Tell Me About It

Hosted by Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 11, 2003; 12:00 PM

Carolyn takes your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

Appearing every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday in The Washington Post Style section, Tell Me About It? offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there -- really recently. Carolyn Hax is a 30-something 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.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Carolyn Hax: Hey--sorry for the late start. I'm back on a dial-up connection today, and I forgot what a joy they could be.


Virginia Beach. Va.: C:
I've now had several outstanding dates with a woman I recently -- outstanding, that is, except in the physical intimacy department. I'm not talking sex, mind you. I can wait for that. But I mean, I'm getting absolutely nothing beyond a passionless, closed-mouth goodnight peck. No hand-holding. No cuddling. No sofa-based activities. So if she's not interested or not attracted to me, I can deal. Yet she's not said that, and she keeps going out with me and we keep clicking (I think). So what gives? And how many intimacy-free dates does one have to have before one is tossed forever into "friend zone"?

Carolyn Hax: I dunno. Ask her. After the next closed-mouth peck, try the old standby, "Is it me?" Don't push though--she might just be taking her sweet time.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,
Welcome back. We missed you. I am glad you are back because could really use your advice. My girlfriend was on a major marriage track, I was timid -- similar situation hurt before. She got distant, I got introspective. Then it hit me that she is the one I love and want to be with forever. Told her. Haven't heard back. What's next?
Really confused, really in love.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, glad to be back--even though I'm starting off the day 0 for 2, since I dunno what's next for you and your girlfriend. I do believe, though, that if her desire to marry you had an expiration date, you might have dodged a bullet. Either it was the marriage idea she was into and not you, or her feelings for you faded--and imagine if you had proposed sooner? She might have accepted, and only then realized that she didn't quite feel what she should.

I also think that if she can't even dignify your profession of eternal love with a response, any response, you dodged a missile.

Of course, there's always one more possibility, that she's just thinking about it, but even then, why can't she put you out of your misery by explaining that? I'd say try her again, say you understand if the answer is no, but you do please want an answer.


Virginia Beach, Va.: Maybe you got dead rat breath. Ech. And she's hoping you'll get the hint.

Carolyn Hax: Well, yes, there's that. Thanks.


Query: Do you think it is possible to actually live happily ever after in a blended family? My boyfriend has full custody of his children, I have full custody of mine and while I would love to imagine a future together, it just seems too awesome to contemplate integrating two families. We've made huge strides relationship-wise and both habitually try and treat them all equally when we are all together -- but is that realistic in a 24/7 situation? All of them are under 12. Brady Bunch, man! -- Liz

Carolyn Hax: Actually, the Brady Bunch might really have the answer--love your boyfriend's kids as you would your own, and wear a lot of plaid.


Canada -- the 51st State: Hi Carolyn,

I'm hoping you can answer a question for me. My boyfriend and I just broke up after four years. He's the only long-term boyfriend I've had (I'm 25). The surprising thing is that, even though I'm sad that it ended, I'm not feeling too bad about the whole thing. Is it possible I'm in denial? (We've been long-distance for three years and so I haven't seen him since we last talked) It's only been a couple days, and I'm just wondering what are the signs that you are over someone? I wish there was a guide book or something!


Carolyn Hax: No no no, guide books are for people who already know the answer but want to hear otherwise. You are happy. Can't get a better answer than that. Besides, since relationships end when they're not working, I'm surprised more people aren't relieved when they end.


Falls Church, Va.: Short version: Is there a good way to explain shoes to a mate? Long version: my sweetheart and I are trundling towards the aisle, and just got our first house. He put up my shoe rack, handy creature that he is, and then stared in horror as I put up my shoes. I think I have a small collection, with just enough footwear to suit the various occasions I attend. He thinks I have 11 identical pairs of black sandals and/or heels.

So, how to explain?

Carolyn Hax: Don't bother. Just tell him you'll allow him his benign quirks, too.


