Category Archives: communication

Tradition transitions

In Carolyn’s Saturday column, a young woman seeks advice about talking to her (apparently long term, serious) boyfriend about how they spend their vacation time. This year, he plans to spend all of it at his family’s cabin–as apparently he has always done. According to the LW, “It is one of his favorite places on Earth, and he would love nothing more than to spend the entire summer there. The two of us went last year, and I also loved it, and am excited to go again this summer.But, she is nervous this means they won’t go anywhere else, ever, ever again. (For example: while he’s willing to accompany her on visits to her family, he offered to take a week of unpaid leave to do so, rather than shortening his time at the cabin. On one hand, wow, that’s a generous thing to do. On the other, it sort of demonstrates exactly how much it is worth to him–to the dollar–not to change his cabin plans).

Carolyn advised her, wisely, to try to see the biggest possible picture here, and to be brutally honest with herself about how she hopes to spend her leisure time and money in the future. In reply to the question “how seriously should I be taking this?” Carolyn wrote:

As seriously as context tells you to. I don’t think inflexibility on one thing is automatically a sign of trouble — especially something that you can appreciate as “one of his favorite places on Earth,” and especially when he (quickly, it seems) volunteered to sacrifice something valuable to create a little more flexibility where previously there was none.

But that simply means you need to air this out more; don’t just take your consolation week and like it. If you see yourself wanting to go to the beach with him in February some year, or whatever, in addition to your normal week of family visits, then don’t be shy — say it now, and see what he says.

If his answer is, “I have no interest in the beach, and the whole time I’d just be annoyed about my lost week in the cabin/lost pay,” then you have to take that very seriously as a prediction of life with him. I do hope he’d be that honest with you, if that’s how he feels. Speaking a truth that might make us look mean or selfish is far better than saying all the right things and having no interest in following through— yet nerves do falter at truth time.

Even if you don’t feel strongly about variety in vacations, you also need to pay careful attention to other non-cabin things he feels strongly about. When people don’t care much about an area where their partners are inflexible — say, religion — it’s easy to resolve differences by letting the ones who feel strongly have their way. Sometimes, though, the mellower halves go on to find out their mates aren’t just dug in on religion, but instead are one-person Maginot lines of entrenched positions on issues — some of which the erstwhile mellow ones do care about, a lot.

So, try to see as much of the picture as you can before you decide whether this is about a great cabin, which isn’t terribly serious, or inflexibility, which is. Make sure the “give” lines up with the “take” — not just his, but yours, too.

Makes sense, but I was amazed at how quickly many of the commenters on this column jumped all over the boyfriend, when actually we don’t know very much about his response at all. For example:  “this is all of their free time for the rest of their lives doing only what he wants. if she wants to visit friends, or go to Europe or any wish she has — it must be subordinate to his plans for their free time. sounds like a lifetime of a man who doesn’t really care for her or for pleasing her — his way or the highway — I say the highway.


Carolyn’s advice was consistent with her general philosophy, which is to acknowledge and honestly deal with your preferences and annoyances in (dating) relationships, because no matter how good you think the relationship is, or how much you want it to work out, if on a day-to-day basis you don’t want the same things, and don’t make each other happy, you’re on a track to years of  resentment and misery. This means sometimes you break up over reasons that feel really petty–but actually are reflections of whether or not you are well suited for each other. I think this is really important.

But I also think it’s really important to give people room to consider and accept change, and to gradually work their way out of lifelong, beloved patterns. It sounds like this boyfriend has always spent all his vacation at this cabin. Last year they went and had a great time, so he had no reason to think about changing his plans. This year, it’s in the air that she wants something more, and while he wants to be supportive of her, he’s not willing to change his plans. I think it’s important they talk about it so he can get used to the idea of doing something different, but I also think it’s fair to give a summer or two for that transition to happen, and to come more naturally.

