Tell Me About It

Hosted by Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 15, 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 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: 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.


Lights on, No one Home: Carolyn,

I'm supposed to be getting married in October and I've really been feeling like it's wrong. How can I tell the difference between cold feet and something worse?

Carolyn Hax: I think the telltale sign is when the only thing keeping you from getting out is the fact that the wedding has already been planned.

FWIW, I don't really believe in cold feet.


Re: What to Do With Ex's Stuff: Carolyn,
In the last response in today's column, your final answer was to mail the stuff back to the ex or donate it. I'm no lawyer, but I've watched enough TV court shows -blush- to know that if you get rid of someone's stuff without attempting to contact them x number of times within y days (x and y vary by state) you can be sued for the value of those items.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. I won't tell anyone where you learned that.


Somewhere in Ohio: Hi Carolyn,

I hope you can help. My best friend has always been overweight, but she seems to have gained a good deal of weight since her wedding in the spring. I'm concerned about her health, since she's now probably 60+ pounds overweight, but I have no idea how or if to bring it all up. To complicate matters, her new husband travels a lot, and I'm not sure about her current happiness. Any ideas? Thanks much.

Carolyn Hax: Since the purpose of bringing something up is usually to point out what others might have missed, and since I doubt your friend is unaware that she's 60-plus pounds overweight, I think you're off the hook as far as the weight goes.

But you can say you're getting the sense she's unhappy, and ask if she's okay, and see if she could use some best-friend time.


On Line Only, Please: My wife suffers from mild depression (post partum overlaid on some other, long-range stuff). She takes meds and is in counseling and generally has things under control. But it takes ceaseless vigilance, and even then she has the occasional outbreak of the crazies (our term) -- panic attacks, etc.

I have come a long way in learning to help and support her, recognizing this as a medical matter and not an issue of fault or deliberate behavior. She really does rely on me, especially when things get a bit rough, and as her husband, I wouldn't want it any other way. Nonetheless, the situation is a drain and a strain for me as well and, being human, I sometimes get fed up. On these occasions, I try to slip off quietly for some private banging-head-against-the-wall therapy (which I suppose is what I'm doing right now, in fact), until I've got it out of my system. It generally works, although not always.
Now my question is whether I should just carry on as is and tough it out until she gets better (which the doc thinks will happen, btw), or whether something else should be done. Of course, my wife is generally aware of all this, but I'm afraid that if we discuss it more bluntly, it will simply add to her own burden, which I wish to avoid. After all, you wouldn't complain to, say, a cancer patient about how hard it is to keep them comfortable. On the other hand, would there be some value to such a discussion in this situation? I really just don't know. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: I wonder if you'd accomplish more by talking about it/thinking about it/dealing with it a little less, vs. more. Do you guys have any outlets? For each of you alone, and for the two of you together? Depression and new babies both are relentless on their own, and combined I think they'd make anyone want to go bang his head. See if there isn't some way both or you, separately and together, can get away for a standing, weekly appointment to go be human for an hour or two.

If that turns out not to be good enough, then you should try to talk about it--but not an open-ended, "I'm miserable." Have something (reasonable) in mind that you think would help, and then ask for it. Much easier to process.


Washington, D.C.: What do you mean, you don't really believe in cold feet? I would think it's pretty normal for sentient beings to have doubts when they're making a big change in their forevers. I'd like to hear your perspective, though.

FWIW, I like it when you say stuff I wasn't expecting, like "FWIW I don't really believe in cold feet." Keeps me interested. I really like these chats and your column.

Carolyn Hax: Thank yew.

I think if you have doubts, you treat them as doubts and face them. Calling them "cold feet" is too often license to blow them off. It suggests everyone has them, which is not true--some sentient beings answer the questions in their heads well before things roll their way toward engagement.


Metro, Washington, D.C.: Carolyn --

Is there anyway to approach someone on the Metro (in D.C.) without coming across as a nut case?

