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Hosted by Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 22, 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: 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.

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Woman from Wednesday column: Hi Carolyn,

You answered my question in Wednesday's column. Only you didn't.

First of all, I have to say that I love your column and think you usually give great advice. And admittedly I'm a little biased on this one but I think you really dropped the ball here.

You say I should end the relationship so that he can pursue that career. But I told you in my note that he told me that he'd rather sacrifice the career than our relationship, so who am I to tell him, "no, pursuing your career over us is what's better for you?" Don't you always say it's patronizing to decide what's best for someone else?

Also, I told you that he said he wanted us to figure this out together ?- in other words, figure out who is making a bigger sacrifice/who it effects less, etc. He didn't place the burden on me, as you suggest. And isn't figuring out compromises together the key to a healthy relationship? I tell you one or both of us needs to make a sacrifice and you say, give up the relationship?

I asked for advice on how a couple should go about figuring out how to compromise ?- a road map for what we were already committed to doing. You said to end the relationship. That's not an answer.

Carolyn Hax: Helloo, and thanks. You read me, but you didn't hear me. (Suspect you didn't want to.) First, I didn't say you should end the relationship, just that he go and you stay. Big difference.

Second, just because he's saying he wants to decide this with you doesn't mean he's not placing the burden on you. He said he'd stay if you asked him to. So, that makes it your decision either to make him say no to his career dream (very bad deal for you) or to give him what he wants by uprooting yourself to follow him. This setup is extremely manipulative, and I wasn't the only one to think that (many eyes go over this column before it sees print).

As for being patronizing, I don't see it. Once you gave him your blessing to follow his dream, it would still be in his power to say no, and to choose to stay put with you. The net result is actually the opposite of what you say--it puts the decision about his life back in his lap where it belongs. You wanted a compromise, and you got one. It's just really, really hard.

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Kinderhook, N.Y.: So what's with the gratuitous reference to cheese in today's column (other than being funny, of course)? Personal experience?

Carolyn Hax: Humor is anything but gratuitous.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

How bad is it to give in to a period of wallowing? History of depression, major life stressors, big life changing event on the near-horizon. I just want to coccoon for a while. Naps sound better than hanging with friends or going out or taking road trips. Contributing factor: the big life-changing event that should be hitting in a few weeks time has been scheduled to hit before. Each time, my friends rallies with support, pampering, etc. I don't want them to go through the tap dance again. I don't want to live through the tap dance again, because, even though it felt pampering and nice, it also made me even more keenly aware that bad stuff was going down that I had no control over, so the only thing to do was make the ride a little more pleasant.

The question again: How bad would it be, really, to just lay low, brush off invites, and try to do this without the soft cushy flood of friendship that I'm finding overwhelming?

I want to be underwhelmed. Is that bad?

Carolyn Hax: Not unless it's an excuse for you to give in to your depression. Do you have an anchor of any kind, like a weekly appointment with someone who knows what's going on and how to look after you properly?

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Seattle, Wash.: I'm a drama queen. Everything is a big deal, ordinary events become big adventures, and I want to find a way to cut it out. Is there a Drama Anonymous group out there that can give me regular smacks upside the head when I exaggerate a drippy faucet into a kitchen flood or a rat on the roof to a major infestation? I don't like myself for doing this. Is this a major psychological problem? Are there any recovered attention-getters out there who can give me advice?

Carolyn Hax: Maybe it's the Yankee air, but I'm tempted to suggest you donate your time to people who really do need attention. Oh wait, I just did. Anyway, it's a bracing cure for mememeitis.

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What Would Hax Do?: (A little background: I had a severe eating disorder a few years ago, but have since recovered fairly well, though I am still quite thin.) Now, the situation: I was at a restaurant with 8-10 friends and was just about to dig in to my meal when a male friend sitting across the table said, "Aren't you supposed to be anorexic?" It wasn't menacing, it was just a thoughtless smartass trying to get a laugh. Or something. After dead silence and then some nervous laughter, everyone just went back to eating. I couldn't think of anything witty or snide, so I just smirked. What would you have done, Carolyn? Sometimes I wish my brain whipped out responses half as quickly (and eloquently!;) as yours does.

Thanks so much, and hope the Hax clan is well.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you, and the clan sends you a drooly how-do.