Chicago, Ill.: Hi Carolyn! Love the chats. About eight months ago, I broke off my engagement and shortly afterwards, I started dating someone new. Question is about my mutual friends with ex-fiance. It seems that after we broke up, our friends have become his friends and it is like pulling teeth to get any of them to hang out. I am tired of trying so hard especially since I have brought this up to them on several occasions. Should I just chalk it up friends lost? I feel like I've tried everything else, but is there something to be said from the "it teaches you who your friends are...?"

Carolyn Hax: I agree with the part about writing off these friends, but I'm not so sure about the angry undertone I'm picking up. I think the only thing you can take away from these defections is that it was inevitable that some friends would be closer to him than to you. It's hard to be in their spot, especially if there were hard feelings arising from your breakup. Forgive and find new friends.


My Family is Bothering Me: Carolyn,
Lately I don't even like being around my parents and brothers and sisters -- and I am a long way from my teenage days. We are very different and I just flinch everytime they suggest we "all get together." My boyfriend can not figure out how I turned out normal. They aren't evil or physically abusive. We just have stupid, pointless conversations and eat and then everybody goes home. Is this normal?

Carolyn Hax: Well, yeah--except that some people aren't so lucky. It's inevitable that people who move away from their parents will grow away from them, too, though obviously to varying degrees. Strained conversations are a logical side effect.

But I don't think strain and flinching have to be your reactions to that, especially since your family sounds perfectly pleasant. My guess is that you're just in transition from seeing the family you thought you had to seeing its members for who they really are, which is rarely what we build them up to be when we're young. When you get used to the new perspective, you might actually come to feel better around them than ever. But that takes some getting used to, so try this. Keep seeing them, but keep the visits short and the expectations low, and actively seek things to like.


New York, N.Y.: Hi Carolyn,

My current girlfriend and I have pretty different political beliefs. Most of the time it's not a problem -- I know she's a good person, and even if I disagree with her I can see where she's coming from. But sometimes I find it upsetting that we see the world so differently. Everything else in the relationship is great. Do you think this is something I should try to get over or is this something that will come back to haunt me later?


Carolyn Hax: Depends on how important it all is to you. There are plenty of Matalin-Carvilles out there, but you have to be really honest with yourself whether you have it in you to be part of one. That you can respect her positions while disagreeing with them is a good sign; that her other-ness upsets you, not good. I've heard (though have trouble believing) that the key to peace in these relationships is to avoid high-conflict topics. I;m skeptical because I think the key to peace is not having to tiptoe around high-conflict topics. Again, depends on what kind of closeness you'd like to have with your mate, and whether differing worldviews would impede that.


Carolyn Hax: In other words: I dunno.

I'm on fire today.


K Street Blues: Carolyn,
I looked around one night when I was out with my friends and realized that I was the one girl with about five guys. This has been a trend with me lately and I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that I haven't had a real date in ages. I figure guys see me with my guy friends and decide I must be more of a friend-type. I wouldn't want to give up my guy friends but how can I start being seen for both my x chromosomes?

Carolyn Hax: Be who you are. If you feel the need to change anything, look for ways to have more fun. That way you'll avoid any disastrous attempts at becoming someone you're not, and you might actually have more fun--which is a great way to get your mind off whatever it is you think you're supposed to have but don't.


Dial-up?: Carolyn, you must be the only person on the planet who still uses a dial-up internet connection. People in China use high-speed! It's not that hard to set up.

Carolyn Hax: Um. I think you need to reread what I wrote.


Blended Family: My mother married my stepfather when I was ten, and a few years later, his kids moved in. It was really hard at the time, but now (21 years later) we drop the 'step,' and just call each other brothers and sisters. We're a family.

You can have sibling problems in a regular family. Just treat everyone the same, and don't worry.

Carolyn Hax: Nice to hear of a real one, thanks.


Happy break-up girl: You are happy because you chose happiness over drama. I tried this as an experiment after my last big break-up and was surprised to find the same results. The human mind is amazing.

Carolyn Hax: Truly. I remain convinced that the best way to get over something is to get sick of not being over it. Thanks for weighing in.


