Tell Me About It
Hosted by Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 1, 2003
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 and Friday in The Washington Post Style section and in Sunday Source, 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: Washingtonpost.com 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.
Who generates the idea for the cartoons?:
Does Nick read the column and then draw something to fit? Or do you tell him that you want something to go along with a particular letter?
I've been a fan of both the writing and the drawings for a long time, so thought I'd ask.
Carolyn Hax: Thanks. Nick and I brainstorm each one. Sometimes a cartoon will be all his idea, some are all mine, but most are a little of both.
San Francisco, Calif.:
Okay. My mom's an alcoholic. Four-day-bending, "Sick"-day-taking, full-blown alcoholic. This has been an on-and-off problem my whole life, and only recently (see below) been brought out from under the proverbial carpet. The thing is -- she and dad live alone, three time zones away. All the kids are out of the house, and at least a 12 hour drive away, at a minimum. And Dad has a job that travels a LOT (he's trying to sell his company so he can retire, but in the meantime, he's rackin' up them frequent flier miles).
So Dad calls today and says he's going out of town for work, suspects she's drinking again, and can I be sure to call home lots?
(Please note: I do anyway. I have a very boring unemployed life at the moment, so not much to tell, but I call as often as I can afford to)
Last month I got a panicked call from Dad saying can I get the next redeye out because he couldn't get her to stop drinking -- not even forever, just so that she'd sober up after four days of drinking. We called in another sibling and had a mini-intervention ("We're scared, we love you, this is a problem, how can we help you get healthy?" yadda yadda yadda) and she refused to quit drinking. REFUSED.
I'm scared, I love her, but what do I do when I call and she's drunk again? What can I do to help her when she won't do anything? What the bleep good is it going to do to call home when I'm so freaking far away?
Carolyn Hax: Call Al-Anon. This is out of your hands, and your fathers', and I think you need to hear it from people who have been through the same hell.
Have been reading your chats for a while, and find them a comic salve for the week.
Just want to make a point about the constant admonition to run away from relationships when the odor of controlling-ness hits the room (re: July 30th column). Certainly a lot of guys out there are beyond rehabilitation. But as someone who was formerly devoured by insecurity and jealousy and had arguments with my ex-girlfriend about her contact with other men, I can't tell you how much I learned from, and appreciated, the patient assertion of her independence with the simultaneous building of my trust in her feelings about me.
Certainly it isn't any one's job to do this in a relationship. Yes, I was an immature ass and gave plenty of reasons for someone to run. But she didn't, that fact in and of itself spoke volumes against the irrational reactions. and the controlling impulses are a thing of the past: worth bringing up for a good laugh every so often. Some of us can learn, contrary to public opinion.
Carolyn Hax: I believe you, I swear--and I think it's a great story. And I think it's always a possibility. I'm just not comfortable being the one to encourage someone to rehabilitate a controller, given how badly things can turn out.
I Screwed Up at Work:
I think I'm being blackmailed, but I'm not sure if I am or what to do about it. Here's the deal: I found out my boss's password and read his e-mail. (And I know how wrong this is, but I did it.) A guy in the IT department is dropping serious hints that he knows I did this. He's making unreasonable demands on my time here at work, asking me to do work that isn't even my responsibility, then says that he's "very busy investigating the hack of a senior manager's e-mail." Carolyn, he WINKS when he says this. And last Friday he asked me out. What can I possibly do about this?
Carolyn Hax: Well, you either become a slave to the IT guy and have a knot in your gut ever after (not recommended), or you call his bluff and let him decide whether to rat you out or not, or you rat yourself out. Option 3 is the stand-up move, since you'd be taking on full responsibility, consequences included, and it's the only one that frees you from IT guy completely. Down side, it also might free you from your job, which is why snooping on one's boss is as wrong as you think it is.
Or did I get the causality reversed there.
Online only please:
I hope you can include this question in tomorrow's online discussion. In your opinion, is it okay for a boyfriend to occasionally joke to his girlfriend about having another girlfriend besides you? Or for him to joke that you have someone else, too? And this is assuming that the couple has already agreed on dating exclusively since the start of things (two months). Couple has had many heart to hearts and both seem to be really into the other. Thanks. I'm worrying again.