Hax, in your place, would likely have been just as slack-jawed with just-as-silent horror. Finding words as a disinterested and caffeinated third-party observer is a very different thing from finding them after you've just gotten socked in the gut in public. I'm so sorry. If it's any consolation, the response by the table was as eloquent as any quip you could have formed. Maybe more.

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Does your bag have to match your shoes?: I really don't think I can afford to have shoes in different colors if this is true. Just how bad is it to carry a brown leather handbag and wear black shoes or what have you?

Carolyn Hax: Matchy isn't cool. You're off the hook.

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Boston, Mass.: Best friend is ex-boyfriend. No romantic feelings linger (it's been four years). His girlfriend of one year has requested he cut off contact with me, and he has agreed, telling me (but not her) that it's "only temporary" and it would be "a favor" if I went along. What the heck do I do with that?

Carolyn Hax: Agree to it, and tell him she is a red flag with legs.

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Omaha, Neb.: I'm happy today. How are you?

Cheers!

Carolyn Hax: Happy too. Thanks!

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Best Girl: So my boyfriend constantly calls me his "best girl." I used to consider it a term of endearment but my friends and even strangers think of this as chauvinistic and/or allude it to the fact he may be dating others. Neither is true.
Your thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: When friends and even strangers bring this up, stick right forefinger in right ear and left forefinger in left ear and say NAH NAH NAH NAH NAH

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Carolyn Hax: Unless you have really long nails.

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Former Drama Queen Here: If you don't IMMEDIATELY cut it out (and yes, it really IS that easy), eventually you will lose enough friends, be dumped by enough guys, alienate enough co-workers, and burn enough bridges to learn your lesson. Choose which you'd rather have happen.

Trust me.

Carolyn Hax: I do, but let's give the carrot a chance to work before we beat her over the head with a stick.

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Oh Canada: Carolyn, Is it ever acceptable for a partner to use the phrase "I don't know what your problem is... I think your PMSing"? I find it rude and a cop-out. Thoughts? Please rate on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being "Perfectly Acceptable -- maybe you deserved it" and 10 being "Unnecessary and mean spirited".

Ms. NonPMS

Carolyn Hax: 10. Smug, condescending, infuriating, sexist.

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Not sure what to say: Carolyn,

Happy Friday to you. I have found myself in an unfamiliar situation and am interested in your opinion. I have a co-worker who I talk to on occasion but am not close with by any means. We never talk outside of work and even at work chat about twice a week. However lately she has started sending me e-mails about her problems with her boyfriend, a subject we have never discussed before. From her e-mails, my opinion of him (whether it is fair or not) is he is a jerk and if he were my boyfriend I would dump him in a heart beat. I have tried hinting that maybe they aren't meant for each other, but apparently I am being too subtle. I feel uncomfortable doing this because I really don't know her very well. However, I am getting tired of hearing about it. If I tell her I don't want to hear about it, it could make for an uncomfortable work environment (we may be working on a future project together). Thanks for your input.

Carolyn Hax: "My advice? I've found that the more I talk, talk, talk about something, the longer I put off doing something about it, and the more I prolong the pain."

Speaking of beating people over heads with sticks.

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EC Maryland: Re: Best Girl. I call my dog my "best boy" all the time and I only have one dog.

Carolyn Hax: Huh. So you say.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Re: What Would Hax Do?:

Sorry to hear about that comment! In like circumstances, I find saying "Did you MEAN to say that out loud?" + a concerned look usually works.

Carolyn Hax: That is a good one. Unfortunately, it's getting the good one out that's the challenge. Or even an ordinary one--"What a horrible thing to say"--which would have worked jus' fine.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: H-Dogg,

Are you available for interventions? My wife and I have concluded that the only solution for her sister's relationship with a dipstick is deprogramming...

Carolyn Hax: If you only knew how I wish I had that power. I'd be bigger than U.S. Steel.

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Wednesday's column again: I feel a bit better after your clarification but what are you suggesting, really? That I offer to stay with him and have him go do his thing? We're not talking about a one year thing. It's an eight year commitment and once he starts he legally can't leave until his commitment is over. Does that change your answer?

Carolyn Hax: No, I'm afraid it doesn't. And what I suggested today was the same as on Wednesday: He goes away, you stay where you are. You give him your blessing to chase his career, and you explain what I sensed from your letter, that you're not ready to go with him.

