Tell Me About It

With Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 12, 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.


New York, N.Y.: Carolyn,
One of my best friends is a guy I work with and also live next door to. We became instant friends when we met three years ago and spend huge amounts of time together. Through the years we have helped each other with breakups and other romantic advice and I never saw him as more than a friend.

Well a couple of weeks ago we kissed and its like all hell broke loose. Suddenly we could not keep our hands of each other and we are contemplating what to do about this. I think we feel the same way but we are worried about of course ruining our great friendship and the fact that we work together. There are so many reasons it seems a bad idea but then it feels so right especially since we know each other so well.

Am I setting myself up for a big mess? Part of me wants to walk away before we screw everything up while the other thinks I may regret that.

Carolyn Hax: You will regret that. A great way to ruin a great thing is to spend the whole time freaking out about the fact that it might end. It might end. It also might not. These are side issues, main one being, how often do you run across greatness?


Georgetown, Washington, D.C.: Do you think that people are destined to recreate their parents' relationship? I know that the answer is clearly not everyone does, but do you think that it might happen more often than not? I have great parents who had an amicable divorce in my early teens.

My relationship with my dad has deteriorated during my twenties because I feel like it doesn't matter if I sing and dance around the dinner table, I can't keep his attention for the two-three nights I see him each year. I love him and think that we are just two very different people now and that is ok.

My fear is that I am beginning to see a similar trend in my relationships. I date people who only seem mildly interested at best and outright ignore me at times.

How can I break this cycle?

Carolyn Hax: Recognizing it. Really, it's like magic. The people who repeat ancestral mistakes are the ones who say, "I'll never be like that!!!!!" (!!!) and therefore neatly close their minds to the possibility that they're exactly like their folks. You see it. You'll beat it.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn:

I'm a woman in my late 20s. I have a really great boyfriend, good platonic male friends, and an assortment of female acquaintances, but I haven't had a really close female friendship since high school ten years ago. Although I've tried to reach out to my current acquaintances, meeting new women through volunteer activities, and blah blah blah, I still haven't been able to forge a strong friendship with a woman. The times that I have extended an invitation to hang out, I've encountered women who literally wouldn't let me get a word in edgewise, some who were so negative it wasn't enjoyable to be around them at all, or others who seemed pretty cool but then dropped off the face of the earth when I tried to get in touch with them again. While many of the current acquaintances are friendly when we bump into each other, they've already got close friends from college or whatever and aren't looking for new ones.

I'm trying to let things happen naturally -- asking them about their interests, not rushing things, meeting a variety of people, but I've been actively trying for a few years now and it isn't working. I know it sounds like I'm a guy frustrated with the dating scene, but I'm not! I miss having long phone calls dishing about guys and families, grabbing a cup of coffee in the evening, and generally having someone I can lean on who can commiserate with me about the nuisance of menstruation. (BTW, I don't have any sisters.) Help!

Carolyn Hax: I don't know what to tell you, other than that you're in very good company in missing very good company. For some reason, the promise of romance is visceral enough to push people off their couches and out into the world, but missing good, platonic, particularly same-sex companionship is largely a living-room sport. People just don't have it in them to work that hard, and so even when some people do work at it, like you, they tend to quit in despair after their efforts are limply returned.

In a way, it's understandable that people have a tough time with this though. A good coffee-cup friendship almost demands more comfort and compatibility than a satisfying romance, if only because you don't have sexual tension to carry you over the gaps. Plus, D.C., with the exception of certain well-laid out (and now, therefore, freakishly expensive) neighborhoods, is kind of a car-happy place, and so not conducive to the kind of occasional, casual run-ins that give rise to a comfy old friendship, unless you have a common-interest bond, like kids or softball or something.

Now that I've listed all the downers I can think of, I'll just tell you what I told myself when I was in your shoes. The kind of friendship you're after can absolutely take a 5, 10, even 15 year investment in a place. Take the long view and keep being receptive.


Fluffy shoe question: What the hell's a pump?

