Tell Me About It
Kids, Pets & Old Virgin

With Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 10, 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.


Southern Maryland: I need somebody to smack me. I am in my last class for my Master's and have always been a very proactive student. This semester, I am suffering from short-timer's syndrome and am just procrastinating on all my assignments. What can I do to get through the next two months and earn the required B?

Carolyn Hax: Force yourself to earn your leisure. I.e., if there's something procrastinatory (word? if not it should be) that you'd rather be doing, make yourself work X amount before you let yourself do it. It's pretty rudimentary, but works for me when I'm really losing it. Plus, more often than not, you end up working X plus Y, since it's usually getting started that hurts.


Chicago, Ill.: Hi Carolyn,

Is it normal to be really worried about giving up life as you know it in order to have children? I'm in my early 30s, and my husband and I will start trying to conceive soon. I know that I want children, but is it wrong that I worry that I'll lose myself in the process? I find myself focusing a lot on all the stories of how friggin' hard it is especially the first few months. And my friends who are also getting ready to start families are, for the most part, nothing but happy happy joy joy, so I feel guilty. Am I being realistic or is this a sign I should rethink motherhood?

Carolyn Hax: Depending on the degree, both. You will be giving things up, so it's very realistic, and responsible, and smart, to be asking yourself whether you're really ready to do that, 1, and whether the idea of children will ever be compelling enough for you to want to give things up, 2.

A couple of things you mention I suspect won't be as big as you fear. The first few months are hard, but kids are a lifetime--what's a little hell here and there? Plus, imho, the hell is overrated. If you're fortunate enough to escape post-partum depression, bringing home a little person or two is also mind-blowingly cool. The happy happy joy joy isn't just for people who were Completely Sure going in or who took a blow to the head. It's an incredibly stirring time. I imagine evolution has more than a little something to do with that.

And, re losing yourself, if you've got enough of a sense of yourself to be worried about that, you'll probably come out okay.

So, that leaves other, specific elements of your life that'll change. You'll lose your spontaneity, a fair amount of your freedom and a large quantity of sleep. Some of these you get back, some you don't. If your greatest joy in life is deciding at 4:45 pm on Friday that it's time for a road trip, maybe you need to rethink. If the appeal of that life has been fading and your energy's naturally been drifting home, go for it.

I'm sure there's more, but that just cost me 10 minutes of dead air, so I'll let the rest of you finish for me.


Accra, Ghana for Southern Maryland: If you are procrastinating on a big assignment, just break it down into little, teeny, tiny bits that are so small that they are painless and non-intimidating, and then start to do the easiest ones. Once you get going you probably won't stop.

Carolyn Hax: Another good one, thanks.


Boston, Mass.: Dated great guy a few years back -- bad timing. We lose touch. Run into each other once in a while later but he's engaged. Bride-to-be calls off wedding a few months ago. Is it wrong for me to be thinking about him? I'm no kid - mid-30s!

Carolyn Hax: I don't know. Call him and ask him if it's bad that you're thinking about him. Not bad, as icebreakers go.


Washington, D.C.: What is your ultimate take on ultimatums: if you don't finish school/get a job/commit/move to my city, etc. then it's over? How do you weigh how much following through on it will hurt the "giver," as compared to how much they may motivate, fail to motivate or simply piss-off the "subject?"

Carolyn Hax: If you give people ultimatums, I'll never take your question again.

Ar ar. Answer is, I am firmly opposed. What you want isn't the specific action you're demanding. What you want is for the person to -want- to do whatever it is you're demanding. An ultimatum won't get you that. Even if you're successful, all you'll know is that the person decided that s/he'd rather do this procrastinated thing than lose you. Nice for you short-term, and I suppose flattering (ugh) in its way, but it completely fails to solve the underlying problem: that this person felt no great urge to finish school/get a job/commit/move to your city.

Unfortunately, since there's no good way to change someone's mind for him/her, all you can do is make up your own. Is this failure to do whatever a deal-breaker? Yes/no. Answer that, and then act on it.


Southern California: Carolyn, I reached a very painful conclusion this week: I really don't like my parents. I've made a concerted effort to try to include them in the lives of my young children, and I am willing to continue to do so. But their presence in my own life is neither satisfying nor really necessary beyond that. Their commentary is almost always guilt-ridden, complaint-ridden and ignorant of the issues and priorities in my life and the lives of my family.