This situation reminds me very much of Christmas 2008. SK had just moved to Michigan, and we were engaged, but not yet married. We’d both done various versions of holiday events with each other’s families for the previous couple of years. We were talking about how we’d handle the holidays that year, and we found that neither one of us was willing to break with our personal traditions just yet. We both had expectations, with lots of emotions attached, about how we’d spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and it was really hard to mash them up. In the end we did go our separate ways for part of the holiday, and then joined up again for the rest of it.

I don’t know about for him, but for me, that year was really important. It was a chance for me to experience my childhood traditions with the knowledge that it was probably going to be the last time, or at least the last time they’d be quite that way. With that mindset, I was also able to see with clear eyes that the traditions had changed, too, and things weren’t always going to be “the same” anyway. It also gave me a chance to realize that I wanted us to spend the holidays together more than I wanted to go through the motions of the events that I thought made the holiday. I needed to do things my way that year, but it wasn’t purely selfish inflexibility. It was a turning point for me that made me ready to plan our holidays as a couple in the future.

Now, this couple isn’t engaged or married, so I’m certainly not advocating that she spend one or two or three more years just waiting to see what happens when summer vacation time rolls around. But if they are together for the long haul, I guess I would just add to the converstion that the seemingly stubborn decision of one year, even if it seems hard and fast (and reduces one party to piteous weeping), can be the beginning of the conversation, not the final word.


Sigh: the battle over whether to use one space after a period or two continues to rage. The issue has long been settled by typesetters and style guides, and even forcibly by web browsers themselves, which typically collapse all whitespace between characters to a single space.

Nevertheless, purists, loyalists, and typists of all sort continue to kvetch about it–many of them admitting that they simply can’t give up doing what they were trained to do. And so, the matter has now come to the attention of the highest authority in the land: Miss Manners. What? Yes. And since she does hold strong opinions about communication media in other situations (thank you notes must be hand written!) perhaps it’s not entirely unreasonable that she weigh in here:

Dear Miss Manners: I’ve just been informed that only one space is needed after a period, but having learned to type on a typewriter, this confused me. Apparently (note, I’m still putting in two spaces), computer fonts no longer require two spaces after a period, but if you (whoever that may be) are typing on a typewriter, you should continue to do so?

Gentle Reader: Ordinarily, Miss Manners handles only those problems that are truly about etiquette. This is less of a limitation than one may think, considering that she defines etiquette as all human social behavior.

Her answer is that while it is true that a computer does not require double spaces between sentences, you should continue to use two spaces on the typewriter. Partly this has to do with tradition. But mostly it has to do with the fact that anyone still using a typewriter has been at it too long to be retrained.

(Check out the letter above this one, too, where she makes a plug for voting polite candidates into office.)

Hello, world!

Hello, world!

….If anyone is still out there.

It’s been a busy, exciting, and sometimes stressful few month behind this blog. I’ve been taking an unintended, but much-needed break, and once I got into the non-momentum of not-posting, no post seemed worthy of being the first post…of the new year. After a 2….3….4….month hiatus. Or what-have-you.

But I miss the blog (I don’t miss the columns, as I never quit them, of course) and the only way to pick up again is to just do it, eh? So here we go–easing back in with some good advice from Carolyn’s chat today. She’s stated this philosophy in various forms many times, and I think it’s important, so for today will just share it with you:

You know, it’s okay to choose not to do something just because you don’t feel like it. I don’t advise making a habit of choosing this option, but if you’ve baked for the last three bake sales, for example, it’s okay to say you’re sorry, this isn’t a good time, and you’ll be happy to make something next time. And your unspoken definition of “isn’t a good time” could really, justifiably, be that you’ve been looking forward all week to sitting on your butt and watching a movie.