--A befuddled male

Carolyn Hax: Dress shoe with closed heel, closed toe, distinct heel. Minnie Mouse wears them.


Albuquerque, N.M.: Carolyn,

We have a WONDERFUL nanny four our two-and-a-half year old, and soon-to-be second child. She has worked for us for almost two years, and loves my daughter like her very own, and my daughter loves her as well. I have made it a priority to see the "big picture" as far as our relationship is concerned and not get worked up about "the small stuff" like toys not being put away or her not doing things exactly the way I would?.I stay focused on the loving care that she provides and bite my tongue when little things get under my skin, as long as they do not affect the care my daughter receives.

Once in awhile an issue comes up that I consider important to safety. (food choices I'm not comfortable with because of choking hazards, etc.) When I mention them, as sweetly as I possibly can, she always bristles. She has told me in the past that she is very careful with my daughter (true) and loves her like her own (true). I feel that when it comes to safety, I would be negligent as a parent if I didn't point out things that concern me. The problem is that the nanny acts very insulted whenever I bring these things up, and is very terse with me for the following days.

Carolyn, these are the same issues that I would bring up with my husband or my own parents. How can I approach her in a way that will lessen the tension? I am starting to get resentful about it and I know that THAT won't help anything.

-My daughter's mommy

Carolyn Hax: Two things you pass over but that might actually be central to the problem: When you "bite your tongue," I can almost guarantee she can tell, and, consequently, when you approach her "sweetly," you're probably making things worse.

I know you can't change your constitution, but if there's anything, ANYTHING you can do genuinely not to care that "she's not doing things exactly the way I would"--e.g., being glad she's not doing exactly as you would, since the variety/autonomy/nanny happy with work environment is a good thing all around for your kid--then I think the times you do speak up will go over markedly better.

As for how to speak up, try less for sweet than for direct, since that's probably how you'd prefer to be told something (dunno about you, but little annoys me faster than being handled like a live genade). "Wait, I think that's a choking hazard, so I'd prefer you not introduce it for another year or so." And if she still reacts badly, just say hey, it's not personal and I'm not suggesting that you aren't careful--it's just that maybe I've read something you haven't, or been told something by the pediatrician, or that I'm much more uptight than you are.

Or, if you feel it would be more natural/effective, approach her exactly as you would your husband or parents, since apparently that doesn't grate--and if it grates on the nanny, ask her outright if there's a way she'd prefer you to be.


Confusion: I think there was a misspelling in the second question in today's column. The writer said "mutual friends" when I think she meant "mutuel friends". As in, "parimutuel".

Oh, yeah, I do actually have a question. I have a friend of long standing who I just don't want to be around anymore. I no longer like his ultracompetitive nature, or the just-as-competitive side of me that he brings out. The last few times I saw him, I tried pointing out things he did that I would rather him not do, but it didn't help the problem. (As I expexted it wouldn't; I can't change him, but I had to make the effort.) So instead I tried to "drift" him.

Now, several months after I've last seen him, he's pointing out how it's been awhile, and could we do lunch or something? I could go, and deal with it, but I'd really rather not. Do I actually have to "break up" with him, or should I keep hoping that he'll get the point eventually? I've never dumped anyone before...

(If it matters, we're both 22 year old guys.)


Carolyn Hax: Nice one, pari-mutuel.

With your friend, you really have all your options, since you were honest about the ways he annoyed you (and therefore he has no reason to wonder why you disappeared other than his own cluelessness). So: You could accept the lunch and endure; you could accept and, when he gets competitive, say "This is why you haven't seen me in X months--this competitive bleep drives me nuts"; you could decline and say, "I'm sorry, I'd rather not, because I feel like every lunch turns into a competition"; you could say "Yeah, it has been a while," and pointedly stop right there. I'm partial to Option 2, but, again, because you already did try to be straight with him, you can just pick the one that feels right to you.


Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Why don't you arrange for the nanny to go for a infant CPR and safety course? It will help to reinforce the hazards that are surrounding young children.

Carolyn Hax: Great idea if she goes too. Otherwise, it's another you-aren't-careful message.