My parents don't know me, and they seem not to really care to. They are more comfortable passing judgement on me and mine. There are myriad examples, but the most spectacular is when they drove two hours to come to my son's third birthday party two weeks ago. They had fun, chatted with others there and seemed to enjoy themselves. But when I called to thank them for coming, my mother whined that it didn't count as a real visit because their were too many other people there and she didn't get to talk to me enough. I wasn't aware that we were keeping score or what the criteria are that separate an official visit from an unofficial period of time in proximity to one another.

In your opinion, is it worth having a confrontation with them? I'm virtually certain that such a conversation would alienate and upset them, and that would only hurt their feelings and jeopardize the relationship they have with my kids; I don't want to do either. But the status quo is just not working.

Carolyn Hax: Before you confront, try a change of perspective. I say this realizing you gave me but one example, but that example strikes me as open to other interpretations. What say she loves you, enjoys spending time with you, felt sad that she didn't get to talk to you much on this trip, but has some emotional stuntedness that keeps her from saying things like that to you directly? She'd hardly be the first parent who, for example, loves it when you call her for help, but feels awkward and so makes a joke about it, like, "You calling for help again?" and therefore puts you off from ever asking again--and who then whines, "I guess you don't need my help any more." Obnoxious, sure, but are the intentions what count?

Again, this isn't to say that's the case with your folks. But to be sure, step back a little, ask yourself who they really are as people (eg, consider what they've done for their kids, their friends, their jobs, their communities, and for each other), and, once you have a greater context to work with, put their comments in that context and see if there's another, more appealing way to view them. Even if they do drive you out of your gourd.


Shirlington, Va.: Hi,

Love the column (I hope that means this'll be read, j/k!).

Anyway, my girlfriend and I have been dating for over a year and a half. Recently I became aware that she was checking my e-mails and only looked at those addressed to and from my female friends. She was cheated on during her last relationship of three years and really hurt. She has been wary of putting trust in a relationship again.

She said she just made a big mistake and it won't happen again. I'm hurt that she didn't trust me, yet I do see why she'd do it, but feel it's unfair for me to bear the brunt of the resulting feelings.

Do I give her a second chance or end things because I feel this will bother me again down the road? I love her very much, but feel that if this bothers me again, I can't be in a relationship where trust is a problem.


Carolyn Hax: I think it depends on how good her explanation/reaction was when you busted her. You did have to bust her for her to admit her "mistake," right? Which means she was content to pursue this mistake indefinitely, and gave it up only to keep you. Not promising, unfortunately.

Unless: She really did seem like your busting her brought on an epiphany. Hard to describe, but maybe she was shaken, or she admitted that she didn't realize till now how paranoid she had become, or she said she was relieved to have been caught because she had been wanting to turn herself in but was to freaked about getting hurt again.

Great, I just published a manual for weaseling out of a bust.

Anyway, if all you got was, "Gee, sorry," I think you have to go back with an, "I'm sorry too, because sorry isn't good enough." What you need from her is progress from the person who snoops through your stuff, some sign of her growing up.

FWIW--this wasn't about her not trusting you. I mean, yeah, on the surface it was, but the more stubborn problem is that she doesn't trust herself to keep your attention.


Denver, Colo.: I'm in love with a married man. I can't seem to get him out of my head. I need to let him go so he can work on things with his wife (they started counseling) but I can't stop thinking about him. I tried to break off contact but that failed too. Any advice? If things were different I think he would be the one for me. We are in our mid-20s.

Carolyn Hax: Since you haven't seen him in day-to-day, smelly-sock mode, and certainly not for longer than the shelf life of most chemical attractions, you have no idea if he'd be the one for you. It's a destructive thought, and it's killing you. Drop it, drop him, get life.


Somewhere, USA: Recently found out my girlfriend is pregnant. We're both late 20s, I've got a good job, financially we're fine... just not married. Her dad is very old fashioned, and she's afraid that he'll cut us out of his life (for a while at least) if we're not married before the baby is born.

But the thing is, we were thisclose to splitting up before we found out about the pregnancy. So naturally I'm worried about rushing things and just exacerbating the situation. How do I explain to her that we should wait until things settle down before we make any more life decisions, without her thinking that I'm just trying to dodge my responsibilities?