I see getting comfortable with the word “no” as a multi-step process, especially if you’re starting from a point where there’s a sense of personal risk attached to every “no”–as if everyone will hate you or think ill of you for letting them down. The first step is paying attention to when your feelings turn resentful–that’s the advice you’re referring to, I assume–and recognizing that’s your body’s way of telling you that you’re giving to the point of giving yourself away. Accordingly, you start to step back gently from there.

Once you get comfortable with that process, I think you’ll start to make out patterns–of things you like to give and don’t, of people you like to give to and don’t, or situations when it’s okay to extend yourself and when it isn’t. The second step is to put those patterns together: You’ll see the beginnings of an outline of who you are. You’ll see which are your healthy relationships, which are your passions, which are your vulnerabilities, and what just drains the life out of you. Seeing these clearly will help you say “yes” and “no” to things based on anticipation of how you’ll feel, instead of just reacting to how you feel in the moment. That means you’ll be able to make plans–and decline them–with a growing sense of confidence.

Sometimes you’ll mess up, sure, and overextend yourself here or blow off a worthy cause there. But even those aren’t the end of the world, they’re just life.  One lazy /selfish/entitled decision does not a lazy /selfish/entitled person make. That’s step three, fine-tuning your ability to recognize when to offer help and when to look at the ceiling and whistle and hope nobody spots you. As long as you’re at peace with the cumulative result, you’re fine.

Strongly worded letters

Expert writers and researchers showed up in two columns today, fretting that they hadn’t been properly recognized for their efforts on behalf of others.

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A Little Help Please: Savage Love edition — “It gets better”

In this week’s Savage Love, a reader asked about Billy Lucas, a high school freshman who committed suicide this month after being seriously bullied by his classmates, who harassed him because they believed he was gay:

I just read about a gay teenager in Indiana—Billy Lucas—who killed himself after being taunted by his classmates. Now his Facebook memorial page is being defaced by people posting homophobic comments. It’s just heartbreaking and sickening. What the hell can we do?

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Vacation Interrogation

Carolyn’s Sunday column (both of her weekend columns come out Friday afternoon) features a letter from a woman who feels that her daughter-in-law is too nosy:

Dear Carolyn:

How do I handle the multitude of questions that come from my daughter-in-law regarding activities or trips I’m taking? To my son I say, “I’m going to the mountains for the weekend.” He responds, “Sounds like fun,” and that is it.

Daughter-in-law says, rapid-fire, “When are you leaving, is X going with you, what will you do there, when will you be back?” I know it is her nature to be a bit nosy and I have nothing to hide, so I find myself pouring everything out like she was a soul-sister.

Unfortunately, she stores the information and later throws little digs my way, like she is keeping a scorecard on where I go and whom I’m with. Her timing with these digs is remarkable, always implying that I don’t spend equal time with her kids. I need help in not buying into her nosiness in the first place.

Snow Bunny

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Miss Manners 2.0 (1/2)

Another day, another Facebook etiquette problem, eh?  So for all our sakes’,  let’s look at a (slightly) different shade of technoquette inquiry to Miss Manners:

Dear Miss Manners: When one signs onto any form of instant messaging and notices via one’s contact list that someone else is already online, to whom is the ultimate responsibility to take notice? The person signing on or the person already there?

I take daily comfort from noticing that my brother must be alive and reasonably well as he is online, but he has never, ever, initiated a chat with me by something as simple as “Hi, sis, how are you?”

I get stubborn and decide to wait, and after months, I will break down and initiate a chat with him. He almost always responds and we chat for a bit, exchange pics, news, etc. Then, months later, I break down and do it again.

Am I unreasonable to want him to evince an interest in me?

Also, what about friends who never reply when I initiate a chat? “Hi, how are you?” Nothing. And, then, there is the friend who almost always “hides” that she is online. If I send an off line message, she usually signs in and we chat.

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Takin’ Care of Business

Hellooooo gentle readers (that’s just a glass of wine and the end of the co-rec softball season talking)….

