands other people were dealth, that you weren't, are all over Facebook 24/7? Are all they ever talk about? When everyone holding that hand of cards asks you when you're going to acquire that hand? When they ask you why you don't have that hand?

It's hard to escape the inescapable bitter-maker.

Carolyn Hax: Hard, maybe, but possible. Visit the settings, and hide the people who don't have any clue who you really are--because that's what they're essentially saying when they pelt you with questions about why you aren't someone else.

Obviously you can also just not sign on, but that's scorched earth where it might not be necessary, if you have some contacts there whose posts make you smile.

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For NY, NY: Another option is to consult with a fertility clinic about your options. Among other possibilities, they can now freeze ova for use by the mother-to-be later. A clinic can tell you what your alternative options may be. That may buy the time that you need to be able to compromise with your life partner.

Carolyn Hax: I hope the doctor has covered those possibilities with her, but as I learned from high school biology, hope is not a method. (Slightly different context.) Thanks for weighing in.

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Washington, DC: Regarding the pregnant woman with the dying father, first of all my heart goes out to her. It must be very painful to be losing her father and knowing he will not know her child. But, she needs to put the well being of her baby, and by extension, of herself, first. I think that is what her father would want and he probably doesn't want to spend his last hours worrying about her and her baby.

If it is OK with her OB and her father is really close to death, she might make a quick trip. Otherwise, I suggest calling him and speaking to him even if can no longer speak, or using Skype so he can see her, writing daily letters to be read to him, or otherwise making her presence felt. If he is alert enough, he might want to write or dictate a letter to the baby when he/she is old enough to understand. Airlines vary, but some would not permit her on board at 32 weeks without a physician clearance.

I am a mother and hospice physician, and this is what I would tell you if I were caring for your father.

Carolyn Hax: Excellent, thank you. I especially like the idea of a letter to the baby. One of my friends suggested I videotape my mom reading children's books, so I could play them for my kids someday, and I couldn't bring myself to do it, even though she was well enough to do it at the time. Big, horrible regret, now knowing how much that would have meant to all of us.

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better hands aren't relvant: That's easier with the things up to fate (infertility) than those that seem like unfair results of my efforts (A student in college--career fizzles out). I'm dealing with both those, and the fate stuff is easier: it -is- all up to fate. But working so hard to earn my way through college and grad school (getting straight A's in grad school) and having such a dissapointing career is hard. I want a refund for all the effort I invested and got nothing.

Carolyn Hax: A clear tie to fate does make a difference, I agree, but that doesn't cover the other aspect of a good or bad hand: Feeling bitterness is essentially conceding that the end of the story has been written--but until you actually stop breathing you don't know that it's the end.

Having time means having the opportunity to change the way you play our hand--which, in turn, can change your view of your hand dramatically. When it brings you something you value, well, "Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand."

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Carolyn Hax: I've tried to find answers to the questions I asked people, and I don't see them (San Fran and the guy who isn't dating the perfect woman any more, by my count) so if I find answers later, I'll revisit these questions next week.

I'm going to go now, have a cry. That video thing caught me off guard--hadn't thought about it in a while.

Thanks everyone for stopping by, thanks always for your thoughtful and provocative questions and comments, and have a great weekend.

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Another hospice videotape suggestion: Best thing I ever did during hospice was to videotape my mom and her cousin discussing old photos of family. Priceless knowledge, and kids get to know what their grandma was like (along with great, great-great, and black sheep.)

Carolyn Hax: Stellar idea, thanks.

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Fertility Person: Uh - unless you can take this leap and talk about your fertility wishes and fears ... you guys aren't destined for an intimate marriage anyway.

That's what makes this so hard so wonderful at the same time.

Carolyn Hax: Agreed.

Bye.

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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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