Tell Me About It

With Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 31, 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.


Carolyn Hax: Hi guys. I'm here but will be starting about 5 min late. Sorry 'bout that.


Somewhere, USA: Carolyn,

I recently gave birth to a daughter who looks extraordinarily like me. Since then, more than a few people in trying to be funny have asked my husband "Are you sure she's yours?"

I don't find this funny. My usual response is to simply not respond, hoping that the ensuing lack of laughter will say all that needs to be said. But so many people seem to find it absolutely hilarious that I'm beginning to wonder if I'm just being overly sensitive and ought to let them slide a bit more. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: B. Overly sensitive.


Washington, D.C.: To the gut with the jealous girlfriend -- Run, don't walk, to the nearest exit.

Carolyn Hax: No kidding. I'm amazed both at how common this problem is and how many people tolerate it.


Fairfield, Conn.: I am struggling with my job and want to get out. In addition, my wife and I had a miscarriage this year. My faith is dwindling and I don't know what to do. Please help.

Carolyn Hax: Please get checked for depression. You can do it quickly at, and then officially through your regular doctor. I'm really sorry about your miscarriage and your unhappy job situation, but these are both, unfortunately, pretty normal life hurdles. If they're dragging you down to the point where you're feeling helpless, my guess is there's something else on your back. This is actually good news--knowing it's something else means you can identify it and fix it, and in doing so beat the helplessness.


Washington, D.C.: Forgive me for asking a question I know you've answered many, many times before, but where can I go to find low-cost therapy? I've been in a funk for months now and finally decided to try and do something about it, but money is tight and insurance won't help much.

Carolyn Hax: Forgiven. I'm pasting this in directly from a Post story on this (from 2001, so I can't promise it's all up-to-date):

? The Georgetown Family Center at 4400 MacArthur Blvd. offers psychotherapy to individuals, couples and families on a sliding fee scale. Fees begin at $25 per session. To learn more, call 202-965-4400.

? Eugene Meyer III Treatment Center at 5028 Wisconsin Ave. Suite 400, a community mental health clinic associated with the Washington School of Psychiatry, provides short and long-term psychotherapy to individuals, couples and families on a sliding fee scale. Fees start at $35 per session. The center also provides services for children and therapy in a variety of languages. To learn more, call 202-537-6050.

? The Washington Pastoral Counseling Service, an interfaith organization, offers professional counseling to individuals, couples and families throughout the Washington area on a sliding fee scale. To learn more, call
301-681-3201 or see

? Affiliated Community Counselors, Inc. at 50 W. Montgomery Ave. in Rockville provides individual, couple, family and group psychotherapy on a sliding fee scale. To learn more, call 301-251-8965.

? The Child Center and Adult Services program in the Shady Grove Professional Building at 16220 S. Frederick Rd. in Gaithersburg provides short-term mental health counseling to adults, children and families. The program provides services to a limited number of reduced-fee clients. To
learn more, call 301-978-9750.

? The Women's Center at 133 Park St. NE in Vienna offers psychological counseling, career counseling and educational workshops. Services are available on a sliding fee scale to people who meet the center's income
eligibility requirements. Arrangements can made for people who are unable to pay. To learn more, call 703-281-2657 or see

? Northern Virginia Family Service provides psychotherapy, anger management and parenting classes for parents who are in the process of separation. Services are available to individuals, couples and families on a sliding fee scale. The center has offices in Falls Church, Herndon and Dale City. To learn more, call 703-533-2563 or see

? The Center for Family Services offers brief, problem-solving psychotherapy on a reduced-fee basis. Services are designed to help families with family, marital, child and individual issues. Services are provided by masters and post-masters interns in Virginia Tech's Marriage and Family Therapy program. Fees are based on a sliding fee scale and range from $5 to $50 per session. To learn more, call 703-538-8470.


Seasonal Fluff: My family says "corn candy" instead of "candy corn." Does anyone else do this?

Carolyn Hax: NOBODY else does this. In the whole world.


Tit for tat in Washington, D.C.: Hi, Carolyn. I love your column!;!;

I know, I know, I know that friendship isn't an I-did-this-for-her-so-she-should-do-that-for-me, but how can I help but feel hurt that a long-time friend blew off an important party that I threw last weekend? I've attended every important function of hers -- happily!; And now when I asked for her support (and attendance), she says, "I'll try to swing by," but doesn't. And why is it that, of all the lovely friends that came and were fabulous, her absence affects me most?!; How can I resolve this? Can/should I say something to her to get it off my chest? Or let it go? I know you advised last week that friendship is not tit-for-tat, but I think there has to be some reciprocation. What to do?!;

Carolyn Hax: First, get off the idea that this is a tit-for-tat issue. It's not. It's an I-counted-on-my-friend-and-she-let-me-down issue.