You probably won’t have noticed–unless you subscribe to this blog’s feed–that I did a lot of housecleaning last night, evaluating and clearing out categories that had been used once, lamely, in three years.  (As the librarians would say, I was working on my “controlled vocabulary,” for example, consolidating the four terms I used for “parenting” into one).

If you do subscribe to the feed, you already knew this, or at least you knew that dozens of old posts, “edited” and “published” anew when I changed the categories attached to them, were clogging up your feed reader.  To all of you folks: sorry if this was annoying or confusing–and to those who actually said they liked looking back at old posts: thanks!

If you’re very, very observant, you may have noticed that I’m not the only one who’s had this problem.  Over in the sidebar, you’ll see a new feature: I’ve finally added a feed of all the major columns I read…so now you can see what’s new, and get to it right from here!  But it’s immediately apparent that Carolyn Hax is also having RSS woes.  This has been going on for over a week now–whole bunches of her back columns coming through at once.  She and the WaPo are well aware of the problem, but it doesn’t seem to be fixed yet.

But I, too, have been happy to revisit some of Carolyn’s old columns, even though they’re from just a few weeks, rather than a few years, back.  For example, this one, published while I was on vacation in July, came to light today:

Dear Carolyn:

I have a sticky situation at work. The company I work for often needs information from “Jane’s” organization. I have been in my field for a year, while Jane is seasoned in hers.

I feel intimidated by Jane, who can be short and abrasive on the phone, and usually speaks loudly, like she’s yelling at me. She hangs up as I am ending my remarks. Like “Good [click] bye.”

When our conversation is over, I feel small and a bit run over.

I don’t know how to deal with her rudeness and present myself as a professional who should be treated respectfully. I don’t want to be argumentative, and there really is no one above her I could talk to. Any suggestions?


Jane isn’t your mother, your mate, your close friend, your beauty contest judge, your doctoral review committee, the judge at your custody hearing or even the seen-it-all, public-weary power-tripper at the window of the DMV. You don’t need Jane to like you. You just need the information your job requires.

So, put on your business skin (read: elephant hide) over your thin personal skin, state your business and be done with Jane, while expecting the same from her. It’s both assertive and pragmatic. And if her hanging up on you shaves your Jane time to its absolute minimum, maybe that’s a gift.

Hear, hear!  These are words I could stand to take to heart, as, I wager, could many of us hypersensitive, overachieving young professionals.  So often, I’ll come home from work upset about how someone was “angry” or “disappointed” in me at work.  SK, saint that he is, hears me out, and then my dramatic tale ends in a long pause…and he invariably replies with, “um…that’s the end?” (why does this happen after every story I tell?)  He often gently follows up with, “I think it’s possible you may be reading too much into this.”

I hope I’m getting the hang of just doing my job the best I can, and not fretting so much about whether I’m everyone’s favorite….but it doesn’t hurt to have a reminder to wiggle into that skin before tromping through the jungle.  Or something.

But I’m afraid she *is* real…. (aka, “Whaaaaat?”)

On Friday, Carolyn’s live chat was dominated by a woman who startled on several fronts: first, in her defiant, deluded, egocentric approach to marriage and then, oddly, in her open-minded and seemingly sincere desire to fix things.  The extremes were jarring to the extent that Carolyn called her out as a fake….but I’m not thinking so.  The rundown, below:

Arlington, VA: I’ve finally put my foot down and told my husband our discussion about housework is over and he needs to increase his share of the work or else. He wasn’t too pleased with this, but I feel I need to stand my ground. We each estimated the number of hours we put toward housework and watching the kids. I end up with almost 60% of the work. [Slight digression: a good chunk of the chat also hit on the rudeness and pointlessness of eye rolling.  Nevertheless….I find it hard to believe we didn’t all do so here].  I excluded things on his side that I don’t really call work, because I know he enjoys the solitude (lawn care, weeding, finances, cooking, etc.).[Um.  What?  Roll.  Roll.  Furrow brow.]  He doesn’t think that’s right, but I don’t think these tasks are any comparison to vacuuming, doing dishes every night and cleaning bathrooms. I also don’t buy his argument that he works 10-15 hours more than I do at work each week.[What?  Does he or doesn’t he?] That is a career choice, and while it’s enabled him to earn far more money than I do, it doesn’t excuse him from his share of housework. [What? What?] Short of threatening divorce, how do I convince him that he is wrong? As a reality check, I threw this out to friends and family and everyone agrees with me. [Just casually tossed it out there, I’m sure…]

