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Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, Nov. 19, 2010)

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 19, 2010; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Friday, November 19, 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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Dream, Meet Reality: Hi Carolyn,

I just took my dream job. It feels funny to call it that, because it's not especially glamorous, but it pays extremely well and puts me in contact with a lot of great mentors and colleagues. But I am completely burnt out, and this dream job keeps me away from my 3- and 8-year-olds an unacceptable amount of the time. Every day as I drag myself home I fantasize about quitting, but I know the job won't be around anymore when my kids are older. What should I do?

Carolyn Hax: Finish thinking it through. No, this job probably won't be there when your kids are older. Neither will your kids, though, most likely, but there may be other jobs.

In other words, if you're going to try to weigh "now" against "later," use complete pictures of both. Obviously there will be some unknowns, but if you combine current certainties and future likelihoods with those unknowns, you'll probably have more than enough information to support a rational decision. That rational decision has to include your feelings about your kids, because those are real and certain.

I think it's also important, as you figure this all out, to make sure you aren't ruling things out without exploring them fully, like going part-time. All those great mentors and colleagues can help you here, too.

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Chicago: My boss is chew-you-up-and-spit-you-out mean. It's kind of a gimmicky part of his persona, like a character he's playing. He seems to think it is funny to make people uncomfortable. I don't handle it as well as other people in my department, who seem to take it in stride. It hurts my feelings. Do you know any tricks for dealing with people who get a kick out of their own nastiness?

Carolyn Hax: It sounds as if you've already figured out most of a strategy: If he's so mean that it almost seems like he's playing the role of the mean boss, then try casting yourself in the role of the person who sees through his gimmick and doesn't take it personally.

Either that or start looking in earnest for a new job. Or both.

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Toronto: Hi Carolyn! I've just started seeing someone new and I think this one has potential. Most excellent! I'm coming off a bit of a dry spell (and don't have much previous experience), and I was wondering if you had any general dating advice. Just stuff to keep in mind or things that should have my attention. Many thanks! These chats and your column have helped me tremendously over the years...

Carolyn Hax: Any time you find yourself editing what you say or working to maintain an image that you think will please him, cut it out. That's the No. 1 suggestion I have to avoid what I see as the No. 1 mistake people make, which is to force a relationship with someone who isn't quite right for them. Congrats, good luck, and thanks for the kind words.

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Washington, D.C: Carolyn - what's your take on dating a guy who has decided to take a 'stand' against marriage?

Carolyn Hax: If you want to get married and you still want to date him knowing he's opposed to marriage, then you need to ask yourself why he's worth your blatantly undermining yourself.

If you don't share his beliefs but you sympathize with them, then it might not hurt to see where it goes. The reasons for not wanting to get married can range from infantile to principled, so unless you've got your own mind made up, the reasons matter.

If you agree with him or don't care about marriage, then I guess it's not a big deal.

Though, for what it's worth, I think anyone is suspect who has such an absolute vision of such an unpredictable part of the future. Not wanting kids, for example, is the rejection of a very specific way of life; that makes sense to me. Marriage can fit into as many ways of life as there are married couples, so a rejection of it needs annotation for the whole picture to be clear.

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From one mom to another: Dear Carolyn,

I know it's well established in your column that it's natural for moms to favor one child, or to secretly love one more than the other. But my question is, do you think it's even - possible- to have equal feelings about more than one child?

Carolyn Hax: I do. Though I wouldn't use the word "equal"; equivalent seems more apt to me.

It's a given--and yet an ongoing source of amazement to me--that kids can come from the same gene pool and grow up in the same home and still be completely different from each other. These differences bring out different facets of the people around them, including their parents and siblings. So, as a parent, you're probably going to have a different relationship with each kid.

If each of these relationships hits high notes and the occasional lower notes, then it's possible not to feel dramatically more attached to one child than another, and instead feel you value them all.

