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Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems

Carolyn Hax
Friday, March 11, 2011; 12:00 PM

Advice Columnist Carolyn Hax takes your questions and comments about the strange train we call life.

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Carolyn Hax: Hi, everybody, and thanks for stopping by today.

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Wake Up Call: Carolyn, I was going to submit a question/complaint about dealing with a co-worker. Then my clock radio came on to the news from Japan. I don't think my little gripe is that important anymore. I'll just be grateful for a job with annoying co-workers and a house to go home to.

Carolyn Hax:

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When the Party Ends: Hi Carolyn,My boyfriend and I, who live together, love to entertain. We have people over for dinners, wine and cheese nights, etc. The only catch is that the majority of our friends are very late night folks-- when everyone gathers at another member of the group's house, the conversations go until 2 or 3 am. When we have people over here, however, I'm ready to wrap up around midnight. I've tried gentle hints in the past, saying lightly things like, "hey guys, thanks for coming, but I'm turning into a pumpkin." They haven't worked. Last week, I finally said directly-- when the conversation had naturally paused-- "well, thanks everyone, but I think I need to call it a night." I tried to keep my tone light and warm. A friend later said it's rude to tell people to leave your house. What to do? Cinderella

Carolyn Hax: You can introduce it with an apology for being so blunt the other night, though technically your guests owe you an apology for being so impervious to your hints.

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What's worse?: What's more damaging to a relationship? A husband who cheats and hides it or a wife who is driven to prying into emails and voice mails to catch the cheating husband?

Carolyn Hax: I'm not going to bite. They both need to summon their strength to face the problems in the marriage head-on. Both are going out of their way to dodge the real issue(s).

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Forgiveness: How do you know when to forgive someone if that someone has pretended to seek forgiveness in the past, and then caused the same problem again? How does one know "this time" is real? (It's someone I have to deal with, not someone I can cut off communiques with.) I'm not one to hold a grudge, so I'm okay with forgiving, if it's real. But I don't feel like playing the fool again. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: I don't see why it has to be either-or, you forgive or you hold a grudge. It seems like a workable solution to thank the person for admitting error, and then to say you believe s/he is sincere in wanting to make things right. That charts out the narrow strip between accepting something as true that may not be, and saying outright, "Blah blah blah," which is probably what you really want to say. Call it the "We work together/are family/whatever so we need to move on" response.

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Lingering guests: My dad would always say to my mom, "Let's go to bed so these good people can go home."

Carolyn Hax: I like it, thanks.

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Needing certainty in a uncertain world: I've been in a relationship for 4 years with my girlfriend. We are discussing marriage and she wants kids and I don't really know what I want. She is convinced that I'll change my mind in a few years. I want to build my life with her but I'm worried that in a few years I won't change my mind and then what? Is it better to end the relationship now or wait and see what happens? Thanks for your help.

Carolyn Hax: I'm worried that your girlfriend believes "Oh, you'll change your mind" is a sound way to approach her life.

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Boyfriend's attitude is concerning: Dear Carolyn,I hope you have time to answer this question. I've been living with my wonderful boyfriend for 6 months. He has had a lot of health issues in that time (mainly, back and neck pain and an ongoing knee injury). We can't do the active stuff that we love, but this doesn't bother me as much as his outlook on life. He's so negative that it's crossed over from being worrisome to very concerning. According to him, all of his doctors and physical therapists are incompetent, everything is awful, and if I ask how he is, his response ranges from "surviving" to "I don't know." I suggested counseling to him but he won't do it. I feel like an insensitive jerk, but I just wish he could see that things could be so much worse. I don't understand his outlook on life at all and I don't feel like I'm dating the same guy I used to date. Recently I've considered leaving him. I understand that he's injured, and that it's horribly frustrating, but lately I've felt less like his girlfriend and more like a roommate. Am I being completely awful here?

Carolyn Hax: No, I don't think so, because while leaving someone at their low point is often regarded as a heartless thing to do, it gets a bit murky when the low point is at least partly due to the person's own stubbornness. It's not as if he's completely at the mercy of his condition; he can be shopping for second opinions, taking you up on the therapy suggestion, trying things within his abilities to manage his negative moods.At the same time, it sounds as if he is dealing with chronic pain, and that can rob people of their will to force a good mood.physical therapists on his health insurance plan, and start making appointments--unless he stops you.If he does stop you, then that's a good time to decide how long you plan to stay.