Carolyn Hax: You should be. His sense of humor is definitely lame.
And the chat is today.
This is sort of an etiquette question:
I started seeing a guy recently that I get along with pretty well. We have plenty in common, we seem to have good chemistry, yada yada yada. However, I'm really bothered by a habit he has. He is always interrupting me! He doesn't necessarily do it in a what-I-have-to-say-is-so-much-more-important kind of way. He really just seems to like to talk a lot. He is aware that he does this, and he's even told me to just stop him when he interrupts me. But then he just continues to interrupt me!
What do you think about this? It's really getting on my nerves! Do you think this is a deal-breaker? Or do you think that the fact that he's acknowledged the bad habit is a sign that there's hope?
Carolyn Hax: Hope of what? Either it drives you nuts and it's a deal-breaker, or it stops driving you nuts because you grow to like him enough to find it endearing. Hoping he will become someone different is not the path to bliss.
Here is an easy one. I'm asking her tonight. The ring is not finished being made. Do I go ahead and ask with a prop or do I wait until said ring is finished?
Carolyn Hax: Me, I'd want a giant Lucite gob of a ring like the one in "Four Weddings and a Funeral."
And no engagement ring at all.
I have a feeling this isn't a universal preference.
So, see, it's not that easy.
How long should two people spend in a long distance relationship before someone cries uncle and moves? I realize there are a lot of variables to be considered, but what's your two cents on the issue?
Carolyn Hax: When you start liking where you are more than you like the other person.
Carolyn, are you crabby today?
Carolyn Hax: Um, no. What did I say?
Why do you have to give the girl a diamond ring? Money from diamonds supports awful awful crimes: rape, murder, mutilation, terrorism, etc. Isn't there any way to get the word out about this?
Carolyn Hax: I could post this. But I'd need to add that not all diamonds have blood on them. People keep posting the country and I keep forgetting ... is it Canada? Anyway, anyone rock shopping should ask about provenance. There are responsible sources and irresponsible sources and I think people have a moral obligation to do their homework. Or, buy vintage. Or rainbow Lucite.
re 'so how are your other boyfriends?':
Is this an insecurity issue?
My boyfriend of several lives years lives 1,000 miles away and he used to do this. I reassured him, but thought there was a greater issue. Turns out he has wobbly great big huge with nose-hair betrayal baggage.
So the useless jokes with my boyfriend were about his baggage and insecurity. We've worked through some of that.
Is there a deeper issue here? Just thought it worth considering?
Carolyn Hax: Always good to jettison nose-hair baggage, thanks.
For the record, I would be crabby if I had your job. I think you show remarkable restraint. Sometimes reading these chats gives me misanthropic urges.
Carolyn Hax: Misanthropic urges gave me these chats.
Maybe she should run the whole scenario past HR. If the guy's using this as leverage to hit on her, that harassment, pure and simple.
Carolyn Hax: True. But given how it all started, I have a wee problem with finger-pointing at this point.
Carolyn Hax: You see my point.
Silver Spring, Md.:
I think you want to re-read the question re: moving in a LDR. The person wants to know WHEN TO MOVE, not when to move on. I think this matters much in the answer.
Carolyn Hax: See, this is what happens when I shift up to 2d gear.
I think you cry uncle when you like the person more than you do your place.
But there's a disclaimer. Two people willing to move for each other even though they don't want to move: promising. Two people who'd rather put the burden of moving on a loved one vs assuming it themselves? Not promising.
re: IT slave:
Look for a new job. You screwed up, only one person knows about it, and he's holding it against you. Meanwhile, you haven't pointed out if you like this job or not, and the fact that you are bored enough to get the password to hack into the boss' e-mail doesn't say very much. I would rather (and indeed I have) be a temp than put up with someone's harassment. Temping is fun, usually interesting and, if you truly run into someone who makes your life miserable, you can ask to have your assignment changed.
Carolyn Hax: Right, option 4. Fire oneself. I like it. Especially if it comes with slapping oneself, and keeping oneself from messes like this ever after.
