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Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems

Carolyn Hax
Friday, March 4, 2011; 12:00 PM

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.

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Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody. That's all.

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Atlanta, GA : My side: Having a baby is something we both agreed we wanted to do before too much longer. We're both gainfully employed, have good health insurance, and for the time being at least are living in a city where we have several friends and family members on hand to help out. Who knows if that'll be true even a year from now. We should go ahead and ditch the birth control now. His side: Yeah, things are great now, but let's wait a while and see if things get even better. Your thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: What exactly is he hoping will "get even better"?

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Hos Before Bros: I'm in my early 20s and rent a house with 3 other guys. One of these guys is a real [jerk], arrogant, hair gel seeping into the brain, etc. He regularly brings home a different girl almost every weekend, once there was even a different one on Friday and on Saturday. I'm hearing the lines he's feeding these poor girls, and I know they're a load of crap to, to be frank, just get them into bed. Shockingly, it works 99 percent of the time, probably aided by the fact that they're usually already somewhat drunk and they have a couple more drinks once they get here. I don't feel that they're so wasted it constitutes a legal issue, it's that I know these girls are getting lied to about his feelings, his history, his intention to (not) call them, and so on, and it's getting to the point where I want to just come out and tell them to run for the hills instead of sleeping with this jerk! Would that be so wrong? What if I just dropped a hint to them when he went to the bathroom or to pour another drink or something? Or is it not my business, so I should just let this run its tawdry course? If my sister was in this position, I'd sure want the roommate to say something.

Carolyn Hax: If there were some subtlety to what you describe--even, say, if he brought the same woman around for 2-3 weekends straight, and then seduced and abandoned--then I could see the victim angle better. But I'd be surprised if these women genuinely were buying that they were the loves of his life based on one drunken evening.Anyone else have the same reaction? Or a strenuous objection to it?

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In law dissing my kids: Hi Carolyn,Brother in law constantly preaching about how important family is, how "dad" needs to see his grandkids (my kids) more, blah blah blah. We see granddad about once a month which to me is enough. Brother in law is always in tow, coming to our house with dad and then proceeding to be nasty to my kids. My 2 year old had a cold and was a little on the -um- slobbery snotty side. Lifted his arms to my brother in law - his uncle. uncle says "get away from me, you're disgusting and i don't want to get sick from you" After many, many times with this type of thing happening, I finally told him if he didn't want to be around my kids, he was welcome to NOT come to my house. My husband said I totally overrreacted and that if his brother doesn't want to deal with the kids, he shouldn't have to. I feel like brother in law can ignore my kids when we're somewhere else but should not come into my home and act like that with my kids. He can choose to not be around my kids. What do you think about this?

Carolyn Hax: I think the brother sounds like a piece of work, but the real problem is between you and your husband. What your husband said--"if his brother doesn't want to deal with the kids, he shouldn't have to"--is absolutely true. However, it leaves out the fact that "not dealing with the kids" is different from "saying mean things to the kids." The brother has no business saying "get away from me, you're disgusting," or anything else that rough, to a little kid. It's totally uncalled for, and the father of the child owes it to his kid to protect him from that.That seems so obvious that I'm wondering if you said that to him when you had the conversation about his brother?I have the sad suspicion that the brothers acquired similar social/communication skills, but I'll wait to hear back from you before drawing any conclusions.

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I cheated, now what: My wife has told me from the beginning that if I were ever to cheat on her, she would leave me. That it's just something she knows she could never get over. Not a big deal, I thought, because I knew we'd never be in that position. Well, I now find myself in that position, and I don't know whether to tell my wife or not. I feel like the scum of the earth, I can't believe I let myself get that carried away (drunk, at a party at a coworker's home, wife didn't come because she was taking care of the kids...I'm a horrible person). Anyway, now it's happened, I've done it, and I don't know what to do. I will NEVER let this happen again, and if I told my wife it would completely crush her and quite possibly split up our family, but if I don't tell her I feel like I'm tricking her into staying in a relationship I know she wouldn't want if she knew the truth. I don't know what to do. I'm a mess. Do you think I should tell her?