Charlotte, N.C.: I'll be shocked if you don't get a lot of "I know exactly what you mean!" responses regarding the woman lacking female friends. SO many of us are, I think, in the same spot, especially those of us who think it's going to happen like it did in college, when living arrangements provided the constant proximity and classes provided the common stress that these friendships often grow from. D.C. is only 10 years out from high school, but I'm 25 years out, and to this day I've never duplicated the kinds of friendships I had back then, other than with platonic male friendships. I can't offer a solution other than to back up your advice to stick with it, but I can offer her solace that she's not alone.

Carolyn Hax: That's something, thanks.


Close friends: I moved here a year and half ago, leaving behind all of my close, female friends. I'm 23 and recently married, but I still miss coffee talk with the girls. I guess it's comforting to know that I'm not the only one having a tough time finding female friends!

Carolyn Hax: This thread is making me miss my D.C. girls badly. Not that I didn't already. Thanks for weighing in.


Leonardtown, Md.: I'm a 40-year-old man (separated) who's dating my former secretary. She's 13 years younger than me as well. Been dating for 18 months. Love her, but having a difficult time totally comitting myself to her. I think it's because I'm afraid of the "people talking" syndrome. How can I get over that and be in love with her like I want to be and like I am when we're not around these other people?

Carolyn Hax: People talk because they have nothing better to do with their mouths except eat, and look where that has gotten most of us.

So. Do you love this woman or not?


New York, N.Y.: Hey Carolyn,

I had to put my cat to sleep this week after a very brief but violent illness and I'm miserable and heart broken. And I feel guilty for feeling so miserable and heart broken especially considering that yesterday was the anniversary of 9/11. This will sound really awful but I've lost family members and haven't felt this terrible and sad. (Granted, the family members were not immediate family and I was lucky if I saw these relatives once a year, but still...) Do other pet owners recognize this feeling or am I a really warped person for feeling this way?


Carolyn Hax: You did not put your family members to sleep, and you didn't watch them suffer and die in mute innocence, without being able to comprehend what went on inside them. It's a particular feeling with a particular grief. Don't feel warped or apologize for it.


RE: Charlotte and D.C.: That we are not alone is not solace... what the hell is the deal? If there are so many women wanting friendly female companionship, then why don't more of us have it?

Carolyn Hax: You heard my guess, but beyond that, I don't know. Oh, but I do have one more thing I forgot to throw in there: caution. I think in a way women are more circumspect when it comes to embracing a new pal because "breaking up" with one is much harder than it is with a person you're dating. Which I guess ties back in to what I said in my first answer, that friendships are tougher to make work than romances--but they're generally perceived as easier, and therefore people who get dumped take it harder.

Anyway, I'm rambling. Maybe there should be a section of the personals, Women Seeking Coffee.


The bristling nanny: (Which sounds like an Edward Gorey book, but never mind)

Why is Mommy hesitant to talk to the nanny? She's the employer and the nanny is an employee, for cryin' out loud. The nanny has no business telling her charge's mother how the child is to be raised. Time to hire a more professional nanny, I'd say.

Carolyn Hax: True, but easier said than done. This person is helping you raise your kid, not fertilizing your lawn. You want to encourage a personal bond while also demanding professional distance, and, when it comes time to accept that these relationships aren't perfect, most will want to err on the warm fuzzy side.


Arlington, Va.: Hey, Carolyn! Why don't those of us mourning close female friendships all hook up? I'm pushing 30 and haven't had a close female friend since high school. I'd love some chicks to get together with!

How 'bout we all send you our e-mails?

Carolyn Hax: I have to think about this. Nag me next week.


Women Seeking Coffee: Actually I heard of someone once putting an ad in the personals section for friends.

Carolyn Hax: I'm not at all surprised.


Somewhere, USA: While you're on the subject of friendship dumping ... what is a dumpee supposed to do when, after months of being ignored but continuing to reach out, she asks whether she's done anything wrong and whether the friend is okay, but gets no answers or change in behavior? I guess I consider myself dumped at this point, but we're talking about a long and deep friendship that was almost as central to my life as a romantic relationship.