Carolyn Hax: Let’s play “one of these things is not like the other,” a la “Sesame Street”:

a hot bath,

a long walk,

a good book, and

hunching over to claw at dirt for several hours!

How do you like to get your solitude? I guess it’s something that you still have friends, because I might have thought otherwise after reading that you count weeding among “things on his side that I don’t really call work.” Wow.

Anything you wouldn’t already be doing as a leisure activity counts as housework. Period.

And if he is at 40 percent of the household load with all of the yard work, cooking and finances excluded, and if he’s carrying this nearly-half-to-possibly-more-than-half of the domestic load while working longer hours than you do and bringing more money to the household than you do, then you owe him one of the fattest apologies ever owed a spouse–not just for failing to respect what he does, and not just for standing your arbitrarily you-centric ground, but also for dragging his rather domestically generous self through the mud of everyone you know as you sought approbation.

To deliver this apology, you might need to track him down at his attorney’s office.

Now, if he’s cooking only for himself and not you, or if he’s gardening/doing lawn care as a way of escaping from you, or if he isn’t contributing his extra money to the marital war chest, then you’ve got something–something different from what you’re saying, but a legit gripe nonetheless, one that’s worth taking to counseling. [Carolyn has to give these caveats I think, because she has so little information to go on…but in this case it felt like she was just offering this nut a rather complicated conditional set of legs to stand on.  I wish she’d just skipped ahead to: ]

But if you just don’t like him any more, then, okay–end the marriage, don’t make up a reason to trash him.

Housework vs. yard work: As a single woman with a house and yard that I have to keep up all by my little old self, can I just tell the woman complaining about her husband to count her blessings??!! To think that I would NEVER have to think about cutting the grass, weeding, cleaning cutters, pruning shrubs, sweeping the sidewalk, makes me want to swoon. Cooking too??.sdakkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk….sorry I just passed out for a second.

Carolyn Hax: No problem. People think I do that all the time during these things.

Re: Arlington Housework: I don’t really buy your reasons for thinking my husband is correct. [She doesn’t seem to “buy” much of anything, except her own argument, does she?] He does contribute all of his salary to our family, but that’s beside the point. [How?] The big difference is that I absolutely hate cleaning bathrooms while his chores are not that big of a deal to him – mine just get weighted more heavily in the calculation.[So none of his contributions to the family count because she hates cleaning bathrooms? No logic, here.  If he hated his chores more, the bathrooms would still need to be cleaned] Also, you might call asking friends about this “dragging him through the mud”, but I think it might be the only way he changes his ways. [Whoa, these do not cancel each other out.  This is not, “you might call it dragging him through the mud, but I call it getting feedback.”  If that’s what she said, I’d still agree with Carolyn, but at least those are different words for the same thing.  This is “getting him to do what I want by dragging him through the mud”].  If nothing else works, I think my next step would be to have my Mom talk to him [What?]  and then discreetly get my friends to mention this as often as they can when we get together [Whaaaaaaaat?]. Another option is to hire someone to do my share of the work – then I’ll have nothing to complain about. [Why the hell not?  But seriously?  If that’s really the only thing that’s bugging her, how can it have ballooned into a disaster of this magnitude?  I have a really hard time buying–to use her phrase–that if someone else cleaned the bathrooms, she’d have “nothing to complain about.”  She seems like the type who will find something.]