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Should I say something or butt out?: My brother is in a longterm committed relationship with a lovely women. They haven't chosen to get married, mostly because my brother is afraid it would ruin their relationship-- his S.O. would rather be married. Now there is the possibility of his relocating for work to a place where his S.O. could not work (long story)-- he is hoping that she will come with him and hang out, pursue her interests, etc... This would likely be for a few years. I think that if he's going to ask her to do this-- which is in some ways a sacrifice for him (taking on supporting her financially) but is a HUGE risk for her, it ought to impact the "do we get married" decision, because of the additional financial security marriage would provide her. I'm not sure he's considered this from her point of view. Should I start a conversation with him about it? I suspect that his GF would hesitate to bring up marriage again.

Carolyn Hax: If he's talking to you about this, then, by all means, say, "If you're going to ask her to give up all of her safety net fo r you, then I think it's only fair that you give her the safety net of marriage in return."Not for nuffin, though, it is her job to say something to protect herself here; she is an adult and knows her relationship better than you do. If she hesitates to stand up for herself because she's afraid she might scare him off, then that's her mistake.I just think it's okay for the inner circle to call a few as they see them, as long as they don't harp and as long as they choose their moments judiciously. Butting in is useful in inverse proportion to the amount of butting in you do.

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struggling to bite my tongue: Sometimes when my girlfriend comes home and complains or rants about a person or situation (like a coworker or person on the metro), I defend the other person, or as she says, "side with" the other person. If I think she's overreacting or in the wrong, yes, I say so, pretty gently I think. This reeeeally pisses her off. She says she's just venting and that, as her boyfriend, I should just listen to and support her unless she's specifically asking for feedback (which she never is in these situations). I think that she should listen to what I'm saying, so that the next time a similar event happens, she'll see the other side of it and maybe it won't anger her so much that she has to come home and rant. Am I being a bad boyfriend? Should I just nod sympathetically and swallow my objections? Is that how 60th anniversaries happen?

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, the ones their kids dread having to celebrate but celebrate anyway because it's easier to show up for a few hours than it is to risk the silent treatment/crapstorm/guiltstorm by saying, "You've never actually liked each other and all you're going to do is snap at each other over the plans, the food, the music and whatever else, so why don't you spare us all and not have the party this time?"I think you probably already know this, but I am sympathetic to your position that people are generally happier if they stop reacting to every little thing and instead take a moment to realize that not every obstacle is a personal attack by the Fates.However, this is not something you can reason, debate, cajole or pressure someone into believing. It, like any other functional worldview, must be internalized. You've got to feel it to believe it. And even though you feel it, by trying to be her personal missionary of The Other Way, you're crossing the line into meddling. You're her boyfriend, not her emotional tutor. that throws your relationship balance way off.vs. whether there's some magic combination of words that will teach her to chill.You can start this new approach by addressing with her the whole issue of the "shoulds." She thinks you "should" just let her "vent," and you think she "should" start making an effort not to get teed off by every little thing. What's really going on is that both of you "should" decide whether you can make these two outlooks fit together comfortably.(especially) if you rather strongly disagree.

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Not fan of cosmetic sales parties: What would you do? Stay-at-home mom/sister-in-law is a new sales person for a cosmetic line that I actually bought years ago from another relative who got into the sales biz but quickly bailed-on. I returned said products after realizing they were too expensive and I was pretty set in my ways with what I use already. I was invited to a sales party and politely declined and explained why I wasn't interested. Second sis-in-law is hosting another party at her house to drum up more business and I've been invited once again to help support the cause. I don't really want to go so will probably politely decline since I know I'll feel pressure to buy if I'm there. Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax:

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How long should I wait?: My boyfriend says that, as of now, he doesn't think he'll want to have kids. (We're both in our early 20s.) I know I do want kids, and I know "Eli" would be a great husband and father if he gave himself the chance. I think he might change his mind, and he acknowledges that indeed he might. We love each other, share the same values, and are really great friends. How long should I wait to see if Eli actually will change his mind? One year? Five years? What's realistic? I want this to work, but I don't want to wait forever if the same dealbreaker's at the end of the tunnel.

