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Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday Nov. 12, 2010)

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

Carolyn was online Friday, November 12, 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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Anonymous: Where is Nov. 5th discussion? The link takes me to Nov 12

washingtonpost.com: Technical issues! The transcript page has been fixed, but if you're still having trouble finding it, here you go!

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, Jodi.

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Christmas Gifts - whoops: Last Christmas season I was in a rush to finish shopping, and picked up something on sale on one of those outside tables at the mall. I didn't realize that it came from a novelty shop - to make things worse I bought it for their child. I just wasn't paying attention.

So after Christmas both this friend and her husband behaved odd when around us. Later we found out why. I felt terrible. So this year I'd like to make it up to them. But my husband says don't do anything special. It has all been forgotten, so don't remind them. But I still think something special is in order. Help....

Carolyn Hax: I think a thoughtful, real and age-appropriate gift is all you need.

That, and to tell us what you bought.

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Carolyn Hax: Back in 5 min--someone needs the room I'm using so I have to move. Coffee might be retrieved too.

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D.C.: I have in-law problems...my husband and I are newly married. His family doesn't approve of me and was trying to convince him to get an annulment for a few months. Now they have backed down. Would it be appropriate for me to write them a letter sticking up for myself or should I just keep quiet? I feel like I've been steamrolled and can't seem to get over it.

Carolyn Hax: No no, do not write a letter like that--especially now that they have backed down.

Your hard feelings are completely justified, but acting on them is not the way for you to make peace with the situation. For one, they may feel justified in their objections to you, and sending them an angry letter just as they've taken an important step toward acceptance might just give them all new ammunition against you.

And ...

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Carolyn Hax: ... even if you don't set them off on a whole new round of lobbying for annulment, your decision to go on the offensive will postpone if not kill your prospects for reaching some kind of truce with them eventually.

Unless you are an abuser, there no excuse for your in-laws' decision to interfere in their son's marriage. Still, it's not unheard of for couples and their disapproving parents/in-laws to reach a point where they accept each other--and some even become quite close. But they don't get there without tremendous effort and -restraint-. It means you bite back the nasty aside, the reproachful comment, the airing of doubts at the others' ways of doing things.

And it means you have the self-discipline to look for the good in each other, and to express any positive thoughts you can muster.

You can't make this family do its half of that effort, obviously. But you are completely in control of your half.

...

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Carolyn Hax: So, a letter might be just the thing--but with an entirely different purpose than the one you had in mind. Consider writing to tell them that you are sorry you got off to a bumpy start with them, and that you understand they love their son and were trying to do what they felt was best. Say you love him, too, and hope to get to know the people who raised him, perhaps when everyone has had a chance to regroup.

By going that route, you will in fact be sticking up for yourself. Whether they choose to reciprocate your courage and forgiveness is, again, up to them, but whatever they decide, you'll be on the record on the high ground.

To stay there, follow up your letter with patience as they process your words--i'm talking months or years, not days or weeks--and openness to any overtures they make in response to your letter. It won't mean anything if you make this big statement only to slap them down when they make an effort. Even if their initial efforts seem lame or grudging, it's in your and your husband's interests to welcome them.

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In-law problems: I recommend an attitude change. Assume that the in-laws made some judgment errors and after a few months realized that they were wrong. That they recognized positives in you that they discounted before. Take your victories (small or big) where you can and consider the fact that they've come around (at least come to neutral) to be a victory. At this point, you should be trying to build on that. Your proposed letter would knock that all down and possibly put you in the same or worse situation than you were in before.

Carolyn Hax: A condensed version of same, being typed while I was typing. Thanks.

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Movin' in: My boyfriend and I are preparing for his move to my house. We are discussing furniture this weekend and I honestly only want him to bring his dining room furniture and a dresser (I could be cool with his bed). I'm afraid he's going to want some/all of his living room set which he just purchased this summer for $300 from friends. I spent a lot of time and money purchasing my den and living room furniture. The house is small and won't accommodate everything. How do I say 'no' but still help him feel welcome here?