As kids grow, the attachments ebb and flow, too, so you might feel closer to one kid at one time, and then closer to another a year or so later, etc.

Besides talking about it in this way, though, it's probably best -not- to think about it too much, and instead just take each kid and each day.

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McLean, VA : Carolyn,

Maybe you can help me work through a decision about my 10-year-old son's involvement in school sports. We signed him up for rec league basketball last year because we thought it would help him shed some baby fat, gain confidence and make friends. It achieved none of those goals. Instead, he was miserable, often crying in the car on the way to practice and on the way home afterward.

I feel strongly that we should take the hint and refrain from signing him up this year, but my husband (a one-time school athlete) repeatedly says that failure is part of development. We are worried about our son's body image and I can't imagine he'll like the sport any better this year. The season starts in a couple of weeks. Should I go with my gut and pull him from the roster, or do you think my husband has a point?

Carolyn Hax: Failure is part of development, sure, and resisting going -to- practice is hardly unusual. But crying on the way home is a really big deal, as is the fact that he's doing this at age 10, not 5. Forcing a child into a sport he hates is not going to foster any kind of love for sports.

I actually find it upsetting that a father would force his somewhat-above-crying-age kid into a sport that makes him cry. Besides sounding like torture for your son, it also sounds like a recipe for him to gain weight, lose confidence and withdraw socially. The way you get those benefits from exercise that you name is through willing participation in an enjoyable activity. Those are the elements that motivate a child--or even an adult newcomer--to persevere through the awkward, failure-pocked stages of learning a new skill.

Your son may need the activity for his health and need the challenge for his confidence, but he has told you very clearly that this is not the sport for him. There are so many choices available that I think it would be unconscionable not to explore alternatives, openly following your son's lead.

I specifically suggest you consider individual sports he can learn through private lessons until he feels strong enough to play with his peers. Martial arts, tennis and swimming are three that come to mind. Tell him your only requirement is that he choose one sport, but he can choose anything, as long as it's feasible, and the choice is his.

If he's drawn to a team sport, then pick a program that has a supportive entry level and consider supplementing it with private instruction on the side. It doesn't have to be forever; just long enough for him to get through the steepest part of the learning curve without the Lord of the Flies contingent looking on.

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Thanksgiving?: Will you be taking any pot-smoking in the bathroom questions today??

Carolyn Hax: If I get them, they're yours.

Dec. 10 is the date for Hax's Annual Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors, 2010 Edition (I'm going to do my best to get that title slightly wrong every time I mention it, since I have no idea what the actual title is), so if you're not ready to leash up your albino hedgehog and take it out for a spin, there's still time to fatten it up.

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Carolyn Hax: Will post in a sec--rewriting my answer to something.

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Re: School Sports: How about if the sporty dad plays a sport with his son outside? That will get him active and increase his confidence, spending valuable time with dad.

Carolyn Hax: That's fine, as long as father doesn't eclipse son. If Father is impatient or easily frustrated when Son doesn't catch on quickly, then this "quality time" could backfire.

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Divorced, ready to date: Dear Carolyn,

Do you think it would be wildly inappropriate of me to ask my child's 2nd grade teacher on a date?

Carolyn Hax: I think so. Anyone else?

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Arlington, VA - re 10 yr old and sports: Did the son say why he didn't like the sport? That would be helpful in figuring out what he might be interested in instead. And it doesn't have to be sports, either. What about other interests like drama, computers, science clubs, etc.?

Carolyn Hax: You're right that his pursuit doesn't have to be a sport, but if his main interest doesn't have a physical element to it, it would be helpful if the family made the group effort to find some form of exercise that he enjoys and can carry with him into adulthood. So many aspects of modern life are sedentary that I don't think it's fair to kids to raise them unprepared to maintain their physical health. This boy can walk, hike, bike, play golf, play tennis, do martial arts, swim laps, etc., for the rest of his life.

