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Carolyn Hax Live: Granny panties, Unused Wiis, Joint bank accounts, 'Warp This,' Holiday dietary changes, and more

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 16, 2010; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Thursday, December 16, 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: Hey everybody, and thanks for stopping by on a Thursday.

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Carolyn Hax: Live Online will be dark for the next two Fridays (the two eves), so I'll be here on Thursday again next week, at the usual noon. I'll be on vacation the week after.

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Baltimore City: Dear Carolyn,

The daughter of a friend of mine tutored my son in SAT prep. She does not have professional credentials, but she tests very well and we thought she might be able to help him raise his score. Not only did that not happen, but his score actually dropped the second time he took the test. This result was especially disappointing because we had really put our trust in this girl and paid her hundreds of dollars over several weeks.

She is now trying to get more tutoring gigs and just asked if she can list me as a reference. I don't want to hurt her feelings (hence I haven't told her about my son's lowered score), but I can't in good conscience tell another parent that she knows what she's doing. I also worry this could sour my relationship with her mom. How should I handle this?

Carolyn Hax: The daughter has to hear about your son's results. She is trying to start a business and is charging people money, so you have to remind yourself that feelings are beside the point now. They still matter, of course, and you don't want to be gratuitously harsh in explaining what happened--and you also don't want to -blame- the tutoring for the lowered score. Instead, just say--as soon as possible--"We got Son's scores and they went down. I will talk to other families if you'd like, but I'd have to tell them about the results." Boom, done.

If this strains your friendship with the mother, then that's the mother's problem. What are you supposed to do, lie about the scores?

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Is this the Bacon Pants edition?: Enquiring minds want to know.

Carolyn Hax: That was last week. No flaming cakes today. (Unless someone happens to ask for advice on flaming cakes.)

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Crush without chemistry?: I have a pretty intense crush on a guy with whom I don't think I actually have much (romantic) chemistry. We have a lot in common and he has the type of personality I'm generally compatible with, but I don't know if we have any spark. He certainly isn't interested. When we're out together in groups of friends I take note of this and figure, "Well that's that, crush over." But then I go home and can't stop thinking about him. What gives?

Carolyn Hax: I'm not sure I have any idea, and while I'd be happy to think about it longer to see what gives, there wouldn't be any point to it as long as he continues not to be interested. So, carry on I guess with the internal crushing/external nothing. Eventually the crushing will pass.

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Haverhill, Mass.: Hi Carolyn,

My first baby is due in April. Having had a ton of babysitting experience with my niece and nephews, I thought I was prepared for the harsh realities of parenting. Then I agreed to care for my nephew for a period of six straight days and boy, was that a rude awakening. It truly scared the crap out of me because I'm on the parenting train and it's too late to get off. Any hope that love for my firstborn will outweigh some of the horrors I now know I'm set to experience?

Carolyn Hax: Expect it. There will still be days that you're sure will never ever END, but your sense of long-term investment is everything here. When it's your child, for the vast majority of people at least, even the horrors come wrapped in a blanket of fierce love.

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washingtonpost.com: Hax show from Dec. 10 -- Holiday Hoottenanny

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Carolyn Hax: Sorry, had to answer door to retrieve a package.

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Washington, DC: My mother (I'm 27) insists on buying me Christmas presents even though she is in a very bad financial situation. I don't really know what I can do other than constantly urging her not to get me anything (which she ignores). I don't see forcing her to return them as a viable option. Am I guilty of unjust enrichment here? When does her bad judgment cease to make it my responsibility to refuse gifts?

Carolyn Hax: This is a surprisingly common problem. I think it ceases to be your responsibility after you've said "no" clearly and multiple times. Even then, that offers little to no consolation.

For one thing, you likely end up with stuff you don't want. And, down the road if not now, you might end up bearing the brunt of her financial bad judgment. There's nothing like receiving clutter from a nearly bankrupt parent whom you're likely going to have to bail out to make you wish human beings hibernated from November to March.

But the choices are all bad: accept the clutter and smile; refuse the clutter and insist that it be returned (even though you know you may be just one of 20 people receiving clutter and your insistence will both hurt her feelings and accomplish almost nothing); keep saying no and keep accepting the gifts reluctantly ... or, what?