Carolyn Hax: If that's what she's already inclined to think, you might just have to risk her thinking that. All you can really do is keep your head and choose your words carefully. Tell her you'll be there for the baby, physically, financially and emotionally, and you'll be there for her in whatever way both of you decide makes the most sense, after you've both given it some serious thought and attention--but that you're not going to rush anything to please a third party. If she's too worked up to hear this, write it in letter form if you have to.


Baltimore, Md.: Carolyn,

I have an ethical dilemma. And I really do want to do what's right. Basically it all comes down to this: I like a girl, find her attractive and smart. And she seems to like me. Problem is, I know there's no real connection and that I would drop her right-quick if someone better came along.

So, can I see her without being a complete shmuck? I guess I really should wait till I find someone I'm serious about, but ... that just seems like an awfully lonely way to go. Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: See her Platonically. You can do it.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn, I need some advice for my younger sister age 21. My sister is incredibly frustrated with her virginity as several boys she's dated have ended their 2-3 month relationships with her, for what she blames on her virginity and their inability to deal with that. I waited until I found myself in my first serious committed relationship just this year, I am 25. My sister, is at the point that she wants to "get it over with" and sleep with a long time friend who she dated a few summer's ago who will be visiting her for the weekend. I strongly believe that she will regret this act if she were to meet someone shortly after and start dating seriously. I know that only she can make this decision but I worry that she is not considering enough how she will feel after the fact and perhaps regret not waiting to be in a committed relationship. Maybe the readers can chime in on this! What are your thoughts?!?!

Carolyn Hax: She is 21. Those are my thoughts.


Greenbelt, Md.: Hi?

During the recent election campaign in California, I heard many pundits on television say that groping is not a big deal. And the man accused of groping won the election in California.

If the television experts and the California electorate say it's acceptable, then who says it's inappropriate?

Is this affirmation that it's acceptable for a man to put his hand up a woman's dress?

Carolyn Hax: It is affirmation that it's common for people to rationalize away obstacles between them and something they want. Had they or their daughters or mothers or wives or sisters been groped, they'd be pissed. Do not parse politics for guidance on right and wrong.


Speaking of letters ...: What do you think of the use of the letter as a form of communication with one's significant other? I seem to do a much better job of articulating my thoughts in writing than in speech, but I realize that a letter could be seen as a cop-out (i.e., unwilling to face rejection/confrontation).

I've got some pretty important things to discuss with my S.O. and I feel like they need the careful articulation that a letter can provide.

Carolyn Hax: I'd say do it, but preface it with a conversation with your SO saying pretty much what you did here. That way you won't worry the whole time you're writing the letter about how it'll be received.


On Ultimatums: As one who has in the past been slow on the uptake and, therefore, been on the receiving end of ultimatums (not as extreme as 'get a job' or 'move to X city') I highly warn against using them. On one occasion, just as I was about to announce that I had come to an important decision in my life, my (now ex) girlfriend hit me with an ultimatum about said decision. It totally took the wind out of my sails, I held my tongue and reversed my decision (calling her bluff and calling it off). Ultimatums are a sick power play and often create more problems than they solve.

Carolyn Hax: From an expert. Thanks.


South Jersey: Hi Carolyn,

A few years ago, I got dumped suddenly after nearly 5 years. The rationale was vague but boiled down to "It's not you, it's me." I didn't really believe it then, and begged my ex for more detail over several months. In the course of doing so, I think I made him feel even worse about the whole thing.

I don't know whether he still feels bad, but if he does, I don't want him to. But would sending a note saying, "I finally figured out what you meant back then," be anything other than patronizing (as in, how gracious of me to let him off the hook after all this time?).

Should I just assume he's OK and let sleeping dogs lie? We communicate only by e-mail, and sporadically at that. I ask because he's the kind of guy who wears the weight of the world on his shoulders if you ask him to.

Carolyn Hax: I think if you're in e-mail contact, even just sporadically, a note like that would be nice. I don't see what's patronizing about just a "Hey, I get it now, thanks."


Bald guy in Dallas: Hi Carolyn!;

Carolyn Hax: Hi Bald Guy.


Re: Speaking of Letters: Write the letter then read it to your SO. The you can discuss it. IMO

Carolyn Hax: Sounds painful to me, but it's a valid compromise. Thanks.