Second, tell your friend that you feel like she blew you off. Then, hear what she has to say for herself. Maybe she had a good reason; maybe she's not the great friend that you thought.


Somewhere, USA: I'm in a three-year relationship that I know I want to end. The problem is: I don't know how to end it. Should I wait until after the holidays? I know he'll want an explanation and I don't have one. Everything feels wrong and I often fantasize about moving to another state to avoid him.

Carolyn Hax: "Everything feels wrong." That's called an explanation. Use it before this weekend is out. Bulletin: Spending an extra two months with someone you don't love is not doing them any favors.


Michigan: I have a close male friend who has a very jealous, very mentally unstable wife. He can't even see a female doctor without her flipping out. He realizes there is more to life than this, and he's trying to get her and them into therapy. In the meantime, I believe he is being abused by her jealous and controlling behavior, and he is afraid to leave for fear she will hurt herself. I'm trying to help him weigh his options: leave and she'll hurt herself, stay and hope things get better, have her committed for being suicidal. Are there other options? What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: I think he should get himself to a psychiatrist immediately to get personal, professional guidance on extracting himself from this relationship. I actually think this is a widely underused option--we tend to think of doctors only for the unstable party, but given the doctors' experience in handling instability, they're a great resource for people like your friend. Who, by the way, badly needs to hear from a trained, objective source that he's being played like a sock puppet.


Re: Washington, D.C.: George Washington University also has a counseling lab in which Masters and Ph.D. students see clients as part of their degree. It is on a sliding scale with clients sometimes paying as little as $1 to see someone. All students are supervised by a professor and a doctoral supervisor.

Carolyn Hax: Great, thanks.


Washington, D.C.: Our close friends' marriage appears to be self-destructing and they don't seem to care as much as I do. I encourage her to stop the affairs, I encourage him to be there for her and I feel like I'm the only one working on this marriage. They have a young child, one reason I care so much. They both respect my opinion. How sick is this? Should I stop?

Carolyn Hax: They may respect it, but they're not listening to it. But it's not your job to referee their marriage. Plus, even though it may seem like you care more, I doubt that's really true; more likely, there's just more stuff going on than you're privy to. If the kid is getting lost in their mess, that's unconscionable, and you should feel free to point that out whenever you see that happen, but otherwise I think you've said your piece.


All we need is a drummer: Please explain this "coming to my party = supporting me" thing. It's not like the friend was supposed to cook the turkey.

It's a party. People come, or don't. They have fun, or don't. "We missed you" or didn't.

Carolyn Hax: You're right if it was a bunch-o-friends kind of party, but that's a bit of an assumption. It could also have been a party -for- someone, or to introduce someones--say, mixing future in-laws for the first time--or it could have had work implications. There are too many types of parties to be so quick to judge.


Holiday Ick: Hi Carolyn. I have what feels like a trivial question, hopefully you can help a bit. I've spent every holiday alone this year. I got divorced about a year ago, and all the fun holidays; Memorial Day, Labor Day, Fourth of July, and now, Halloween, I've been pretty much home alone. I've asked friends what they're up to, and the response I get is spending time with their children (which I think is great... they SHOULD spend Halloween with their children, it's their holiday!) or they already have plans. I am not the type to invite myself along on someone else's plans, and no one who already has plans has asked me to come along. And all this is making me incredibly sad. I'm having trouble focusing at work right now, because I'm wallowing in this disgusting self-pity, and I HATE that I even feel like this.

Other than this, I have a great life. I love my work, I have a great apartment, I value my time on my own to read, and cook and do whatever I want to do. But whenever one of those fun-go-out-and-celebrate-with-buddies holidays comes along, I'm never celebrating. Please tell me to get over myself, or anything else you feel is appropriate.

Carolyn Hax: It's not a trivial question, you're lonely. That's a big deal.

I also think it's a common deal. A lot of people who are comfortable solo 355 days a year get funky for those loaded holiday 10. Which means there are a lot of people who could really use you those days. Any interest in pitching in at local churches, senior centers, community centers, shelters, hospitals, anywhere people might be more desperate for warmth than you are? I realize this might jack up the self-pity volume at first, but only until the rewards kick in.

I also wonder if you need to be so polite about inviting yourself along--your friends might not realize your predicament, and sincerely want you to join them if they knew--but I'll trust your judgment on that.