If you choose to accept the gifts--and there's a great reason to, since she's an adult and doesn't need her kid to be mothering her about gifts--but you think she may be heading down the road where you'll need to help her financially, it might make sense to set up a private gift system: Open a separate savings account, and add to it every time she gives you something she can't afford. That way you can be at least somewhat prepared for the worst, and, when you get there, you can see the gifts as gestures of love and not ladder rungs toward her financial demise.

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For the expectant mom: Keep in mind that you went from no kids to six straight days with one. That's a big switch. When you have your own baby, you'll get used to having a child around all the time. It's hard in the beginning, but you do adjust. With your nephew, there was no adjustment period. Just something to keep in mind. Good luck and enjoy your baby!

Carolyn Hax: Another good point, thanks.

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All my mother wants for Christmas...: ..is an e-reader. She has never, ever used any other electronic device beyond her phone in her life. Last year she bought herself a Wii and it has never left the box. I could steal it from her house and she would not notice. She does not want anything else but an e-reader. I refuse to buy it for her if she is not going to use it, and said so. She has been pouting ever since.

Uh... what do I do here?

Carolyn Hax: Get her the e-reader, and teach her to use it. If she's a regular reader, then using it won't require her to change the way she behaves on a typical day, as playing video games would.

Why she doesn't buy one herself, why you care so much whether she uses her gifts, and why a grown woman pouts are all outside the scope of this question, so I'll leave them where they are for the moment.

Once your mom is feeling all warm and fuzzy about her new e-reader ... would she be open to donating the Wii? I have to think there are groups serving special-needs children that would be eternally grateful to take it off her hands.

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washingtonpost.com: Tell Me About It/Carolyn Hax, Oct. 23, 2001: Original bacon pants chat

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Lowered SAT Scores: I'm not really sure if you can place blame on a tutor for lowered SAT scores. Both my wife and I took professional SAT prep classes after initially taking the SAT and both of our scores went down (fwiw at the time we were on opposite coasts). I know a lot of people whose scores went down after SAT tutoring. My guess is that kids take the second test less seriously and it doesn't make much of a difference how good or bad the tutor is. Or maybe this country is just filled with really crappy SAT tutors.

Carolyn Hax: S/he can't blame the tutor, and I should have made that point more forcefully, thanks.

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Please explain bacon pants reference: I must have missed it, and I don't know what the reference is. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: See above--I think Rocci got the link up faster than I could post your query.

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For the mom who gives gifts she can't afford: Take them back and get a gift card from that store. My mom does this and stuff is normally from Target or Walmart. Then when she asks me for money for stuff, I give her the gift card back which she can then use to buy food, her medicine or other junk she wants. The gift cards no longer go bad. So even if stuff is from Macy's, etc., she could still use to for other stuff when she is low on money.

Carolyn Hax: That works, thanks. Also, I thought of this as I was typing that answer, but I forgot to include it: You can also ask for specific things that are useful and not expensive, which would allow her to feel good about getting you gifts without spending too much. Combine these two ideas, and you ask for an inexpensive thing she can get at a big-box store, which would allow you even more flexibility.

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Boston, Mass.: Hi, I'm an aunt to two nieces and nephew (in my 30s and no kids of my own). Every holiday that rolls by I feel unsure of whether or what to buy them as gifts. They already own too much stuff imo, lap tops, cell phones, etc., and I don't like to feed their habits for materialism. I think of starting/contributing to a college fund for each of them, but I feel like their parents should be doing this for them (the bigger issue being that I believe their parents have a tendency to be financially irresponsible and live beyond their means). So what makes a meaningful gift for the child who already has it all? We all live about two hours apart which is enough that I don't see them a whole bunch.

Carolyn Hax: Start the college fund. It's a good idea, and I would argue even better for the parents' possible failure to have started one themselves.

They might surprise you, though; before you open an account, check with the parents to see if they've got one already. If they do, you can just contribute to it when it's holiday/gift time.

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20 years and running in Madison, Wis.: Hi Carolyn: My husband and I will be traveling home soon and will, of course, visit with family and friends. I have a particular friend who occassionally (couple times a year) brings up her idea that I stole her boyfriend sophmore year of high school. (We're 37 years old now!) And she's not kidding. The last time this happened was last year and my mom's funeral.

