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With Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 3, 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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Beautiful Silver Spring, Md.: Hi. I'm 25 and still feel somewhat new to having a social life. Is there a non-nagging way to ask people who said they would come to a party I held and then didn't come why they didn't come? I'm not offended, because I don't know - if the reason is good, then all is copacetic. But does asking the question imply that you think the reason is bad?

(I'm confusing myself here. It's probably simpler than all that. But I find it hard to determine. Thus my request for your fine advice.)

Carolyn Hax: "Hey, we missed you xxx night. What happened?"

s'okay, hosting especially makes a lot of us doubt ourselves.

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Albany N.Y.: For the woman last time who couldn't stand to hear her husband eat: I've been there (you!;) and know how frustrating it is, and how real. I learned, very recently, that being annoyed by such things (such as eating or chewing noises) is largely a reaction to tension in the central nervous system. Meditation made my annoyance go away, when nothing else did. I'd encourage you to approach the problem this way (as central nervous system tension), and find your own way of solving it. Being annoyed by such a natural thing can really damage your relationships. I've lived that too.

Carolyn Hax: ADD can have the same effect, apparently--it can make normal noises extremely grating. Or, it could be that he annoys her for a bigger reason and she's fixating on small stuff. I felt I had moved too fast on that answer and meant to revisit it, but spaced. Thanks for the post.

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Atlanta, Ga.: I'm breaking off my engagement this weekend. Any suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: That'll make you look forward to Monday. Lessee ... don't equivocate, blame, condescend, lash back if the dumpee lashes out, or say you want to be friends. Oh, and don't drop your bomb and run--your fiance(e) will likely want and need to discuss--but don't belabor either; if the conversation starts going in circles, say you think it's time for a break and that you can talk again tomorrow.

The do's (don't are always easier) I guess are to be honest about your reasons, short of being cruel. "My feelings aren't as strong as they used to be" vs. "you don't do it for me any more now that I've lost all respect for you." Well, that's one do. Did I leave anything out?

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San Francisco, Calif.: New picture! How is it that in every picture posted of you, you look completely different?

Carolyn Hax: I don't know, but I love it. I have no interest in being recognized.

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Dumped, Maine: Hi Carolyn!
I just got dumped. Not a big deal; it had only been a month. Plus I knew it wouldn't last too long but was willing to still just have fun for the time being.

Now I'm really tempted to send an e-mail to see if we can still be friends. My motive is not to change his mind. I honestly had fun hanging out and would like to be friends. On the sneaky side, though, is that I also want him to be know that I do not still want him.

My friend seems to think he'll just interpret it as my being hung up on him. And that it's possible that I could get a response I don't want to hear (although I would ask that he not respond at all if he doesn't want to be friends).

Is this an atrociously bad idea?

Carolyn Hax: Not really, but you've made it into one. If there's any truth to your sneak motive, don't do it. You lost, be gracious, move on. And if you're hung up at all on whether he thinks you're still hung up on him, see above.

If you honestly had fun hanging out and would like to be friends, and there are no ego strings attached, and no game strings, anywhere, and you're ready to accept whatever answer you get, and you're ready to be his friend without wanting him to fall for you or wondering why he didn't, then you've stripped it back to a good idea.

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Somewhere, USA: Breaking engagement advice: Yes, and give back the ring.

Carolyn Hax: Oh that, right. Thanks. Or the engagement recliner she gave you.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Carolyn, I'm 33 years old. I have a wife, two kids, a golden retriever, a mortgage, two car payments and a full-time job. I haven't lived in parents' home in more than a decade. So why do said parents still find it necessary to refer to one another as "mommy" and "daddy" when speaking to me?

Argh! It makes me want to choke myself with a spork! Thoughts on how to diffuse this (I've tried the obvious face-to-face request to cease such references) before I have a DEFCON 5 meltdown over it?

Carolyn Hax: Start referring to yourself in the third person as Timmy.

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Somewhere, USA: Engagement Breakup P.S. Been there. As harsh as it sounds, don't let this take up too much of your life. My ex called me sobbing all the time for months after I broke it off. I let myself feel responsible, and I thought I owed it to her to keep listening and talking about it.

Carolyn Hax: ... when in fact you owed it to her to cut it off, firmly and gently, when everything had been discussed. Right again, thanks.

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London, U.K. (for Atlanta): What if (s)he really does want to be friends? Is it just that one shouldn't deliver that message now (i.e., it's too cliched)?