I see the same hot girl every few of days on the way to work, and she's always reading something interesting, but I've been hesitant to approach someone out of the blue like that.

Should I say something?

Carolyn Hax: Is there any harm in coming across as a nutcase? It's not like you're getting anywhere with her by not saying anything.


Washington, D.C.: Dear Carolyn,

How do you stop seeing people as types? I enjoy the fact that every human being has a uniquely fascinating story to tell, but as you have said before, "on some level we're all just a predictable bunch of lab rats."
A lot of people I meet seem to lack the self-reflection that would prevent me from seeing them as easily classifiable constellations of predictable personality traits. I wish I didn't think this, because fundamentally I really love other people, but sometimes it's hard to believe otherwise.

Carolyn Hax: So we're all just here to amuse you, but we usually fail?


Philadelphia, Pa.: I recently contacted a long lost friend with whom I'd had a falling out. Since the falling out was basically my fault I apologized in the letter and urged her to help me put it behind us. She never responded -- not a blip, not a word, nothing. This makes me incredibly sad that she would not want to forgive and move. (My crimes were not THAT terrible, just basic variety friend stuff.)

In your opinion, why would a smart, good person as I remember my friend to be not want to make things right again, especially when I am prepared to completely and abjectly take the blame for it all?

Carolyn Hax: Did you apologize because you owed her an apology, or did you apologize to get the friendship back? It's a pretty big difference, since it's possible she deserved, expected and, when she got it, appreciated your apology, but still didn't want to resume the friendship. You did what you felt you had to do; that might have to be enough.


Cambridge, Mass: For Metro, D.C. -- As a subway riding gal in Boston, I'd be pretty pleased if someone took an interest in what I was reading -- it's a great, non-threatening, (and endable) way to get a conversation going.

Carolyn Hax: Great, thanks. He might want to hear from local women, though, since legend has it they bite.


Re: Metro: If you are within conversational range, and she makes eye contact, comment on how much you liked the book she's reading, or ask if it's interesting. Don't interrupt her reading, because it's rude and you don't want to annoy her before you even get a word out of your mouth. Don't say "I see you every day reading" as that sounds creepy and stalkerish. If there is an opening, go for it, but don't force it. Perhaps this is just me and my confirmed status as a non-morning person, but when I'm at work, or on my way to work, I'm not in socializing mode, so people making chitchat on the train isn't my favorite thing, esp. if someone's hitting on me. The fact that she's reading a book is sort of red flag that she's not interested in people watching or people chatting-up. Still, your bookworm sounds intriguing and I wish you luck.

Carolyn Hax: Good point, but the book could just be a red flag that she likes to read. I think if the interruption were acknowledged--"If you'd rather keep reading, I understand, but I'd like to ask you about your book"--she'd have a really easy out.


Metro Nut: I once approached a woman I saw on the Metro, we went out a few times and had some fun. I say you need to approach it like any other situation where you might meet someone -- if she's giving off signs to leave her alone, then leave her alone. Maybe she's noticed you too on the same train!;

Good luck!;

Carolyn Hax: Wow--and you didn't need stitches or a tetanus shot. Cool. Thanks.


Michigan: I hope you take this question because I'm at my wit's end. My new husband and I moved to the small college town where he grew up. We LOVE the town and love each other. His parents live ten minutes away and are good people who have gone out of their way to be kind to me. But I am finding it VERY difficult to love them if you know what I mean. They just rub me the wrong way so awfully that I can hardly bear to be around them. Everything that comes out their mouths sounds nosy/bossy/insulting to my ears, though I try to believe it is not (usually) intended that way. Family events and holidays are torture. I feel like a terrible person but I can't rouse myself out of my sullenness (I feel like I'm 16 again). My husband says that I married him, not his parents, and there's not much he can do (my presence is pretty much mandatory at family functions). Again, it isn't a specific thing they are doing or saying. I think the change of attitude needs to come from me, but I have no clue how to approach this. Just an hour in their company can leave me seething.