How does somebody deal with that? Seriously. I don't generally respond bec. I don't see her often and we're usually with groups of people, so I don't want to make a scene. But in anticipation of another one of these "comments," I kinda want to make a scene! I think it was the sheer inappropriateness of it at the funeral that threw me over.

Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: "Is there something you'd like me to do about it now?" I'm actually curious to hear her answer.

Her saying this at your mom's funeral of course was completely outrageous, but even that doesn't justify making a scene. Just stay calm and hand her an opportunity to look (more) ridiculous.

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Manage through the holidays: First Christmas after an unexpected and painful separation. I live for the Christmas season. I have been making myself busy with events and fun little memories for my daughter. But I'm miserable. I'm trying my best to get in the spirit, but I am miserable. I've even started drinking too much and falling asleep early when I don't have her. There is just a big hole in my life and it seems so much bigger right now. How can I make it through?

Carolyn Hax: I am so sorry.

But you already know that while your despair is understandable and part of your response to it is admirable, you're on a treacherous path. The last thing you need is to fall into an even deeper hole, and you're just a misstep or two away from that now.

Get as morose as you feel you need to when you're alone, but cut back on the drinking, and balance your self-destructive impulses by adding things to your life that force you to move forward.

I realize I sound like a self-parody given the frequency and urgency with which I give this advice, but please know that this is a tested and proven route out of hell: Do things that you -know- are good for you, whether it's exercise or healthy food or charity work or whatever else it is that provides you with a deeper, guiding purpose. "Fun little memories" for your kid are part of that for sure, but they're problematic as your sole source of good feeling because 1. kids are delayed-gratification enterprises, and 2. making merry is both somewhat superficial and inextricably tied to the source of your misery on several levels.

What you want is a pursuit that has profound impact and also immediate visible impact. You want something that's meaningful enough and stable enough to serve as a rock for you to cling to.

You will still be miserable. You may even feel increasingly miserable, in which case it's time to get a health professional involved. But taking on projects for the good will keep you moving forward during times when that doesn't feel possible. And that is sometimes all it takes.

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Holiday Cheer: Our uncle hosts the family gathering each year but this year his youngest son isn't welcome b/c he's gay. I'm torn between seeing the rest of the family (who I only see at xmas b/c of distance/travel) and saying screw you to homophobic uncle and hanging with cousin and his partner instead. Thoughts on how best to handle this situation?

Carolyn Hax: If you feel offended on principle by your cousin's exclusion, then I don't think you can go to the family gathering with a clear conscience.

But you have to act on your principles, not mine.

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Colorado Springs: Can I carry over a thread from last week? One poster described "not being able to NOT buy a present" for her husband, who said he wanted nothing. She would even lie to him, and tell him it was "too late", when she hadn't bought anything yet. You seemed to agree with her. Why is it OK to disrepect his preferences, and not honor his request, even to the point of deceit? Some people really DO want nothing. Is that somehow bad and in need of defeat?

Carolyn Hax: Actually, she had bought the presents already when she said, "Too late"--and what I advised was that she instead start buying presents for the two of them as a couple, and not for him specifically. I offered that as a compromise of their two very different needs.

I also asked what his response was to the gifts she had already bought but that he had supposedly not wanted. While I'm a staunch believer in taking people at their word, I also believe that couples know each other better than bystanders possibly can. If, for example, he says "no gifts" but is touched by the ones he receives, then she'd be right to wonder what approach best addresses his needs. Obviously, if he doesn't take pleasure in the gifts, then she needs to back off. Unfortunately, there was no follow up with the information I requested.

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Grinchville, VA: Hi Carolyn,

When my spouse asked me how I wanted to spend the holidays this year, I answered with the truth: in a semiconscious daze on the couch, sipping heavily medicinal wassail while watching a marathon of "The Office." The thought of capping off this awful year (job hell, parents divorcing, etc.) with holiday expectations just piles on the stress when all I want is a break.

Completely opting-out won't cut it for my spouse, however, who is really trying hard for the sake of the holidays and told me yesterday that I'm being a Grinch. Spouse wants to do all the usual stuff like sending dozens of cards, shopping, and visiting my in-laws (we've spent the last 5 Christmases in a row with them!) who live a 2 hour drive away. So I'm wondering: 1) Am I really being selfish here and 2) What can I do about it?

Carolyn Hax: Explain to him that you are -really- not mentally/emotionally up to the "all the usual stuff" holiday of years past. Then say that you appreciate that he's not mentally/emotionally up to chucking every bit of it in favor of a marathon of "The Office."

