Tell Me About It

With Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 7, 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.

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 just changed my mind and bailed on a question. Sorry.


West Virginia: What do you think are the statue of limitations on dating friends' one night stands from 6 years ago? I really like this guy, my fri

Why do people file away ex's or interests as untouchable to their friends in the dating scene? Do you think it's insecurity,

I can see why dating an ex husband of a friend would be uncomfortable- but a guy you went out with once? Am I off base and am

nwritten girlfriend code here? It's hard to find guys in small towns!! Carolyn Hax: If this is a code, please break it. Your friend is being a dink. Re why, I vote combo, since insecurity, possessiveness and jealousy are all essentially the same thing.


Far Away:
I love your column -- you do a great job! I could really use some advice right now. For the past week, I've been feeling a tingling sensation, more or less all the time, but especially when I walk. I went to the gym today and tried to go running but found I couldn't because this tingling got too intense and I would start to feel dizzy. I am scared I have MS. Everyone I've told about this (just a few close friends and my family) has been saying I'm sure you're fine, it's probably nothing. I'm not a hypochondriac and I know this is something very strange and probably neurological. I'm going to get all sorts of tests to try to pin down a diagnosis, but in general, what's the proper response when someone says they have symptoms of something potentially serious? I feel like "don't worry about it, you're probably ok" is just making me feel worse, b/c I know I'm not fine. My other question is this: I just started dating someone new, who seems like a really wonderful guy. Should I mention anything about this to him? My gut feeling says of course I should say something, but then I wouldn't want to elicit any kind of pity or make him worry, esp. since I don't know anything for sure and the relationship is so new. On the other hand, I'm scared and could really use some support (I'm far away from my family). What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: From back to front--yes, you should tell the guy you're seeing, just as you would tell him about something weird going on at work. You want to share it, you want to talk about it to help make sense of it and to burn off some of the anxiety, you want his support. I've never been a fan of "I don't want to make people worry" silences. Sure, don't tell everyone you know and worry them needlessly, but tell the people from whom you'd like support. Any one who cares about you will be grateful for the chance
As for the proper response, I can see why "don't worry about it, you're probably okay" isn't doing it for you, because you're scared bleepless and that response can come across as diminishing how you feel. But--people do mean well and i'm sure intend to be reassuring; even strange symptoms most often turn out to be nothing. And, "Oh my God it could be fatal" isn't exactly a star cocktail party answer either. I suppose a combination--"Wow, scary. I'm sure the odds are that it's nothing but that can't be reassuring to y
Last thing, the health issue itself. You don't know what it is, you just know something is off. This is going to take some tremendous mind-over-matter, but I think you need to persuade yourself to accept the truth right now as you know it: that all you know at this point is that something is off. It's never productive to fix on a worst-case scenario and get upset about that. Wait till you know and get upset then accordingly--or torn or relieved or ecstatic. Worry (ie, anything not based in fact) is wasted emotion, and
s a difficult time even harder. Hang in there, and hope for the best.


Re: WVA: I would just ask the friend if there is any specific reason why. Who knows, there could have been an incident, such as date rape, to warrant the warning.

Carolyn Hax: Makes sense, thanks.


Bailing on Questions: Why do you bail on questions? Because you don't feel you can adequately answer the questions? Because it takes too long to respond

Just wonderin'.

l be controversial among the peanuts and cause a flood of messages about what you wrote? Carolyn Hax: Usually because the answer seemed pretty direct when I started, but got complicated enough as I worked on it to make me want a little more time to think.


Anywhere: Maybe WVa's friend isn't being a dink. Why assume jealousy/control? Maybe she is concerned for her friend's well-being. Maybe there is something she knows about the one-night stand-er that might be a problem/threat, but hasn't wanted to go into the details. Maybe WVa should just ASK why her friend doesn't want her dating him!!!

Carolyn Hax: I know I posted one like this already, but I want to give a fuller answer. I assumed because claiming an ex a
And, if there was a better reason than possessiveness, I think the friend owed it to her to say so. She didn't even have to get into details, except to say that she had reasons to believe this was a bad guy and that she was going to ask the friend to trust her on this. (One of the many reasons one's credibility is one's best friend--you can get away with a statement like that only if your word is golden and you don't have possessiveness/manipulative BS in your past.)


Washington, D.C.: What is the difference between worrying about something (the MS, husband cheating, being fired, etc) and accepting the worse case scenario and working through that?

Carolyn Hax: I think the difference is the act of working through it. It's funny, you just reminded that I've advised assuming, and then facing, the worst case to people who've written in wracked with worry about suspected infidelities. That's because with worry, you kind of hover there gathering stress. With a conscious plan to envision the worst and then imagine a way to accept and get through it, you become active, which I think helps dissipate stress.


Foggy Bottom, Washington, D.C.: Carolyn, is there a taboo on dating your stepbrother? We are both 20 (in college) and we first met when our parents announced the wedding a year and a half ago. It's not like we grew up as sister/brother.

Kidding. I think the taboo is when you grow up as sister and brother, though even then I think that's unfair. You're just as unrelated as a guy and the proverbial Girl Next Door, and yet they make a fairy tale couple?


Philadelphia, Pa.: Just got dumped for the fourth time in a row by yet another guy who was considering a relationship with me but now has met someone else and immediately fallen head-over-heels. Before I was married, I had never been dumped in my life; now I am 40 and I have three kids (9-14), but I am attractive and intelligent and personable. Do you think there is anything I can do to stop this trend besides wait until my kids are grown? It's extremely difficult to face over and over again...