Carolyn Hax: Seriously–if this is just about cleaning bathrooms, then hire someone to clean your bathrooms. Or switch it up with your husband, and alternate weeks where you clean ‘throoms and do yard work.

If he refuses to do that, then you have a leg to stand on.

However, I maintain that your airing your grievances to “friends and family” makes your husband look bad–and I maintain that that stinks. Consulting with one friend and your Mom, okay, but surveying everyone? And doing it, you now admit, as a means of leveraging him? That stinks even more.

As for enlisting your mom and friends to talk to him, well, that’s so mind-boggling I have to wonder if this is a fake question.

Re Re: Arlington Housework: One other thing I probably should have included in my original post. You might think I’m self-centered, but I have a different take on it. My husband was pretty socially awkward when we first met. I don’t want to say I did him a favor by marrying him, but it’s not that far from the truth. I’m much better looking than he is, I’m much smarter, and I have a much better personality. We have what you’d call an unbalanced marriage and I expect him to compensate for that, in some way. So even if he is doing slightly more work than I am, I don’t think that even comes close to what he really owes this marriage. [Oh my.  Sadly, it doesn’t really surprise me that this kind of thing happens, and that this kind of resentment and passive power play occurs as a result.  But I’m stunned that she’s so completely aware of it, open about it, and seems to be of the mindset that this is totally OK–that she confesses it as an argument for what she wants, not as a nail in the coffin of her case.  Has she read Carolyn before?  What is she thinking?  Who is this person?]

Carolyn Hax: Okay, you officially can’t be real. Too bad. [She seems only too real to me….]

Re Re Re: Arlington Housework:: I’m not sure why you think this isn’t real. My husband is upset about the whole thing and maybe my take on things is skewed — that’s why I wrote in. It’s hard to think my view is really so off when I get validation from just about everyone I talk with and even my husband would agree with how “unbalanced” our marriage is [Ha, right? ]. He just doesn’t agree there needs to be a remedy.

Carolyn Hax: When you married each other, you deemed each other your equals–emotional equals, equals in status and your standing in life, equal partners in each other’s happiness. You became equals who would then divide the household chores more or less equally, with that “more or less” being determined by your responsibilities outside the marriage, such as jobs and ailing relatives and such.

The marriage you’re describing is a business arrangement–and, as it happens, as a business arrangement, it seems to be pretty fair. [This confused me, or seemed to be lacking context or something, here, but she elaborates below]

A straight answer, just in case.

Re: Arlington: Carolyn, I think she’s real. In fact, I think I know her.

Honey, I am one of the “friends” you dragged this to, and I agreed with you just to get you to shut up. You may be more outgoing and better-looking, but take my word for it, he has the better personality. The person who married up is you.

Carolyn Hax: Oh dear. [Indeed]

Re: Arlington Housework and Boston: Sheesh. Movie script: the Arlington Housework husband cuts loose, moves to Boston and falls in love with someone who appreciates him. Arlington Housework starts a new job as an party planner for self-centered 20-something’s. [Boston, Party planner, etc., refers to another topic in the chat]

Carolyn Hax: Casting ideas?

Re Re Re: Arlington Housework:: I appreciate the straight answer. Maybe what I can take from all of this is that I need some individual counseling and that my husband and I need some marriage counseling. [Even more shocked that she seems to accept this.  This, not anything she said above, made me wonder if it was a fake message….how can she be so adamant, so mired in her narrow perception of the situation, ready to divorce if she doesn’t get her way, and then be suddenly up for counseling?  I mean, Carolyn’s good, but…..]

Carolyn Hax: Yes, I think that’s fair. I’m sorry I put you off as insincere. I do get fake questions, and your declaration that he owed you more housework because you have the better personality really was shocking–enough for me not to believe you.