Then say you'd like to talk about where the middle is. He doesn't need you, for example, to send cards; he can do those himself. You can do your part of the shopping online. You can let him do the family visit solo. Etc. There's lot's of room here for both of you to take care of each other, especially if you frame it that way.

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Re: Manage through the holidays: Find some place to volunteer around Christmas. Visit a shut-in, hospital or VA center. Serve in a soup kitchen. Find a group that send volunteers to hospitals to relive workers for the holiday.

Carolyn Hax: All good. Animal shelters, too, for those who are not up to interacting with people.

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Charleston, SC: What are chances of a longterm successful relationship between two people who come from different cultures: one exceptionally well traveled female from England; the other a ten year younger and not so well traveled man from Cairo if they have known each other eight months but have spent only about 60 days enjoying each other's company due to work separation issues?

Carolyn Hax: You could ask, "What are chances of a long-term, successful relationship?" and I'd have to say the chances aren't good; the vast majority of relationships fail.

When you add to that a number of elements known to strain even strong relationships, like cultural, (possibly) educational, chronological and geographical gaps, then you know as well as I do that the chances get worse with each burden you place on the romantic bond.

So I'm not sure what you're looking for here. Reassurance that some couples are exceptions? Of course there are exceptions. Whether these two people will be one of them is out of just about everyone's hands, even theirs, in many ways. You go with it and you see.

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Alexandria, Va.: Speaking of husbands and presents, my husband and I have an issue I'm surprised doesn't come up more often and I'd like some advice. We have a joint checking account, and all money is "our" money. My paycheck goes straight into the joint account every month. My husbands paychecks do, too, but his job is such that he sometimes has cash, that he will keep or deposit depending on the situation. This money isn't kept from me, but since he's open about and clearly considers the cash "our" money, I don't keep very close tabs on it.

This makes exchanging gifts with my husband nearly impossible. He checks our bank account online much more frequently than I do, and would obviously ask if he saw $100+ being taken out (not accusatorily, but the bank statement shows where you spent the money, so he'd want to know what I bought for $XXX at a store he's interested in). Plus, how is it a gift if you are essentially buying it with your husband's money? On the other hand, he has cash I don't keep track of, and when he wants to buy me a gift he saves a little of it away. I've gotten pretty nice/expensive things, and not been able to reciprocate. How do other couples handle this?

Carolyn Hax: Some quit giving each other gifts because it seems silly to buy each other things with community cash, and because adults tend to buy things they want and can afford anyway. Some (like in yesterday's column) buy themselves gifts and hand them to spouses saying, "Warp this." There's no limit to the ways you can approach this problem.

In your case, it seems as if the easiest thing to establish is a practice where you take X amount of cash out of each paycheck as your discretionary cash, year-round. Then you have freedom to buy things for yourself or for him without having to explain yourself all the time. (Which I really do hope is not accusatory--i.e., I hope he doesnt' ask you about every transaction you make.)

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Avuncular Glass Bowl: If you don't go, make sure you tell your uncle. He needs to know he's a sleaze.

Carolyn Hax: But say it without any negativity. "No, thanks, I'm spending the holiday with Cousin and Partner." That will say everything that needs to be said, with dignity.

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RE: e-reader: Presuming that you are more knowledgeable about what a giftee wants or needs than the giftee does him or herself one thing that really irks me. My mother does this all the time. She will request a Christmas or birthday list in advance. I will supply one for her. But then she will unilaterally decide "oh you don't want that sweater, it is dry clean only." And give me a different sweater that she thinks is more suited to me. Sure, maybe I will ultimately find the dry clean only sweater annoying and wear it less than a machine washable garment. But I can guarantee I would wear it more than something someone else has chosen for me without my consent and with an attitude that they know what's good for me better than I do.

If your mom wants an e-reader, just get her one. Maybe it will go unused, but you are deluding yourself if you think any gift you feel is "better" will be appreciated more. Just take a look at my good will pile after Christmas...

Carolyn Hax: No argument here, thanks.

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Carolyn Hax: ... which might prompt questions, rightly, about squaring this with the husband who doesn't want gifts.