Carolyn Hax: I wish I had a magic answer. They could be nice people who inexplicably drive you insane, or they could be maestros of passive aggression. The best you can do might be to try a little of everything--try to see the good in them, try to set limits on the pushiness, try to see them a little bit less.

Speaking of--your presence is "pretty much mandatory" but there's "not much [your husband] can do"? Yoo-hoo, he can let you off the hook, even if it's for, Idunno, every third function or so. If it is unacceptable to him or his parents that you occasionally have other plans or choose to grab some alone time, that could be a clue as to why they get under your skin.


Metro Gal: Flirting. It's a lost art these days. I for one would welcome a smile from across a crowded metro train or a comment about a book I'm reading from a fellow commuter. I think we'd all be lighter-hearted if we flirted more. I say let's bring back the flirting!;

Carolyn Hax: A great idea, until it falls into the wrong hands.


Carolyn Hax: Sorry guys, just changed my mind mid-answer, so there will be a brief delay while I either figure out what I think or find something quick.

Perhaps a sing-along to fill the time.


Friday Shoe Fluff: Help!

Please help settle a bet: pantyhose with open-toed shoes/sandals -- yes or no?

Carolyn Hax: No.


Carolyn Hax: No no no.


Washington, D.C.: OK, perhaps this wedding etiquette question has ben asked and answered, but I can't find it/don't know the answer.

A close acquaintance/casual friend is getting married this weekend, and I wasn?t invited, which I?m cool about. Small wedding, their paying, etc etc. We hang out from time to time and I really do like her, and the fianc?e, to boot.

From a mutual friend, I know she feels bad about not inviting me. Should I send her a card/get her a gift/do something else to express my congratulations? By the same logic that an invitation to a wedding isn?t a requirement for a gift, shouldn?t a non-invitation be a reason to give a gift? Then again, I don?t want to make her feel worse by giving her a pressie to a wedding I wasn?t even invited to. But I?d like to do more than say congratulations the next time I see her.

PS -- Ironically, and sadly, I think many out-of-town guests will be unable to make the wedding because of the blackout -- so there?s room for me!

Carolyn Hax: Bummer. Are you close enough to invite the couple over for a celebratory dinner? Then it's pretty clear there are no hard feelings.


Carolyn Hax: I guess I should answer the question, too. I think that any time you want to give a gift, you should give a gift. I know it's possible it'll make them feel bad for not inviting you, but what does that imply about you? That you were upset at your exclusion and lashing out in gift form? That's just too depressing a thought to validate. So, send a gift.


SF, CA: I recently came out to my family. My
parents took it badly. My brothers were
surprised but supportive. While I'm
beginning to accept that I may never have
a quality relationship with my parents, im
concerned that this will affect my
youngest brother, with whom ive always
had a close bond. How can i reassure
him and maintain our relationship w/o
critisizing our parents? (we live many
states apart)

Carolyn Hax: Just be the way you've always been with him, since nothing has changed but the labels. Be patient, too. Your brother might need time to adjust, or time to get out of the house. Plus, your parents might come around, too, eventually; it's not unheard of.


Curious, Washington, D.C.: Caroyln, what did you change your mind about and why? (Love to hear what goes on when you consider how to answer a question)

Carolyn Hax: It was the pantyhose question--at first I thought, yes!


Carolyn Hax: Banged my head against a wall one too many times, I guess.


Fairfax, Va.: Carolyn,

I have a pretty tight-knit circle of friends, dating back all the way to high school. The problem is, we are all friends with "John" and "Karen," two friends who had been dating for three years.
Recently, John broke up with Karen (unceremoniously, I might add) for a girl who we had all just met -- "Sarah."

The problem is, our whole group of friends is being strained by this. John brings Sarah to everything we do together, and this essentially means the exclusion of Karen, something that none of us really wanted.