Long Island, N.Y.: BF wants me to move in. I don't want to unless we're getting married. He wants "to wait." I think you "know" after a year. We've been dating for a little more than a year. I was sure, now I'm not because he's hesitant. Besides having a talk about it, is it time to move on? I feel I'm too old to deal with this. I'm 31. I also want a family and kids, but not with someone who wants a live-in partner for what I feel is convenience.

Carolyn Hax: I see the logistics and the bean-counting. Where's the love?

BTW, if your view of his motives is really that dim, this is a self-answering question.


Silver Spring, Md.: She's 21, Carolyn. Knowing your writing, my interpretation of that would be, "21=old enough to decide for herself without your meddling." But maybe that's not what you intended. If it isn't, might want to let the poster know exactly what "She is 21." means.

Carolyn Hax: What you said (most pithily). Thanks.


Alexandria, Va.: I just wanted to say thank you. Your column, coupled with my Sociology of the Family class reaffirms my decision to stay single.

Carolyn Hax: ... unless the conditions are right and sane and you're calmly in love and at peace, right? I don't want to be spawning an army of cynics. I picture something out of "Lord of the Rings."


Washington, D.C.: Perhaps this is disingenuous and heartless of me. But for people in Somewhere, USA's situation, why is abortion or adoption never an option?

Carolyn Hax: Both are, and often exercised. But at his age, the guy has presumably heard of both and doesn't need me to point them out to him.


Speaking of Letters....: Letters/email ARE for losers who can't face confrontation.

Using them is the same as taping a note to a door, knocking, and running. Shame on you, Carolyn, for giving into that kind of communication trap.


Carolyn Hax: Shame on YOU for assuming everyone expresses themselves effectively in only one way. If she's saying what needs to be said and standing by it, who cares how it gets out?

And shame on you for using "shame on you." One of the most loathsome expressions.


Carolyn Hax: That "she" was for speed, BTW. Not assuming the poster was female.


Detroit, Mich.: At what point do you know a relationship should end?

Carolyn Hax: When it's more work than payoff and whatever makes it so isn't going to change.


Rockville, Md.: Carolyn, Do you mean Lord of the Flies?

Carolyn Hax: No, Rings. All those critters emerging from pods.


Washington, D.C.: Re: She's 21

The younger sister is certainly old enough to make decisions for herself, but the older sister can still offer advice based on her own experience of waiting until 25. The younger sister has the right to live her own life, but if she's talking to the poster about her plans then she may want to hear her sister's perspective.

Carolyn Hax: If she wants her sister's perspective, then she can ask for it.

And if the sister isn't sure whether she's being asked for her perspective, she can say, "If you're asking my advice, I'll give it, but if you aren't, I'll respect that and shut up."

And if advice is solicited and given, it can still be ignored or dismissed. There's no requirement that it be taken.


Maryland: Hey Carolyn!

Here's a question for you. How do you deal with extremely negative people in your life? Both my roommates are very negative and thinks the world is just out to get them. They make a huge deal if even the smallest thing goes wrong. They are both close friends and only have been this way since we graduated college a year ago. We all have stable jobs and great S.O.'s. I don't get it. Its coming to the point where I don't even want to hang out anymore because I just wait for them to start yelling or get mad at something. Thoughts on how to either help them or cope with it on my own? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Howdy.

I think it comes down to either calling them on it, or, when that doesn't work or when you don't care enough to invest time in them, avoiding them. By calling I mean saying LIGHT and not angry things like, "Why so negative?" or "Agh please I get enough stress at work," or saying that letting things get to them might be making things worse than they are (a true observation that most definitely needs a receptive audience to go over well, just a warning). Or, just rallying them--"Hey, enough, let's watch [stupid show]/go to [stupid movie]/cook [bad food]." It'll wear you out, but you really need to hang on for only as long as the lease, right?


New York, N.Y.: How do you know if your marriage is ending or if it's just a really, really bad phase? We've been married for two years, together for eight. We're best friends, but there's other stuff that's not right, and hasn't been for quite some time (intimacy issues, bad roles we're stuck in). Nothing abusive, nothing mean -- which almost makes it worse. Our therapist (whom we've been seeing since we married) told us at this point we have to decide whether or not we want to stay married. I'm just not sure I do. Any thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Check out the previous post about when to quit. It's when the bad outweighs the good and isn't going to improve. Unfortunately, bad roles and intimacy issues are in the category of possible to change (encouraging!) but difficult (discouraging), which means both parties not only have to want to change, badly, but they also have to be self-aware enough to be able to change on that level. Which means your answer has probably already come out in the therapist's office. Hope that's not too vague to help.