Thing is, there are a lot of steps here before the actual farewell, and a few after. You say, "I won't be the one to stand between you and your dream." Then you both see how you feel. Then you decide what's best for you, and you tell him your decision. Then you both see how you feel. Then (possibly) he goes and you (possibly) stay, and, as the months go by, you both see how you feel. See? He might not be able to leave once he commits, but he can choose not to commit once he hears what you have to say. And, if he does decide to go away, you can choose to follow him at any time. Right?

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Old Town Alexandria, Va.: What do you say to family members who consistently badger and attack you about opposing view points/beliefs/opinions. I've asked them to stop and requested that we just respectfully disagree with one another and it keeps on happening. It has gotten to the point where I can't stand to be around any of them. My mom invited me to come home for Labor Day and that started up the whole conversation again. Her rationale is since I have the minority opinion in the family its okay for everyone to gang up on me. Is there anything I can do to fix this short of cutting off contact with everyone?

Carolyn Hax: Are people really this awful?

When you're with them and they go after you, try, "I'm heading into the kitchen, anybody want anything?" If refusing to participate doesn't work--if they follow you into the kitchen carrying torches and chanting--then maybe it's time for alternate Columbus Day plans.

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The Twilight Zone: My father has cancer and I need to go home to help my mother take care of him. Since my parents are being bankrupted by medical bills, and I'm a non-profit grunt, my father's (wealthy) mother offered to pay for my plane fare. She sent the check last week and then calls me up last night (she has never called me before in my life) to accuse me of inflating the cost of the tickets to get more money out of her. I'm mortified that she would even ask. So my questions are: I know that your job entails a lot of head-banging and I was wondering what materials you would recommend: walls, wooden posts or metal poles? And when she dies and I get my inheritence, should I blow it all on something frivolous, or donate it all to a Jewish charity (she hates the fact that my father married a Jew and my brother and I are Jewish)?

Thank you

Carolyn Hax: Answer: Yes, people really are that awful. I'm sorry. Any chance you can afford to send her check back, or pay her back for the ticket? Even if it takes you years of monthly installments, the satisfaction might be worth it.

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A compliment: You are downright speedy today!; Did the kids sleep a full night last night?

Carolyn Hax: I'm so sleep deprived I can't even see what I'm typing.

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Carolyn Hax: Aha!

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Columbia, Md.: My father-in-law called me "dipstick" for many, many years. He's the one that needed an intervention.

Carolyn Hax: I think everyone could use a good intervention over something. Except drama queens. They get a rousing non-intervention.

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Fairfax, Va.: What would you say to a incredibly bright, 30-year-old man -- of whom you were very, very fond -- who was letting his life pass him by while he played video games, watched football and hung out with his fraternity brothers? I want to avoid nagging and melodrama, but the fact of the matter is that the tragedy of the situation is destroying our relationship (especially since the same sort of thing caused my parents to be terminally unhappy.)

Carolyn Hax: What is your relationship? It matters muchly.

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Anybody home??: I thought your answer to that girl made perfect sense in Wednesday's column. But I guess she's going to keep asking until she gets the answer she wants.

Carolyn Hax: And I'm going to keep answering, by gum.

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Carolyn Hax: I am trying to eat grilled chicken with a broken plastic fork. It is not pretty.

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Minority Opinions: I'm also the minority opinion in my family, and I usually handle it either by joking about it or by changing the subject/refusing to discuss (that's excluding the times when I'm feeling contrary and start it up myself). Two other suggestions though -- first, what about saying sometime, you know, you may be right, I'll have to think about it. Stop them dead in their tracks. Or, alternatively, if nothing works and it's feeling abusive (which it well could be), say you the discussion isn't going anywhere and you'll have to leave if it doesn't stop -- and then really do so. I did change a relationship like that, where I was constantly being berated, but doing just that -- saying I was hanging up if it didn't stop, and then following through. Some bullies really will stop if you give them the ultimatum, but you have to be willing to follow through.

Carolyn Hax: Standing O, thanks.

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PMSing: Why is it okay for a woman to acknowledge that their mood swings vary due to PMS but if a man suggests it he is raked over the coals?

I am a female. I understand how irritating it is but we can't use that as a reason for anything if we don't expect other people to do the same.