Is there a polite, appropriate solution for all of this? None of us want to lose friends by being forced to choose, but we also don't necessarily see it as our place to tell John to knock it all off.

Caught in the Middle

Carolyn Hax: Actually, Karen is excluding herself. I know, I know, but still. If she wants to keep her friends, she should stand up to claim them. When she's ready.

And those friends should also make the effort to see her solo, at least till she mends enough to start showing up again to group things.

And since I'm in a shameless-editorializing kind of mood, I'll also throw in that this stuff is why you don't see a whole lot of tight-knit circles that survive the 20s and 30s. People have to be able to make their mating decisions without worrying about rocking boats in their little ponds. It's a bummer that the dumping was unceremonious, but how many are otherwise? Accept change like one big collective grown-up, and Karen et al will be fine.


FWIW: Some people refer to cold feet as nervousness. Was I nervous to step up to the plate and get married? Yes. Was I nervous about whom I was going to marry and why? No. Big difference.

Carolyn Hax: Well said, thanks.


To Keep In Touch Or Not: I broke up with my wonderful ex-bf about 2 years ago and we have always been nice and friendly to each other since the first day we met. Right after we broke up he got seriously sick and lost a family member. To make sure that he's doing fine I have sent emails to ask about his health. He always replied by asking if we could get together for drinks. I seriously do not wish to get together with him. How should I answer his request? (For online, please)

Carolyn Hax: Just say thanks, but that you prefer to keep in touch just by email. If he presses, which would suck, you really don't have to elaborate. Just say you're more comfortable this way.


Bethesda, MD: So, already have plans to go to hometown to spend Thanksgiving with Dad and stepmom. Then uncle announces he is getting married the Thursday after Thanksgiving. Very difficult, though not impossible, to travel 2 weeks in a row not to mention taking off 2 half-weeks in a row from work that has to be made up. Mom thinks a wedding trumps previous Thanksgiving plans, but Dad and Stepmom (perhaps rightfully in many cases) get VERY angry when you cancel previous plans with them to spend time with someone else, especially mom and her family (they also can get upset when you decline to see them because of pre-existing plans, but that's another story). So, what do I do?

Carolyn Hax: Have a who's-the-most-wrong-here party. Wow. 1. New plans never trump old plans, unless the people you'd be blowing off would understand/want you to blow them off or unless your new plan is to be hospitalized. 2. Getting VERY angry when you change your plans with them? Controlling much? 3. Who gets married on a Thursday, especially right after one holiday and right before another, and expects people to travel?

What do you do? Tropical island. Or, pick the plan that you will enjoy the most and be flogged for the least, and stick to it bravely.


N AZ: Hey Carolyn,

Your last two answers sort of got at my question-- that is, what appropriate boundaries are for post-breakup contacts with an ex-- i.e.,

how long is it o.k. to avoid each other when a group of friends is involved,

when is the the dump-ee just being a drama queen by not sucking it up and getting together? (I am the dump-ee by the way)

When is it o.k. to get together and have coffee, drinks, etc.?

I'm pretty miserable right now, he's angry that I can't just "be friends" and present a happy face to the world...

Guidelines? Kick in the butt?

Carolyn Hax: Guidelines for you, kick in the butt for him. Tell him you're going to do things when you're ready, and it's not his place to tell you when that is.

As for being a drama queen--are you staying home to get attention? To make the guy feel bad? To keep that pain alive? Then a kick in the butt for you, too. Otherwise, rejoin the world when you start getting sick of TV, which is a pretty good sign that you're through grieving. Grief is a fine reason to stay home, but fear isn't.


Re: Cold Feet=Nervousness: Since the gentleperson explained it so well, do you now believe in cold feet?

Here's a terry-cloth headband just in case.

Carolyn Hax: No, not in the way it has come to be understood, as doubts about getting married.

Can I still have the headband?