Washington, D.C.: I'm generally an optimist about things, but I got pretty badly burned by a guy recently... the details don't much matter (there was cheating involved, of course) but what is want is to stop being angry with him, and I just CAN'T. I don't talk to him, I avoid situations where I know he'll be (we're in the same grad program) but every time I think of him, which is far too often, I get angry and upset. I know this sort of thing is supposed to fade, but I find myself getting angrier as time goes on, not less so. Suggestions for how to just let go of it already?

Carolyn Hax: Sometimes you need to give up on trying not to be angry and just start thinking of other things. I know, I know, easier said than done (perhaps hereafter ESTD, given how often I type it). But when someone isn't going to give you the satisfaction of apologizing or even hearing out your grievance, you're stuck with the slow-fade option. Not being angry any more takes time; it's not unlike grieving or missing someone. So, give it a week, then a month, then a year, and another year, and you still might have angry little flareups, but the frequency and intensity will fade. More likely, you'll think, "What a jerk." And in the meantime, you;ll be paying more and more attention to other things.


For Chicago: I don't have kids, but a lot of my friends do, and they unanimously agree that the hell is overrated. Some kids are very difficult, but most kids aren't, and they still have plenty of time to go out, take showers, clean the house, whatever. They all take very much issue with the idea that their kids have made their lives more difficult or more stressful. None of which should be construed as an argument for anyone to have kids who doesn't want to, but if you're worried about newborn hell, everything I've seen indicates that it is 180 degrees from a wretched, sleep-deprived, miserable existence.

Carolyn Hax: Oops, thanks, forgot to look for these follow-ups.


Somewhere, USA: Hi Carolyn,
Thanks for your great column and chats. I have a sticky prob. I'm a 21-year-old woman and my best friend is a guy. Over the past couple of years I have had several boyfriends whom I've met through my friend, and all of those relationships ended badly, with hard feelings all around. I take the blame for most of it, but I did learn from those experiences, so I feel (mostly) okay about it. The thing is, of course it's hard now on my friend because if he's hanging out with one of the guys I dated, I can't really come along, and vice versa. Group outings and parties get really rough because of those of us trying to avoid each other. I would like to try to make peace with these guys for the sake of my friend, who I know is really uncomfortable in these situations and I feel terrible about it. Do you think this is a good idea? And how would you suggest going about it? Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: To make peace? It's a great idea, not to mention the right thing to do given your age. Having to skip parties because you're avoiding certain people, very adolescent.

So, go to these things you've been avoiding, and go up to the people one at a time and say you're sorry for all the drama, and that you'd like to make it up to them by promising to be in the same room or bar or party as they are without making a scene. Or your words for same. Good luck.


For New York, N.Y.: Sigh. I feel for you -- I was in a very similar situation -- married to someone who I cared very deeply about, but had some serious intimacy problems that counseling didn't make go away. Our counselor didn't ask us to make the call, but we did anyway when we realized it wasn't working. If it's any help, if you're writing in to a national chat asking if it's time to go, you probably know already. (And you even said you think you want to go.) Go ahead and go. Divorces aren't instant, and if you move out and realize you just made the biggest mistake of your life, you can always move back. But it sounds like you know.

If it's any consolation, I'm here to report that my ex and I are on speaking terms, email occasionally, I learned HUGE amounts of good stuff about myself in the process, and now am in a wonderful relationship with a guy who's my best friend AND who loves me and who I love.

One other piece of unsolicited advice -- it's common to feel a sense of failure if you end up going. Try to let that go, if you experience it. You didn't fail, you just made a bad decision along the way. I struggled with this a lot in the wake of moving out, and sometimes, even 2.5 years later, still do. But it's not really a failure, I think, if you learned something from it and gained a better sense of yourself, and managed to do all that while extricating yourself from a difficult situation with grace, honesty, and straightforwardness.

Good luck, no matter what you decide. And know you're not the only one who's done this or felt this, even though sometimes (particularly late at night) it may feel very much that way.

Carolyn Hax: Beautifully said, thank you.