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, and too not what a person wants to hear. If the dumpee initiates, great, but otherwise I think it's a desire better expressed through deeds than words. If it's going to happen, make the effort and it'll happen.

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Somewhere, USA: Holiday Question, I Know It's Early... But the holiday season is coming and with it my two sisters who do NOT get along. You'd think at our age (all of us are over 30) they could learn to hold their tongues and be civil for the few days they are forced to bear each other's company, but no such luck. They snipe, insult, yell, try to embarrass the other in front of people, and have occasionally reduced other family members to tears with their fights. I have been charged by my parents with "running interference" between the two abrasive sibs, i.e. playing peacemaker in a fight that is not mine. I am sick of always having to tell these two to be quiet, be nice, or in general behave like something other than immature brats around each other, but if I refuse then my folks say I'm not being a "team player" and am inviting some massive fighting to occur between my sibs. I've told my parents that if my sisters start fighting my parents should insist they leave the house until they can act civil, but my mother always pulls out the old "if they drive away angry they could get in an accident" card, as if my sisters are 16 and not in their 30's!;

Carolyn, this is already making my stomach hurt and it's not even Halloween. I want to see my parents for the holidays, but not be their middle man for solving the sibs disputes year after year. What can I do? I ask now b/c both sibs just visited on the same weekend (unavoidable) and it was so awful and I can't fathom how bad the holidays will be. Any advice?

Carolyn Hax: It's never too early for a sister-on-sister brawl.

First of all, your parents are way out of line. Obviously your sisters are, too, but there's manipulativeness/passive aggression/tolerance of the intolerable at the top of the tree that makes the ruckus on the lower branches unsurprising. Do not stand for the "team player" BS. Your sibs are adults, and while they may be making themselves your problem, they're not your responsibility. If your parents don't want them fighting, your parents can act on their own behalf. Please tell them that much.

Second, you should feel free to respond to your sisters as you see fit. Pick up your plate and eat in another room? Ask them please to stop behaving like children? Laugh at them? Ignore them? Skip the holidays and explain to both sisters that you'll gladly rejoin everyone if they can learn to control themselves?

Whatever you choose, you're going to take s*** for it. Expect it, stand there, take it. Just don't budge from the high ground to preserve some phantom peace. I'm pretty confident that's what started the whole food fight to begin with.

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Seattle, Wash.: Hi Carolyn,

I am a gay man in a 9-month relationship that seems to be working well -- good communication, common interests, etc. But given my work schedule and my bf's desire to spend lots of time together, I am finding it impossible to make friends in this relatively-new-to-me city.

I have fun with my bf but I don't think he's "The One," and I value my friendships too much not to have at least a few. (I've been here for two years and I think I have only one true friend.)

The thing is, I'm 33, and my lack of friends may simply be a function of my peer group having less time for new friends. In short, I run the risk of letting the bf go and not having anything to show for it.

I honestly would love to stay friends with my bf if we were to stop dating, but I know that would be his decision to make.

How do I decide whether to take the risk of telling him my feelings? He is already frustrated by my work schedule.

Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: 1. Figure out what you want.

2. Act on it.

This I-want-to-keep-him-around-in-case-he's-the-best-I-can-do BS has got to go.

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Orlando, Fla.: I swore never to date another coworker after a 9-mos. inter-office romance went very sour. (He cheated on me with a coworker. They have been dating ever since, and she hasn't been nice to me. The entire affair was my worst nightmare -- though they seem happy.) Now a year has passed, and while it still smarts to face them at work, I know that I am better off without the guy and re-emerging in a vibrant office social scene. In the interim, I have dated a lot of men from outside the workplace, and none stuck. A couple of coworkers have been giving me signals that they are interested. Part of me wants to be encouraging -- my community is transient, I work terrible hours, and it is hard to meet people with similar interests. But I am paralyzed with fear about repeating past mistakes. Any guidance on navigating -- or abandoning -- workplace dating scenes?

Carolyn Hax: Choose carefully, commit slowly, be friends first if at all possible, stay out of the chain of command, and rally yourself with the fact that you saw something go wildly sour and yet you're still in one piece.

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Somewhere, USA: Here's a New One ... Hey, Carolyn --

New boyfriend needs lessons in the bedroom! I hear that this is a fragile issue with guys, as it is for women too, so what do I do? I don't want to ruin his confidence, but geez. (He ... ah ... gets to the point very quickly if you know what I mean. Not prematurely, just quickly.) He thinks we are fantastic together sexually. I'm not looking for two hours of foreplay over here, but some attention to more than one obvious zone would be good. Advice? I am crazy about him otherwise.