So here's why I see these as requiring two different approaches: According to his spouse, no-gifts guy's "method of dealing is to start telling me that he doesn't want anything, don't get him any presents, if anyone buys him anything it's just going to suck anyway."

That could just as easily mean "Pay attention to my problem" as "Don't buy me gifts."

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Alex Va: Hi Carolyn, My partner of 3 years was left off of an invitation list to an exclusive Holiday Party. I was so excited about this party that I purchased a fancy dress and we bought a nice bike for the toys-for-tots give- away. I just learned of this "omission" after questioning the absentminded co host for a week and a half. I have not told my partner.

Carolyn, I'm sad and mad and can't help feeling personally slighted. I've been in a clique with the same group of friends for many years. When we met, we were all single, over time, most have married. Others are in committed relationships. Even though it was tough, I still participated in whatever was planned for the group ignoring the discomfort of being the third wheel. Now that I have finaly found someone that I enjoy, I'm stuck being the third wheel again.

Should I go alone or decline thereby giving up a seat that was paid for.

Carolyn Hax: You don't go, but I'm curious now about the omission. How exactly did the "absentminded co host" respond to your question?

The bike isn't a problem, obviously--tons of dropoff points for that.

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Folding laundry: I was folding laundry with my wife, and I noticed that her underwear has gone from Victoria's Secret when we met to bigger and whiter. So I held up a pair and joked "Your Granny called, and she wants her panties back!". When can I start having sex again?

Carolyn Hax: When you have ear hair and/or when you can start braiding your eyebrows. Maybe.

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Buying gifts for spouse: If spouse asks what you spent $75 on a Home Depot, you can say "Your gift" and leave it at that. If you want it more of a surprise then starting 2-3 months before the event/holiday, start taking out smaller sums of money from the account, $25 here or $50 there and then use the cash to buy the gift. He'll see withdrawals and you can say your saving up for something special...you'll tell him when you buy it. Last, buy gift cards when they are on sale (sometimes I see buy a $50 gift card, get a $10 gift card for free), then use the gift cards to buy the gifts when it's time. Just a few ideas for surprise gifts.

Carolyn Hax: Nice ideas, thanks--though I still think she should have some no-questions-asked pocket money, as long as there's no sketchy history to say otherwise.

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E-Reader: Just as a counter-point to the responses to the posts about the e-reader -- my mom is very similar (down to the Wii gathering dust in her home). I understand your point that I shouldn't presume to know her gift preferences better than she does, but can you suggest any way to get over the yearly frustration of spending hard-earned money on things that she never uses? The cost of an e- reader is a lot for me, but is an amount I would be all too happy to spend on my mother for something she would love. I just can't stomach the thought of it all going to waste (like the iPod, and the Wii... both of which I spent hours teaching her to use) if it sits unused in her closet.

Carolyn Hax: You could also figure out how much you'd be willing to part with on a possibly lost cause, and give it as a gift card to the store that sells the dubious gift. Maybe that wouldn't help, but to my mind, it would be easier to accept its neglect if I underwrote, say, half of the gadget, and knew she had her own money invested toward the rest.

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Snowy Ohio: I had the same issue as Alexandria. My husband and I have only one account, which he monitors carefully online--just because he's responsible that way. We buy each other gifts because we like surprising each other. I can't imagine not getting him presents just because it's "our" money. Anyway, when I go grocery shopping, I get an extra $20 cash every so often and just sock it away so that, come Father's Day or his birthday or Christmas, I have cash enough to buy him something without leaving a paper trail. We've been married for 38 years, and I can't for the life of me figure out how couples keep two accounts and decide whose money pays for what--but that's a whole 'nother issue.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, another good idea. There's something about all this that strikes me as dissonant, though--"I sneak because I love."

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Consent?: I can't believe someone just described a Christmas present as "something someone else has chosen for me without my consent," and you agreed. What ever happened to "it's the thought that counts?"

Carolyn Hax: Did you read the whole post? Context is everything. "Consent" may not have been the best choice of words, but I think it's clear the writer was saying that the mother was buying things based on her own preferences, consciously rejecting the recipient's, which falls on the wrong side of "It's the thought that counts."

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Warped sense of humor: Some (like in yesterday's column) buy themselves gifts and hand them to spouses saying, "Warp this." -- I luv it when a typo makes weird sense. This one is much fun to think about.