Carolyn Hax: It's not okay for a woman to use PMS as an excuse. If we're bitchy to someone, an apology is the proper response.

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Charlotte, N.C.: Caveat for the drama queen. Yes, get involved in volunteer work with someone or something that is in genuine dire circumstances, but resist the impulse to exchange one script for another. I've seen how easily "my life is SO awful" can become "their lives are SO awful," used merely as a new staging for your me-focus. AKA "how awful that I have to see this every time I go there to help" or "am I not the most wonderful human being on the planet to put myself through all this just to help someone in need?" If you think drama is bad, try it with a side of back-patting.

Carolyn Hax: Ooo, good point.

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Re: Twilight Zone: I'm the CFO of a small Jewish charity in Rockville. How soon is Grandma expected to be of blessed memory?

Carolyn Hax: I love my job.

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Maryland: My very good friend of over a decade has decided that she can't speak to me when my life is going well. She's having some down times and I'm always there to offer support and positive thoughts, good times and bad. But she can't even speak to me because my life is going "better" than hers. We live two hours apart, so I can't just stop by. And I put "better" in quotes, because she's measuring this by homes, jobs, etc. Her life is quite fine, it's just not "perfect." I don't see mine as being that much better.

washingtonpost.com: Oooh, good movie about this very same thing: "Me Without You." Out on DVD.

Carolyn Hax: This isn't a friend, this is a head case. (Is that what th emovie says? Haven't seen it.)

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Midwest: I don't often see parenting type stuff in your column, probably due to a younger audience. But I'm needing some creative suggestions, which I think you are always wonderful at coming up with. My older two children are 12 (girl) and 14 (boy). We're having typical teenage issues like spending way too much time on the phone, to the extent that she's tying up both the main line and the call waiting line -- and going to bed way late and not getting up until afternoon.

For the most part it doesn't bother me because I know that's typical, but those two things do become problematic. What if there's an emergency and I can't get through the phone when I'm at work? And school starts next week and I'm already dreading how horrible my son will be to wake up.

Any suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: Phone limits and a bedtime.

My creativity blows me away sometimes.

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washingtonpost.com: Yep, headcase is the verdict in the movie, too.

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Re: Grilled chicken: C-Money, I have better luck eating poultry with a spork. Less likely to break and better for digging out gristle.

Carolyn Hax: Another standing O. The spork gets no respect.

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Downtown, Washington, D.C.: My husband and I are in our early 30s, good jobs, no kids, just bought a $300K townhouse (which, as you know in this area, isn't much). We have a nice life, but we scrimp and budget and except for a marginal cushion in the bank, live paycheck to paycheck. The problem is that we keep getting hit up left and right for money from family and friends. Not for cash handouts, of course, but for "charitable donations" and school fundraisers. Granted, every cause has been a good one, but I feel like we are constantly getting hit up for funds, especially from my in-laws. We are the only couple without kids, and if we turn them down, the reaction is that we are greedy and selfish. I think it's a great idea to do a breast cancer or AIDS walk, but $20 here, $25 there really begins to add up. Now SIL is asking for $50 apiece for a 60 miles walk. WHOA! This is in addition to expectations of birthday and graduation gifts for nieces and nephews. How do we tactfully and gracefully decline these requests without looking and feeling like cheapskates?

Carolyn Hax: Okay, people really are that awful! Uncle!

Wow. Anyway. I think you just have to let them call you greedy and selfish, and perhaps hope that they finish the job and shun you so that you don't have to deal with them any more.

If you want to be decorous and/or faultlessly fair about it, decide on an annual sum that you can afford to spend on charity, and then say yes only until the budgeted money runs out. When it does, say you're sorry, you've hit your annual limit of what you can afford to give, but you'll put X (relative or charity) first on your list (or second, third, etc) for next year, and then keep your promise.

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Tee Hee: "Spork" sounds like a dirty verb.

Carolyn Hax: Spork you.

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Work Geek: Do you know the precursor to the spork is a runcible spoon? There is even a society dedicated to the noble runcible spoon. Don't ask about the house I grew up in.

washingtonpost.com: I call your runcible spoon and raise you one Runcible Spoon Society.

Carolyn Hax: It's nice not to have grown up in the weirdest house out there. Close, though.