Alexandria, Va.: If you suspect that a friend has a substance abuse problem or could be well on his way to having one, do you think that confronting that person with your concerns can wake them up? I asked another friend of mine (who is currently in rehab) if it would have made any difference at all if more of his friends had said something to him about his addictions and he said no. He said that all you can do is be there for the fall if and when it happens. I'm not sure, even though I've been friends with this guy (the one I suspect is using) since we were 12 that I can stand to be around to see another friend throw his life away and end up in jail, rehab, or worse. Your thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Even though everyone agrees that speaking up won't save anybody, I think friends should speak up anyway. I see it as letting a person know you care, and there has to be some value in that--especially since it can't hurt. Maybe run that one by your friend, and see if he has warmer/cooler/same feelings for the people who tried to help him relative to everyone else.


Variation on Family Bothering Me: So what do you do if your family isn't perfectly pleasant and still suggests getting together? Saying "I'd rather try to eat a bucket of nails" doesn't seem like the most diplomatic way of handling it.

Carolyn Hax: No, probably not. Can you be honest without attacking? "We're not nice to each other, and it makes me too sad to be around that."


I must live in China, then: A high-speed connection is not always good, especially if it's between one's head and one's mouth.

Carolyn Hax: Especially if one does it for a living.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

Problem: my girlfriend and I never argue. We've been going out for eight months and things have been great -- she's amazingly smart, amazingly sweet, and amazingly beautiful (sense a theme?). I think she's the one (as in the one I want to marry). But we've never had an argument. Ever. And its not as if she and I don't each have person personalities -- we very much do. And we stay together 4 or 5 nights a week on average. Its just that nothing has ever come up. None of those "little things" that she does annoy me. And vice versa. She and I have talked about it and we both think its weird. Our friends think we're sickening. I'm happier than I've ever been, and nothing about this feels wrong. I'd love to get an outsiders opinion of this.

Carolyn Hax: No no, don't! Another happy person suspicious of his good fortune--what an insane trend that would be. I think it's great you don't argue, but please don't care what I think. If you want advice, I suppose you should refrain from making things permanent until you're confident the buzz won't wear off, and give yourself the occasional delusion check, but otherwise, eesh, enjoy it.


Baltimore, Md.: Carolyn: Is it unusual for a woman to have conflicting feelings about starting a family? I mean, one minute I'm thinking I really love my life with my husband as we are -- we get out a lot, have a lot of fun, and travel a fair amount. Not that you can't do those things with a family, but it seems unlikely we would be able to keep up the same kind of pace. In the next minute, I'm thinking having a child can be a wonderfully fulfilling thing as well for reasons far too numerous to mention. I guess what I'm asking in my rambling manner is whether I need to take a lot closer look at making such a life changing decision, or is this "normal?" Thanks much.

Carolyn Hax: Well, both. A major decision always deserves scrutiny, especially one that involves another life, especially a life for which you are completely responsible. And, not being sure about this is not only normal, but also, I'm guessing, practically epidemic these days, since women have so many great options beyond maternal or domestic ones.

Only you can put a value on the things you'd be missing, or at least curtailing for a while, like going out a lot and traveling, but something to look for to tip your decision--toward anything new and unknown, not just starting a family--is the sense that there might be something more rewarding out there than what you have now.

For what it's worth, I also think happiness with your married life is the best thing you can offer children, and shouldn't always be seen as an argument against having them.


For Never-Fight Couple: Before you propose, go on vacation together. It cures most never-fight couples, and it's a good way to see what living with someone is like without shacking up.

Do not talk about Fight Club.

Carolyn Hax: Good idea--especially good if the trip isn't so good. Not that I'd wish a bad vacation on anyone. There are less expensive ways to get a good story.