Carolyn Hax: So glad to be of service! I'd be surprised if that's the only typo today. the past two chats, my hands have been so cold I can barely type. heat's on, but the house leaks, so it seems wrong to crank the thermostat.

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Maryland: My sibling is planning to buy my parents an extravagant Christmas present. My parents are pretty frugal and I think this is going to go over REALLY badly. (They'll be embarrassed by the amount spent, possibly take it as an insult that something they owned needed an upgrade.)

They are going to be taken aback by the size of the gift and my (well-intentioned) sibling isn't going to get the expected happy reaction. I see this all blowing up on Christmas Day and I'm anxious about it already. Any advice? I already tried to gently caution Sib on the wisdom of the gift and went over badly.

Carolyn Hax: It's not yours to control. Let it play out, and prepare yourself not to get sucked in if and when it erupts--don't take sides, remind anyone who'll listen that they all mean well, and don't even think about anything that sounds like "I told you so."

In fact ... if you have any personal stake in this--e.g., you're afraid your sis is showing you up, or you take great pride in being right about your family dynamics, or any other way an ego can work its way into a scenario like this--then deal with that now. As long as you're not personally invested beyond preferring not to have a family battle, you'll come out okay, no matter what.

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You need a space heater!!: That's all. Happy holidays!

Carolyn Hax: I know. But it's not usually this cold.

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"Warp this": I nearly spat my coffee all over my computer screen. I know it's just a typo, but all I could think was that, if someone handed me a gift they wanted me to give to him/her with the instructions, "Warp this," I would have to respond "Gladly!" And then I'd take a hammer to it.

Carolyn Hax: Would last week's holiday greeting have been better as, "dorp dead"?

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Tacoma: I've recently made some dietary changes for health and personal reasons. I've never felt better, except for when it comes to eating out with my husband's family. His sister likes to order for the entire table, which was never a problem when I wasn't watching my nutrition as carefully. Now my husband butts in to order things he knows I can eat, which works fine in restaurants. However, we're having Christmas dinner at their house this year, and I know I won't be able to eat most of what's prepared. I'm bringing a few dishes of my own that taste good and meet my dietary requirements, but I know my SIL (and probably MIL) are going to comment on how I'm not eating enough. How do I refrain from sticking a fork in my eye?? I usually just demur, but I feel like if I don't come right out and say something, I'll be dealing with this forever. FWIW, my SIL asked if a doctor had diagnosed me formally. I replied there's no diagnosis, but I can't argue with the difference in how I feel.

Carolyn Hax: Please just ask them outright, "Why the interest in my eating habits?" You don't even have to respond to their response(s). Whatever rationale they come up with can be met with an, "I was just curious," if you don't feel like engaging further. But if they do have a concern you feel you can effectively address, then by all means try to make your case.

Also consider running your dietary changes by your doctor. I harbor no illusions that "My doctor's on board" will be enough to keep boundary-challenged people at bay, but keeping your doctor apprised is a good idea anyway, just because.

finally--I realize this is a long-standing source of stress for you, but from what you say, you're down to having just this one situation (dinner on in-laws' turf) that's a problem. From where I sit, that looks more like a victory.

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Gay cousin: No way. Uncle does not deserve dignity. They only way to change views and minds is to stand up loudly and make it clear that exclusionary prejudices (against gays, Hispanics, Jews, etc.) are NOT acceptable. Should she say "No Thanks" with dignity if he denied her black boyfriend to join her? No. We need to stand up to prejudiced people and attitudes. Signed, a straight woman

Carolyn Hax: Wait a minute--the dignity was for the poster and for the gay couple. Telling the uncle off does nothing for the cause. Telling the uncle no thanks, you're not going to his gathering because you're spending the holiday with X [whom he obviously will know is the family member he himself banished] is all that needs to be said.

Now, if you mean that the poster should say, "I won't go to a gathering from which [gay relative] is excluded," then that's fine, great. But remember, in the original post, it was offered as "saying screw you to homophobic uncle." That's what I was dealing with (poster probably didn't actually intend to say it that way, but I didn't want to ssume).

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Granny Pants: Maybe his wife just had a baby and her body is still transitioning back to Sexy Underwear status?

Not that I'm sensitive about my granny pants.

Carolyn Hax: So if she's just getting older and the VS ship has sailed, that would make the jab okay?