Carolyn Hax: Would you tell her if she hadn't given you the preventive ultimatum?no one asked me my opinion of this, but: I think declarations like your wife's are a terrible idea. Life is complicated, and I don't think we accomplish anything by boxing ourselves into a rigid opinion upfront.

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tech issues: The chat appears, but the first thing is a grey box from carolyn with "that's all" in it--is this actually how it started? Then the first question seems to be responding to something previously (like an update)--is there an issue?

Jodi Westrick: Carolyn originally wrote "Hi everybody. That's all," but for some reason the whole message didn't come through. The first question is new, not an update. The chat is working fine - enjoy!

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Date Nite: How soon into a "just dating" relationship (that you have high hopes for) should you drop the n-bomb: "no" sex before marriage?Seems like a wet blanket upfront but then I don't want to be coy. I am relaxed and funny with guys upfront, and don't read "conservative Catholic going by the book."But, um, I am. (Single mom here, so-called middle-aged if that changes anything...)

Carolyn Hax:

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Atlanta, GA: For instance, he might get promoted into an exec. position and start making more money, his mom might be moving back into the city, and (this sounds morbid) but our very sick dog may pass away soon and we'd have less to worry about in that area. As I see it, though, things could always get better, and I'm so ready for a baby that it's starting to hurt not to have one.

Carolyn Hax: Seems to me each of the possibilities is either going to happen or not, whether you have a baby or not, and so there's no reason to hold off to see if they're going to happen. I can't think of an example off the top of my head, but if he were waiting for something that would be affected by the timing of the baby's arrival, then he might have an argument for waiting. How bout this, he's at a transition point with his job, and it could go in any number of directions, and one of them would allow him to take a big chunk of time off to be home if/when a new baby arrives, so it makes sense to wait. That's pretty narrow, but I hope you get the idea.

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Tech problem?: No Q&A for more than 10 minutes. I keep refreshing, going to main WaPo page and reloading the discussion, etc.

Jodi Westrick: No tech problems. Carolyn is currently working on a follow-up question. Thanks for your patience!

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I Cheated (original poster): I see what you're saying, but...sorry, what do you think I should actually do at this point? Please give me more specific guidance. If my wife hadn't given me the ultimatum, I guess...I would tell her? And hope we could work through it? But, maybe that's just selfish because it just burdens her with my wrongdoing without accomplishing anything? Should I try to figure out what I would do sans ultimatum, and then do that? Or is there a Right Thing to do right now, with the situation as it is?

Carolyn Hax: -absolutely- don't want to be told the truth. I'll even skim for a couple here (or maybe Jodi can ...), to show you.I wish I could make this decision for you, but I can't. I can just walk you up to the two sides and shine as bright a light as I can on what each of them means.your family. Presumably, that decision would be to think of your children and not turn their home upside down just because you lost control one night.As long as it doesn't happen again, doesn't involve a sexually-transmitted infection, and doesn't come with a high risk of discovery by other means.I'm just talking about it in hopes that other people entering relationships will think about this carefully before staking out a position on infidelity.

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Re: the smarmy roommate: I used to be one of those girls...hooking up (drunkenly) with [jerks] like that. The person that I am today could totally handle someone saying something to me like - get out! he's slime! The person I was then could not. Listen, I knew (and I suspect the majority of these girls know) that this guy wasn't the love of my life, but at that time, I thought I could create a relationship out of a drunken hook-up. If a roommate said something to me, I'd get mad/embarrassed, but I wouldn't leave. I guess what I'm trying to say is that at that point in my life, I had major unresolved issues, which led to that type of behavior. I didn't like people pointing out the obvious and reminding me that I was a mess. Not saying all these girls are like I was, but some of them may be. You can't save them. They have to make that decision for themselves.

Carolyn Hax: Refreshingly honest, thanks.

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Carolyn Hax:

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"Gets Better": The "Gets Better" guy sounds like me. I knew I wanted kids. I also knew I'd NEVER decide that "today's the day!" to start. Luckily I was smart enough to know this about myself and I told my wife to just start trying when she was ready but not to tell me about it. And she did and it happened and I was happy and everything's been great.Basically, some people can't jump out of the plane. We have to be pushed.Sounds like her guy isn't so self-aware, though. She should tell him my story and ask if he recognizes himself in it.