Somewhere, USA: Carolyn:

I am a 17-year-old girl, about to start my senior year of high school. My parents don't let me date, which in principle is fine -- at this point in my life, I'd prefer to focus on school and other activities, saving romantic commitments for college and beyond. The problem is that their definition of dating differs significantly from mine. My definition of dating is spending unchaperoned, unsupervised time alone with a guy in my age range who isn't a family member. Their definition is much broader, including absolutely any non-academic activity in which guys in my age range might participate. even chaperoned group activities. This means no school dances (even if I don't have a "date"), no school trips that aren't required for class, etc.

Their restrictive attitude is starting to affect some of my friendships -- for example, I wasn't allowed to attend my best friend's birthday celebration last month, hosted by her parents at a restaurant, just because her 19-year-old brother was going to be there. In addition, my enthusiasm for school is suffering a bit, because during my senior year there will be several opportunities for class trips and I won't be able to go. (These trips are usually reserved for certain top students, as a reward for hard work throughout several years of advanced classes.) I've also been told that going to the senior prom is out of the question, even though I'll be 18 by then, and would be happy to go by myself (without a date) and come right home after the dance itself.

I think I'm a pretty good kid -- no drinking, smoking or drugs, pretty much straight A's in honors/advanced classes, involvement with various extracurricular activities, community service, part-time job, definitely going to college next year. I've never so much as held hands with a guy, nor expressed any interest in doing so. I know it isn't the end of the world if I don't get to go on these trips or go to the prom, and I'll have plenty of opportunities for travel and socializing in college and after. But still, their extreme lack of trust in me is becoming more and more hurtful, and I'd like something to look forward to during the next year other than school.

For what it's worth, we're not from a religious/cultural group that frowns upon interactions with the opposite sex, so that can't be the explanation. Both of my parents were allowed to date when they were younger than I am, and turned out just fine. Any thoughts or suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: Two, off the top of my head. The main one is that you shouldn't take their restrictions as a sign of "extreme lack of trust" in you. Extreme views tend to reflect the people who hold them, and little else. This is about your parents, not you.

Unfortunately, this must seem like a meaningless distinction when you're the one who gets to stay home all the time. So my second suggestion is to tell them what you said here--that, in light of your stellar behavior, you are hurt by the fact they won't trust you. It probably won't get you anywhere, but it is how you feel, and they should know that-and if they do trust you but have some other reason for their rules, you deserve to hear it.

I guess I do have one more suggestion: The requisite "hang in there." You are sooo close to being out on your own, and it seems as if you're handling your lot in life with grace. With patience will come your reward.


Weird Request?: Hiya.

I am a fitness person, who works out quite a bit, and I am in good shape. I'm not a stick, I am person. As a practice I never read women's fashion magazines or weigh myself. Both of these things make me feel inadequate and I've just made it a practice to not buy into them.

One of my roommates (the one I share a bathroom with) is constantly weighing herself and has a scale in the bathroom. She also subscribes to every weight-loss magazine a person can. She is a healthy weight and she eats well. She's not anorexic, but probably isn't happy with her body.

I feel like her attitude is catching. I weighed myself the other day, and of course, felt horrible. And the magazines are everywhere, on ever surface. I tend to avoid them so I don't hold myself to some ridiculous airbrushed standard. I don't read them.

Is it unreasonable to ask her to please not have a scale in the bathroom? I realize I have to work on liking me for me, and how ultimately this is an internal battle beyond a scale, but the scale being in the bathroom is just a constant reminder of weight. Sorry if this sounds neurotic.


Carolyn Hax: Certainly if it bothers you, you should ask--but I'm wondering if a nonjudgmental, a-funny-thing-happened-when-I-weighed-myself conversation with this roommate about diets and scales and weight wouldn't yield more for you both in the end.


Chicago, Ill.: How do you feel about passive-aggressiveness? Okay, dumb question, so let me clarify. Do you think there's ever a place for it? For instance, if someone has done something that doesn't quite warrant a confrontation (it's mildly annoying, and confronting would look petty and silly), but by doing something passive-aggressive, a point can be made? Whaddya think?

Carolyn Hax: That the point could be made better another way.