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Somewhere, USA: AAAAAGH!;

I said "I love you" too soon.

What do I do now?

Carolyn Hax: Seize the opportunity that exists only when you have absolutely nothing to lose. Say, "I said 'I love you' too soon." Discuss.

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Re: Downtown Donor: Nothing wrong saying "with having just purchased our townhouse, we're really not in a position to give this year"

Carolyn Hax: True, but then next year is fair game.

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Poopy Weather Friend: I have a friend who only contacts me when things suck. No news is good news. He also does this with my entire group of friends.

He pops up when he gets dumped, or is feeling blue, and it's annoying.

I want to say "I want to know you when you're happy" or just say "what the bleep?"

What's the best way to handle this, or should I just cut the whole thing off?

Carolyn Hax: Say "I want to know you when you're happy" or just "what the bleep?" If that doesn't work, then cut the whole thing off.

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Fairfax, Va.: The eternal fraternity boy in question is my fiance (dating for two years). I am 22, just got out of the military, and am starting my first semester of college. He has big dreams but doesn't seem to have the werewithal to pursue them. My mother's advice us was to leave if I don't see a little less conversation and a little more action, but I hate ultimatums. He is very respectful, by the way, no drugs, alcohol, excess partying, etc., and we have a fantastic relationship otherwise.

Carolyn Hax: Leaving isn't an ultimatum, threatening to leave is. Unless and until you see otherwise, this is who he is. If you don't like it, leave. I'm with Mum.

You are 22. You have absolutely no reason to lock yourself in to anyone or anything that doesn't feel right to you. Also true if you were 32, 52, 72.

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Wordsmithy: Coming to a "spork in the rode" just doesn't have the same ring to it does it?

Carolyn Hax: No! It doesn't ring, it sings.

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I was a 20-something drama king: You know what? Don't talk about the flood that was really just a drip. Write it down. People who see outrageous events in the ordinary and write them down are imaginative authors. People who talk about them to their friends are drama queens....Get it out of your system in a constructive way. At the least you'll have a very interesting journal and when you read it back you realize how off you really were at the time!;

Carolyn Hax: I can't believe I didn't think of that myself! What am I doing here? The people I'm supposed to be advising know so much more than I do!

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Carolyn Hax: I was trying to be a drama queen and it all came out true.

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Grandma's Taxi: Carolyn,

There's an upcoming family function that I REALLY don't feel like attending. It's become an annual thing, and it's always pretty dull. Problem is, if I don't go, Granny has no way to get there (it's an hour's drive). Also, just saying "I don't feel like going," won't really be taken well as an excuse. I'd really rather just sit home an rearrange my sock drawer. Do I HAVE to go?

Carolyn Hax: There are 8,760 hours in a year. You can spare a couple for Granny.

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Wheaton, Md.: My best friend has no particular aspirations. Likes to go to work, come home, watch movies, play video games, maybe have a beer some days. Sometimes he tinkers with his car. Sometimes not.

I'm not like that at all and can't understand how he's content with that life. But, he is. And, he's a good friend too.

So IMO there's nothing wrong with fiancee, he is what he is, take it or leave it I guess.

Carolyn Hax: Well said. FWIW, I secretly envy these people.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

I hate my job. I am completely miserable and it is affecting everything in my life. I was in a state of depression for about a month and I've finally talked myself out of that, but that's a different story. Do you know of any career resources in the area for helping a person determine what careers might be of interest to them. I feel lost and I feel like I can't do anything other than what I'm doing right now (which is really brainless, mind numbing work) although I know I can do anything I set my mind to. Any suggestions appreciated.

Carolyn Hax: If you went to college, your career office should be able to help you, with anything from conversations about what interests you, to retraining opportunities, to tests to see what kind of work your personality lends itself to.

If you didn't go to college, consider going to college.

If you're in a papered profession--doctor, lawyer, etc--your professional organizations likely will have resources for people who want to change careers within their careers.

AND ... I'm sure the nuts have thoughts, which I will post as they come in.

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Helloooo Fairfax!;: The same thing made your parents terminally unhappy? Are you not, perhaps, trying to "fix" your father in this relationship?

Carolyn Hax: Terrycloth headband slipped over my eyes. (The elastic is shot from overuse.)

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn, What does "FWIW" mean?