The best case scenario of sharing your life with another means growing old with someone, and doing that in a loving way requires both of you to have a sense of humor about yourselves as well as each other--and it requires gentle acceptance of, and ideally cherishing, each other's changes. (As long as they're not the result of defiant/in your face self-neglect, of course, which brings up different issues.)

The granny-pants announcement did fine on the sense-of-humor-about-her part, but he'd better be great at laughing at his own decay if he's expecting her to lighten up about this. Regardless, he's going to have to come through with a good deal of genuine loving acceptance if he doesn't want to stay in the guest room.

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Laundry: Thank you, laundry folding husband! After all the gift carping (what happened to the generosity and love of the season?!), I had a great laugh out loud moment. Buy your wife some sexy panties if you don't like the grannies. Just make sure you check the size - WWIII could start if you get her panties that are sizes too small. Again, thanks for the laugh!

Carolyn Hax: Or just more humiliation/despair at growing older, if they're too small. And consider the shape, too. There are pretty things that are comfortable, and there are pretty things that are wedgies with edgies. Pick a store that serves (and employs) women your wife's age, and ask questions. You want her to actually wear the stuff.

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Granny Pants: Ugh, seriously? As a married woman with kids, I wear granny pants. They are comfortable for 1) sitting at my desk at work, 2) chasing after kids, 3) do activities with the family. I have a couple pairs of those fancy-schmancy VS panties for "special" times. Sounds like this guys "special times" are coming to an end if he can't get real and see that life happens.

Carolyn Hax: There's that, too. Thanks.

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Maryland, again: Thanks for answering! I don't THINK I have any ulterior motives, but I guess there have been some weird money issues in the fam recently and I feel like this is going to touch off a whole new round. So it's less "Listen to my wisdom" and more "please oh please oh please don't touch off 15 awkward conversations that I will have to have with Mom because she won't have them with you because that would be too ungracious, but she will have them with me and I can't do anything about it after the fact except subject myself to lots of awkward talks about money, in which any input I give will be smacked down."

Plus to tie it into earlier threads, my mom is the opposite of the mom who asks for the e-reader and then doesn't use it. She'd probably LOVE an e-reader, but thinks it's an extravagance and therefore asks for socks. So my sib is trying to cram an e-reader down her throat a) to be nice and b) to make a point that the world will not cave in if you splurge on the occasional indulgence. Both A and B are excellent points, but...perhaps not to be made via holiday gift, you know?

Carolyn Hax: Fair enough. But that's the route she's choosing, and you've said your piece, so it's done.

As for the "15 awkward conversations," you -don't- have to have those. You can say, "This is between you and Sister." You can decline to make suggestions. You can say, "You all mean well, and I hope you can work this out," which is another way of saying "I'm not having this conversation and I'm not making suggestions because, even if you didn't smack them down, which you generally do, it's still not productive for me to get involved."

You can even say that if you feel the more circumspect reasoning hasn't stuck.

Know that you can choose not to get caught in the middle, and you won't get caught in the middle.

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Eating Habits: They are asking questions because it is extreme a diet is so strict that exceptions aren't made for a holiday meal or a special night out. I'm not saying you should eat anything you don't want to but just pointing out why it might be unusual to others. They are asking because it's a drastic change and people get curious/nosy over big changes. Just acknowledge how big of a deal it is for you and ask that they encourage you to stick with it.

Carolyn Hax: They're asking because their normal is super-controlling; remember, sis orders for the table(!). That is not someone who gets the "it's just normal curiosity and your way is extreme" treatment. The family is extreme.

I could make a decent number of arguments in favor of making occasional exceptions--courtesy to a host, a defense against over-zealousness (since zeal and dieting have a problematic history), the proven utility of flexibility when it comes to sticking with a diet, etc.--however, none of these is anyone's business but the person who is on the special diet. If a friend/relative/guest/colleague/neighbor/congregant/anyone chooses to adhere to a restricted diet for whatever reason, then no one has a right to run after them with pie saying, "Just take a bite!!!"

Even in situations where there's an eating disorder or other dangerous form of diet control, the answer isn't to get into the person's face--the answer is for the inner circle to act on the professional guidance of a reputable specialist in that disorder.

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Carolyn Hax: I'm going hike up my granny pants (eek! cold hands!) and warp this into the snowset. Thanks everybody, and type to you here next Thursday.

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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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