Advice columnist

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My parents were both married to other people when they got together, a fact they have always been open about with me. (They had no choice, I suppose, since I have a half-sibling who is less than a year older than I am.) Their message has always been that true love is worth fighting for, which I definitely agree with.

And yet, I am nervous to the point of paralysis about introducing them to my boyfriend, who happens to be married with a small child. He and his wife will probably divorce soon — there are financial and legal complications — and our commitment to each other is real, and yet it's still a rather embarrassing situation for me to be in.

How do you suggest I tackle this with my parents, who are both sensible people with real insight into this sort of thing, but who will probably also have very tough questions for me?

— Nervous

Nervous: Introduce them to the boyfriend and answer the tough questions.

(Nick Galifianakis/for The Washington Post)

What better way than meeting the family to spot the difference between what is real and what we’re just telling ourselves is real?

(For those who don’t have family like this to lean on, substitute a reasonably objective third party who loves you and knows you well.)

Dear Carolyn: My sister and I are open with each other. This year we got a frightening tax bill and I vented to her. She was sympathetic but didn't commiserate. I found this a little strange given what I know about her finances.

It bugged me enough to ask her how much she owes, and she said she was getting a refund but wouldn't say how much. I was floored. I asked her for more details, including who she used for tax prep, and she refused to divulge them. I am jealous she is paying a lot less and also concerned about whether what she's doing is even legal. Can I bring this up to her again? And how do I do that?

— Bugged

Bugged: Getting a refund doesn’t mean she’s “paying a lot less.” It just means she withheld or prepaid more than she needed to cover her obligation. Her tax bill could be twice what you’re paying and still involve a refund.

And no, you can’t bring this up to her again, not without stirring a pot you never had any business stirring and that serves no purpose in being stirred.

I am sorry about your scary tax bill. When there are a lot of changes to the tax code, a lot of people base their withholding on outdated information and end up withholding either too much or too little — and that can lead to surprises. Again, the size of the refund is about how much you paid in advance, not what you pay overall.

Re: Taxes: They're open with each other, but Bugged's immediate response is jealousy and suspicion? Bugged ought to try to approach her sister with a little more charity. (Which might even be deductible.)

— Charitable

Charitable: I see what you did there.

Re: Taxes: You and your sister may be open with each other but she is drawing a boundary here. Respect it.

— Anonymous

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