Carolyn Hax: 1. You listen to him. He may not feel attached to any of his furniture, he may be attached to all of it, and he might not care about his dining room/dresser but want his favorite LR chair. You can't prepare a response in advance because the only considerate, cooperative response will be the one that takes his wishes into account.

2. You figure out not just what you'll take of his, but where you're flexible on your things. You may have spent a lot of time and money, but did you get an A+ on everything? Look at your stuff for the A-, B+, B choices. Not in any final way, but just as an exercise in opening your mind.

3. Don't be afraid to say what you want and believe. You can say you want him to feel welcome. You can say you've put a lot of time and money into your home and that it's an area where you don't want to be very flexible, but you're willing to be flexible in some other area of your lives to keep from being the boss of all things domestic.

4. You remember that you haven't even had this conversation yet, but you do have a lot of information (I hope, since you're going to live with the guy). You know how (in)flexible he is, how (over)sensitive he is, how (non)defensive he is, how (non)communicative he is ... right? And how (in) compatible you are? So you know whether you can go in there and just say what's on your mind. You know whether saying something the wrong way will be a non-issue or a conversation-killing issue.

And if you think about all this and you realize that it is important that you say everything with just the right spin and inflection, or else you'll trigger hurt feelings/a fight/an emotional shutdown, then the -worst- thing you can do is say everything perfectly. Much more important than the right loveseat is the right person, and the right person will be able to discuss furniture with you without emotional consequences, even if you hate everything he owns.

In other words, if this move-in is a good idea, I'll have just wasted hundreds of words and a bunch of time.

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Novelty shop?: Can you explain to us non-breeders what a novelty shop is and why buying gifts for children there is a no-no?

The only thing that comes to mind is someone accidentally buying an "adult" toy for a child.

Carolyn Hax: There's that. Then there are the poop toys, the fart toys, the butt toys, the toilet toys, the middle-finger toys, the risque toys ... and depending on both the age of the little dear (LD) receiving the gift and on the sensibility of LD's parents, the wrong kind of gag gift could conceivably inspire LD to not-amusing outbursts of bathroom/mildly obscene humor at inappropriate times and/or venues. Kids acquire the power of speech years before they acquire filters.

Which is why we just -have- to know what the gift was.

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Sterling, Va. : Hi Carolyn,

A friend of mine has gained a few pounds recently due to lifestyle changes (she used to be really, really thin). She complains about it ALL. THE. TIME. It's exhausting not only because who wants to hear someone whine about being "fat" when they're not? but also because I have offered her many suggestions on how to get back to her ideal weight and she dismisses them all. Can I tell her to just can it?

Carolyn Hax: How about: "You're more to me than your weight. I hope you can see yourself that way, too."

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In-law Problems: I'm curious where the new husband fits into all of this? Does she want to write the letter because she feels like he is not adequately representing the situation? Is he standing up for her? Hiding from his parents? I feel like this is important information...

Carolyn Hax: It is important information, but it's between her (assuming here) and her husband. If the husband isn't standing up for her, then she needs to think about the wisdom of marrying him. If she decides she wants to give the marriage her best shot, though, then she needs to talk to her husband about how hurt she feels about both his family's hostility and his ability to stand by as his new wife was attacked ...

-And- she needs to suck it up and be the bigger person with her in-laws. The husband's involvement doesn't affect that.

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Processing the letter: I don't know, Carolyn - if it took years for my SO's family to start thinking of me in a friendly light, I'd give them the old heave-ho. It doesn't seem right that the wife is bearing the entire weight of his family's appalling treatment of her.

I'd feel pretty justified telling them to pound sand or removing myself from situations where I had to be around them if they continued to treat me like an example of their son's poor decision-making. And what about him? Doesn't he bear a large responsibility to defend his wife and tell his family to knock it off if they want to remain in the married couple's life?