Carolyn Hax: I don't know what you're supposed to do, other than give up. And lament the fact that your old friend has shrivelled little personal skills.


Washington, D.C.: Why don't all the females who want female friends just all agree to meet at a coffeeshop on Saturdays?

Something like all females interested head to the Cosi at 20th & M Streets in D.C., Saturday at 2 p.m.?

Carolyn Hax: I feel like a pimp.


Pentagon City, Va.: This may sound mean or superior, but I don't intend it to be. I have the opposite problem as the woman who cannot find a good female friend -- I just don't have time for more friends. I am frequently trying to come up with excuses for why I don't want to meet up sometime, or go out on the weekends, etc. I work 40+ hours and also go to school full time. In addition, I'm married and the little free time I have I want to spend at home with my husband and my dog. I'm friendly with co-workers and classmates but I don't intend for them to get the impression that my friendliness will lead to a lasting relationship. I certainly don't want to be unfriendly and I enjoy having contact with these people and appreciate that they seem to like me. I just don't have any interest in making new friendships that will require maintenance. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings but they don't seem to get the hint when I repeatedly decline and never initiate. Does that seem weird or snooty? I swear, it must be Murphy's Law that when you really try to make friends, they elude you. However, when you don't care at all, they can't seem to get enough.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I don't think your situation and the missing-my-female-buddies problem are mutually exclusive. A bet a lot of the women writing in are busy and have somewhat-friends they could see more but find themselves dodging because they don't want to work that hard. The friend you don't have to make plans with, the one you can wander over and talk to or borrow a book or a cup of milk from, is the dream girl here, and those are the ones you lean on when you have zero free time for your "friends."


Coffeeshop Crew, Washington, D.C.: Awwww, why a coffeeshop? Why not a cool little bar that serves up a mean irish coffee as well?

Carolyn Hax: Suggest one and I'll post it.


Cleveland, Ohio: So, I have a weird romantic situation. For the past six months, I have been very close with a couple, spending tons of time with them -- including vacations. Well, the girlfriend recently accepted a job offer across the country and will be gone for a year and a half. After she left, I kept hanging out with her boyfriend after a certain amount of hesitation on my part (I was afraid it would be awkward -- that it would feel like we were dating or something).

Turns out my fears kinda came true. I've known him since grade school and have always been close to him. Well, the more I hang out with just him, the more I'm developing intense feelings for him. Although I've dated several guys, I generally don't initiate a romantic involvement and develop romantic feelings really slowly. In fact, I can't remember ever having a real crush on someone besides thinking they were hot. To complicate matters, they have an "open" relationship -- and I know he's interested in me. Of course, I KNOW intellectually that any involvment with him will just end badly for somebody... but I don't know how to handle these feelings and I don't want to lose his friendship. Help?

Carolyn Hax: Tell him you have feelings for him but that you don't want to be part of their open relationship, and so you need to stop seeing him for a while. If he wants you, he can come get you sans girl.


For Albuquerque: I have been a nanny both live-in and live-out and I 100 percent agree with the advice that you gave about being direct. It is not impolite, bitchy, or mean to let your employee know what your preferences are, but, also as stated by you, be open to giving your nanny latitude with your child unless there is a trust issue for some reason and at that point, the trust issue needs to be addressed rather than small nitpicky things.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the other side.


Virginia 'Burbs: Do you think that there is such a thing as a "quarter-life crisis?"

Carolyn Hax: I think having so many more options makes the twenties more agonizing for (some) (educated and/or higher income) people than they used to be, and I think we live in a media-saturated age in which there is a label for everything that happens to more than one person at once.


Arlington, Va.: I have to believe that there are any number of guys in the audience who are writing down "Cosi -- 2 p.m. Saturday -- hit on some needy women." Arranging this gathering may not be a good idea.

Carolyn Hax: I'm sure these women can take care of themselves.