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First Thanksgiving in VA: Hey Carolyn,

I'm cooking a huuuuge turkey on Sunday for an equally huge Thanksgiving party for the mentoring group that I'm president of. I'm hoping that the bar will be set low because we're all college students, but I can get a little high-strung (i.e. panic attack-y) when things don't go exactly according to plan. Any advice for keeping the panic from taking over if I realize that the turkey isn't fully defrosted/no one is bringing forks/I should have 'brined' the turkey/I have 4 hours of cleaning to do afterward?

Carolyn Hax: 1. Parties where something goes wrong are often (close to always) better than the ones that come off without a hitch. Just have some backup, pantry-friendly food ready in case the turkey refuses to cook.

2. Acting as the host's helper is often (close to always) one of the best ways to enjoy a party. Do you have anyone in the group who has a cool head, and with whom you have a friendly relationship? You can delegate the punch list to this person so that you don't have to worry about missing something. Don't expect this person to stay and clean, though; if you need extra hands there, you might want to ask a different person to help.

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Detroit, Mich.: I am dreading seeing my aunt tonight. I live away from our hometown and she's been asking when I'm going to invite her up for ages. My reply has always been 'let me know when you'd like to come' (cowardly, I know). Well, she's here ... for a conference and will be visiting me tonight. I need some advice/tips/combacks on how to deal with her. She just so happens to know everything ... more about law than a lawyer, more about health than a doctor ... everything! As I'm sure you can imagine this is difficult to deal with, especially now that I do know more than her about certain subjects. She also seems to think that the only purpose for children is to be little slaves - she is always asking me and my cousins to do things for her and get things for her at family gatherings. If we refuse, she'll say 'You're going to make your grandmother get it?' (her mom). I'm sure she'll have much to say about my place and more specifically my pets - she used to have the same animal (when she was young) and MUCH has changed regarding the care they should be entitled to. So, what to do and how to deal? I'd really appreciate some advice.

Carolyn Hax: It's one night. Just smile and keep your eyes focused on the horizon.

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ready to date: Yes. Highly inappropriate. If the reader is still interested next year when their child is no longer in the classroom, they could revisit. But not now.

Carolyn Hax: This is the consensus, and I'm not surprised.

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sports and crying: I would say the crying on the way TO practice is a much bigger flag than the crying on the way home. I loved, loved, loved swimming (swam on teams from age 6 through college), and I often cried on the way home because I wasn't very good at it, for a very long time (until junior year of HS), and it frustrated me. As a smart kid to whom most things came easily, it was GREAT for me to have something that didn't.

The key was that it was something -I WANTED-; my parents asked me, neutrally, on a regular basis (when it was time to sign up again, not mid-season) if I wanted to try something else, and I always chose to continue swimming. I liked it, even though it was hard and I sometimes cried. What does this kid want? 10 is old enough to choose.

Carolyn Hax: Interesting take, thanks. I said it the other way because a bad mood going there can often mean the kid really enjoyed what you pulled him away from, and a good mood on the way home means the kid enjoyed the sport (or whatever).

It really comes down to, listen to your kid.

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Chicago: I feel like I'm parenting a 5 year old. Only he's in his mid-30s. My husband is unwilling to exercise without some coercion on my part - generally me delivering an ultimatum. I hate the pattern we've fallen into and I really do hate myself for having to resort to ultimatums but I'm at a loss as to what to do. He's a social person and really prefers having someone to do things with (vs going to the gym by himself) - so I've tried getting him to go running with me, or joining a pick up league at his gym (which he never goes to). But he just digs in his heels, won't do anything and I end up getting all frustrated and angry. I wish I could just ignore him but I can't seem to get past the feeling that I'm negotiating with a 5 year old and losing. Btw, his work commute doesn't allow for exercise - so we're talking about getting a minimum of exercise, not training for a marathon.