Carolyn Hax: Again--yes, he does, and that will say a lot about the viability of the marriage.

But if the marriage is worth the effort (i.e., if he stand by her), then the rotten in-laws are worth the effort.

You may be personally justified in giving the in-laws "the old heave-ho" and "telling them to pound sand." But these are your spouses parents--and if sitting in this chair has taught me anything, its that breaking or just straining the tie with even the most flawed of parents is emotionally devastating. I do not believe it shows good faith to the marriage to refuse to put in the effort with your mate's parent(s), even if they're jerks to you, even if any severed tie would be technically their fault. As long as your spouse is investing in the marriage, you owe it to your spouse to invest in his or her miserable/wacky/granite-headed parents. For years. Without significant payoff. For no other reason than they raised him/her.

Now, if you invest years, and years, and your spouse dutifully sticks up for you and the in-laws still treat you like gum that stuck to their shoes, then, okay, come to some agreement with your spouse, and start excusing yourself from visits to their turf, or being absent when they come over.

But flipping them the bird within the first year or two is not only shortsighted, but also will confirm to these disapproving in-laws that they were right to regard you with deep suspicion.

However misguided it is to aggressively reject a child's spouse, it still comes from a universal, rather sympathetic place: fear of losing their child. It's far too common for that fear to come true.

In fact, -any- spouse who takes the lead on keeping the in-laws away is deeply suspect, if not outright wrong. It's the adult child's place to keep his/her own parents at arm's length--and if the adult child is declining to do so, and thereby failing to protect his/her spouse from rabid in-laws, then the spouse has to deal with that from within the marriage.

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NC: Blech. When are people going to stop using the words "breeder" and "non-breeder?"

Carolyn Hax: When people stop saying hubby, preggers, "just sayin'," and whatever else grates somebody's cheese. Meaning, never, or thereabouts.

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Could move the BF stuff to storage: Agree on the pieces you want to keep while the meter is ticking. Donate the rest to charity. Speaking as a guy, he gets one ugly thing (I still mourn for my animatronic monkey head).

Carolyn Hax: And now we do, too. Thanks.

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Can we please move on from the in-law thread: Please not another chat where we discuss a whopping three questions!

Carolyn Hax: Will move on when all the angles are pretty well covered. This forum allows people to jump in with contrasting ideas, related issues, etc. If you don't have in-laws, that prospect might not excite you, but on some other Friday, people might get excited about something that better aligns with your interests. Relationships can be nuanced, and this is a thoughtful audience, eager to discuss those nuances--and often, the difference between getting shallow, sound-bite advice and getting useful, practical guidance is the scope, reach and variety of the suggestions. I get hundreds of posts sometimes on one topic. I consider that a privilege, and while I'm aware that not everyone does, I hope at least the majority of readers will agree.

I know I've said something to this affect every few months or so, but I'm not sure people realize how many people weigh in on some topics.

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Detroit: How much flirting on Facebook is alright? My spouse has created a new identity and posts what I consider explicit posts, and has started up several new relationships with people who post sexually explicit posts. My spouse has hid em's friends, and has lied to me about the details of the relationships. Any thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: That you already know none of this is okay. new identity + explicit posts + new relationships + lying = your marriage is dying. Please treat this as the crisis it is, and either seek good professional help or at least tell your husband you're aware of what's going on and taking it as a very serious problem for your marriage.

Unless of course you're at the point in your marriage where you're basically roommates with rings, but I figure you wouldn't have written to me in that case.

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Anonymous: Please help, I'm desperate. I just had (another) huge fight with my boyfriend that is, honestly, my fault. In thinking about it, I'm pretty sure all of it stems from wanting more affection, which is unrealistic considering the amount he already gives me. He is SO patient with me but he can't be patient forever and I can't keep doing this to him or us. What's wrong with me? I pick a fight about everything-I usually can't go a week without fighting. I say he doesn't say "i love you" enough or maybe he said one wrong thing and I lash out. What's WRONG with me? I'm not normal and I can't stop.