Carolyn Hax: And "needy" is a bit off, since what they "need" is attention from women, not men, if they're to be taken at their word(s).


Barf-ville, Va.: Is this going to be a girly crapfest about losers not having friends all day?


Carolyn Hax: For you, Irish coffee. Please.


Feeling like a snob: I met a guy recently through friends who has expressed an interest in me (to friends). He's attractive, and he is nice. We talked about a few books we enjoyed and he seemed very interesting.

Here's the part that makes me cringe. I don't really feel attracted to his outlook. I did the college, job, grad school -- more job route. He's sort of a laid back guy who works one season doing hard manual work, and then blows it all on vacations. While I am slightly envious he has the chutzpah to do this, I sort of balk at the idea of pursuing someone who's outlook on money, work, and ambition varies so completely from mine. It's not a lack of respect, but it feels like something similar almost... if that makes any sense at all.

I'm not one to believe lack of college means uneducated (grandparents never went, unbelievably intelligent) but I sort of feel like his background is so different that it would eventually come up.

Still there is this nice guy, who is a great conversationalist... some part of me feels like a snob for rejecting the idea altogether. I don't want to lead anyone on.

Ugh, I guess I'll go grab a latte and play tennis with Buffy now.


Carolyn Hax: If his laid-back way would agitate you, just admit it to yourself and move on. Even if you think you're a jerk for thinking that way--better to know your awful self and respond accordingly than to fight it and make you and others miserable. If it helps, tell yourself that working really really hard to persuade yourself of the cultural value of someone's very-different lifestyle is almost condescending; better just to say, "Hey, digging ditches to finance my next vacation isn't my idea of fun," and pass on the guy. Or, same idea, date him and say, "I tried, but I don't get your way of life." See what he has to say.


Washington, D.C.: This is a somewhat random question for the gallery. I have a family history of depression that I think is affecting me right now. I'd like to see my doctor about it but am not sure if they're going to require talk therapy. Part of the reason I think I'm depressed is that I have little free downtime due to a new job. Do doctors prescribe medication only for this, or is talk therapy part of the package? (FWIW, I'm a proponent of talk therapy, but recognize it can be/provoke a time consuming reaction.)

Carolyn Hax: Doctor won't "require" you to do anything you don't want to do. Go, get screened, take from there.


Michigan: Dear Carolyn,

My mother-in-law has a hearing problem. I believe this is what led her to write "Welcome Nathan" on a cake she baked to celebrate the baptism of my newborn son, Ethan.

I first saw the cake right before church started, but I didn't say anything because I know she hates it when people point out that she's losing her hearing, plus she worked very hard on the cake and it was otherwise beautiful and delicious, plus by that time, it was too late to do anything to fix the cake, anyway.

Well, sure enough when the cake was served after the service, some other people in the congregation pointed out her error. She was very embarrassed. As gently as we could, my husband and I pointed out that the whole situation could have been avoided if she would see a doctor and get a hearing aid. She went ballistic. Now, she is saying that I purposely didn't tell her about her mistake before the service because I wanted to embarrass her to prove my point about the hearing aid -- which she still refuses to consider.

Carolyn, where did I go wrong? And what can I do now to make things right? My mother-in-law is the only grandparent my son has.

Carolyn Hax: Or, this whole situation could have been avoided if you had tipped her off to the "misspelling." Even "too late," she could have scraped off the name, or at least prepared herself for congregation comments. I'm sorry she's taking this out on you and not her son--totally unfair--but you do owe her an abject apology for, well-meaningly, setting her up to be humiliated.

As for her hearing problems, it's really none of your or her son's business. An apology for that is in order, too, from both of you. There are wrong ways to be right, and I'm afraid you and your husband stepped in one of them. If and when it is a safety issue, then I think you have to say something--and even then, take care to limit your concerns to safety.


Re: Depression: There is a free depression screening Oct. 9 from 3-6 p.m. at The Women's Center. You get some information and some time to talk to a licensed therapist about your feelings and where you should go from there. It's National Depression Screening Day, so there are probably free screening all over.