Why? Because I don’t believe there’s such a thing as altruism in marriage. No one marries someone as a favor to the other person. What happens instead is that the people who marry perceived inferiors get something in return for doing that, be it money or security or a place where they don’t feel threatened–as in, an abiding sense of superiority to prop them up through life.

I guess what I missed is that there is such a thing as -perceived- altruism in marriage, where one spouse -thinks- s/he has done the other a favor. And when you get a few years into the marriage and feel your spouse hasn’t delivered the benefits to which you believe your altruism entitles you, then that’s seen as grounds for divorce.

If that’s what happened here, then I have only this to repeat–marriage made you equals–and this to say: He is a human being. Please grant him the dignity that affords him, and stop shouting to everyone who will listen about his social awkwardness and his relative worthlessness as a person against your high value. Start noting and appreciating what he does for you. And yes, counseling, stat.

Casting Couch: How about Mark Ruffalo for the husband?

Carolyn Hax: Like it

[several minutes of chat pass; other topics are discussed]

Carolyn Hax: Mark Ruffalo was so right for the husband that I posted it before remembering that I’d thought better of following the movie thread. Just to explain why I’m not posting your suggestions. Thanks, tho

Shouting to everyone: Huh, wonder if I am guilty of some version of what Arlington is doing. My spouse is smart, attractive, good at his job and interesting. He is also lazy to the bone around the house and tends to be very moody at home. I vent about both. Should I not? It is true, not likely to change, and venting does make me feel a bit more able to cope with it.

Carolyn Hax: It’s okay to have discreet outlets, it’s not okay to air to any and all. [Here things take an interesting turn to the topic of spouse-venting.]

And while I’m here: It’s okay to accept tradeoffs in mates, because no one will be all that–but it’s not okay to hide behind “venting” when you;re really just miserable. [Reminds me of good advice my mom gave to me: it’s OK to vent to your friends every once in awhile–and always thank them for listening–but if you’re venting all the time, it’s time to focus on fixing what’s upsetting you, not griping about it]

Talk to fewer people, sure, but also listen to yourself. [Nice–concise]

Politics of housework: Everyone, ever, who has housework issues that are also partner issues should read the should-be-dated-but-definitely-isn’t “The Politics of Housework,” which is a (short) essay by Pat Mainardi (easily googleable). I say this not because I necessarily agree with the woman who wrote in about her husband, but because it’s a good way to separate the issues from the other issues. The Politics of Housework

Carolyn Hax: Haven’t seen it myself, but will have a look, thanks. [I read it; it’s worth taking a look and makes interesting arguments, though it also makes it easy for women to be a bit smug and self-important about things like the division of housework.  I got a little fired up, and had to remind myself that in our house, it’s SK who remembers to vacuum, clean bathrooms, clean the litter box, etc.  Don’t let the gender theory obscure your own reality]

Talking about your spouse’s shortcoming: Is this really that common? I just don’t talk about issues we have from time to time with others. A few things in passing, sure, but nothing like our split of household chorse. It’s not that we don’t have our issues, but we tend to talk about them ourselves and I don’t get anything out of talking to other people about them. My husband is the same way. Does that make us strange? [Le sigh. I’m with this person’s approach, but I can’t help feeling that this isn’t a sincere “are we strange?” question. She has to know their relationship is–at least based on this tiny tidbit–more healthy and equitable than the others thus laid bare in this chat. Why she needs public validation of that is anyone’s guess.]

Carolyn Hax: I think it means you get along well. But let’s take this up next week?

Fairfax, VA: Airing spouse’s laundry: a friend once told me something that has stuck with me. “You are your partner’s best advocate. Or worst.”

It’s true. My friends and family will remember long after I’ve forgotten that Spouse -forgot our anniversary, doesn’t help around the house, told me I was fat on our firstborn’s first birthday.

I will talk to my friends/family about things in my head, but I never forget that what I say can’t be unsaid. [Great point about not polluting your spouse’s image to others, though if all of her examples are real, I’m feeling a little sad for her].