Carolyn Hax: The most popular suggestion on this is to frame it as, "I love it when you ... ," but will entertain other (printable) suggestions.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

Over the past nine months I have learned that my boss and I are philosophically opposed on some fundamental areas related to our career field. Besides that, she is very moody and not at all family-oriented (I have kids). I don't like her, and I can't work for her anymore.

I am interviewing elsewhere and (cross your fingers, peanuts!) hopefully soon will land another position. Any advice on how to deal with the current situation until I can extricate myself? I am reluctant to resign before I have secured other employment, though if things got REALLY miserable I would consider that. Fortunately they aren't there, yet ... Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: It's not that you can't work for her any more, you just don't want to. Put a grimmer scenario firmly in mind and get back to work. As long as you see differing philosophies and bad moods are preferable to unemployment, for example, you have your coping strategy.

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Somewhere, USA: Being that girl: Carolyn,

Recently friend of a friend has moved to the city and joined our group. Started thinking he has potential as more than a friend, and feel he may have some of the same feelings for me, but also know he doesn't have a lot of other friends in the area, which is why if things went bad, would be more bad for him than me.

My friends don't know why he hasn't said anything, as they see this too, and while I'm tired of thinking about it and am circulating elsewhere, would like to find out from him if there is any future or if he's just not into me. While I want to respect his position, I don't like thinking my feelings aren't valid either.

How do I even begin to tell him this, if at all?

Carolyn Hax: Oh please don't. Ask him out. Much less complicated. If he doesn't share your feelings, be a big person and shake it off.

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Please Help Me! -- Somewhere, USA: Carolyn,

My brother's wife just left him, and he's devastated, crushed. And it's killing our whole family. (They are in their 30s. No substance abuse/money/abuse problems on either side. Things are normal other than everyday stress of marriage and new kid).

We are -pretty- sure the problem is that she's been depressed since the baby was born (over 2 years ago, though). She refuses to get a medical checkup or try counseling.

She doesn't do any housework, no cooking, no cleaning, no child involvement whatsoever, no bill paying. She does work full time, but when she comes home, she just checks out. Or she's really bit--y. She left the kid with my brother.

Thing is, she thinks it's all my brother's fault that she's unhappy. I'm not saying he's easy to live with so I'm not discounting what she says. Nobody truly knows what goes on in someone else's marriage.

My -greatest- worry, though, is that most of the problem is stemming from untreated depression and that if she could get help for that, at least she'd be making the decision to leave with a clear head and heart. (My brother has started therapy on his own, she won't go, but he's really willing to try to get rid of any of -his- behavior that's contributing to the problem).

I know you can never -make- someone do something. Do you have any suggestions how or even if I could approach her and suggest somehow she get counseling? I've been battling major depression for 2 years now myself with drugs and therapy and she knows all about it. And I see so many of the same symptoms in her as I had myself. She's -very- defensive right now (her friends are telling her she's nuts to leave), and she would probably think I'm being condescending or something. In reality, all of our hearts are breaking for my brother and nephew and her too, and rightly or wrongly, we're trying to help.

Her behavior is entirely different than it was 2 years ago. Something is off. Maybe it's from a miserable marriage. Maybe it's from depression. How can -anyone- help her come to the realization that depression might be the (solvable) problem without making her feel even worse about herself? How can I get through to her that if she's depressed, that -doesn't- mean she's weak and a failure?

And if she's reading this and recognizes herself in this, I hope she knows we all still love her.

Thank you, Carolyn.

Carolyn Hax: You're welcome, and I hope she does see it.

But I think your attention's in the wrong place. It does sound like your SIL might have a mental illness, either depression or other; personality changes always raise that possibility. But she's not going to get help she doesn't want, she's made that pretty clear. And, as long as she keeps insisting on not getting help (or in being unapologetically awful, if in fact she's not ill), then your brother and his son are better off without her.

Don't say that, please, since that's up there with announcing you want to be friends as you dump someone, but use it to motivate your efforts to support your brother right now. Instead of dwelling on what could happen, accept what IS, and do everything in your power to make it okay, and someday good, and someday great, for your brother and nephew.