Re: Fairfax, VA
I was a stupid, insecure, jealous boyfriend, too. My then-girlfriend tolerated for a while and finally gave up. I definitely learned the error of my ways on that one.
Carolyn Hax: Hey, whatever it takes. Congratulations.
Carolyn Hax: Jealousy has to rank among life's biggest time- and energy-wasters.
Carolyn Hax: Right up there with chatting online.
Re: San Fran:
Repeat after me "This is not my fault"
Logically followed by "I can't fix it"
I have a recovering alcoholic mother, and feel your pain. Please call AlAnon, and repeat as necessary. Yes, it sucks, but it does get better.
Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the backup.
Develop a hand signal such as a smack to the head -- no, no kidding!
Seriously find some way of signalling him he interrupted you other than verbally, which requires you talking even louder over him and might result in a lot of snapping and nagging.
Carolyn Hax: Any time I can advocate head-slapping as an antidote to nagging, I will. Thanks.
Computer History Snoop's Other Woman:
Last week a woman posted that her live-in boyfriend was cruising personals. Well, I think I'm her other woman! I feel awful, even though he didn't tell me until too late (the deed was done) and I had no reason to suspect, since HE WAS ON A DATING SERVICE. Other than obviously running for the hills from this guy, I just want her to know (if it is her) that I am sorry.
-- The penitent other woman in D.C.
Carolyn Hax: If this was the only boyfriend in America secretly cruising personals, I'll eat my blotter. But thanks for the sisterly guilt.
Seriously, I had a teacher in junior high named Miss Anthrope. She was, predictably, not nice (and always kind of smelled like cheese, which is a nice smell when it's cheese and not a nice smell when it's human).
Carolyn Hax: I need to take a small break.
Just wondering, if you met someone online, at what point would you expect the relationship to become exclusive? It appears that when many people are just at the stage of exchanging e-mails, they are communicating with two or more people. But at what point do most people expect the other to make the choice to go forward with one person and cut things off with everyone else? When they agree to meet? When they have that "safe" first get-together that is just for lunch or drinks? When they arrange the first real date? Or after the first date? Thanks for your thoughts.
Carolyn Hax: When they arrange the date? After the first date? Oh my. I think you might need to get that optimism surgically removed before you swim in the online pool.
You are exclusive when you and your relationshipee agree to be exclusive, and often not even then.
I'm having a terrible problem. However, no one knows about it, and I don't care to share it yet (maybe ever), not even with those closest to me. I'd much rather take some time to absorb it and deal privately. Unfortunately, people who love me know something is wrong. How to answer, "What's wrong with you?" without driving people away forever when what I want to say is that I feel absolutely horrible but I don't want to talk to you about it or about anything, so leave me the hell alone?" I know I'll get over it, but I need SPACE and TIME but can't ask for it without divulging the issue.
Thanks so much for taking the time to help.
Carolyn Hax: "I'm just going through a rough spot, but I'll be okay, thanks, I just need some time to myself."
Are you sure sharing it won't help? (I would never ask you this in person, by the way.)
Wherever , USA:
Unbeknownst to him, I found a stash of condoms under a seat cushion in my then-boyfriend/now-fiancee's home. This was two months ago and there were five or so (I didn't count). I thought this might be forgotten stash, as it was in a spare bedroom his daughters use during visitation. I occasionally use it for dressing, grooming, etc. (there are combs, curling irons, etc.) A week ago, I looked and there were only two, which shocked me. I then asked him about it directly . He vehemently denied knowledge of their existence, his use, or ownership, and then went on the offense for my "snooping," profanely, I might add. Then he calmed and said his son may taken them, and he would ask but it was no longer any of my business and not to ask again. Do you smell a rat, or was I wrong to confront him?
Carolyn Hax: I think you need to skip the specifics of this incident (and the others you emailed me about this week) and go straight to, "What do I see in this person?" The whole scene just sounds wretched.
Should I shave my back for another man?
Carolyn Hax: Do it for yourself, and wax.
"Poor" side of the tracks, Va.:
Boyfriend of seven months grew up in an upper-middle class home. I grew up solid middle class -- always enough food, clothes, etc. (and lots of love), but maybe not the nicest cars or homes. Boyfriend is genuinely mystified by this, asks questions about my college loans (we're both 21, seniors), family budgets, etc. Questions aren't ill-spirited, but indicate he's baffled by my "destitution." Thoughts?