Carolyn Hax:

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Parental %^@^**^%$: I have 10 year old twin sons. They are both really nice boys, do well in school, have a good group of friends, help around the house when asked, etc. However, I am really starting to struggle with one who is turning into a button pusher, specifically MY button pusher. He seems to go out of his way to provoke me, and while I generally can ignore, calmly dole out a consequence or turn it into a joke, if he hits me at just the right time (lack of sleep, stressed, attention turned elsewhere for whatever reason) he can really rile me up and it seems to be happening more and more often. Logically I know he's looking for a reaction but I need some calming mantra to get me through those times when I really just want to cuss the kid out or be as petty as he is being. Where's the fine line between ignoring and getting angry, lecturing and stronger consequences? If this is 10, what's it going to be like in 5 years???

Carolyn Hax: Possibly much better. There are times as all kids grow up when they need to separate themselves from their parents, be it physically, emotionally, politically, whatever. It's part of their absolutely essential process of building their own identity. Technically they're doing this hard work internally at every point in their childhood, but there are times when it's low key and other times when the internal struggle is so great that it sucks the whole family in. It's quite possible you're in one of those phases now--and that it's exacerbated by his being a twin. His need to distinguish himself is all the greater for his proximity to his brother, but he might not be willing to rattle his connection to his twin, so he rattles yours all the harder.

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re: Biting his tongue: If girlfriend really is taking every little thing as a personal slight, then yeah, her issue to deal with. But isn't this also kind of a question about the different ways that men and women communicate? So often men want to jump in and try to fix things (his "devil's advocate" position sounds a bit like that), while women just want to be heard. Not trying to start a gender war here, just honestly interested in your thoughts on this.

Carolyn Hax:

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NY, NY: Hi Carolyn,What does a successful long-term marriage look like? Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: I;m not sure I can capture it in an answer, because a good marriage is so personal, but the comment I'm about to post certainly captures the tone of a successful long-term marriage:

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RE: Struggling to bite tongue: Here's what my husband (of 15 years) and I do -- if one of us just needs to vent, then we say that "Look, I just need to vent". It's understood that when one says that, the other is not to jump in with 'fixes' or 'suggestions.'Done.

Carolyn Hax: Saying what you mean, being open about your needs and listening to/respecting your spouse's as well, not making a big deal out of small things--this one snapshot captures a lot of what makes a successful marriage, thanks.

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One-Night Stand --> Relationship?: Hi Carolyn, do you have any advice on how two people who REALLY hit it off after a mutual friend's birthday party might see past their own hangups and begin dating each other with open minds? Long story short, we've both got some socially-imposed judgments about how easy it was for the other person to jump into bed right away.

Carolyn Hax: Keyboard, face, keyboard, face.Unless you don't feel as if you can do the asking?

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is it verbal abuse?: My husband is not as touchy feely as I am. Sometimes when I initiate touch, he will snap at me angrily, saying something like, "Stop it! Get off me!" He is always very remorseful that he hurt my feelings afterwards and promises to do better in the future. No amount of talking has solved this issue. His irritation is not restricted to certain behaviors I could just avoid. It might have been fine to have my hand on his leg an hour ago but when I do it again he snaps at me. It's been frustrating and hurtful as touch is really important to me and he won't initiate it so I have to risk getting my head bitten off or do without. I'm at a loss for what to do to change this situation, but I cannot continue the way things are.

Carolyn Hax: And if you don't see progress within a reasonable time (a good therapist will help you figure out what's reasonable), then you need to think about whether you want to remain married on these terms.

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re: One-Night Stand: Seriously? Is this person really saying that they were willing to have a one-night stand but is now questioning the morals of the other person for also being willing?

Carolyn Hax: That's how my forehead read it, moments before it flung itself at the keys.

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Re: Look, I just need to vent: I said this to my boyfriend once. He responded by asking me why because it was so unproductive and pointless. "You're just going in circles."Boy was THAT a hurtful eye opener.

Carolyn Hax: But you were willing to open your eyes, which not everyone is. Nicely done.

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Lingering Guests: There was a Far Side cartoon about this! One of my favorites. The hosts feign death until the guests, "sensing the sudden awkwardness," decide to leave.

Carolyn Hax: THAT one, I want to use. Thanks.

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we've both got some socially-imposed judgments about how easy it was for the other person to jump into bed right away. : what? oh my. this is the whole situation the sayin "it takes two to tango" was invented for. ugh.