BTW, sharp personality changes followed by the chucking of one's family can't be called normal. Another reason to let go of the what-ifs, since it's probably harder to fix than you think and therefore less likely to be fixed.

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Lanham, Md.: My niece (16) was raised with HORRIBLE eating habits. (Nutrition, not manners). She is vegetarian, but hates vegetables. She only eats about 3 things (cheese pizza, yogurt, and pb&j). This makes picking a restaurant for family outings impossible. I've tried pizza places (she didn't like THEIR cheese pizza) and family style restaurants (she couldn't find anything on the menu she liked) and even letting HER choose the restaurant (she will only eat at Old Country Buffet). I now cook for most celebrations. We are due to go on a family trip where eating out will be the only option. I don't think I can handle this for a whole week. Any suggestions would be GREATLY appreciated.

Carolyn Hax: No, she was raised with horrible manipulation habits. Stop indulging her. She has completely hijacked the family, and I strongly suspect she digs that. You go, you eat, she can fend for herself when she gets home.

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Somewhere, USA: Re: Dumping your fiance: I was dumped by my fiance and it is a lesson in how NOT to do it. He told me, "I don't think I want to get married," on the sidewalk outside a store we had just bought food in before he caught a cab to leave town. I could not leave with him because of commitments (I imagine he didn't want me to go anyway) but I went to his home a few days later (not sure he wanted that either) where he couldn't give me any specific reason other than he didn't want to get married to me anymore and that his friends didn't think I made him happy. 6 months later he called to tell me he was engaged to someone else. I wish he had been honest with me from the beginning. It is horrible is being treated like you can't handle the information, its so condescending. I think he just didn't want to hear the reaction, I think he was worried I'd fly off the handle.

Carolyn Hax: At least he didn't go through with marrying you because he thought you couldn't handle a breakup! It actually happens.

Right. You don't care. Thanks for the public-service horror story; another one to follow.

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Breaking Up, Virginia: For the person ending their engagement... Please follow the advice not to ambush and run. My ex-GF did this to me. She ended it, then basically ran out the door. I lost all respect I ever had (or would have) for her b/c she put her own comfort level ahead of my ability to talk through it, after she 'ambushed' me with it.

Carolyn Hax: Stay tuned for the next episode of When Cowards Attack!

Thanks for the post.

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San Diego, Calif.: Hi Carolyn,
I am a gay man and was dumped seven months
ago by a man with whom I have chosen to remain
in contact even though it still hurts to see him on a
friend-to-friend basis. I wish that we could be
boyfriends again and I'm wondering if there is
anything I can do or say that would increase the
likelihood that he might change his mind about
me? Trying-not-to-be-lovelorni-in-social.

Carolyn Hax: Yep. "I can't continue this friendship because I still have feelings for you." But say it to get your life back, not to get him back, please.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,
I hate my job, and I've been having a lot of trouble finding a new one due to our wonderful economy. I had an internship with a university about two years ago, and they've offered to hire me for a position I would definitely enjoy. The problem is that I got my boyfriend a job at this university about 8 months ago, and while we wouldn't be working in the same office, we'd be across the hall from each other. We'd definitely see each other many times a day, and I know he'd want to do lunch most days. My mom has warned me that too much togetherness can make relationships go stale. We're planning to get married next year. Should I hope that a better job comes along? Is working with a boyfriend/spouse really going to kill a relationship?

Carolyn Hax: Take the job and find out how you and your BF do in close quarters. Either you'll be fine, yay, or you won't--and you'll be really grateful for the chance to find out whether you can confront a problem honestly ("I need to have lunch on my own sometimes"), adjust your behavior (have lunch alone sometimes) and still like each other (agree to lunched alone without sighing, vengeance or guilt trips). Tiptoe around each other now, and prepare to tiptoe forever.

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Washington, D.C.: After a break up and waiting for calls, should the dumped wait for the dumpers call or vice versa for the latter 'let's be friends stage'?

Carolyn Hax: There aren't any footsteps painted on the pavement. Just call when you feel like calling, and overrule that feeling when you have it more than, I don't know, a few times a month, once the dust settles. And be open about what you're doing. Explain that ending the romance doesn't mean you stopped caring, but say that if your calls are making things harder or sending a mixed message, you'll respect that and back off.

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Somewhere, USA: Something I wonder about: Do you think most people who try to be "friends" after a relationship do it either for the ego-boost of being around someone who wants you, or to try to get the old relationship back?