Professional Extraction: There is option 4:
He gets out of the relationship and she doesn't hurt or kill herself. Isn't it typical of controllers to use threats like this, but then completely fail to follow up on them when the threats don't work?

Carolyn Hax: Yes, suicide threats are a highly manipulative tactic for keeping a person in a relationship and are often empty. But I'm not going to be the one to declare that's true in this case without knowing how unstable the woman is. When in doubt, get backup.


Washington, D.C.: George Mason University Psychological Clinic also offers sliding scale psychotherapy services. Clients are seen by Ph.D. trainees and supervised by psychologists. A great option for those in the Northern Virginia Area, and evenings and weekend hours are available.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.


An Office, USA:
Any suggestions for how I tell my officemate -- who has been here longer than I have -- that I am getting a long-awaited promotion and she has been passed over again? She's been in a real funk about work and frankly I've been right there with her, because neither of us have been feeling very appreciated. Now my time has finally come, but it kills me that it couldn't be both of us. I really feel the news should come from me, so she won't be blindsided, or think I was hiding something. She is going to be very hurt, even though I know in the long run she won't hold it against me personally... Just not sure how to break the good-for-me-bad-for-her news. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Why do you know she was passed over before she does? I think you need to keep your mouth shut, and if/when she calls you on not telling her, you say you suspected but couldn't be sure until you heard it from her. And that you're very sorry, and that it kills you that it couldn't have both of you.


Arlington, Va.: Re. Holiday Ick. There are also organizations for single people that frequently have events on fun holidays. Some of them are online dating services but some of them run activities, like hikes, tours, museums etc. for single people.

Carolyn Hax: Sounds like more fun than what most people do. Thanks.


Atlanta, Ga.: Help. I have a wonderful husband and two beautiful children under the age of two. I'm so tired and frustrated that I know I'm not a good parent. My son was up for two hours last night and didn't go to bed until I screamed at him. I need to do a better job but am afraid to talk to a dr. or a pediatrician for fear they will tell me I'm a terrible parent that needs mental help. I fantasize about getting divorced simply so that i can get my own apt. and get some sleep. Am I normal?

Carolyn Hax: So, you'd rather BE a bad parent than be called one by a pediatrician? I don't think even you'd agree with that approach, even though, practically, that's exactly what you're doing.

And what's wrong with needing mental help? I haven't met many people who don't, at least at some point in their lives. See doctor, get help. Now now now. They're not there to punish, they're there to help. If you won't do it for yourself, do it for your kids.


The South Deep: I don't say "corn candy," but I do say "green fried tomatoes."

On the jealous female partner stuff, it might be worthwhile pointing out that SOME men elicit this crazy behavior by not maintaining appropriate boundaries. If you're husband's a big flirt or allows women to flirt with him or is in the habit of discussing your marital problems with his female coworker, a woman has a right to act a bit possessive and defensive? Consider that you're only hearing one side, here.

Carolyn Hax: The start was so clever, I'm loath to disagree with you.

But I do disagree. If you marry a big flirt knowing he's a big flirt, then you shut up and deal. If your non-flirt starts up a flirtation with someone, you point it out and ask him to cut the s*** and show a little more respect for you--and if he doesn't, then you decide what the next set of consequences must be. You don't become jealous and possessive. It's a miserable way to be, for both of you.

In the case of this particular letter, I know I was hearing only one side, but it was a side that rang true and familiar.


Re: Suicide Threats: Speaking from experience, I stayed with an emotionally and occasionally physically abusive man much too long after my heart wasn't in it because he swore up and down he'd kill himself if I left. It was, of course, an empty threat, and incredibly embarrassing to be calling the police every week or so out of sheer terror that he would follow through. Bottom line, though: it's not your problem that this person is f-ed up, and that's certainly not insensitive thinking when you get down to it. You gotta look out for number one, you know?

Carolyn Hax: Yes yes--which also means inoculating yourself against future guilt. I absolutely agree that you should never stay with someone because s/he's threatening suicide if you leave, and I agree that other people's emotional problems ultimately aren't ours--but I think the way you handle your exit has to pass your own (and only your own) guilt test. Thanks for weighing in.


The Party: "It's a party. People come, or don't."

Yes, but since when did it become acceptable to say you were going to show and then not come? This really has become a problem. The post-college years, okay. But people I know do this in their 30s. When you RSVP yes and someone goes out of their way to prepare and you do not show up (barring really good explanation), it is very rude.