Carolyn Hax: I hope they do see that they're perfect for each other.

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Boyfriend Doesn't Want Kids: When I was in my last year of college, the girl I was "serious" with was 100% sure she would never have kids. I always knew that fatherhood was a certainty for me. Eventually, after graduation, the relationship died. Having kids or not was definitely one of the main causes. That was 25 years ago. Today she has three children and I've been married to the best woman in the world for 15 years but we have no children. Life takes you where it will if you let it.

Carolyn Hax: Yep. That first step is a doozy, though, isn't it?

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Re: Lingering Guests: My parents kept a parrot in their dining room (stay with me, this is relevant). Whenever guests were over, like clockwork at 10 p.m., the parrot would start saying "good night, good night." I'm not sure the guests always consciously heard what the parrot was saying (he talked a lot), but inevitably they'd start to gather their things, make their excuses, and head home. I'm not advocating for keeping parrots in captivity (this was rescued parrot who couldn't be released) - but boy was it a great solution to the problem of lingering guests.

Carolyn Hax: Every once in a while, when we are going over one of my columns, Nick will say that what I'm advising is right in theory but that few people will have the ability to carry it out. I think we've got the new standard bearer in that category.

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New Haven: I love when you say "not for nothing." It's the Connecticut girl in you shining through.

Carolyn Hax: And, we had pizza last night, which I ordered as "pie." Now all I need to do is send you a thank-you note for your comment and I'll have a Connecticut hat trick.

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Career change: Hi Carolyn,When I first joined my company, I was offered a public-facing position that involved organizing events, brushing shoulders with bigwigs, etc. After a few years in the job, I've come to the conclusion that, although I'm good at it, I hate it. I dread attending these events, probably due to my introverted nature, although I'm a hard worker, so I've been successful at it.A position has opened up in the back office -- essentially handling paperwork, compliance issues, etc. -- and I'm thinking of applying for it. I think I would enjoy this kind of work. But every time I talk about this with my friends, they think I'm crazy -- who would voluntarily quit a job that basically pays you to go to parties? I know I need to be true to my nature, but these conversations make me think I'm making the wrong decision -- you want to move from the back office to my job, not the other way around.Can you give me some calming words of wisdom that will confirm that I'm doing the right thing?

Carolyn Hax: You dread a key feature of your current job. I don't see why you need to press yourself further for justification to transfer.

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For the One Night Stand: It probably depends on the person, but I know someone who had a one night (I think it was closer to weekend) stand with someone at a mutual friend's wedding. They're now happily married and have a kid. Might as well try asking the person out, and see what happens from there.

Carolyn Hax:

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Parental %^@^**^%$: I've had luck with whispering whenever I want to yell.

Carolyn Hax: GREAT IDEA, THANKS.

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re: One-Night Stand : It sounds like the two want to date each other, but their friends are judging them for starting to date after a one night stand.

Carolyn Hax: See, now, if their friends are on their cases, then that's all the more reason to schedule an I-live-my-own-life-thank-you date.

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Loan to friend: Hi Carolyn, I just gave my friend from college a large emergency loan. We're meeting up after work to talk about a repayment schedule. This friend is in many ways a victim of her own bad decision making and I have recently been trying to distance myself from her. I feel bad for the situation she is currently in and I gave the loan without hesitation (we've known each other for over a decade and she has never asked for money before) but I want to make it clear, beyond a definitive payment plan for this loan, that this bail-out was a one-time thing without rubbing salt in her wounds. Suggestions?

Carolyn Hax:

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Re: the parrot: Feh, if the parents didn't teach that bird to say "help! help! They turned me into a parrot!", they were really just wasting everyone's time.

Carolyn Hax: I've never read anything so correct.

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For Career changer: Be sure you are considering this job because it is something you would like and want to do, rather than just as a means to escape from your current assignment. Always be sure you jump towards something good, not merely away from something unpleasant. Sometimes our discomfort with what we have drives us to move to something that is not really better for us, just to relieve our pain.

Carolyn Hax: Really important to keep in mind, thanks.