Carolyn Hax: If you aren't in counseling yet, why aren't you in counseling yet? I can't see from here whether he's the problem and you're trying to blame yourself, whether you're the problem and you're trying to blame him, or whatever else, which means I can't really help you.

Here's a quickie should-I-try-counseling? test: 1. are you unhappy; 2. has your unhappiness remained despite sustained efforts to identify and fix the problem; 3. are you ready to tell somebody unpleasant truths about yourself, your loved ones and your life? 4. are you ready to listen to things you really don't want to hear?

When getting professional help is your next step, just make sure you choose someone carefully. Reputable and compatible are what you're looking for, and the first person might not be the winner.

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Bad in-laws, good husband: My husband of 14 years had to buffer my in-laws nasty comments about me for many years. I knew he was the right man when he stood up for me against his mom when we got engaged. However, I could see after many years how it tore him up that he was constantly having to stand up to his family. I took it upon myself to have a "coming to Jesus" meeting. A lot was said (this was 5 years after we had been married). My in-laws & I will never be "friends", but they now realize that all they were doing was hurting him, not me. Because frankly I didn't care.

It works better now that we no longer live in the same city, but if the hubby is true to the wife, the wife needs to make sure to support him too. It isn't fair to him either.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

I think a common (if not universal) thread in stories of in-law friction is that parents/kids/siblings have a lot in common with each other, but not everything. Often, the things they don't have in common are what individual family members seek out in their mates--which makes sense, because it's a side of them that the family doesn't satisfy.

What happens, naturally, is that the new daughter-/son-in-law or step-parent arrives and the family's "outsider" alarm goes off. It's sad for everybody, because all of them do care about each other and essentially want to be close--and that's just as basic a need as the family member's need for this other facet of themselves to have a venue for expression.

And while it's hard to sympathize with someone who openly lobbies for their child to annul a marriage, I don't think you have to step back too far (or squint too tightly) to get some sympathetic perspective. People want to keep their families close despite inexorable pulling apart. The only thing that has any track record of working is for people to force themselves to be grownups for as long as they can stand it. The more people who win that internal battle, the more harmonious the family.

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Crystal City from Last Week: Sorry, I didn't see your request for more info till after the chat had ended. The reason Perfect Girl and I are not together is that she had to move to Morocco for her Ph.D program. We tried to make it work long-distance, but neither of us could manage frequent visits, so we decided mutually to end things. We agreed that if we were still single when she moves back, we would try to make it work again, but there is no telling when that will be. (Not for years.)

In the meantime, we have both begun seeing other people. Mine is the great girl I mentioned. Don't get me wrong, she is easily the greatest girl I've ever met who isn't Perfect Girl. But knowing PG is out there makes it hard to be satisfied with that.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, I'm glad you followed through.

It sounds as if you need to break up with current girl, arguably to be fair to her but also, pragmatically speaking, to see if you miss her. If you don't, then you're better off not seeing anyone until you get that gotta-see-her feeling again.

I realize there's a risk involved here, that PG will become mythologized, you'll become ossified, and you'll wind up so used to being the lonely guy that you'll define yourself that way. But I don't think it's fair to orient your life around preventing that, at least not at this point. Right now, your more immediate risk is of forcing yourself to stay with someone when your heart is somewhere else. Give yourself a little more time to develop your own form of happiness.

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Anonymous again: Thank you so much for taking my question. I'm in school and I know that's where my unhappiness is from. I can't see my parents, and my boyfriend and I are doing long term so maybe that's where it's from. I feel alone most of the time. I really do want to change though and be a better person. I love my boyfriend a lot and we've talked about the future, but we also know that we can't keep living the way I'm fighting. I'm a lot better actually when I'm done and I'll be done in 4 weeks for good but it's almost like 4 weeks is still an eternity. I guess my question is just how to control my stress and anger? I should try counseling, but with only 4 weeks left until I graduate it seems pointless to start through school now.