Carolyn Hax: Cut it out. Yes, you want him to be healthy, and yes, you want him to live to a ripe and spry old age, but, really--that's not for you to decide. It would be nice if he wanted to do these things for you and/or for your marriage, but he's an adult, and he's saying no. How can you be at a loss when there's a very clear option staring right at you? Take no for an answer. Stop treating him like a 5-year-old.

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U.S.: Do you think there's any chance of falling back in love with my spouse after I've developed strong feelings for someone else who I want to be with, but can't due to distance?

Carolyn Hax: Yes, but you have to unplug the myth machine (it's kind of like one of those fog machines they use in theaters).

A real spouse can't compete with the idealized version of the one who got away. As long as you're enjoying the narrative of having a lost love, you're never going to be able to invest yourself fully at home. You need to poke real holes in the story with your and his/her real flaws. You need to embrace the idea that this forbidden love would transform into mundane love shortly after it stopped being forbidden. When your mind drift toward your someone else, think gas, socks, nose hair, flab, mildly annoying mannerisms, and whatever else sinks your boat.

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Re First Thanksgiving: Do as much as possible the day before.

Carolyn Hax: That too, thanks.

Oh, and pay attention to how long the turkey needs to defrost (check the company's web site). If it's not too late, consider a fresh turkey, since they cook much faster.

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Alexandria VA: You said about if you find yourself editing what you say, or working to uphold a certain image of yourself with a person, that's a bad thing. Well, why, exactly? I've been married for 24 years. I edit what I say and work to uphold a certain image of myself all the time. I can say things politely or rudely; I can live like a reasonably competent person or like a slob. Seems to work better when I think about how I want to phrase things and think about how my husband would react if I said hurtful things, or didn't hold up my end of the bargain re: spending, house cleaning, care of the dogs, all sorts of things. Why is it a bad sign to edit one's self? Makes the world tick along a little more smoothly, in my experience.

Carolyn Hax: It's also a way to find yourself several years into a marriage and bearing no resemblance to the person you were before.

What you're talking about is basic civility, and, you're right, it's not good for anyone to say every hateful thing that crosses your mind.

But there's an important difference between that and living in a way that's inauthentic. Being civil is still being you.* Biting back any complaints or worries you have because your mate will yell at you for voicing them; or being super-social to please your super-social mate when you're naturally more reserved and would stay home if s/he quit pressuring you; or being the high-functioning, super-competent half of the couple who carries the load for both of you even though your mate is perfectly capable and when what you really want is to sleep for a month--that's going to kill, possibly in this order: your mood, your sense of self, your feelings for the other person, your will to invest another ounce of energy in the relationship, your relationship.

That's what I'm talking about.

*If you're naturally a nasty piece of work, then it's actually best not to put on a veneer of civility, but instead to either choose a mate who is unfazed by the real uncivil you, or to work on you attitude and temperament to the point where civility is real.

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Reno, Nevada: Dear Carolyn,

I'm having a very hard time getting past a breakup that happened over three years ago. It hit me all of a sudden (literally, this week) that I had been continuing to use it as an excuse for opting out of everything--namely dating and attending a friend's wedding. Now that I've had my moment of clarity, what do I do to thrust myself into a more engaging future?

Carolyn Hax: I'm not sure you have to do anything. You've had your aha moment, so now live your day-to-day life accordingly for a while. If you've given it a chance to become your new routine and you still aren't satisfied with the way your life is going, then you can start pushing yourself to get out more. Again, only if you have to; this week's revelation might be all the motivation you need.

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Washington, DC: Carolyn, why is it OK for a wife to live off a wealthy husband, but not vice versa? I retired after 30 years of the corporate rat race to be Mr. Mom for our teenage daughter. We have household help, but I do most of the cooking, shopping, laundry, carpooling and more. I also mentor at-risk youth and am active in my church and community.

My wife is a high-powered DC lawyer. She loves her job and is good at it. We have more money than we know what to do with, give generously to charity and at last count were helping 6 nieces and nephews with their college expenses. She would be miserable at home, while I truly enjoy it.