Carolyn Hax: Fer what it's worth.

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Word Geek: I want credit for the runcible spoon society! See my original post!

washingtonpost.com: I concede. I concede. That's what I get for skimming. Will a link to The Boohbah make it up to you?

Carolyn Hax: The Boohbah makes everything right.

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RE: Minority Opinion: C:

I'm surprised that you applauded this person's intellectual terrorist tactics. He'/she said he/she "runs away" from her family ganging up on him/her, except when he/she "starts it." This sounds a lot like throwing verbal grenades when you're in the mood, but refusing to stand your ground and defend yourself when somebody else starts the fight.

Objectively, that might be the real reason his/her family "gangs' up on him/her.

Carolyn Hax: Hm. I didn't read it this way, but I see your point. Applause is for all tactics, but only when minority opinion holder remains pure and doesn't pick any fights.

I think I can live with that.

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Yogi: Everyone knows that "When you come to the fork in the road, take it." What what do you do when you come to the spork in the road?

Carolyn Hax: Take it, too, because one day you may find yourself with a plate of grilled chicken.

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FWIW?!;: I'm submitting questions of life-altering worth (okay, trivial observations just to see myself on the screen), and this clown gets his IM acronym question answered?!;

WTH?

Carolyn Hax: I believe it's "WTS"?

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Virginia: Hi Carolyn,

I returned two months ago from living overseas where I dated a guy fairly seriously for five years. Now I'm back and the boyfriend and I have split up, albeit very amicably. We decided we just weren't suited to be together forever. Needless to say, we're still friends and speak to each other (mostly e-mail) fairly regularly. Here's the question -- I'm dating a new guy here, now, and I'm not sure how to tell my overseas ex that I'm seeing someone new. He wouldn't ever find out if I didn't tell him (he's far, far away with no plans to visit) but I feel that if we truly are to remain friends, I should level with him. (Actually, my sister told me that. Thus far I've been cowardly and just not mentioned the new relationship.) Still, it was a long and lovely relationship with him and I don't want it to be weird that I've moved on so quickly. How do I handle this? (And should I e-mail/telephone/play down the quickness and seriousness of the new thing?)

Thanks so much!
Repatriated Virginian

Carolyn Hax: Ew no no no to playing stuff down. He'll see right through it and feel worse that you couldn't be straight with him.

If this new person features prominently in your life, and if the ex is truly your friend, there's going to be a point where you have a story to tell that involves the new guy. So, tell story, and include guy you've "been dating."

As for when you do this, I agree with your sister that you have to level with him but I don't see the need to do it right this second. No harm in letting both the new relationship and the old friendship run their natural courses. Two months is nut'n.

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For Love AND Money: Hi Carolyn,

I'm in a great relationship with a swell guy. Our relationship is to the point where we should probably begin considering each other's financial situation. I don't mean marriage here but things like identifying individual and common goals, planning life events, and that type of thing. How does one ask "so how much do you make and what are you comfortable forking out?" I don't care at all what his income is, but I do want to take it into consideration when proposing major trips, undertakings, etc.

Opinion?

Carolyn Hax: Eeew. Identify individual and common goals, plan life events, that type of thing--and also propose major trips, undertakings etc. You'll find out everything you need to know about character that way, and about money incidentally along the way, which is the way it should be.

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Anytown, USA: My parents kicked me out of the house last night, for not doing enough for the family. They were partially right. Tonight we're going to have a dinner meeting where they tell me everything I've done wrong in the past four months. Any advice?

Carolyn Hax: Listen before you speak.

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WTS?: Actually it's WTF.

Carolyn Hax: What The Spork. I'm so misunderstood.

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For Washington, D.C. career change: I recommend a great book:
"The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success," by Nicholas Lore.
It really helped me when I was graduating from graduate school and didn't know what to do with my life. It has lots of helpful worksheets, to help YOU figure out what you want, and tips on how to get it.
Good luck, been there, much happier now.

Carolyn Hax: Haven't read it and so can't endorse, but I'll let you do it. Thanky.

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For the job misery person: The Women's Center in Vienna has good, low-cost career counseling, and there used to be a really good career exploration course offered by Fairfax County - I like the ones that use Myers Briggs and stuff b/c it gives you good insights for life in general (which could help with that other depression business you vaguely alluded to).
good luck!;

Carolyn Hax: Great, thanks. Can men use it too?