Carolyn Hax: Four weeks could be three or four sessions, which could be really useful if you go into it with an I-need-stress-management-skills approach. When you leave school, such counseling is likely to cost more and become less accessible.

There's a popular image of counseling, I think, of years-long commitments and voluminous talk, and some people do benefit from that route--but there can also be short-term counseling that roughly equates to physical therapy. You have a trouble spot, you spend anywhere from two to a dozen sessions learning some exercises to help you heal and get strong again, and then you're discharged from care to do the work on your own.

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In-Laws: So is there anything to do when you can see this problem coming from a mile away? I'm getting engaged to my boyfriend soon and my family is completely against him, for the very reason you just expressed. It's turning something that should be a happy occasion into something dreadful - any tips for trying to head off the original poster's situation at the pass?

Carolyn Hax: Would your family be receptive to your talking about this directly with them?

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Marriage for kids?: Hi Carolyn, Thanks for taking my question. I just found out I'm pregnant. I'm slowly getting to be very happy about this news even though it was not, ahem, planned. My boyfriend wants to get married before the baby comes. But is a baby the right reason to get married? I've not always been supportive of marriage because I've seen what happens to friends when they divorced and it wouldn't have been nearly as messy if that slip of paper was not involved and they could have just walked away. If it helps, we're both mid to late thirties but haven't been together very long.

Carolyn Hax: With a child, do you really think either of you will be able to "walk away"? Would you want that?

The slip of paper can be a nuisance, but it can also be an advantage. The image I have in mind is of a little border fence around a garden. A foot-high fence isn't going to keep anyone in or out, but having it there is usually enough to keep adult feet on the sidewalk and out of the flowers (dogs and children will ignore it, which fits the metaphor nicely). While my own view is that it's not necessary for a strong, committed relationship, a marriage can help a couple's mind stay focused on the marriage.

I also don't think piece of paper = mess. Married people and marriages amicably on a regular basis, and unmarried people split messy on a regular basis. It's been a while since I said this, so I'm glad for the chance to say it again: The No. 1 question to ask yourself before committing to a mate is, will s/he make it ugly if we break up?

If the answer is yes, -run.- If you're not sure, you don't know each other well enough yet to commit. If you're sure s/he won't but you're deluding yourself, well, then no one can really help you.

And if you're already expecting a child together, you're already past the ideal point to get away, but that doesn't mean it's too late to deal with the problem. You just need to start making decisions more carefully, knowing your co-parent doesn't play well with others. (I.e., don't get married, and do get a good professional advisory team of family therapist and lawyer.)

I didn't mean to make this all about the worst-case scenario (WCS)--just making the point that vows don't create the WCS, bad people do.

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Washington DC: Carolyn -- Can you think of any reason it would ever be ok for your boyfriend to hack in and read your email? Or is that pretty much always a dealbreaker?

Carolyn Hax: Deal-breaker.

Any dissenters?

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Big Weekend: Hi Carolyn,

I just had a somewhat lame mini-date that started off on the wrong foot due to miscommunication on both ends. I'm meeting up with him for dinner tonight, but after this morning I'm less than excited. As background, a mutual friend introduced us through email and we've been emailing/phoning for 6 weeks and he flew in this weekend to meet me. Our convos have been very platonic (but great bcuz we have a lot in common) and after this morning I fear it will stay that way. How do I clear the slate and give this a chance to play out well for tonight?

Carolyn Hax: Getting off to a platonic start sounds like your best chance that this will "play out well." Starting a romantic relationship when he has to fly in to see you sounds like a banner opportunity to create expectations first, relationship second--classic recipe for an expensive flameout. Relationship first, expectations second. Good luck.