Carolyn Hax: I agree. I think it's also rude in the post-college years, btw. If you're 22, it doesn't matter that you went out of your way?


Collegetown, USA: Hi Carolyn! Happy Halloween!

I'm having a bit of a struggle with my room mate. We're both first-year students in college, and she and I get along pretty well, par for the course as far as living with a complete stranger is concerned. The thing is, she indulges in some pretty reckless behavior. I mean, picking up bizarre guys, drugs, alcohol, staying out for three or four days at a time then coming back just when I start to wonder if I should put out a missing person report, then sleeping for two days straight. So far, I've just been letting her go about her business, but I'm wondering if that's really irresponsible of me. Am I right to let her make her own decisions and not give her any input? Or am I just too callous and afraid of confrontation to tell her what I think? It's not just me, the whole floor is starting to worry.

Carolyn Hax: Do you have an RA? You're right to worry, but I also think this is more of a responsibility than you're in a position to assume. Please work through the school's advisory chain on this one.


Re: Holiday Ick: I love when friends, single or otherwise, come over for Halloween. It allows both me and my husband to go trick or treating with our daughter while someone is home to man the door (and candy bowl). We usually get delivery food and have a good time. Maybe something to offer to her friends?

Carolyn Hax: Works for me, thanks.


Re: tired mom: Sounds like she needs to get some sleep before she does anything else. Even therapy on a tired mind is less useful. Any chance her husband, extended family can pitch in more for a little while till she gets her sense of internal balance back?

Carolyn Hax: And if they can't, then she should hire someone. Thanks.


Baton Rouge, La.: What would be appropriate, or needed, for a couple who is about to have a child two months early? She was due Dec. 27, and they are delivering the baby today. I would like to get them things they need and can use. Any suggestions from the gallery about premature babies, and maybe special needs babies? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: One of our little guys spent some time in the NICU, and it's a really difficult thing--with very few material demands. The hospital takes care of so much of it, at least for the first ... I'm guessing in this case, three to four weeks. They're going to be spending a lot of time in the hospital, so what they'll need is any help that will allow them to spend that time free of other stresses. If they have a pet, offer pet care. If they have other kids, babysit for them so they can go to the NICU together (it's a -huge- deal to be able to hold someone's hand while you're there). Make them meals they can freeze and reheat. Offer to water their plants or tend to their yard.

And, when it is time for the baby to come home (and even for the hospital, if they allow it), they can probably use some preemie-size clothes--simple cotton footie pajamas. We had a hard time finding them, which is insane, considering how common a problem multiples and premature births have become.


Friday Fluff Question: Mint chocolate chip ice cream:

Green or white? Chocolate shaved or chunk?

Also, for halloween candy:

Is it more appropriate to eat the candy corn one color segment at a time or to tuck it between your gums and teeth so you can pretend they are tartar-laden fangs?

Carolyn Hax: Green or white, shaved chocolate, and candy corn grosses me out, but I believe both uses you cited are acceptable.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,
I got married on Sunday. It was easily the best day of my life -- beautiful, emotional, fun. But this week has been quite a contrast. We aren't able to take a honeymoon yet (we're hoping to take one next year) and being back at work is totally dispiriting. To top that off, my husband is having to work crazy long hours to meet upcoming deadlines. So instead of getting to spend all my time with him, which is what I'd like to do, I see him for maybe an hour at night. Any words of advice on how I can convince him that the deadlines at work are unfair? That he needs to talk to his boss about getting help? I feel this is a terribly inauspicious way to begin our marriage. Or should I just plow through, wait it out, as only a phase?

Carolyn Hax: Marriage is long, deadlines are temporary. I do feel for you, but you had a nice wedding and you have a nice husband. I vote chill.


Don't leave us hanging...: What are the twins going to be for Halloween? Laurel and Hardy? Thing 1 and Thing 2? Pumpkins? Inquiring minds want to know.

Carolyn Hax: At this point they're going as 9-month-old twin boys. I tried to make something but ran out of time and hated all the store costumes I saw. Speaking of inauspicious starts--I feel strangely terrible about it. Sigh.


You thoughts, please: It's unseasonably warm here today and the ladies are wearing clothes that make my eyes drop out of my head. And perhaps, Carolyn, you're saying calm down, neanderthal man. But I'm wondering how this comes across to the ladies. I try to steal a quick glance, for fear of blinding myself by looking directly at the sun (aka their stunning beauty) but I often find myself soaking their beauty in for a tad longer than a little bit. My question for you is, do you think single, attractive, women who were genetically blessed by the big guy upstairs, are scared off by visual appreciation of their beauty? I mean, we're not talking a stalker's stare here, just a glance (possibly with bulging eyeballs) that says, "wowza whee, you're purty."