Carolyn Hax: Works for me, and I hope she'll report back if it works for her. Thanks.

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from the nuts: In response to the guy who cheated on his wife, he definitely needs to tell her. No one ever said marriage was easy and hiding things from each other does not a healthy marriage make.

Carolyn Hax: A solid, no-bull argument on the "tell" side, thanks.

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one night stand: I had the same reaction. Super paternalistic question. Maybe these women want one-night stands. Women can want sex for sex's sake, too, and not all women are looking for romance and flowers.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. Another one:

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Big Brother Roommate: They're not your little sister, and they're (presumably) grown women. Personally I'd be a lot more offended by the roommate who interrupts a fun night to tell me I'm an idiot than the one who doesn't call the next day.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

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The guy who cheated: I've been on the other end of the cheating, and while I always thought that was something I could never forgive, when it happened to me, I discovered I was willing to worth through it (although my now-ex who cheated was not).If he wants to tell her simply to get rid of his guilt, don't do it. But if he had unprotected sex, he needs to tell his wife right away. Otherwise, he's putting his wife's health in danger.

Carolyn Hax: Another view, thanks.

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re: Date Nite: As a middle-aged guy, I would definitely want to know up front, more so the conservative Catholic part because I would immediately know that we would not mesh at all. I would also be annoyed if someone felt that they should keep such a large part of their life secret from me in hopes that I would change my mind about my own morals and judgements.

Carolyn Hax: And a FWIW on a different topic, thanks. (As you see, I've hit a patch of good feedback in the queue.)

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Alexandria, VA: My husband tends to not be able to stop drinking once he's had a few, and as I'm not much of a drinker, we've stopped going to bars, clubs, parties, etc. (Restaurants are ok because he can limit himself while dining.) But now I don't know what to say to people who invite us to these places. I've outgrown it, but some of my friends are still part of that scene. We go to a few parties for close friends, and my husband makes an effort to drink responsibly, but I don't want to go to every party we're invited to because 1) they bore me, and 2) he's likely to drink too much. Is it ok if I refuse invitations by telling my friends that our social style has changed and we don't go to most events where there drinking? I'm really ok with not socializing much at all, and the friends we prefer to see are into other activities anyway.

Carolyn Hax: You don't have to give any explanation at all besides, "No, thank you," and certainly there's no need to say that your "social style has changed."However, if your husband isn't getting any additional treatment or support to help him kick his drinking problem, then you can argue all you want that this is about your outgrowing/being bored with parties, and it will still sound like you're bending your social life like a pretzel around your husband's drinking problem. Please make sure you're actively addressing the emotional implications, both of you, head-on, instead of just the fluid-ounce intake.

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Baby before too much longer?: Maybe he realizes that he still wants to enjoy life pre-baby. Baby changes everything - no more spur of the moment trips, you have a bigger responsibility. That bigger responsibility is wonderful and rewarding, but it is life changing.

Carolyn Hax: Right. Something he should say to her explicitly. And something he should hold up against his wife's definition of enjoying life, which no longer has anything to do with waiting. They're life partners, and they need to make sure they're both speaking freely about and signing on freely to the path their joint lives are on.

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RE dissing inlaw: Hi Carolyn,Not sure if my follow up posted, as my computer froze up and i had to reboot. did you receive my follow up on my brother in law dissing my kids?

Jodi Westrick: Can you re-send it please?

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He cheated, now what: The cheater wants to tell wife so he can get guilt off his chest. That is extremely selfish. Then she will be guilt ridden the rest of her life - "should I have given him another chance?" or "shouldn't left the loser the moment I found out" or "Can I trust him ever again?"1. he needs to get checked for STDs. Negative or positive? 2. Who else knows of this indiscretion? Will it become a rumor that makes it way back to her?If both are no, then keep your mouth shut. If any are yes, you have to tell. And if you cheat again, then realize that there is obviously something wrong, and your relationship needs help.

Carolyn Hax:

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Cheater: He says he will "never" let this happen again but he also said he knew it would "never" happen in the first place -- and it did. Seems like fooling himself into believing these extreme statements is part of the problem -- not just whether or not to confess. Also, when is confession ever for the good of the wronged party?