Carolyn Hax: Good stuff, thanks.


Nanny: If the woman with the nanny can afford that kind of hired help and another child on the way, why not stay home and raise the children yourself? That way no problem!

I know I sound like Dr. Laura, but...

Carolyn Hax: No but, you do. Someone else would have said "you or your husband stay home"--and then changed his or her mind about posting at all. We know nothing about this woman's life.


Somwhere in America: I usually love your advice, but I winced when I read your respone to Cleveland. You realize you basically told her to try to steal the guy? "Walk away, but tell him he can come after you if he wants." Walking away is fine, but leaving him to choose between girls seems super manipulative.

Carolyn Hax: Ooh, I winced at "steal." He's not an object. He has a choice, and he's entitled to know what his choices are. Manipulative to me is when someone whose motives are concealed tries to shape other people's behavior by playing to their known strengths and weaknesses; my advice was all plain-sight behavior.


Somewhere, USA: Multiple choice question for ya, Carolyn. My husband's parents have been divorced for about 15 years. My father-in-law called the other night, when he knew my husband would not be home, and said, "Don't tell Rick, but Ella [long-time girlfriend] and I are getting married in November. I want to surprise him with the news after we've gone through with it."

Now, I think this is a horrible idea. My husband's mother did the exact same thing about five years ago -- eloped and told my husband after the fact -- and he was hurt. Just recently, he told me that the way that she went about the remarriage soured him on the whole relationship.

I told my father-in-law this over the phone and in a later email. They don't have to include or invite my husband in/to the ceremony, but I still think he should be told before it happens.

My f-i-l said "yeah, maybe you're right" -- but still declines to tell my husband. I see my choices as these:
A. Tell husband myself, ahead of the marriage.
B. Keep quiet and act surprised when husband gives me the news.
C. Keep quiet and say "actually, I heard about this three months ago. I begged your dad to tell you but he wouldn't" when I hear the news.

None of these are palatable: A seems like a great way to ruin family relations all around; B just seems silly; C seems rather hurtful -- as if I am a better confidant than the flesh and blood son. Carolyn, do you have a D? Give me a D!

Carolyn Hax: D. Tell the FIL that you refuse to keep secrets from your husband, so if he doesn't tell, you will, and give him till ... next weekend to behave like an adult.


Good luck!


Frat Row, USA: Hi Carolyn, please answer this online only. I have been on some dates with a guy who was in a frat in college and from the stories he tells it sounds like he was really obnoxious, sometimes stemming from peer pressure. Basically some things he did make me want to puke but he's been out of college for years and is nice and seems to be pretty responsible. Just wondering if I should be wary because of this past behavior, if I can forget about it because it was in the past, or if it'll drive me crazy to think about.

Can former frat guys become nice guys? SINcerely, Carrie Bradshaw

Carolyn Hax: I'm sure some people who knew me in college peed themselved when they foud out what I do for a living. It's not how much of a jerk you were, it's what you've done since you figured that out. At least, that's what I tell myself.


Maryland: Hopeit's not too late to submit a question that's been eating at me all week!; It's imperative to get an answer today if possible. I saw in your column that you advised not to tell a friend that you heard her boyfriend cheater on her. Well I am in a similar situation, but with much more serious circumstances. I have a good friend that is getting married in a month. I just found out this week through the grapevine that all her fiance's co-workers are saying he has cheated on my friend with several different girls over the past year or so. I normally would say to stay out of it, expecially since it's hearsay, but with her wedding date so close, and so much at stake, I can't help but feel like I should do or say SOMETHING!; This is a decision that could impact the rest of her life. Your advice?

Carolyn Hax: I don't know which is worse, hearsay or meddling. I guess it depends on how good a friend this really is, since, even though the "impact" seems dire to you now, his being an unfaithful jerk doesn't necessarily preclude their making a marriage work. Seriously. Just for the sake of argument, what if he had an epiphany? And of course there's the other side of the argument, what if he has HIV?