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OK, OK, you get all the credit, Drama Spork: And oh, man -- I just got through de-tox on my boobah addiction from the last time it was posted.

It must be Friday.

Carolyn Hax: And how.

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Virginia: Can you wear knee-high boots in the summer?

Carolyn Hax: Only with a bikini.

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Washington, D.C.: Office know-it-alls -- they give you unsolicited on every subject, your job, your parenting, your marriage (although they are single and childless -- and lack perspective). What is a kind but firm way to really stop this?

Carolyn Hax: "Well, thank you, I'll keep that in mind." Every. Single. Time.

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Bethesda, Md.: How long can self-esteem, parental divorce, "I just don't know why I do this" and other psychoses hold water for poor behavior?

I have a friend who cuts me off, tells me he doesn't deserve me when he comes back, says he'll call back and doesn't. Blows off plans, ditches groups when out.

I know he has a lot of issues, and everyone reacts differently -- but he seems to use it as an excuse. I've told him to see someone about it.

Every time he does something he says how terrible he is and that he's hard on himself and other people. He says how he just can't be a good person. I tried being supportive, I tried listening. But now I sort of think the excuses suck after 7+ years of this. I mean, come on... we all had stuff happen. Either deal with it and decide it's a problem, or get over it.

I know it sounds callous, but I am feeling very put out about this person.

What's the best way to handle this? Tell them his behavior has no excuse?

Carolyn Hax: "Maybe you can't be a good person, but you can at least try, which is all I ask." And if he doesn't come through, ditch.

It doesn't sound callous, it sounds like 7-plus years of someone who's more work than friend.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn-
I guess you can consider this a follow up to all the questions about platonic friends taking that "next step." I began dating a friend of mine a few months ago. We had known each other about three years, were former co-workers, and she had been witness to the rise and fall of a previous relationship.

We took "the next step" and began dating, and things are seemingly fine. Except that I haven't "fallen" for her. I still see our relationship as friends first, lovers second, and not as a solid boyfriend/girlfriend thing. I do care for her and enjoy her company, but I'm not head-over-heels for her and while I love her as a friend (and did before this), I don't love her as a girlfriend. I kept out hope that something would "happen" and I'd see her/our relationship differently, but as time progressed, this hasn't happened.

To make matters more interesting, I suspect that she has much deeper feelings for me than I do for her. I owe it to her to tell her how I view this relationship, but I think it may be too far along to avoid any heartbreak and friendship reprecussions. How can I approach this situation and come clean with minimal damage to her, any friendship between us, and to not come off like I've been using her in any way?

Carolyn Hax: Ugh. Ugh ugh. The only damage control you can do at this point is to come clean, I'm afraid. Just say you're nuts about her as you've always been, and that hasn't changed--and that's the problem, because you feel like it should have changed from feelings of friendship to something more. Sigh.

Before you do that, though, make sure you aren't dismissing/mistaking real, lasting, true, settled love for a just-friendship. I need to explain that better ... the risk here is that you see "falling" for someone as sparks, chemistry, bodice-ripping, when in fact that stuff is a byproduct of newness, and so 1. almost always burns out and 2. sometimes isn't as long or intense between people who started as friends. So, a lot of friends who become more-than will have a much shorter hot stage and arrive sooner at the warm part. When it's a good relationship, though, that warm stage will last indefinitely, whereas many really hot couples burn out and find they don't even like each other much.

Make sense?

Last thing, too late for you but maybe useful for friends who are considering more--fall first, then go for more. Don't try more as a way of seeing if you'll fall.

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Portage, Mich.: For Washington, D.C.'s career crisis. I had a masters degree and one year into my career, it fell apart. I took a Strong's Vocational Test for a second time. It measures your interests with the interests of people in different field. It took me a year to buy the advice. But 24 years latter I can say my new career is a much better fit for my personality.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

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Boston, Mass.: Does the work week officially end when your chat ends on Fridays?
Or can it at least end for me, today?

Carolyn Hax: I insist.

Does this mean I shouldn't run long?