Carolyn Hax: Barf. Reminds me of when I got to college and met someone who claimed not to know how to do laundry because "the maid did it."
There are ways to be fortunate in life and not be nauseating, and his isn't one of them.
Do you have an opinion on how long it should take someone to get over an emotionally abusive relationship? About a year and a half ago I left a man who my friends think was abusive -- for most of that year and a half I basically believed that he wasn't abusive because I was just impossible to deal with, and I'm only just starting to change my mind about that. I've also realized that I still freak out when criticized, assume people will get angry at me if I assert myself, etc... and I'm making strides, but at the same time I feel like I must be pretty pathetic if it's taken me this long, and maybe it's not a reaction to the relationship at all, but just a personal weakness.
Carolyn Hax: Take another look, please--I think the part of you that has you feeling pathetic is also the one that kept you from seeing the abuse in the first place. I'm not calling it a personal weakness, so please refrain from using what I just said to beat yourself up even more. I think it's just a pattern/personality trait that you need to recognize, understand, and eventually anticipate in future relationships so that people don't take advantage of you for it.
The pattern I have in mind is that you're emotionally on a merit system. I.e., you think you have to earn love by working hard to please people, and (dark side) that if you don't work hard enough you deserve punishment. That would explain the abusive relationship, your failure to see it as such, your readiness to bl;ame yourself for it, and your feeling pathetic for not being "over it" already.
If this makes sense to you, it might be worth exploring with a therapist for a bit, just to turn on some lights.
Thinking of Moving:
Hi Carolyn. I have a younger sister (early 20s) who has a daughter out of wedlock. She's living with the father (they're not married), who is unemployed (and always has been) and occasionally violent. My sister lives in another state about eight hours away. I hear from other sources (step-mother, other sisters, etc.) about my niece's deplorable living conditions. There are fears that the father is selling drugs out of the house, among others. I'm seriously considering moving out of the area to be closer to my sister in the hopes that I can get her and my niece out of this situation. People have told me it's not my problem and I shouldn't uproot myself. I feel like there's nothing more important than family and that if my sister and my niece need me, I should be there. No Question About It. What do you think?
Carolyn Hax: Even if your effort fails, it would be heroic. As long as you understand beforehand that it could in fact fail, I'm not going to be the one to talk you out of it.
Just tread carefully w/ your sister. It may be a deplorable life, but it is still her life.
Silver Spring, Md.:
OK, Marc Fisher said Gene Weingarten ghostwrites Dave Barry's stuff. Gene denied this, but asserted that HE writes Marc's stuff. Marc admitted this, but then claimed that HE writes the Style Invitational.
So my question is, do you exist? If so, whose column(s) do you write?
Carolyn Hax: Dave Barry writes my column, and I write Family Circus.
What's the best way to get rid of hate, anger, and resentment toward someone who has wronged you for YEARS, and you finally managed to get away from?
Carolyn Hax: Don't get rid of it, recycle. Donate something to someone who needs it, be nice to animals and toast your freedom. Kind of like turning old soda bottles into picnic benches and fleece.
Arlington (Va., not Mass.):
Wow, heavy Friday.
How are the little ones? Do you get a break from them during these chats, or are they (not-so) silent partners?
Carolyn Hax: WHAT? I CAN'T HEAR YOU OVER THE SCREAMING.
Carolyn Hax: They're great, thank you. And mostly out of earshot.
I always love your advice, but I think you were a little harsh on the brother for having "requirements." If he knows he won't be able to fully love a divorcee or woman with a child, isn't it better that he's not out there wasting someone's precious time? And, I personally don't see anything wrong with not wanting to date people with kids, especially if you don't have any yourself. I'm 25 with no kids and that's one of my "requirements;" and I don't think I'm wrong for that.
Carolyn Hax: Thank you for being nice about your objection--but I think you need to read what you just wrote. "He knows he won't be able to fully love a divorcee ..." Huh? That can mean only one thing, that he is judging everyone who has gotten a divorce without knowing anything else about them. Wow. Please don't be so quick to subscribe to a rank prejudice like that.