Carolyn Hax: That's a Draconian either-or. My choice is the one I alluded to above--that having a romance not work doesn't mean that the fondness is broken, too. If there are still warm feelings, and the hot ones have died*, and you still enjoy each other on some level, then friendship actually makes more sense to me than cutting things off completely.

* This is the source of friction, I think--not the idea of friendship itself.

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New York, N.Y.: Carolyn, your wisdom and guidance would be appreciated. I work proudly for a responsible company that produces popular consumer products that sell very well. Certain grievance groups and others don't think consumers should have the right to buy these products. This generates controversy, which the media love. Thus, I am frequently quoted by name in the media defending consumer choice. This causes many kooks and loons to write me hate mail, as if they know me personally. Normally, my colleagues who receive such mail are able to shrug it off. For some inexplicable reason, this stuff bothers me immensely. I suppose years of therapy would reveal that it has something to do with lingering trauma from emotionally abusive parents and teachers. But I wondered if you had any thoughts on some reasons that will help me shrug it off and cope better. Many thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Not that I have any idea what it's like to get hate mail from people who think they know me personally, but it seems like taking it a little hard is actually a natural reaction and one you shouldn't feel so pressured to explain or fix. And, maybe you're right about what the years of therapy would yield, but consider too that you could just have a self image that's a little too closely tied to outside opinions of you.

One thing that might help is to see your vulnerability not as a problem, but as a natural extension of what you like about yourself. Ie, you're accommodating, or naturally eager to please, or a big fat softie, or whatever, and you'd rather be a bit thin-skinned than change your nature. Doesn't fix the problem so much as put it in a happier context.

If you'd rather fix it, then I think it's either digging time--figure out what it is in your personality that makes you so vulnerable, and consciously address it--or ducking time--stop reading your hate mail/hire an assistant.

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Dumped fiancee, Chicago: Caroline,

I have a dumped-fiancee story and a question. My fiance? (and roommate) of 5 years abandoned me one day without explanation, in what was otherwise a happy and passionate relationship, and I have not heard from him since. I have proof he is alive. This happened within the past year, and, as you can imagine, was incredibly devastating. (My therapist said that this type of desertion is actually more traumatic than if the person had died.)

I would like to contact a friend of his, who I was on very good terms with, and ask if my fiance? has contacted him, and if I could somehow arrange through the friend to return my fiance?'s things to him as well as get the things of mine that he has back. The main thing of mine he has is a few thousand dollars he owes me, but I don't want to make the friend feel as if I am using him as a collection agency. It would give me pleasure to send my fiance?'s things to him back, though, more pleasure than if I were just to burn them or donate them. Do you think I should contact this friend? Of course, I would also like some hint of what has happened from the friend, but again, I don't want to make him uncomfortable.

Carolyn Hax: Absolutely contact the friend to facilitate the stuff exchange, but limit it strictly to that. Any more information for and/or requests from the friend would be totally unfair to him.

Sorry for what you've been through. I agree w/ your therapist, because this involved a conscious choice by someone, whereas death rarely does.

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Somewhere, USA: For "Something I Wonder About": In an age when true friendship can be hard to find, keeping ties to former flames can meet the need for "connectedness."

Even as the dumpee, I wanted to be friends with my ex because we shared four very good years and he knows me to a degree that no one else does. When I get an e-mail from him on a topic that matters to me, it reminds me of good times and makes me feel as though I am not an island.

Carolyn Hax: Nice points, thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: I separated from husband about two months ago because we had a terrible relationship, didn't want the same things, I wasn't a priority, nor was I being respected, and after an almost 5 year marriage of separating, getting back together (due to my begging to come back)I finally moved out and have moved on, or so I think. See, the thing is that we are not talking AT ALL!;!;!; I thought we would speak, talk to each other to put what happened into perspective, but other than an occasional phone call, initiated by me, we don't talk. I am hurt by this, even though I know we needed to separate and be apart and I don't regret my decision. It makes me question if I ever mattered since he can go without speaking to me at all, as if I never existed. I resist the urge to call him and initiate conversation, since I was always the one begging to come back....Should I call, am I crazy for being hurt by this?

Carolyn Hax: Not crazy, but maybe repeating the pattern that tortured you when you were together. He is who he is. Try seeing him for that, and strictly for that, instead of for what his behavior says or doesn't say about you. Keep telling yourself this--he is the exact same person now as he was when you were together. Expect nothing more of him than that person is capable of giving you. Which is, as you found out the hard way, very little. Don't call, wash hands.