State of Insanity: Ever since our first child was born a little over a year ago, my husband has confused the word "WIFE" with the word "MAID." He has done almost nothing to help out around the house, and what he has done is usually when the chore in question is long overdue, such as cleaning the cat's litter box. When he comes home from work, he spends his time tying up the phone lines by surfing the Net for half the night, while the only time I get to rest or relax is when my head hits the pillow at night!; I can't get anything done during the day because I'm spending the time chasing after our child (and a 1-year-old is a human rodeo!;), and when the little one goes to bed, I still can't rest because that's the only time I get to clean up the place!; Not to mention that the only time I get to leave the house is during the time that he's off because we only have one car and no money for public transportation-add isolation and cabin fever to my list of gripes on his account as a result. Needless to say, I find this totally unfair, but when I complain about it to him, he says that working and paying the bills is enough for him and he's entitled to rest when he gets home. What can I do to get it through his thick head that I need rest and recreation too?

R2-D2's Human Cousin

Carolyn Hax: Marriage counselor. I'm guessing he won't go, but you might as well try. And you should try to see someone yourself. I know, you don't have time or transportation--but if there's a woman's center in your area, you might want to call and see if they can help you in any way.

Other things to try--do you have any friends? Family? Neighbors with little kids? You need people around you who get it. Try calling your pediatrician's office, church, community center, etc to see if they have info on local parenting groups or classes.

Oh, and quit the cleaning. It's not necessary. You need rest, so take it; don't wait till it's handed to you.


Arlington, Va.: Which hurts the least: Screening someone's calls or flat out telling someone not to call you anymore? I want to be a decent human being

Carolyn Hax: I'd want to be screened a few times to give me a chance to take a hint, and then, if I didn't take it, told outright.


Re: Screening calls: No No No. Tell them outright (yes this can be done in a gentle way). If you don't have the guts to be honest, that says more about you than it does about them. Plus it eliminates the confusion on their end. It is never a better solution to just hide.

Carolyn Hax: I agree in theory, but in practice, I think it's unrealistic to expect everyone to cut off every relationship explicitly. What do you do when, say, the guy you went on one date with, and whom you don't want to see again, calls you when you're not home and leaves a message? Do you really call back just to say, sorry, not interested? Ethically, yes, but realistically, no. The non-call says the same thing and you're not forcing him to save face. It's not about guts/hiding so much as tact; laying everything out in black and white can be cruel in some situations.

If it's someone with whom you have an established relationship or if the person keeps calling, then you say something.


Stuck at Home: Why doesn't she drive her husband to work and pick him up? That way she has the car during the day?

Carolyn Hax: Makes sense, thanks.


For R2-D2: I have some feedback for R2-D2: maybe she should seek work outside the home. I recently went back to work after maternity leave and I am happier working and paying for child care and maid service than staying home to do it myself. I just had to face the fact that not everyone is cut out to be a stay at home mom. My baby is so happy to see me at the end of the day and I appreciate my time with her more now.

Carolyn Hax: A good idea if she doesn't want to be a full-time mom, but I sensed her question was more about wanting some support. Maybe part-time work? Even if she makes only enough to pay the sitter, at least she'd be getting out and getting some air.

And some nascent independence, which might come in handy someday.


Overwhelmed from Sunday's column: Thanks for responding to my question. As always, you are very insightful and helpful. But, I have to say, it was Nick's cartoon that brought a smile to my face and made me giggle. Either way, thanks a ton.

Carolyn Hax: You're welcome--glad to help, and even to be overshadowed.

I'm also glad you wrote in. I didn't talk about counseling because I didn't think that's what you were asking, but a few readers were alarmed that I didn't suggest it. So--please make sure you mention to your OB that you have all this stuff going on, if you haven't already. Giggles are ideal, but an extra net never hurts.


Carolyn Hax: Gotta go. Thanks for checking in, and sorry for unusual sluggishness today.


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