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Detroit, Mich.: Carolyn:

I thought I did everything right when I got married four years ago. We planned (and paid for) the wedding ourselves. We arranged accommodations for all out-of-town guests. Nobody had to buy ugly bridesmaids' dresses or rent expensive tuxedos. We discreetly let guests know that we weren't expecting gifts -- the pleasure of their company was gift enough -- and wrote thank-you notes promptly upon arriving home.

After four years, my mother still tells me that my wedding day was the most horrible day of my parents' lives. She was hurt that I spent too much time with the guests and my husband's family (who I was meeting for the first time), that we had to split the family seating over two tables (the place we rented didn't own a large enough head table), that I didn't ask her to help me get dressed (she has SEVERELY arthritic hands) and that I didn't show her all of our gifts.

The real root of this is that our ceremony was not Christian. I am not a Christian and did not want to be hypocritical. I know that she had fantasies about helping me address invitations, choose a cake and a dress, and select Bible readings, but she lives a 1,000 miles away, and having her assist was impractical.

I have apologized for ruffling the family feathers. I know she feels like I cheated her out of something she'd fantasized about, but frankly, I didn't want her help or her fantasies. (That's why we footed the bill ourselves.)

My question: What can I do about this? What, if anything, can I do to put this behind us? Should we renew our vows at the five-year mark with a white dress, a tux and a minister? Our friends still tell us how much they enjoyed our wedding. Am I incorrigibly selfish, or is there some course of action that I'm missing here?
(Online only please)

Carolyn Hax: If you're right about the root of her hostility (no other word for it), then no course of action will do it, because you will continue to be you and not the daughter she fantasized about--unless you put up a really good front, which strikes me as a really soul-sucking thing.

Instead, I'd lean toward refusing to give her complaints any more traction. Next time it comes up, just say outright that you love her, and you're sorry you're not the daughter she hoped to have, but that you're not going to change--and then say you hope, but don't expect, that someday she will love you for who you are. And, if/when the wedding comes up after that, "I'm sorry you feel that way," followed by change of subject.

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washingtonpost.com: Oh, we're way pasts running long. :)

Carolyn Hax: Eek you're right. Sorry to extend your non-working workdays. WHOOOOOO, quitting time, bye everybody, thanks.

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Arlington, Va.: I just got engaged- yay!- and since I was engaged once before, in college, six years ago, my friends from that time are making comments about it (boorish and rude, I know, but I can't control their behavior, only my reaction to it). I know they're trying to be nice when they say how much better this fiance is than the first one, but I don't want to hear it! Without being rude or angry, how should I react?

Carolyn Hax: "Wait till you see the next one!"

Or, pttttht. Raspberries also get no respect.

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idea for the career changer: If you've got the money and time ($600 and about a day and a half), the Johnson O'Connor Research Foundation is an interesting resource, along with Myers-Briggs, et al.

Instead of asking you to evaluate yourself subjectively (a la the MB test), they simply test your abilities. Anything from moving a bunch of tiny pins into holes, to an SAT-like vocabulary test, to being able to remember random sequences of numbers (can't tell you how awful I was at that!;) to your ability to generate ideas on the fly.

You find out what you have a natural ability for -- not coincidentally we all tend to enjoy the stuff we're good at!; -- and then you approach the whole career/work angle from there.

You can use the information to make big changes -- like your job -- or less drastic ones, like trying to change your current job (or life) to include more of the things that tap into your abilities. Thus springs happiness, or so they say.

Also, it can be helpful to realize that if you just hate some parts of your job, it may be because you have a low natural ability for it. Which is why I am no longer a professional license-plate-memorizer. (Whew!;)

Here's a link to their Web site (it's ugly, but don't hold that against them!;)

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. This FYI only, not an endorsement.

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Carolyn Hax: FYI = for your information.

Ar ar.

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McLean, Va.: For the Miserable Career, The Rockport Institute. Expensive (they charge on a sliding scale) but way worth it.

Carolyn Hax: Ditto the non-endorsement -- by that I mean, buyer should do full homework before buying. Thanks.

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Re: The Womens Center: Yes, men can use it too!; When I took "Exploring Career Options" we had a man in our group -- it is a non-gender-specific great resource for anyone.

Carolyn Hax: Cool, thanks.

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Tika, Tika, Tika: I've seen number of questions in the past about how you do this chat thing. I'd donate good money to charity to be able to watch one Friday afternoon

Carolyn Hax: It's like watching golf on a rain delay.

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