But when people hear of our situation, you would think I had two heads, or perhaps torture small animals on the side. I often get what I hope are mocking comments of, "Wow, I'd love to live off MY wife," with the "you moocher, you" left unsaid. Maybe I am a little uncomfortable with this situation, but most of the time I just count my blessings and wish other people would count theirs.

Carolyn Hax: This is actually something I touch on in Sunday's column, so I'm not going to get into it too much. But i think it is just as okay for a man to be a househusband as it is for a woman to be a housewife--and while I have a real problem with the hypocrisy of people who give men a hard time but don't really blink at stay-at-home moms, my baseline attitude is that if the couple is okay with it, then I'm okay with it, period. By that measure, your verbal snipers are out of line on two counts: hypocrisy, and failing to mind their own business.

It sounds as of you're taking the right attitude with people, but don't be afraid to say something along the lines of, "Yeah, she and I both feel lucky"--in other words, to respond to the snide comments as if they were meant to be taken at face value.

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Bethesda MD: My mother (who is not hurting for funds, but is notoriously cheap) often gives our family "recyled" presents. For example, in past years she has given me, as Christmas gifts, a distinctive piece of pottery which I previously gave to her, a picture frame which I witnessed my sister give to her at a previous Christmas, clothing which she ordered for herself and which did not fit her, and slightly-used designer soap. My husband and I laugh about it and pretend we don't notice, but her largesse (or lack of it) extends to our children. For his thirteenth birthday she gave my son a mens' grooming kit, complete with nose hair trimmer. (I believe it was unused -- but my father died 12 years ago, so she has presumably been saving it since then.) None of these gifts are given as "I thought you might like this, since I cannot use it...," or "Grandpa really wanted you to have his nose hair trimmer....", but they are wrapped and given like brand new. How can we tell her that the junk she gives us is just that -- junk? If she does not wish to buy us anything, fine with us. But the pseudo-presents are awful, and it is getting hard to get the kids to pretend to like them (for the record, my son did say thank you.) Do you have any suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: You're focusing your attention on the wrong side of the equation. Your mom isn't going to change, nor is it your place to change her.

As parents to your kids, though, it is your place to explain that this is the way your mother is, and the sooner they all learn to find joy in nose-hair trimmers, the merrier Christmas will be. If he were 4, that might be tough, but 13 is plenty old enough to see the sublime implications here.

Given your mom's recycling proclivities, you can also pick out for her this year whatever you'd like you and your kids to receive next year.

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Logan Circle: Hi Carolyn,

I joined an online dating site on a lark to get over a really sad breakup. Eventually I met "Mark," who truly seems great, and we have been emailing back and forth...for a little over a month. I'm talking upwards of 15 emails between us. I've thrown him every possible hint that he should go ahead and ASK ME OUT ALREADY, but for some reason he's not pulling the trigger. The reason I'm not going it for him is twofold: first, I like for the guy to take charge, and second, Mark's profile specifically says he's into chivalry and loves to surprise women with thoughtful plans. What should I say to move things along that doesn't sound confrontational? I'm liking him more and more with each email, but I'm ready to get together for some physical chemistry experimentation already.

Carolyn Hax: A month? This isn't going anywhere.

But here's the hedge answer anyway: What you're doing--holding back because you think that's what he wants, and so will make him like you more--is exactly what I was talking about earlier when I advised against in my third answer today. Be yourself, say what you want to say, ask what you want to ask. If he can't handle it, he's not the guy.

You say you want the guy to take charge, okay, and if that's more natural to you, then don't spell out that you want him to ask you out already. But don't use that as justification to sit around waiting for something to happen, either. Instead, mentally cross this guy off your list unless and until he asks you out, and start looking for someone else. And make sure that if Mark does come through, you make your plans as if you're meeting a stranger, because that's still what he is to you.