Re: Restrictive Parents: Why not talk to the school guidance counselor about this? Perhaps having a trained adult figure explain to the parents that social interaction between 17 year-old boys and girls is normal and healthy might open up her parent's minds.

Carolyn Hax: Absolutely, thanks--that popped into my head as I read the question, and moronically popped back out as I wrote.


For Somewhere, USA: Ever heard of "The Virgin Suicides" by Jeffrey Eugenides? Sounds just like the parents in the book.

Carolyn Hax: You're right, I saw the movie.

Don't tell me I've advised Hamlet again.


Yikes!: Can we lighten up the questions? It's Friday! We tried, man.

Carolyn Hax: And here's what we got:


Which should it be today?: Carrot cake or lemon meringue pie?

Carolyn Hax: See?


Carolyn Hax: I mean duh, carrot cake.


Carolyn Hax: And it is always Friday in Tell Me About It Liveland. Except when it's Thursday.


Washington, D.C.: For the restricted 17-year-old:

When you get to college, you'll have a great time. But your parents, if they are paying for it, will still have control over your life a bit (not as much, granted). My freshman roommate, and one of my good friends from high school, were both pulled out of school after their first year because their parents would call at odd hours, and if they weren't in bed at 1 am on a Saturday, they would leave like 17 messages on the answering machine. They didn't trust them, and wanted them at home where they could see them. And they went, not knowing what else to do. So. When you get to school, pay a visit to the financial aid office, and make sure you know your options before you enter a potential showdown with mom and dad.

Carolyn Hax: Bummer, but smart, thanks.


New York, N.Y.: Hey Carolyn,

First off, you rule. OK, now to my question. My father can be a rather difficult person. While he has wonderful qualities, he also has some pretty major emotional issues/baggage, which sometimes spill over onto me and my sister (our mother is dead).

Anyway, he constantly guilt trips me for not coming to spend more time with him and also for not calling him or making enough effort. I love him dearly but sometimes when I go to visit for extended periods of time I begin to feel depressed, and or bad about myself. That, coupled with the fact that I have a busy job, freelance work on the side, and a live in girlfriend that I love to spend time with, makes it difficult for me to drop my life and spend a whole weekend with him.

Should I get over this for his sake? I am a busy 26-year-old woman with a very happy/fulfilled life -- how much time at home is required? Am I being unfair to keep my time so sacred? I have told him about my life, but he stills continues to nag -- telling me that it is just a "responsibility" of mine that I cannot avoid.

Also, he gets very childish and pushes me away when he feels that I am rejecting him. Do you have any advice?

Carolyn Hax: Would it be feasible to put your visits on a fixed schedule? Once every [whatever], as often as you honestly feel you can stand. That way, when you get nagged, you always have a response: "I'll be there next [whenever]." You need to hold firm to what's right for you--it's the only defense against manipulative people--and holding firm is much easier if you have something to hold firmly to.


Rockville, Md.: I'm a huge fan and I'm not one of those people who reads and then critizes but I needed to comment on what I see as a trend from today's print column. I work in domestic violence and I'm frequently disappointed at how quick you're answer to abuse is to leave. That's the same thing these women always hear. If they could/wanted to leave they would. Domestic violence (and yes, this includes verbal abuse) is a pathology, and the women need therapy as much as the men. Most go from one violent relationship to another. I'm not blaming the women, I'm just saying, just leaving doesn't solve the problem. Should they leave, of course. will they, probably not, and not without a lot of help.

Next time, you could direct to resources to help. There are plenty. Starting with a good counselor.

Sorry to complain, I really do love your advice, and maybe I'm just too close to the subject. (attorney in DV).

Carolyn Hax: No, it's okay, I lose nothing by printing resources. The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800.799.SAFE) and RAINN (1.800.656.HOPE) are both crisis hotlines, but they're also national and can direct callers to local resources.


Physical vs Emotional: OK, got into a debate with a friend last night, we figured you might have some thoughts.