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I'm in school and I know that's where my unhappiness is from: The reason for your unhappiness almost doesn't matter, because there will always be stress factors in life, and it is vital that you learn how to cope with it now, for your own sake as well as that of the people you love and who love you. Go for counseling; I can assure you that once you click with a therapist, you will come away from the very first session with tools for managing your temper.

Carolyn Hax: Appreciate the backup.

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Perfect Girl: Maybe this is an antiquated sentiment, but I feel like if PG moved to Morocco for years and he didn't go with her, then she wasn't PG after all. At some point, one or both of you has to be willing to give up a lot to be together. Sacrifices are a necessary fact in life, and if you're not willing to make them, then you're not "meant to be."

Carolyn Hax: I'll agree, with an *

* Morocco + PhD = the possibility that the PhD is in some field that required her to go to that one specific place. If she was serious about and invested in this field before meeting BF, I can absolutely see her wanting him completely and still not being willing to sacrifice years of work in the field. That's where he would have to go with her, or at least move somewhere that suited him professionally and was only a short flight away.

Back to agreeing with you: If -he- was the one unwilling to move closer to her, then that could liberate him from his idea that she was Perfect. I.e., something stopped him.

Crystal City, anything to add?

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San francisco: San fran here from last week. You asked for 2-3 common traits that I found attractive in the guys who turned out to be less than emotionally stable...I would say: extremely smart, engaging/sensitive, and sought me out. Is there anything in that? Or should I keep thinking? Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Believe it or not, there is something in that.

You are, I would guess, an introvert, but even if that guess is wrong, you're still hanging back and letting people choose you.

The ones who are successful at choosing you are charming, charismatic. Charm and charisma are a lot of fun, and they're like a tonic for introverts--they draw you out, engage you, spare you from having to start or sustain conversations, which you loathe doing, and they help you feel interesting, which you secretly doubt.

Charm and charisma also can (repeat, -can-) hide a multitude of problems. It takes social skill, for example, to lie well, so intelligent, charismatic people are some of the more effective liars. Lying is a tried and true form of compensation for emotional problems. You're messed up inside, so you make up an outside that covers the mess, and then you sell it with all your might. When you spend time with these guys and start to see some of the mess peek out, that becomes part of the charm; they admit their turmoil, invite you in as a trusted confidant.

They may be the trap, but the way out of it (or around it, so you stop getting stuck in the first place) lies entirely within you.

First, you need to push yourself to be more proactive in choosing your friends. Watch people carefully, look for common interests and traits you respect--vs. gut-level attractiveness--and make small first moves toward -friendship-. If you don't have opportunities to see new people regularly and up close, then try to add some activities to your life that permit that.

Second, you need to tend to your own sense of self-worth. If you feel good about what you're doing, who you're talking to, what you're wearing, what purpose you're serving, then you'll be less vulnerable to the flattery of someone taking an intense interest in you.

Because here's the thing: It's okay for people to take an interest in you, since that's how good friendships and romances start. But -intense- interest early on is a flag, because at least part of that interest will be about them, not you--just because a person can't know you well enough to have intense interest yet. Someone who is emotionally healthy will take a mild or passing interest, wait for you to reciprocate, and the interaction will progress (or not) from there, based on the quality of the companionship you provide each other. If you ignore this interest, then the healthy person will may try one more time but then move on, because, well, what does s/he know about you to chase? Your appearance?

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Re: Dealbreaker: Whoa. Washington is looking for a good reason to go on the offensive against her email hacking boyfriend, because the way she words her question it appears she was caught doing something bad. Agree they should break up, but she is looking for a way to act like he's the bad guy.

Carolyn Hax: I have no idea how you read that much into the question. Does this reflect something you've experienced?

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Only resons to hack email: You have been kidnapped and the police need leads.

You have expressed that you are likely to commit suicide and he is trying to find you.

You are a strung out crack/meth/heroin user and maybe something found in your email will help convince you to go to rehab.

Other than that - deal breaker.