Carolyn Hax: Good point.The first one, at least. I think there are plenty of cases where confession is good for the wronged party. hell, if the wronged wife here were able to use the husband's confession to revisit, revise and deepen her idea of what constitutes a successful marriage--to see not just him, but also herself as someone with profound flaws and just as profound worthiness of love--then it would be hard to see confession as a purely selfish act.

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brother-in-law and kids: Find it a little freaky that BIL is pushing for Grandpa to see the kids more -- not reported that Grandpa is pushing for more time or coming over more often -- but it is BIL who is treating the kids poorly. That sets off a few bells, no?

Carolyn Hax:

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Relationship Mojo: I'm currently in a relationship of a year that's slowly falling apart, and I really don't know why. It's a phenomenon I've encountered before, which I've dubbed, "we don't have anything to talk about anymore." I know it can't be just that, because my parents have been married for 30 years and haven't run out of things to talk about yet, but the cause has always eluded me. The syndrome is accompanied by vague feelings of not being as connected anymore and general life unhappiness on the parts of both parties, and appears to be (in the long-term) resistant to normal means of re-energizing things, like spending more/less time together or going interesting places. I'm stumped. Please help- I don't want this relationship to fall apart like ones have in the past.

Carolyn Hax: It might need to, if you're in a relationship with the wrong person.One detail that would help me tell the difference is how you got together. Were you very attracted to each other? Did you know each other before as friends or colleagues or ...? How about in the prior instances where this happened--any similarities in how you got together?Not knowing the common denominators, I can't say this applies to you, but it's pretty common for people whe start off with a raging attraction to each other to find themselves with nothing to talk about once they really get to know each other. If you have platonic friends with whom you never run out of conversation, then you might want to look to those friends and see how they differ in character/personality from the people you date.If they're very similar, then look to the way you act in a relationship vs in a friendship. That at least starts you off on the top two possibilities: that you're not choosing well, or that you're choosing fine but then not acting as naturally with dates as you do with your friends.

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Follow-up from Alexandria, VA: Thanks! I get what you're saying about changing my/our social life to bend around his drinking. I have thought about this, and since I drank very little if at all at the events I went to before meeting him, I have no problem giving them up. He isn't in AA or treatment, but he's also agreed that we don't need these events to have fun. I guess that's why I wrote in. Some of our friends may ask why we keep politely saying "no" and I'd like to be honest and say something like, "We're not into bars/clubs/parties and prefer to do other things with you."

Carolyn Hax: with a club soda in your hand--as you probably did before you got into a partnership that required you to avoid parties lest your husband lose control.

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Dissing in law again: I just wanted to follow up to say my husband and brother are very different from each other and my husband is a very attentive, hands on, affectionate dad. That's why I was shocked at his response to it. In retrospect though, he and his family are not particularly close and he doesn't have many fond memories. He said he tends to tune them out and gets preoccupied with other things when they are around (like tending the grill instead of hanging out) so I think he might miss how hurtful his brother is being. Perhaps I need to communicate this better to him instead of just going all grizzly bear mom. I do feel that if he doesn't step up and say something and make sure that it stops, I won't allow the kids around his brother anymore. His reaction to this is that his brother is just socially stupid and it's not worth fighting about.

Carolyn Hax: That's much better, thank you. And yes, please do spell out to him how cruel his brother is to your kids, with direct quotes wherever possible. Also express sympathy for the position this puts him in, since not being close to his family is tough enough, and having to take a stand will challenge the probably fragile balance he has struck with them.But while someone who is "socially stupid" around adults isn't worth fighting about, because adults can take care of themselves, social stupidity around small children is a necessary fight.

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Relationship Mojo- Follow-up: This particular relationship started out as a good acquaintance of several years, although not someone I talked to on a regular basis. More like, we got along great when we we were hanging out, and didn't really keep in contact when we weren't. Although others that have fallen apart similarly are of all types- one with no friendship first, one with a decent friend of a few months. I'll definitely have to ponder the rest of what you said, but do you think there's anything that can be done at this point to salvage what I have, or it's better to move on and choose differently next time?