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Las Vegas, Nev. -- Vegas baby: What's up, girl. My girlfriend of two and a half years works for a large company that makes really nice, high-end greeting cards. Recently they held a sale during which employees received a 75% discount, and I've come to find out that she bought a crapload of wedding invitations. She said she thought they were beautiful, and the ones she would want to use at her hypothetical wedding, if she ever gets married. But she didn't say anything along the lines of "us" or "our wedding" (we've talked about getting married but are happy doing our thing as it is now). Still, I'm a little freaked out. Is this psycho on her part? Or am I being a pinhead? Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: (b) You pinhead. Unless she has a history of manipulation and/or is at high risk to become a bride who refers to her wedding as "her day" (in which case I'm changing my answer to (a) She psycho), just mark it down as smart shopping and resume relationship in progress.

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Des Moines, Iowa: I was a snitch, and now feel terrible. I told a friend about an affair that her ex-boyfriend had. I know she still has feelings for him, and I think they might get back together. The problem is that my ex-boyfriend and my boyfriend are close. I have to see this friend's ex bf a lot. Should I apologize to the ex bf for telling my friend about the affair?

Carolyn Hax: If he knows you snitched and you do genuinely feel bad, then, yes, tell him you're sorry and that you shouldn't have meddled. Otherwise, say nothing further, to friend or to anyone; let enough be enough.

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For New York: Oh please. I'm sure this sounds unsympathetic, but if you can't stand the heat, don't sell tobacco (or whatever the "popular consumer product" is). Your product is legal and you have the right to sell it; you do not have the right to ignore the consequences or be immune from criticism. If you're looking for a positive here, maybe the reason it affects you more than your colleagues is because you have a conscience. Follow it rather than trying to find reasons why your critics' "grievances" should go unheard.

Carolyn Hax: I do think someone in a controversial spot should get his or her convictions in order and then expect them to be challenged, but I also don't think people with opposing views should use them as an excuse for ad hominem attacks. It's a line many feel entitled to cross, and I don't think it's wrong for the targets to be upset about that.

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Virginia: So what's up when your girlfriend just shuts down when you bring up certain subjects? Like, for instance, the idea of experimenting in any way in the bedroom department (costumes, toys, fantasies, role playing, etc). It's not that I mind that she isn't interested, but I'd much rather have her say "no thanks" than simply act like I've pulled a human head out of paper bag...

Carolyn Hax: Have you said it what way? It would get my attention.

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Carolyn Hax: Oh, you asked what was up--maybe she's afraid you'll think she's a prude or bad in bed, or afraid that you're pervy. But the reason she clams doesn't really matter so much as the fact that she does, and that you're right to ask her not to. Like I said, you've got a great way to open the discussion; follow that up with some reassurances, and I have great hopes. Good luck.

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Friends-After: I've always felt that if you couldn't be
friends with someone after you stopped
sleeping with him, you shouldn't have
been sleeping with him in the first place.
(Barring abuse or anything like that, of
course.)

And if he can't be friends with you, better
to find that out now than after forty years of
marriage and incipient erectile
dysfunction!;

Carolyn Hax: Not that there's anything wrong with that. Love these 2 o'clock philosophies, thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: so, um...who do I call if I slit my wrists last week, taped myself back up after I thought about it, and now realize that I want to be active about not finding myself there again? Crisis numbers? I'm interested in long-term help, not necessarily someone on the phone to get through the next hour.

Carolyn Hax: I am so glad you asked. Crisis numbers should be able to connect you with someone for long-term, but they're not your only option. You can also call any doctor you respect of feel comfortable with, any specialty, and ask for the name of a good mental-health referral. Doctors know doctors know doctors. Also, if your employer offers it, you can call your Employee Assistance Program. And, if you know of a center with a good reputation (DC has some, with the Women's Center in Vienna and the DC Rape Crisis Center coming immediately to mind), then you can call and ask for either an appointment or, if the services they provide aren't exactly in line with what you need, an appropriate referral). Clergy are another good resource (mainstream, at least--beware of crackpots), since many are also trained in psychology and/or social work. You've done the hardest part in summoning the will to reach out; act on it, and I think you'll find people lining up to help.

