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Use your advice to raise your own children

Question: My wife and I don't have kids yet, so I don't want to throw stones at people dealing with a stress I have yet to face myself. But we have friends who do have babies and toddlers, and who often are making (we think) bad choices for their children: junk food, hours of television, letting the kids run rampant in restaurants, etc.

I feel sorry for the kids, because it feels like they're being socialized into bad habits. Do you have any tips for how one could helpfully intervene, or at least relax so that I don't spread unpleasant judgmental vibes?

Answer: Oh, I'm sure.

Do nothing. Do not a thing.

Truly. Unless the friendship is awe-inspiring or all of you are too mellow to register pulses _ or you'd prefer fewer friends _ there's no way even for other parents to tell friends how to raise their kids. Even when they're right.

And nonparents? Heh.

Until you get there, resist the temptation to think you can do better. The easiest way not to wax judgmental is to find good reasons not to judge. You have great ones.

For one thing, these kids are hardly in immediate danger. Twenty years from now, they could well evolve into serene, taxpaying nutritionists while your own little ADHD darlings are still lobbing Skittles across the classroom.

And, you're talking babies and toddlers _ i.e., creatures of rigid habit, whom you're likely seeing only on social, i.e., habit-busting, occasions. Even uberparents see their TV and cheesy-poof limits collapse under the weight of excitement.

You can help by anticipating the stress and planning accordingly. Suggest kid-friendly restaurants, plan outings with running room and no TV, offer to visit post-bedtime.

There's no mystery here

Question: Why do we love the people we love? Despite every logical reason not to (we've each betrayed the other's trust in the past, a relationship could mess things up between our mutual friends, we're going to be living in different cities soon, etc.), I really love this person, and I don't understand why.

Answer: It would be swell if love were about having compatible addresses and cooperative friends, but not even the personals can make it so.

You love people because you get something you need emotionally from them; geography and friendography have nothing to do with it, though having one or the other in common does help you actually meet, which is a useful thing.

Once the emotional tie is established, though, it immediately relegates practical concerns to a supporting role. An important one, granted, since distance and hostile friends can strain a bond till it breaks _ but it's a secondary role nonetheless. Moving away, for example, doesn't mean you neatly stop loving each other. (Usually, you move away and messily stop loving each other. But that's a whole other column.)

So the only thing mystifying about your love is why it mystifies you. Love is supposed to endure incidental challenges and often withstands substantial ones, such as betrayal. The question to ask yourself instead is whether, given the hurdles you named, love in this case is enough.

Case of partial insanity

Question: I've been seeing this guy for about four years now. Everything was going great, or so I thought, until he stopped taking my calls for two days. On the third day he finally talked to me, only to tell me that he needs to date other people to make sure I am the one he wants to spend the rest of his life with _ but he doesn't want this to affect our relationship. Am I wrong to think he has completely lost his mind?

Answer: You are. He has only partially lost his mind.

There's no insanity in the way he feels. There's a lot of pain in it for you, and I'm sorry about that. There also might be some thoughtlessness on his part, if he had these doubts for a while but stalled before acting on them (since that seems to be the way these things go). The unreturned calls were undeniably lame.

Regardless, if he genuinely feels he lacks the experience to make a sound decision about the rest of his life, then he's not only normal, he's smart to be taking this on. Anyone who wants to get his midlife crisis out of the way before he gets married should be applauded.

When he got to the part about this not affecting your relationship, that's where he flew completely off the beam. With panache.

Hello, affecting the relationship is the point here. The only reason for dropping this bomb in the first place is either to make the relationship better, or to end it _ i.e., achieve anything but the status quo.

Choices limit our options

Question: I don't have a romantic relationship right now, and I'm fine with that. My feeling is that I am building a life without one and then if it happens, it happens. My concern is that, if it doesn't happen, am I missing out on one of the great things in life?

Answer: You are missing out on one of the great things in life _ walking through time by someone's side.

And couples are missing out on one of the great things in life _ living utterly and completely on one's own terms.

We choose, we sacrifice no matter what, we covet other people's toys, and we hope for the best. The definition of "best" is different for everyone, but I imagine we collectively hope to minimize the number of times we long for the things we gave up.

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