I said I couldn't be compelled to be physical with someone without having some great conversations and knowing what someone is about and liking them as a person. Being friends first. She said that ultimately the physical and the emotional comes at the same time. You get to know someone more physically as you get to know them more emotionally. She said she couldn't have known when first kissing her fiance that he was the right guy. She had to go with it.

What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: That believing there's one right answer is a great way to miss something good just because it doesn't conform to ideals.


Rockville, Md.: When I was younger, I read (repeatedly) a book about a boy who spent his summer vacations with family out in the sticks. He was like 15 and the neighbor girl was 13 or 14, and they got into all kinds of adventures like making a go-kart out of a cast iron bathtub and knocking a beehive out of a tree. It was written in a journal format. I think the lead character's name was Henry, and the neighbor girl had an odd nickname that escapes me. You and I are of similar age so I was hoping maybe you recall reading the same book, and could point me to a title or author.

P.S. I'm a guy, and have 6 pairs of shoes (sneakers, garage shoes, sandals, flip-flops, formal shoes, and motorcycle boots). Of course, I wear the sneakers 95% of the time, so I dunno whether the other 5 get full points.

Carolyn Hax: I haven't read it, but some nut out there might have.

I don't have garage shoes. I am bereft.


Never-Never Land: Dear Carolyn,

I printed your column out today about the abuse. I'm not one to do that. I keep waiting for the "final straw" in my relationship, and it doesn't happen.

Anytime an abusive thing happens, I prepare to leave, tell him his behavior is inappropriate and intolerable. He asks me if he's REALLY that bad and i can't bear to tell him yes. So he changes his behavior and we move on. Rinse and Repeat.

It's hard to leave when 75 percent of the time life is good and the way I like it. As for the other 25 percent -- well, "for better or for worse," right?

Carolyn Hax: No, not right. Dangerously wrong. None of us may ever be hap-hap-happy every day, but using that to excuse being treated like bleep is an incredibly self-defeating leap. He is a jerk to you, by your math, every fourth day. Wow. Tell him no, he really isn't that bad (manipulative SOB), he's that bad for YOU. Then get out--no wait, get help! on your way out--because the realization that you're sitting around counting straws seems like an excellent final straw to me. I'd rather spend the rest of my life alone with a great book (or a really bad book, or the side of a cereal box) than to hang around waiting for the next round of abuse.


Washington, D.C.: I recently met a successful, charming, good-looking man who ended a long-term relationship because he wanted to start a family and she did not. I've been out with him a few times and I would like to start a relationship with him. Our goals and ambitions seem very compatible so far. Plus, he's truly a gentleman (and VERY attractive). I'm an attractive, single 20-something myself, wondering if you have any advice on how to keep a great catch hooked.

Carolyn Hax: Hard to type while shuddering, but I'll try.

If it is good, it will work. If it is not good, it will fail. If it is forced to work because he's good on paper, I will ralph on my garage shoes.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: Hi! Hope you and the babies are doing well. I recently found out that I am pregnant and I do not think I will be able to keep it from my coworker for very long -- we share an office with no privacy. I am a little worried about telling her because she has been suffering from infertility for years. Any advice on how to break the news gently? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, we're doing great.

There is such a thing as being too gentle, and, besides, the truth about how you're feeling is a thoughtful one. Tell her you have good news, for which you almost feel apologetic--and hope she appreciates that you took her feelings into account.

And congratulations!


The Kid's Book: You don't mean Henry Higgins, do you?

Carolyn Hax: I dunno. Do you?

My Fair Cast-Iron Bathtub doesn't ring a bell.


Carolyn Hax: Oh look at the time ... I hope that makes up for my Flintstones-quality setup here. If not, please direct your complaints inward, thanks. Have a good weekend, everybody, and thanks for stopping by.


The kid book: The book the person is asking about is Henry Reed, Inc., by Keith Robertson. There are some sequels, and I loved those books. The friend's nickname was Midge, and they were set in rural New Jersey.

Henry Huggins is a character from Beverly Cleary's books. Also good, but not the book the poster was referring to.

Carolyn Hax: Sounds authoritative--thanks much.


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