So we can run in circles, or I can throw out my old ugh-I-have-no-idea standby. If the roles were reversed, how would you want your friend to handle it? That's all you can do when you're stuck, hide behind the G. Rule.

No wait--you can also, when confronted with these rumors, slap down the gossipers for gossiping. Remember, about a week before that don't-tell column, I said I was annoyed at myself for not addressing the whole grapevine thing. Who are these people, and who taught them that this was acceptable lunch conversation?


Depression Screening: Carolyn,
Is it worth pointing out that this person may want to reconsider priorities? That it's not very good for one's psyche to make time only for work but, when it comes time to taking care of oneself, looking just for a pharmaceutical solution because you don't have time for anything else?

Carolyn Hax: Seems worth it to me, thanks.


Paying for people to be my friend on the East Coast: Hi Carolyn,
I recently moved and, in an effort to meet people, joined a group of women who meet once a month for dinner. My meal is always the cheapest because I'm a vegetarian, if I drink I can't drive home, and if I get an appetizer I don't have room for the main course. But we split the bill evenly every time and I end up paying two or three times the price of my meal. Once I split a $12 pizza three ways and paid $22 anyway!; The woman who plans, in an effort to be easygoing, always says "it all evens out in the end" but I can't help noticing that it never does!; Am I a total cheapskate for letting this get to me? Is there any way for me to just pay for my own without looking like a bean counting jerk?

Carolyn Hax: You're not a cheapskate, and you can speak up, and if they make you feel like a jerk for it ... all together now ... they aren't worth your time.

Are you all as sick of my saying this as I am?

Rhetorical, please don't answer that.


Re: Frat Row: Yes, but Carolyn, would you now tell those college horror stories on a date (sans husband/twins, of course)? Sounds like he doesn't regret it at all - if he's still happily reliving the memories, why would you think he's changed?

Carolyn Hax: You can tell a horror story, and even laugh about it, and still know it was horrible.


Getting mixed signals!: Met guy hit it off. Beacoup smooching. Communicated through e-mail and on phone about how much fun we had. Made a date. He made it a very romantic date (went sailing, made me lunch) but save a sweet peck there was no physical contact, not even casual. He sent an e-mail saying we should spend time when we both get back from vacations

We both went on vacations. We chatted when we were in the same area, I invited him out. He was moving, couldn't go. I asked if perhaps another time. He said "Of course."

Have not heard anything for a little bit of time now. Have sent one or two e-mails about parties, people doing stuff. No reply.

I don't want to read into anything. I am notorious for writing things off but this feels like the big kiss off.

My friends say I should call and see if he wants to spend time again, because all communications we've had have pointed in that direction. However, there hasn't been communication for a little while.

He's also European, if that means anything. Don't know if he's just busy as a full-time grad student who just moved, or if he's doing the "guy thing" of just drifting off. That could just be me making excuses. I don't want to not get the hint, but I don't want to write anything off. In general I don't want to be vulnerable but it looks like either way I might have to be.

Carolyn Hax: I'm all for making ourselves vulnerable, but I don't see why you have to. You've now made ... three? unreturned gestures. His turn.


Burke, Va.: Carolyn,
I just started a new job where I am supervising people for the first time. They are all older than me. I am really struggling to figure out how to act in a way that is both authoritative and personable. Obviously, I want my employees to like me and think well of my management style, but I am afraid of seeming too lax and losing respect right from the beginning. Why is this so hard? I have this fear that they're going to think that they can get away with more while working under me because I am young. By the way, most of them know my job better than I do because they have been here for years! Are there any books for brand new, really young supervisors?
Thanks so much.

Carolyn Hax: Wow, triage here. 1. Lose the idea of age. It's irrelevant. 2. Lose the urge to be liked. You're there to get a job done. For that, you need respect, nothing more. 3. To get respect, you're going to need to know your job better than anyone else. Don't fake it, but don't waffle either. When you need something to be done, assign it. When it gets done, say thank you, when it doesn't get done, ask why it wasn't done, and listen to the reason. If it's a good one, accept it and incorporate that into Plan B (you can also squander respect by not being lax enough); if it wasn't a good one, say so and give the person one more chance to get it done. Oh, and when you screw up, say you screwed up, and when you need to learn something, ask a good question, even if it's of someone beneath you. Playing know-it-all when you don't know it all will be the end of you. Just don't simper when you ask or make excuses about being "the new kid." Just say thanks, or even, "Thanks, I'll get the hang of it soon." You got this job, so be confident you deserved it.