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New York, NY: My husband has anxiety- diagnosed by doctors and most of the time is on medication for it. However, when he's not on medication (which he does not want to be) he says things that, at least, are borderline emotionally abusive. How do I reconcile "in sickness and in health" when the "in sickness" part is (probably) abusive? Things like telling me the anxiety is all my fault, infertility is due to my hobbies, telling me he doesn't want to see me, I take up too much time etc. Is this what marriage is all about?

Carolyn Hax: You say he doesn't "want to be" on medication--does he take it because he knows he's mean to you and doesn't want to be? Or is he taking it for some other reason (a job, for example), and when that reason isn't applicable, he goes off the meds?

My reflexive answer is, no, this is -not- what marriage is all about. It's not about putting up with abuse.

And my follow-up answer is that anxiety doesn't excuse mistreatment of someone. Plenty of people live with anxiety and do not treat their spouses like dirt.

Still, if he doesn't ever do this when he's on medication, if he is on medication "most of the time" as a conscious effort he makes toward you and the marriage, because he feels he owes it to you to do all he can to be well, then that's a situation you can work with (with professional help, I suggest). His not caring that he hurts you is one that I don't suggest you tolerate.

You also mention infertility; if you are still trying to get pregnant or if you're trying to adopt a child, I hope you'll think carefully about bringing a child into a situation where s/he might be the target of Daddy's abuse. That's not fair. Please get this problem resolved in a sustainable way before you bring little people into it.

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Washington, DC: I'm a mother to two amazing children that I joined our family when I married their father.

The older of the two, a 16 yr old girl, has her first boyfriend. She thinks that her dad and I believe this guy is just a friend. They only get the chance to meet in groups because they don't go to the same school. She emails and texts with him each day and he is a growing presence on her Facebook page.

Does it matter that she doesn't want to tell us that this is actually her boyfriend? The guy has actually called her his girlfriend on Facebook.

What do you think? Is it okay for her to be so private?

Thanks for your thoughts on this!

Carolyn Hax: It doesn't set off any alarms to me, because having a private life is so important at that age (and hers is visible to you by other means, apparently). HOwever, you still might want to go out of your way--without looking like you're going out of your way, of course--not to have big reactions to things she tells you, about the guy or anyone/anything else.

That will create an environment where she will, I hope, eventually feel comfortable telling you things--as a result of both age/maturity and trust that you're not going to say "YOU HAVE A LITTLE BOYFRIEND?! THAT'S SO CUUUTE!"

You also don't want to out her because you don't want her hiding her FB page from you. If you see other/more disturbing signs of hiding or dishonesty (or, that she doesn't see him as her BF but he's pressuring her and claiming her as his GF, also a possibility), then you might need to revisit the decision not to say anything, but till then, lie low.

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Washington DC: Hey Hax, My SIL is threatening to ruin Thanksgiving if we don't agree to go to her house for Christmas dinner. LSS, FIL is quite elderly and frail. SIL lives an hour away from him in a house with several stairs he can't go up and slippery tile that is a hazard. She can't/doesn't cook food he can eat and keeps the house too cold for him, to the point where he often shivers through the meal.

We offered to cook dinner for FIL in -his- house, making the menu to -his- specifications. He was delighted. She is hurt and huffy. She refuses to leave her house on Christmas. Either we all go there or she's too busy to see us for the whole holiday season. She's the type to hold a grudge so this could blow up into a 'we haven't spoken in 50 years' sort of thing but I find myself wondering if that would be a blessing in the end. At what point do we give in?

Carolyn Hax: Not sure what LSS means but if you believe dinner at FIL's house is genuinely the right thing to do, then do it. Caving to unreasonable people is something you do in isolated incidents when there's a larger goal to be accomplished (ref: dinner tonight with the obnoxious aunt)--and I'm having trouble envisioning the larger goal in this case. Or, at least, one that's bigger than the goal of taking sensitive care of your elderly FIL.