Carolyn Hax: I like this too.

Wow–Pretty much ran out of colors with this one. I hope they do take this topic up again next week!    Will keep you posted.

On being–and paying–upfront

If there are two things I’ve learned from the advice columns, they’re 1) Don’t date married dudes and 2) Don’t expect to be paid for work if you haven’t billed for it.

Both were featured in Annie’s Mailbox today.

LW1 is depressingly predictable:

Dear Annie: I am at a crossroads and need your advice. For the past two years, I have been dating an older married man who works at my office. I started seeing him after my husband and I split up.

Our time together is limited. He comes over to my house once or twice during the workweek and spends some time with me every other weekend when my kids are with their father. We are in contact by cell phone, and I text him throughout the day and evening. We are never together in public unless it is out of town.

My problem is, he has told me he will leave his wife, but he hasn’t yet. When I don’t see him on a night he is supposed to come over, I get angry. He later apologizes, and I forgive him. This has gotten to be our regular routine.

I feel like I have wasted these past two years, but for some reason I keep coming back for more. Should I give up? — P.H.

Le sigh.

LW2, while perhaps less cliche than the “other woman,” is just as common.  Year after year, bitter doctors, lawyers, plumbers, roofers, and interior decorators write letters, complaining that their friends and family are taking advantage of their services in (what’s supposed to be) their off-time.

Thing is, though, most times the person complaining hasn’t made it clear what their services cost them–in time, expertise, or supplies–and therefore how much compensation they require.  For example:

Dear Annie: I respect and love my ex-brother-in-law, “Joe,” like my own kin.

I am a carpenter’s apprentice with excellent skills. Joe, along with several family members, called and asked for my help with some repairs on his home so that he could receive family and friends after his second wife died last year.

I agreed, for a fee, but didn’t specify the price. I told him I’d leave that up to him. The repairs were extensive. I fixed two roofs and the interior ceiling, replaced shingles, patched many holes throughout the house, put up window coverings and painted most of the interior.

Knowing that this is my livelihood and I am currently out of work, I expected to hear from Joe when I finished.

// //

I gave him a two-month grace period before I mentioned the money. He responded as if I were being disrespectful of the dead. He yelled at me and hung up the phone.

Now I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. Do I sue him for the repairs or let it go? — Sick and Tired in Connecticut

Should the XBIL have yelled and hung up the phone?  Of course not.  But clearly the arrangements had never been clear from the start.  How do you agree “for a fee,” without saying what the fee is?  How do you sue, when there was no agreed upon payment?  How is it a grace period, if the person you’re gracing isn’t aware that you’re counting down the days until you lower the hammer?

S&T and the XBIL should have reviewed the repairs, and S&T should have given an estimate.  It doesn’t have to be what he would charge a regular customer–of course he’s free to cut friends and family as good a deal as he wants.  But it’s asking for trouble to expect unspoken, unwritten, undecided payment.

Further, as an expert in the field, it’s not fair to ask non-experts to determine how much to pay.  Say the XBIL gave S&T $1,000.  No doubt that’s far less than the value of the repairs.  And yet it also seems like a pretty large sum to pay to a relative and friend doing some fashion of a favor.  Would S&T be affronted to be paid so little, or embarrassed to take so much?

Plus, how should the bereaved XBIL know what the going rate is for window repair and roofing, or when S&T expects to receive a check? Nobody wants to be taken advantage of, but most people don’t want to stiff their loved ones, either.  They just don’t know what’s appropriate.  I expect even if LW2’s phone call had gone well, and XBIL was eager to pay, he still would have asked, “how much do I owe you?”

It’s easy to think that with friends and family, talking about money will be awkward and unpleasant–so it should go unmentioned.  But the awkwardness of telling your buddy how much you’ll charge him to repair his roof is nothing compared to the awkwardness of attempting to sue him for not paying you the fee you didn’t ask for.