As long as you're well-adjusted and at least on the road to competence, the people under you will play along (unless they're out to get you, but then your best defense is still just to do a good job).

Books? I have no idea. Sorry.


Washington, D.C.: A $12 pizza isn't a $12 pizza at a sit-down restaurant. Tax, tip, and a non-alcoholic beverage could easily put that total up to $22. Just something to consider before deciding to bring it up with your dinner companions.

Carolyn Hax: Good point, thanks.


Re: possible cheating: Do you think it would ever be wise to go talk to the possible cheater (presuming you could do it without sounding accusatory) and say, "I just wanted you to know that I have heard these rumors... I don't know if there is anything to them, but wanted you to know that they are out there so you could talk to my friend and tell her what might be making people talk like this before she hears about it from someone else."

If he is innocent, he gets to forewarn his fiancee about some innocent behavior that people are misinterpreting... if he is guilty, he knows his finacee may find out.

Of course, if he is really guilty, that gives him time to get together a BIG story... sigh...

Carolyn Hax: Still, seems like a risk worth taking. Nice alternative, thanks.


Work Rumours: In the first few months after I got married, there were rumours swirling at my husband's work that he was having an affair with Girl X, a friend of his. Girl Y, another "friend," for reasons I never determined (dislike/jealousy of Girl X?), started the rumours. If I didn't know my husband better and have the kind of relationship where we can laugh at stuff & talk about potentially uncomfortable stuff (which we then end up laughing at), I'd have had doubts. People are lame, and talk about anything, true or not.

(Girl X is still a friend, Girl Y is probably still rotting in retail somewhere, and we've been married now 10 years.)

Carolyn Hax: Why hearsay is so toxic. Thanks much.


Pizza: But she split the $12 pizza three ways...a $4 pizza could be $12 - but $22?!;

Carolyn Hax: Forgot about the three-way split, thanks, but the essence was correct--a lot of people forget tax n tip and two-dollar sodas when splitting bills.


Fluff City: What the hell's a befuddled male?

Carolyn Hax: On that note. Bye guys, thanks for coming and type to you next Friday.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

I wrote you months and months ago about my suspicions that a buddy of mine was being abused by his wife. I finally gut the gumption up to talk to him about it, and now I'm more confused than ever. After some initial denials, he admitted it to me. But then he said that he'd agreed to certain things years before. She apparently gave him an ultimatum that he would live by her rules or she'd leave him. He said it was in response to how immature and irresponsible he was back then (which is very true). He then said that the physical stuff only started in the last few years. I asked him why he put up with it and he said he loves her, and that he's a better man because of her. I was pretty much left speechless. I feel like he's been abused in one form or the other for years, but he sort of agreed to it didn't he? I've never heard of anything like this and am at a loss as to what to do now. On the one hand, I'd like to help my friend get out of this relationship. On the other, to ever have agreed to this in the first place indicates he's got some MAJOR issues. Any advice you could offer would be much appreciated.

Carolyn Hax: Oy, need to get this in: Even if he did "agree" to it (dubious), that doesn't mean he needs to keep agreeing to it every day for the rest of his life. If he's going to follow this sick vow to the letter--and you're right, there have to be other major issues behind that--then he can still leave, because she voided the terms by getting physical. He can also be grateful to her (shooting forehead pains) and he can see that even bad people can have some good traits, but that doesn't require him to put up with abuse ever after. 1-800-799-SAFE. Either have him call, or you call and get the name(s) of someone local he can talk to. Also try the DC Rape Crisis Center or the Women's Center in Vienna (not just for XX, I believe).


© 2003 The Washington Post Company