Flip side - if you are in a long term & committed relationship and your partner has things password protected even from you (for no good reason) I also see that as a dealbreaker. I don't check my husbands email, but I could if I wanted to - he knows this so I have no need to and never have.

Carolyn Hax: Looks good to me, thanks.

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Crystal City: What stopped me was that my next few years are basically planned out for me in the form of one more year of law school, then straight to an unbeatable job offer at a big firm (the likes of which are barely hiring anymore and which is my best chance of starting a legal career in a collapsed economy).

As I mentioned, we were planning on staying together when she moved. We didn't anticipate all the logistical impossibilities of conducting a relationship that was that long-distance. We were able to swing one visit, and then she was utterly broke (and I wasn't doing much better).

Just thinking about it again is getting me sorta upset.

Carolyn Hax: Has me wondering, do you want (A) the law career even if it costs you the girl, or do you want (B) the girl even if it costs you the law career?

If you choose (A), then you need to stop mythologizing and start living your life.

If you choose (B), then you need to talk to the girl to say so. Then, if she is receptive, you get creative. Starting with your law school's career office, see if there's any hope of your working at an American firm in that part of the world--southern Europe if not North Africa. Look into the foreign service, too, though now I'm way beyond my ken.

If there are incurable romantics out there with working knowledge of foreign career opportunities for about-to-be lawyers (and if such a beast exists, it's based in DC ...), I'll kick this to Hax-Philes so you can all discuss.

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Carolyn Hax: I'm going to post a few opinions on PG ...

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Um: Moving to Morocco from the US (where I assume OP lives) is not a typical sacrifice. It's not like you live in New York and he lives in Chicago, and neither of you are willing to move.

In general I agree that sacrifices are important, but not with the notion that if you're "meant to be" you'll sacrifice -anything- to be with the person. That's not love between two individuals, that's a mess.

Carolyn Hax: And:

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Crystal City Guy: He sounds like a genuine commitment-phobe. Nice to have a "Perfect Girl" to compare all real-life humans against. That way it makes perfect sense that you don't need to fully open-up to anyone new.

Carolyn Hax: And:

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Morocco: Seems to me like he probably idealized her before she even left. How long were they dating before she moved? Possibly they were still in the head-over-heels stage. Also possible that he knew from the beginning that she was leaving. I think that can create a sense of romance or longing that wouldn't exist normally.

Carolyn Hax: And:

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Perfect Girl and Perfectly OK Girl: Does the current woman know about Perfect Girl? If she did, would she want you knowing you were pining for some other woman or at least biding time until you could be with her? Maybe she doesn't want to settle for second best either.

Carolyn Hax: A couple like this.

Thanks everyone.

Another thank-you note:

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Thanks From Nick: Thank you everyone, for the swell turnout and tremendous patience waiting in a flatteringly long line.

For those that arrived after we sold out, my apologies - there will be other signings, posted soon. But today is just for thanks.

I wish I could have spent more time with all of you that came out. Still, I'll never forget your faces. Please know that today I'm carried by your warm smiles.

Be well, Nick

Carolyn Hax: And before I go, one last look for the novelty gift ...

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Williamsburg, VA: WHAT WAS THE GIFT?!

Carolyn Hax: I'm looking! I'm looking!

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Hurry up and answer Crystal City!: We need to know whether its A or B!!!!!

Carolyn Hax: Looking for that too!

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Carolyn Hax: Jodi and I both came up empty, couldn't find anything on the novelty gift.

Maybe next time ... a suitable cliffhanger for this forum.

Thanks everyone, have a great weekend and type to you next week.

Oh, and there won't be a session during Thanksgiving week, so next Friday is it if you're having nightmares that involve large fowl or men who play football wearing silver pants.

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Crystal City: The answer is I want the girl, but you seem to have forgotten she's with someone new.

Carolyn Hax: So are you, though, and you still want her. If she prefers the new guy to the possibility of having you somewhere within visiting range after you graduate from law school, then we're back to her not being your PG.

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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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