Carolyn Hax: There's looking, and there's leering. Former encouraged, latter feared. I'm not sure what the difference is exactly on the delivery end, but on the receiving end, a leer is a look that lasts a beat too long and involves saliva.


Icecream, USA: Mint chocolate chip ice cream MUST be green. And i personally recommend Baskin Robbins' take on this flavor.

Carolyn Hax: Theirs is one of the best. For a close grocery-store approximation, try Turkey Hill (the green one, though the white is good, too. It's a mood thing).


Anywhere, USA: Carolyn, Love your chats!; Long time lurker here. My sister has pulled yet another selfish stunt that has hurt my feelings. It is going to sound stupid, but my dog and her dog don't get along. I asked her if when we both visit my parents if we could take turns putting our dogs in the kennel so we don't have to constantly monitor them. She flat out refused. This was just the last straw for me after many years of similar issues. I know I can't change who she is, but how do I stop these stupid things from hurting my feelings? Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I think the burden here is on your parents to institute a no-dogs rule. Do they have any idea what's happening between you and your sister? And if they do and allow it to happen, have you considered not visiting when the sister is there, even if it means you fend for yourself on holidays when you otherwise wouldn't?

I mean, yes, you should find a way to become immune to your sister. But that's not only a tall order when it's a family member who's openly provoking you, it's also almost impossible without physical distance from the source of provocation. Instead of continually subjecting yourself to her, give yourself permission to give up. Declare that she's bad for you and make other plans. Sounds liberating to me.


Everett, Wash.: Carolyn, why is it that at age 36 I have half the confidence I did when I was half my age at 18? When you're 18, you think you can do anything and act like it. But on the cusp of middle age, with accumulated bumps and bruises (along with the triumphs) of young adulthood, I can't fathom why I am not so self-assured anymore. Is this just a function of growing up and acknowledging one's limitations? Since we're pretty close in age, I thought maybe you'd have an idea. Thanks for your insights.

Carolyn Hax: I am your age, actually. And I think acknowledging limitations can actually boost confidence, if you treat it both as a way to help you figure out what you -are- good at and as permission to stop trying to be everything.

So, a hunch--any chance you're living in a way that runs counter to your nature? Either in a job that doesn't suit your natural skills, or in relationships that don't bring out what you like most about yourself, or in a city that doesn't feel like home, or all of the above? Or, on a less-obvious level, doing okay at all of the above but wondering if there's more to life and therefore doubting your choices? Never feeling quiiiite at your best can certainly strip self-assurance.


Anywhere at All: Is it too early for holiday questions? How do you handle not liking holidays with your SO's family? Just ain't fun. Don't want to be hurtful, but I would rather spend the time elsewhere, even with friends. They are close by, so see them regularly. I want fun holidays!;

Carolyn Hax: But it's not a holiday question! It's a communication question. Even though it wouldn't have been too early for the former.

Talk to your SO. Tell the truth.


Ugggghhhhh!;!;!;: Is it just me, or did that drooling pervert send chills up anyone else's spine?

Carolyn Hax: I guess the perv has his answer.


Holiday Schizzle: Carolyn-

Hi!; My family is completely dysfunctional, and I've distanced myself accordingly. That said, they want me to visit them this Thanksgiving. How do I do this and maintain sanity?


Carolyn Hax: Say no? Or stay elsewhere and make it a one-day visit?


RE: Sister/Dog trouble: Gotta say, Carolyn, seems completely ridiculous to suggest someone cut her sister out of her life and spend holidays alone when the only proof you have of wrong-doing is a riff over dogs. Do you have siblings? Do you suggest parents disown children who behave poorly?

Carolyn Hax: I have three sisters, and I think I can recognize a manipulator/blackmailer when I see one.


Carolyn Hax: Shoot--I was trying to find a short Q to end on but couldn't. Ah well. Thanks for coming everybody, have fun tonight and type to you next week.


Re: Anywhere at all: But isn't that horrendously hurtful and offensive to say to the love of your life, "I don't want to spend time with your family?" How is hurting your SO's feelings going to make the problem any better?

Carolyn Hax: If you say, "I don't enjoy Thanksgiving there," I don't think that's hurtful, esp if you have a solid reason--everyone watches tv all day or something. Honesty doesn't have to be hurtful--and I also think fear of hurting isn't a good enough reason to suppress what you're thinking and feeling. Honesty + tact.


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