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re: anxiety: Although I do not condone the abuse, she needs to have a comeback. I take medicine to help me with anxiety. When I do not take it, I can get 'short' when my husband says minorly irritating things. He usually responds with "have you taken your medicine?" I hate it when he says it, but its usually true - I need to take my meds to take the 'edge' off. I do not like taking the meds, for no other reason than I hate taking pills everyday. But they make me a better person so I try to remember. It may be the same with him. Have a gentle reminder - one that won't make him upset - that he needs to take his meds.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. A few more on this topic coming.

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doesn't want to be on anxiety medication: Maybe he needs a different medication that has no side effects. I can tell you getting the right medication has been a lifesaver for me! I feel no side effects and feel happy and productive. Without it, I was so stressed and anxious, I couldn't drive across bridges any more! The right medication is out there.

Carolyn Hax: I'd expect "try other meds" to be their default in a situation like this, but here it is just in case, thanks.

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Anxiety/abuse: My husband also suffers from bipolar disorder and anxiety and I've experienced the emotional abuse. It can get better but only if he realizes that he is hurting you. My husband denied it for a long time even after being confronted by his doctor. Take care of yourself so that you can take care of him. Only when that is accomplished will you have the energy to take care of a child.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

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LSS - Long Story Short: Hope this helps!

Carolyn Hax: It does, thanks. Now it seems like a duh, but it was new to me.

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Washington, DC: Hi Carolyn, Love the chats. How do I know if I'm depending on another person too much?

Carolyn Hax: Take the other person out of the picture, and what happens? And if the person is never out of the picture, not even for a weekend away, then why not?

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New York anxiety: Sounds like the wife who wrote in is past this point, but I want to toss it out anyhow: sit down with him and say that his anxiety is becoming a problem for you, both indirectly (you worry about him) and directly(how he acts towards you). Be caring, but be as strong and direct as possible - this is a Big Deal, and he needs to address it for the sake of your relationship.

I say this beacause I was on the receiving end of one of these talks. My problem was depression rather than anxiety, and I was prone to emotional paralysis rather than anger, but the situation was otherwise similar: I had been in treatment, I was out of treatment at that point. I could see my moods and behavior getting worse, but I was having a hard time getting myself to DO anything about it. And I figured that if I could handle it, it was OK. (Mental illness screws with your head...who knew?) My partner sat me down and made it clear that this wasn't just a problem for me, but a problem for US. Depression (and anxiety, I'm sure) is very isolating, so this was both a much-needed kick in the rear and a helpful reminder that she was there to help - as long as I was helping myself, too.

Of course, once you've passed this point, if he still can't/won't help himself...disengage, carefully.

Carolyn Hax: Well said, thank you.

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spokane, wa: My brother is graduating with his masters and wants me to attend, but it's on a school night and my children are performing in a school concert that night. At first I said no, and he got so upset he approached me and he wouldn't take no for an answer. We both said things we shouldn't. He is questioning our entire relationship based on this issue. He equates this event in his life with getting married or having children (of which he's only done the former) I'm torn between my children and my brother. I told him I would go to get him off my back but I feel coerced and in my heart of hearts I should be going to my kid's functions. What should I do?

Carolyn Hax: I'm not sure I can answer this objectively, because 1. i find graduations to be unbearably dull, my own included; and 2. I find it somewhere between odd and offensive that a grown man would use emotional blackmail to keep you from going to your kids' concert.

If someone out there can offer a sympathetic spin on the brother's approach, or even a way that the LW might have spun it unfairly, then I'm eager to see what you have to say. maybe the master's is the result of a lifelong struggle through X adversity? One that his sib witnessed up close, and maybe treated dismissively? I'm digging here.

Until then, my only answer can be to think very hard about any possible Ancient Stuff your brother might be bringing to this issue, and try to talk about it with him. If you can't think of anything and you will only resent giving in to his coercion, then stick to your no and go see your kids.