And don't equate it with hesitation toward people with kids. Yes, someone who doesn't want or like kids shouldn't date someone with kids. But that's not a value judgment, it's a practical concern. Anyone who makes blanket value judgments without regard for the humans behind them deserves a jerk for a girlfriend.
Re: Thinking of Moving:
What are these people thinking of? If the unspecified conditions the poor little niece is living in are "deplorable" and the pathetic loser father "may be" dealing drugs out of the house, why doesn't someone in the family call Child Protective Services and report these conditions?
Forget the loser sister and her dealer boyfriend, someone needs to get their poor kid protected NOW!;
Carolyn Hax: If there is certainty, there is a good point. Thanks for the gray matter by proxy.
They can turn bottles into fleece? Where does one buy soda-bottle-wool clothing? Sounds fun.
Carolyn Hax: Not wool fleece, polar fleece. Fleece is fun. Fun to say, too. Fleece. Fleecy.
About a year ago, a close friend of mine (male) married his girlfriend. I had always liked her, and she always acted as though she liked me, but at the wedding, she cornered me and said all of these awful things to me, and stated quite plainly that she would appreciate it if I would leave her wedding. (Her day! Her dayyeeee!)
My friend and I never dated, never had any sort of romance whatsoever. We had been friends for years. It was weird, like she was just waiting until they were hitched to spew bile all over me.
We haven't spoken since the wedding. I figured it was a bridge burned. Yes? Is there any reason to think otherwise, other than their possible future divorce?
Carolyn Hax: Maybe I'm evil, but I would have told the close friend (male) what his bride had done. I'd want to know if I were the groom, both because I'd be wondering why my friend disappeared after my wedding, and because this can't possibly be the one time in the bride's whole existence that she behaved like an a--hat.* This has to be symptomatic of larger screwed-uppedness, and you always want to catch that as early as possible, even if it's after the wedding.
*Still awaiting opportunity to use frippety-fra in a sentence.
Fleece is fun. Fun to say, too. Fleece. Fleecy. :
Well, Frippity Fra!;
Carolyn Hax: I'm getting misty.
And furthermore, he can't find any other women without kids or former marriages? Not that I'm endorsing his requirements, but sheesh. Does he live in a paper bag?
Carolyn Hax: No, that would improve his perspective.
I may have missed this information... but, are you planning another book?
Carolyn Hax: I've been planning it for years, but the damn thing refuses to write itself.
Re: Hand Signals:
I have a good friend who can be seriously over the top at times, embarrassing herself and those around her. She doesn't realize it until after and would often ask why no one tried to stop her at the time (which was impossible to do). We came up with a hand signal to use at social functions, to save all from embarrassment. It works wonders!; She sees it and knows to tone things down. The best part is that now we can all laugh about it.
Carolyn Hax: I like it, but privately I have to admit to myself that I'd be so mortified by the hand signal that I'd never speak in public again. Your good friend has guts. Which I suppose might be the problem ... anyway, thanks.
I can tell you EXACTLY what I'm thinking of:
I don't want my niece to have to live with some random stranger, when she could be living with me or another relative who cares for her. If there was no other option, I might agree that calling child protective services is a good idea... because they have SUCH a good track record! I am financially stable enough to get my niece out of the situation and still keep her within the family. There's no doubt in my mind that that is the better course.
Carolyn Hax: As long as you've thought it through, and you know she's not in immediate danger. If she is, though, keeping her safe trumps all.
re: Wherever , USA:
Oh c'mon, post their other questions!; This is good stuff...
Carolyn Hax: No, it's someone's life. Sorry.
Since all other methods have failed....:
This is so rank, but we have tried everything else. Feel free to weigh in.
To "M" -
Please, please, please STOP talking about your train wreck of a love life. It isn't them, it's you. You are driving your friends away with your constant and unrelenting recitation of self-pity. It's not bad luck, it's not 'cause you're too romantic, and yes you DO need therapy. Many, many people in this world have bigger problems. Volunteer somewhere. Please. Get your mind off of yourself. Oh, and talking about why you're still single and what you're looking for in a husband -- those are not appropriate topics for a first date. Or even a fourth. Let it alone!; Ten years straight of talking about it has yielded NO results, so please knock it off and move on. Visit a nursing home. Read a book. Buy a CD. Live your life. Do something else so you actually have something interesting to discuss on a date besides how things have never worked out for you.