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Indianapolis: To the man who desires experimentation -- Carolyn's right -- presentation is everything. I am up for experimentation but a recent BF informed me repeatedly (and I am using informed correctly here) that I really needed to grow my hair out longer and dress up as a French maid for his enjoyment. He is now an ex-BF -- I told him perhaps he'd be better suited dating a maid from France with long hair.

Carolyn Hax: Surprised he never made the connection. Thanks.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: Dear Carolyn,
While I was in law school, I had some tragic events that led me into therapy. My life was in shambles. Initially, my therapist was wonderful, but then he started to make advances. Ultimately, it led to sex which was somewhat abusive in his office. Now years later I remain haunted by it. The guy I am dating is somewhat understanding, but is perplexed that I could be so confident, assertive, and successful in every other aspect of my life but have allowed this to happen. Frankly, so am I. Ultimately, I know I could/should report it, but I fear it will hurt my career more than his. How do I get passed this? I am too scared to go back to therapy, but I am afraid I will never feel comfortable in a relationship and enjoy sex again? I cringe everytime I think my boyfriend is aroused.

Carolyn Hax: Ugh. 1. Please please get back in to therapy. If it takes seeing a woman to get you over your fears of it, do it. You owe it to yourself to repair the damage this guy did, especially after years of suffering. I just posted a bunch of ways to get referrals to reputable providers.

2. Tell the therapist exactly what happened--both as a necessary first step in your treatment, and as a possible precursor to reporting the abuse (which it was absolutely, not somewhat, just for the fact that it happened). The new therapist can explain to you what the reporting process entails and what will or may happen, so you can make a decision that's informed, not fearful.

3. Correct your date's misinformed impression that you "allowed" this to happen. In a strict sense, you did, because you weren't held at gunpoint, but there are psychological parallels, especially in the context of a therapeutic relationship. You were counting on this therapist to help you feel better about yourself, and therefore you granted him a power over you that was perfectly appropriate in context, and you made yourself vulnerable to him, and he took that power and abused it egregiously.

A continued failure on your date's part to appreciate this might mean you end the relationship; you have to take care of yourself first, and your feeling you have to justify yourself to him isn't going to help.

_______________________

Carolyn Hax: Heavy ones late. Past time to go, unless I can find a good 2:30 philosophy to end on in the next 30 seconds. Thanks for coming, have a good weekend (dumpers and dumpees alike) and type to you next Friday.

_______________________

re: Friends After: Hi Carolyn: I have to respectfully disagree
with "Friends After" on the whole "if you
can't stay friends after sleeping together,
you never should have been sleeping
together in the first place." On the face of
it, it sounds very pithy.
But in reality, it caves. For example, no
good can come of "staying friends" if one
of those people still wants to be more
than friends. It would certainly be nice if
everyone lived happily ever after, but
everyone goes through at least some
degree of grieving for a lost relationship,
and some more than others.
Barring some obvious exceptions
(cheating or other major betrayal, abuse,
etc.), one would hope that after both
parties have finished "grieving" they
would be capable of being friends again.
But things are rarely as simple "if you
can't be friends after, you never should
have been more in the first place."

Carolyn Hax: Point taken--let's rephrase it to "if you don't have enough common ground for friendship after ..."; that way, the hard-feelings contingency is covered. Tx.

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Re:Dumped fiancee: Contacting the friend is useless. The fiance is not going to give her her money back; he's already come up with some rationalization why he shouldn't have to. Otherwise, he would have sent it to her. He doesn't have anything else of hers, either, because he got rid of it and he's decided he doesn't need the stuff he left with her. What she really wants is an explanation, or "closure," which she shouldn't try to get indirectly through the guy's friends.

Carolyn Hax: True re money and closure (not happenin), but she should return his stuff. Send to friend and pay for him to forward it if need be.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: In Wednesday's column, I think you implied that the woman who is 6 months pregnant would still be a mother at 40, even if she gave up her baby for adoption. I wonder if you care to clarify, or you meant what you said? That seems to imply that the litmus test of motherhood is childbirth, and not the subsequent feeding, nurturing and caregiving. The obvious example is women who never give birth but adopt and raise children, who are certainly mothers.

thanks!;

Carolyn Hax: Last one I swear it.

I meant what I said. Why can't both be mothers, the adoptive and the birth mom? That's how I see it.

_______________________

Silver Spring, Md.: Actually, I think "no thanks" is the right response when somebody pulls a human head out of a bag.

Carolyn Hax: That's it! Now I can leave happy. Bye.

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