Carolyn Hax: If you really care about this person and really find him/her inherently interesting, then it's worth seeing what happens when you put in extra effort--to do and read interesting things, ask probing questions, say what's on your mind and in your heart.If that doesn't take, then you might want to hold off on dating people you find attractive-attractive, and instead keep an eye out for we-can-talk-about-anything attractive.

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Arizona: My friend has been in a yo-yo relationship with the same jerky guy for the past four years. He can't seem to live without her yet fears commitment, so basically they date until things get too serious, then he blindsides her by dumping her, then a few weeks later he contacts her and apologizes, and so on. Obviously she has some blame in this for not deleting his number from her phone, but the real villain is him because he knows how in love with him she is.The problem is this: during the current leg of their relationship (they happen to have been "on" for about 4 months now), the guy seems to have gotten it into his head that he wants to make friends with her friends, including me. That would be reasonable and right if he weren't a flight risk, but I have no interest even in being civil to this guy given the history. He calls, texts, invites me to stuff they're doing. Am I being a meanie if I say no every time?

Carolyn Hax: Why don't you just talk to him? "I appreciate the effort you're making to include me in things, but I've watched you dump my friend X times, and I don't trust you. For her, though, I will make the effort, so I'm asking: What's different this time?"

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Baby for Atlanta : They have discussed this and he said he wants to wait. I don't even see why we are trying to figure out ways for her to push harder. He's already giving non-sense reasons to wait. These are more commonly referred to as "excuses". Maybe I'm being harsh but this guy does not appear to want a baby and she needs to stop. It's clear that he's already in a place where he doesn't feel he can be honest so he's avoiding.

Carolyn Hax: I totally disagree with this. My advice is for her not to push for a baby, but to push for him to be honest with her, because they both deserve that. Backing off because he has retreated into excuses is the seed of a lot of resentment.Plus, it's tacitly saying "avoiding" is okay because he doesn't "feel" he can be honest, which is just the antithesis of a good marriage. Certainly there are times when it's wise to back off while someone takes time to process complex thoughts or emotions, but this is something they've talked about and promised each other. If he isn't mature enough to speak honestly of his doubts or fears--and, if needed, to ask for time to sort through his feelings--then the person on the receiving end of his promises has standing to say that won't fly. Just as he should say clearly to her that he doesn't feel he can be honest, if indeed that's how he feels.

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Cheated, Now What: This guy never once mentions how much he loves his wife and doesn't want to lose her. Seems like all he cares about is his guilt and how he feels. He says he will never do it again. If he does't get caught or confess, he will probably do it again until he does. He is putting the blame on drinking, an ultimatum that might have been given years ago, etc. He is the one who is responsible for his actions. Plenty of people get drunk at parties and don't cheat. He needs to man up and think of his wife for a change and not himself.

Carolyn Hax: I don't tell her I feel like I'm tricking her into staying in a relationship I know she wouldn't want if she knew the truth." That is a fair consideration of his wife and her needs/feelings.

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One more from Alexandria, VA: I get what you're saying, and it probably would help us to see a therapist and discuss his problem and how we're handling it. My dislike of bars/clubs/parties isn't only due to his drinking, so perhaps I'm using it as an excuse. I don't want to spend time at functions I don't enjoy when I could be doing activities (with others friends) that I love. Maybe I should turning down the invites for my own reasons, since most are from my friends, and deal with the alcohol problem as a separate issue.

Carolyn Hax: That sounds like a great idea. Conflating the two puts you in the position to miss something important, one way or the other. With each invitation, ask yourself first, perfect world, do I want to go? And next, is this a good idea for Husband?It's really hard to thwart an impulse to rationalize, or else we all wouldn't do it so much. But if you're able to buy into the idea that uncomfortable thoughts okay to have (it's the acting on them that's hell), then you'll be in a better position to spot when you're making a social choice about you, and when you're making a choice about your husband's drinking.you're staying home for your husband's sake( which is okay, by the way, as long as you're honest with yourselves about your reasoning). You'll also be able to speak confidently to a therapist about the scope of the issue.By adding the separate exploration of a possible emotional element of his drinking, you'd be dealing with each circumstance thoughtfully. That's your best chance at keeping this from becoming a bigger problem than it is.