Sigh. I feel better. A little. Thank you.
Carolyn Hax: Hey, if we can save even one of these people, it will have been worth it.
San Diego, Calif.:
I have a girlfriend who recently split with her husband of 10 years and has filed for divorce. I have invited her on several outings because having been there done that I know it can be a very lonely time. My problem is that when we are out, if we end up in conversation with men, she thinks that they all "want her." She is attractive and I don't doubt that some of them would like to date her but ALL of them? I've cautioned her about getting involved too soon -- as in heal emotionally before getting involved again -- but is there anything else I should do?
Carolyn Hax: I suppose etiquette rules out eye-rolling.
Unless ... you make it stagey and comic? Or just a smile and an "um, let's not get carried away." FWIW, I have a hard time ascribing this to the emotional churn post-divorce. Heightened senses are one thing, self-aggrandizement is another.
Child Protective Services:
Just to calm the fears about CPS before getting hysterical -- CPS almost always places children with family members in the area, unless they do not want the kids or there is some reason they would be unsuitable. This is one of the reasons there are so many grandparents raising kids these days.
Carolyn Hax: A call to the office that handles the niece's area to find out their methods would make sense, methinks. Thanks.
So one by one my girlfriends have been, for one reason or another, becoming reacquainted with the single life. I am the last one left standing with a relationship intact and am feeling the urge to be single. I've been with my boyfriend three years and we're healthy and great and I love him, but lately I've been kind of feeling out of the loop since now every night for them has become girls night. These feelings definitely were not there when my friends were all in relationships. So is it taking a break time, breaking it off time, or running as fast as I can to a therapist time to try to overcome this sheeplike mentality.
Carolyn Hax: I think it's think before you act time. You're allowed to want friends more than a boyfriend, but if you had the boyfriend just because your friends were busy--and if you'd go out and grab a new one if these friends all began to pair off again--then that would be wildly unfair to the guys. And, it would mean you were kinda strolling through life without much thought--sheeplike works, though I suspect in a broader sense than you meant----and that's a great way to find yourself fortysomething and bored and married to a guy you don't love. What do you -want- from this life?
Carolyn Hax: Me, I want lunch. Thanks everybody--you're all out of your minds today.
Update the Archives:
Just to let you know that the transcript archives at this link aren't being updated:
Yep, because Carolyn has a new archive, which you'll find linked from the Related Links at the top of the page. New Archive. Update those bookmarks, folks.
Carolyn Hax: Ooh, didn't see this till now. Thanks Liz.
This is someone's life?
Yes, but the chatter posted the questions, knowing, no wait, hoping that they would be posted and addressed in this public forum.
Carolyn Hax: However, each is under a separate signature, and I know it's the same person only because I got the same Qs by e-mail. I should have explained that, sorry--still, though, even if they were all signed the same, I would have been posting them for sport, not advice. Not cool.
Re: Child protective services:
"Thinking of moving" needs to get the chip off her shoulder. Yes, there are children in foster-care situations who have been victimized. But there are also thousands of children that you never read about who are being cared for by loving, caring, concerned people who have stepped up to the plate to help children whose parents are failing and whose immediate families are dithering around emailing advice columnists and talking talking talking rather than doing something. Also, Child Protective Services can forcibly remove a child from a dangerous situation, where family members cannot. What is "Thinking about moving" going to do if her sister refuses to give up custody of the niece or move in with her?
The saddest, sorriest words in the whole world are "if only I had helped sooner." If that little girl is living in deplorable conditions where there is abuse and violence, she needs an out soonest.
Carolyn Hax: Really good points, thanks. I don't see it as a chip though--just an aunt in a really tough spot.
When spoken, does a--hat rhyme with "gay cat" or "crass chat?" Just want to make sure I've got the lingo down.
Carolyn Hax: Crass chat.
Are you trying to tell me something?
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