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One Night Stander (Again) : I guess your reaction (and the other posters') are about what I was expecting. Look, I get it--I have no right to judge another person for tangoing when I was tangoing right along with him/her. But I know myself and I know the one-night stand resulted from a series of fluke circumstances, so it's easy to excuse away my own behavior--I can't do that as easily for the other person. Meanwhile, s/he has joked about not totally believing me when I said "I never do things like this." I agree completely with you that we shouldn't be judging each other, I'm just asking how to go about not doing it involuntarily.

Carolyn Hax: If you excuse your own behavior then, morally, you have to excuse the other person for the exact same behavior; it's Glass House 101. I rea;lize that's the intellectual argument, which you already buy, but I think -really- believing it kills the involuntary impulse to judge.That's because if you really believe you're no better than another one-night-stander, then you'll see him/her as your equal ... when it's pretty clear you dont' think that. You think your reasons were justified and his/hers weren't.If you continue to believe, privately, that you're somehow better than this other person, then do him/her a favor and don't try striking up a relationship. But if you genuinely find the person intriguing (for character/personality reasons) and you're not secretly suspecting s/he's a slut, then I don't see how the one-night stand even matters, except as a particularly enthusiastic icebreaker.

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Follow up: LW of "boyfriend's attitude": Dear Carolyn,I am the LW for the question about dating a guy who has been injured and is now depressed. First: Thank you so much for taking my question! Second, I agree with your suggestions. I did want to say that since his pain began, I've tried to help out with getting him second opinions. My close friend knows a well regarded surgeon and I got my boyfriend an appointment with that person. I have also spent days on the phone with various physical therapy clinics trying to find one that will work for him. Most days, I make him dinner when he gets home so he has time to do all of his physical therapy. He gets so absorbed with his job that he doesn't really make the time to do this. He also has a particular hatred for his job and blames it for his ongoing back/neck pain. With regard to psychotherapy, he's resistant. I have a good relationship with his mom, and asked her if she might help push him to talk to someone. She said that she doesn't think "he'll respond to that stuff." I guess I can no longer tell if he just IS negative, or if it's the chronic pain. To sum it all up: one of his friends recently said to me that he seems so happy and happy with me, and my only response was "huh?" Which led me to write in....

Carolyn Hax: Since you've tried the other doc/other PT route, the next step is to lay it out as time for him to take concrete steps in some area of his life to find relief--because you're starting to break under the strain.That other area might be starting a job hunt in earnest, or just doing the PT like he's supposed to. Say that it is indeed his life and these are his choices to make, but that his current choices are resulting in a negativity that isn't good for either of you.

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Venting: If the OP's girlfriend is really just struggling to be heard, she wouldn't be making it about other people. He didn't state their ages, but her sensitivity seems more a maturity issue than anything.

Carolyn Hax:

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Re: Lingering Guests: I think you should refer to great theoretical advice that few could implement "Goodbye parrot" advice.

Carolyn Hax: That's just one example.

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Breaking ice enthusiastically: My new pick-up line will now be: would you like to have an enthusiastic icebreaker with me?Although, this runs the risk of being misheard as a reference to enthusiastic windbreaking. Which is something different altogether.

Carolyn Hax: But possibly even more promising, no?

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One-night stand: If you feel you have to "excuse away" your own behavior, it sounds like you're feeling guilty about it. What if you just accepted that a one-night stand isn't per se "bad" regardless of whether it's "excusable"? Might ease the burden you've placed on yourself, which might in turn kill the impulse to judge others. Sorry to be all "I'm OK, you're OK" about it, but it might help shift your thinking.

Carolyn Hax:

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Carolyn Hax: When the topic turns to wind-breaking, that usually means we've hit the end of Hour Three. Have a great weekend, thanks again for stopping by and hope to see you here next week.

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re: I think you should refer to great theoretical advice that few could implement "Goodbye parrot" advice.: I think this person was just saying, let's starting using "Goodbye Parrot" as a term meaning "great theoretical advice that few could implement." Like a new bacon pants type reference.

Carolyn Hax:

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button pusher: I find with my kids that this means they need attention, and will take negative attention if they have to. You can discipline them in that moment, but later, make sure you do take time to give them some special positive attention. It will strengthen your love for each other.

Carolyn Hax: Just saw this, and I agree completely, thanks so much.

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Enthusiastic Windbreakers: ...would be an excellent club to join. And a good way for my sister to meet her soulmate.

Carolyn Hax: There you go, selling out your gassy sister again. (Not that we mind.)

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