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The Ultimatum and the cheater: Can we please take the wife's ultimatum out of the question? I said the same thing to my now husband when we were dating 15 years ago. Doesn't mean I'd hold him to it many years and children later. She could be have grown similarly. It feels to me like we're using what she said who knows how long ago as an excuse not to tell. For me, cheating is about the lies as much or more than the sex. And not telling is compounding the lie. Why would you do that (the lying/cover up/looking over your shoulder/etc...) to yourself and your family?

Carolyn Hax:

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Help me: I've been with my boyfriend 10 months, and we do plan on getting married someday, just not today. My mother is talking to me about my aunts participating in my wedding and being on the wedding program. Serenity now.

Carolyn Hax: Just feeling your pain.

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Re: We have to be pushed. : Wow. You had to be forced into having kids. Doesn't that really say more about you and your maturity than anything else? Did you have to approach marriage the same way?Geez...all of these social scientists are right. Men do not want to grow up these days and assume adult responsibilities. Now we women have to assume that burden too.Grow up. Seriously.

Carolyn Hax: I also don't think needing a wake-up nudge is the same thing as being forced to have kids. It's a fine line, perhaps, but the difference to me is wanting vs. not wanting. If someone professes to want kids but is in a chute standing at the door over the drop zone and can't seem to move his/her feet, then a little rah-rah nudging is in order. If someone doesn't want kids or has professed ambivalence of long standing, then pushing would be the equivalent of being "forced into having kids."

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Mojo Dating: Can you put thinking about the relationship on hiatus for a couple months, and instead think about what makes you passionate and happy? Sometimes when a relationship is going south, focusing too much energy on it will make it worse. You'll over analyze everything and generally try too hard, and the ensuing *pressure* is hard on both parties. On the other hand, if you get your own Mojo back, the chances of that leaking into the relationship are pretty good.

Carolyn Hax: I like it, thanks.

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Losing mojo: I've often noticed that couples that don't have some sort of mutual interest often struggle the most to keep the relationship going. My mother always said that you need a good friendship as a basis for a marriage because love will come and go and when it's at a low point, your friendship and mutual interests will keep you together through those periods. If you are mostly dating people based on mutual attraction rather than mutual interests, then what do you have to fall back on when the love and great times ebb? You drift apart. I have to say that my marriage is my longest relationship and my wife is also the woman I've had the most in common with of all of my relationships.

Carolyn Hax: Standing and clapping, thanks.

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Carolyn Hax: That was a lie: I neither stood nor clapped. but my mental image of me was standing and clapping, and it even stomped and whistled, because my image is able to crowd-whistle while my real self is not.

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one more time: What do you say to people who make comments and innuendos and straight out ask you when you're getting married? These are coworkers I generally like, I don't want to be curt or insulting back to them, but wow it's none of their business. Holy jumping monkeys I can't believe people still ask these kinds of questions.

Carolyn Hax: "Holy jumping monkeys I can't believe people still ask these kinds of questions."These colleagues are good sports, right?

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For the women whose mother is planning the wedding now: Perhaps she's just trying to scare you off of this guy by presuming early. Hey, it might work!

Carolyn Hax:

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Carolyn Hax: That's it for today for me and my stumbling fingers. Thanks everyone for stopping by, have a great weekend and I'll type (I hope somewhat more reflexively) to you here next week.

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Re: being asked when you're getting married: Ask them "Seriously, help me figure this out. What kind of answer are people looking for when they ask that question?"And then, if they give a useful answer, let us know! Because seriously, what kind of answer could a person possibly give?

Carolyn Hax: Ooh like this very much, thanks

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Holy Jumping Monkeys: I inadvertently hit on a way to make the questions stop--though a little embarrassing: I was having a bad run of luck with serial monogamy and being dumped at the sticking point, and when someone asked me something similar, I burst into tears in the middle of a party. I don't think anyone at that party, especially the questioner, will ever ask that kind of question again.

Carolyn Hax: This too, though you're right to suspect that I just want "holy jumping monkeys" to be published as many times as possible.

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