Washington, D.C.: Am in a long-distance relationship with a great man. I am ready for commitment -- he's not there yet. He is very affectionate (hand-holding, hugging, touching), communication is wonderful, sex is great, but he doesn't like to kiss! He says it is too intense for him. Whenever he starts to "feel" emotions -- he always shuts down. I know he loves me, he shows me this in his actions not just words. But when we kiss -- and he starts to really FEEL -- he can't handle his intense emotions... and says it overwhelms him. How to get through this?

Carolyn Hax: You are ready for commitment. Are you ready for his issues? His issues have issues, and the issues' issues have house pets.


I was an old virgin -- for the 21-year-old: I did exactly what your sister is planning to do when I was 19 or 20. I was the only virgin I knew. Truth be told, I was tired of waiting for Mr. Right and I was interested in learning more. Planned with an old friend, it worked out very nicely and we both (20 years later) have fond memories. No regrets.

Carolyn Hax: "Old virgin." Sounds like a brand of whiskey.


Washington, D.C.: How do you tell the difference between a casual drug habit and a drug problem? My girlfriend (we are in our 30s) has started experimenting over the past few years. She was very driven and career oriented in college when most people experiment and now she has reached a certain level of success and she has more flexibility. She says she has time to mellow out and smell the roses. She takes ecstacy maybe once a month and uses cocaine maybe twice a year. It is always planned in advance where it won't interfere with her work and I haven't noticed any negative effects, but I hate drugs and I want her to stop. I have given her an ultimatum (I know I know) but she refuses to quit because she doesn't consider herself a user. She says she should quit when/if it becomes a problem and not just because I told her to. I don't know the difference between "won't quit" and "can't quit." By the way, a lot of her friends are much more frequent users -- every weekend, sometimes week nights -- but thus far she has not been sucked into THAT chaos. Also, this was going on long before I met her/dated her.

Carolyn Hax: Whether it's a casual habit or a problem doesn't matter. You don't like that she does it, and she has no intention of stopping. You have all the info you need to make a decision.

How can people be casual about swallowing something cooked up in somebody's illegal lab? Especially after the teenage false-immortality fog lifts. That's the mysterious part to me.


Maryland: I received an e-mail from my brother-in-law the other day suggesting that we have a "cyber affair." I'm so upset I don't know what to do! Send it to my sister? Talk to another family member? She really loves this idiot and has taken him back twice that I know of after other incidents. Ewww.

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, I'd send it to my sister. There's not meddling, and there's getting hit on by one's brother-in-law. Puke.


House pet issues: Can house pets have issues? This goes along with the spork distraction to lighten moods. It's Friiiiiday!!!!

Carolyn Hax: My house pet had issues. But she got better.


Washington, D.C.: "Start families" What an annoying term. Look people, I have a family. It consists of me and the husband. It's really annoying to see yet more evidence that single and married without kids people are STILL seen as "not families." We have our spouses, our SOs, our families of choice, our birth families... We are NOT not part of a family just because we haven't reproduced.

And I have to say, I see some of that mindset in the poster's questioning of being ready to have kids. Ok, thinking about it is good, and wanting them is good. But...

I'd like to ask the poster, and others like her, to examine their feelings on the "start a family" issue. Are you considering kids because "that's what you do next," and you are following the script? Are you considering kids because you don't feel that you qualify as a "family" without them? Or are you considering kids because you really truly PERSONALLY want kids and feel that your PERSONAL family should contain kids?

If you can say yes to that, then the rest is details, to be dealt with in your own way. If you can't, then maybe you should think about it a bit longer before hopping right in.

Carolyn Hax: I agree with the part about questioning whether children are what you want or what you feel you're supposed to do next.

But I have lob a c'mon about the "start a family" thing. It's just an expression, and it doesn't mean that couples can't be families in themselves. I mean, does "Family Size" cheese you off in the grocery store because it undercuts the validity of your choices? Or do your eyes glide over it as merely another quirk of a very quirky language?

You are what you are, and it's a whole lot easier to stop there than to get pissy about what other people think.


Boogerland: Carolyn, what's your feeling on my son knowing the words "booger" and "loogey"? I think it's no biggie -- simple American slang for mucus. But my wife practically had a coronary over it.

Carolyn Hax: I think the challenge when they learn those words is not to let your kids see you guffaw.