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Boston, MA: Re Washington, DC Mr. Mom:

While I understand that Dad at home is still in the minority, expressions like "Mr. Mom," just fuel the idea that the one at home should be the mother, and that Dad being at home is not-quite-normal. In a way, it reinforces the stereotype that he is trying to fight.

Carolyn Hax: Nice catch.

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Kid who doesn't like sports: I was a kid who was not good at sports. Like worst in the class/on the team bad. I tried, but it was never going to happen. When I was young it was okay, but by age 10 - 11 the other kids on the teams I was on became less tolerant of it. Eventually it became torture for me, and thank goodness, my parents were fine with me stopping. I think sometimes people tho whom sports come more naturally have NO idea how shameful/embarassing/awful not being good at sports can feel, especialy team sports where others can get angry at you.

Carolyn Hax: You may be right about that, but there's no excuse for an athletic parent (or a parent naturally skilled at anything else) to have that kind of a blind spot. The inability to see others suffer at something just because you love it isn't about ability, it's about a lack of empathy. Applies to sports, reading, numbers, music, art, anything.

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Re: spokane: Were you the favorite by any chance? Mom and Dad fall all over themselves to get to your events but show little to no interest in his? Have you been to his other events in his life? Has he always gone to yours? Is he the youngest child of multiple children and by the time these events get to him no one seems to really care because all the other kids did it?

I know you're not supposed to beancount, but I can't help but notice that my parents traveled oceans to go to my brother's special events but because I was baby #5 they barely made it any of mine. When they did it was grugdingly at first. And the brother in question has never been to any other sib's special event either, although I'm not sure he even realizes it.

Carolyn Hax: One good thought, thanks (though if true, it's on the brother to articulate that).

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Re: Spokane: Two thoughts:

First, is there more than one performance for the concert? Even if there's just an in-school performance in the afternoon, maybe you can attend that, send your husband to the evening "official" concert, and get to attend both?

Second, it's possible that this brother has attended all of the sister's big life events (graduations, etc), and is upset that now his are taking a back seat. Not that it's right or fair, but someone who has sat through a million (dull) graduations out of a sense of obligation might appreciate knowing that you feel the same obligation, even if ultimately you can't attend the graduation.

Carolyn Hax: also useful, thanks.

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For Spokane...: Curious about this wording:

"He equates this event in his life with getting married or having children (of which he's only done the former)"

Seems derisive, or is it just me? Maybe that's his beef - I may not have Kids, but I have a Masters.

Carolyn Hax: Possible, tx

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Chicago, IL: Ugh, in response to the brother getting his masters degree. I didn't even attend MY OWN Ph.D. ceremony, and I certainly wouldn't expect anyone else too. But perhaps the letter writer has a history of diminishing the accomplishments of the brother. One solution might be to offer to take the brother out for celebratory drinks later that evening or on the first weekend night. This would let him feel special (still and indulgence, in my opinion) but wouldn't leave the letter writer feeling as if his/her values were compromised

Carolyn Hax: More on the theme, thanks.

If there is a family history of dismissiveness toward this brother, then I'd reverse my advice and say that she should go to the graduation--but after some sort of acknowledgment that 1. he has been given second-class treatment and that 2. blackmailing was not the way to get his sib to attend.

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Carolyn Hax: Hookay, I'm done. Thanks everyone, have a great weekend and Thanksgiving and broke Friday and whatever else you celebrate between now and Dec. 3. See you in two weeks, and start typing up those stories for Dec. 10--maybe even as they happen next week.

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Cambridge, UK: Hi Carolyn and lovely producer - I can't find a link to today's column in the usual places. Help?

washingtonpost.com: Here you go! Should she marry her jobless boyfriend?. Looks like it got published later than usual.

Carolyn Hax: Here tis.

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what stories...: are we typing up?

Carolyn Hax: For the Holiday Horrors Hootenanny. I'll see if we can link to 2009's ...

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washingtonpost.com: 2009 Holiday Hootenanny of Horrors

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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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