Oh, and that if a loogey's enough to derail her, she's in for a scenic ride.


Baltimore, Md.: For the woman in the "great" relationship with the guy who isn't ready to commit and doesn't like to kiss:

Carolyn's right. Run like hell. I just ended something with someone very similar, i.e. great sex but an aversion to mouth kissing. When his issues (which, incidentally, are why we had to part) did finally make an appearance they were huge. He had back issues... he had micro-fiche. There are cultures where kissing is strange and rarely done. This is America; kissing can be casual, intense, innocent, passionate, etc. But it isn't freaky and is as normal an expression of affection as exists. RUN. You don't want to see what's on the other side of his facade.

Carolyn Hax: Microfiche, nice.


Office Space, Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn, I'm in a great relationship and want to keep it that way. I know there's only so much I can do, but what are your suggestions for keeping a good thing a good thing? How do people in good relationships maintain/improve their relationships? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Be willing to compromise on everything BUT who you are. Or, since it's fall, bend don't break.


Silver Spring, Md.: Red Sox?

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, and NY Giants. My heart gets broken a lot.


Drug Problem, USA: Would your advice be the same if it wasn't a romantic opposite sex relationship, instead best friends, same sex, just one smokes pot EVERY NON-WORKING MOMENT and the other one doesn't. Her work is fine but when she's sober, which is hardly ever, her attitude sucks. When does it become a "please stop for your own good" problem as opposed to "please stop because while pot is a "lesser drug and no big deal" I simply don't like it?"

Carolyn Hax: "... when she's sober, which is hardly ever" I believe is the official threshold of problem.


On compromising: Yes compromise is the key to relationship longevity. Just make sure that it's a two way street.

Carolyn Hax: Righto. Forgot to throw the "mutual" in there. Tx.


Carolyn Hax: Hookay, time to go. Thanks everybody and type to you next Friday.


For master's student: Procrastinate!; Fail your class so you have to go back next year!; I got my master's and have been unemployed for a year and a half. Stay in school until the economy gets better!;

--Not bitter

Carolyn Hax: How could I have overlooked this one.


For Chicago: Just one word of advice -- I noticed you said you were going to start to try to conceive -- you need to be prepared for conception to occur immediately. I know it's not likely, but my friends all told me it would take 18 months, and, well, it didn't. As Carolyn said -- the Joy Joy kicks in pretty fast -- even if the timing is a little unexpected!;

Carolyn Hax: Good point--could happen on first try, so take a daily multivitamin, quit smoking if you smoke, cut back on alcohol if you drink and get a checkup if you haven't had one in a while. Assuming you've answered all the other Larger Questions.


Chevy Chase, Md.: I'm going to see if I can pick up a fifth of Old Virgin on my way home today.

Carolyn Hax: Good luck. I hear it's rare.


Yankees: I bet your heart will be broken at the end of this round.

Carolyn Hax: Ooh, a Yankee fan. How bold of you.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

My world is falling apart. In the past week, I been "downsized," and consequently gotten into three car mishaps (no one was hurt but I am VERY shaken up). But more importantly, I have no really close friends at age 27. I fear my horrible lack of self-confidence, self-esteem, and oral communications skills is keeping me back personally and professionally.

I know there is no magic wand. I am on medication. And there is so much a therapist can do for me. So I am seriously worried about the downturn in my life, and fear that things might get much worse. If you have any ideas, I would appreciate very much.

Carolyn Hax: Oops, another one I'm glad I didn't miss--please tell your therapist what you're feeling, immediately if you feel you're in crisis. (Although people who think they might hurt themselves should always call the police.)

You're right about the limits of therapy, but it's a safe place to go when you feel your downturn is getting worse or out of control, so please use it as such.

In between sessions, consider finding new ways to keep yourself engaged with society--volunteering leaps to mind, but a part-time job can help, too. Think in terms of something regular, even daily, where people are counting on you to show up, because it sounds like you could really benefit from a frequent reminder that you're valuable, and important, and needed. Knowing this will help your self-esteem, and a forgiving environment like a volunteer job will be a great place to work on communicating better.

... if that's in fact what you need. You sound depressed, and that could be affecting your view of yourself. Consider the possibility that you express yourself perfectly clearly but that you don't -see- or -hear- yourself clearly. It's a common problem. Hang in there, and good luck.


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