Carolyn Hax: Sounds to me less like a trend than a (really) bad run of luck--though I have to say I'm surprised you've fou
A little too good. Any chance you're more into the relationship idea than the guys themselves? If that's true, they could have s
Whatever the case, if you're having trouble facing it, couldn't hurt to back off, regroup and find more independent, and therefore more reliable, and therefore more rewarding uses for your time.


Dating your stepbrother: Oh, come on, you've GOT to see that this is a bad idea. They're not related, so its not "EWWW," but she will have to be dealing with this person, as a family member, for decades to come. Just a really bad idea.

Carolyn Hax: Boooo. People can break up and still face each other. They just have to act like adults.


RE: W. Va.: On the other hand, what about people who have NO rules about dating each other's exes? You say it's ridiculous to have these boundaries, but what if there are not boundaries and you end up with a huge group of friends who have all slept with each other (i.e. my husband's peer group). Ugh.

Carolyn Hax: If false boundaries are the only thing keeping bad taste and judgment at bay, then you're already in trouble.


Washington, D.C.: When is it okay to discontiune support for a sibling? My brother is constanly on the edge of either having his car repossesed or being evicted from wherever he is living at the time. When he calls me it's always to ask for money. I give him money because it's easier then feeling guilty about causing him to end up on the street or lose his car. I feel like I am in a very difficult position but I am ready to cut him off and let him fend for himself. Any advice.

Carolyn Hax: How old is he and why can't he handle himself? If he's old enough and capable enough to manage on his own, then -he's- the one causing -himself- to land on the street. And the bailouts would only be making that worse, since they allow him to postpone growing up. Either tell him he's on his own from now on or, if he's already in a bad way again, help him, but only with th
If there are some real problems in the way of his functioning well, your help can and probably should come in the form of a firm push toward to whatever resource he needs. E.g., if it's substance abuse, say you'll help but your checks will be written only to X local rehab joint.


Re: Facing People you've broken up with: Carolyn - I charge you to spend every Thanksgiving and Christmas with every boyfriend you've ever broken up with or been dumped by. AND, you now have to go to their weddings, celebrate the birth of their children, etc. THAT is what happens when you date your ste

Happy Holidays!

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry, it just doesn't strike me as that unspeakably awful. Maybe my standards for such have gotten higher lately.


New Haven, Conn.: Re: Stepbrother dating, it is not illegal in our fair state. Sec. 46b-21. Kindred who may not marry. No man may marry his mother, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, aunt, niece, stepmother or stepdaughter, and no woman may marry her father, grandfather, son, grandson, brother, uncle, nephew, stepfather or stepson. Any marriage within these degrees is void.

Carolyn Hax: I just love that this information is out there. I don't just love that first cousins and adoptive relationships (unless they're under the "step-" umbrella) are notably absent. Talk about ick.


Your "high" standards: Get off your high horse Carolyn. You dont even have any standards. I'm sure you'd love for your ex-hubby to come to Thanksgiving, but good for him that he has better things to do.

Carolyn Hax: Feel better?


Washington, D.C.: Howdy there. Thanks for your time. After having some major drinking problems and finally getting some help (AA, Outpatient Therapy, etc.), I was wondering if you have any ideas for me on how to decline drink offers without having to explain why I don't drink anymore. Being young (mid-20s) and in DC, the "normal" and common thing to do on weekends/after work is to go out to a bar or party. I'm doing really well in being around alcohol in bars and restaurants and not being too tempted, but whenever I go out, someone has to ask why I'm only drinking water or Sprite (even though I do often ask for a lime or a small straw to make it look like a mixed drink) when I don't even offer the information that I don't drink. If I respond that I don't really feel like drinking tonight, the next question is "why not". Some people don't like to give up the subject until they get a sufficient answer. If I say I don't drink anymore, then that leads to a barrage of questions that are way too personal and you wonder if anyone has ever heard of respecting someone's decision to abstain from alcohol and just leave it at that. Do you have any suggestions as how to answer without letting on that I've had an alcohol problem?

Carolyn Hax: First of all, the ensuing barrage of questions isn't too personal--the initial question is. No one, ever, has any business asking you why you're not having a drink. If you're male, I urge you to tell the person you're pregnant; it's the nicest form of "bite me" I can think of on the fly. Otherwise, please feel free to find your own nice version of same. Repetition would
Make nosy people hit a wall. Very very effective.t."


San Francisco, Calif.: Carolyn -

I usually agree with your advice, but your answers to the questions last week about people who don't like to spend the holidays with their in-laws/families ("just don't go") really irked me. I go through the same argument with my brother every year, who doesn't like to come home. Well you know what? It's about THREE DAYS out of a year, it makes my parents happy and it keeps the peace. Unless the family is truly awful/abusive etc. I think it's extremely selfish to not just suck it up, put a smile in and put your petulance aside for a few days.

Carolyn Hax: Waitaminnit. Why does it have to be about petulance? I can see your point about making the parents happy, and I agree with it--to a degree. A holiday here and there with non-abusive parents would be a nice thank-you for all those fresh diapers. But why Every Durn December? Adult children should be allowed to make adult choices, one of them being to start their own holiday traditions. The funny thing is, the parents who see that and support it sans guilt are the ones whose children aren't making excuses not to visit them.


Overreaction?: Hi Carolyn, always love the column and the Friday chats! Hope you can tell me (online only please) if I'm just being oversensitive or if I have a right to gripe here...

My sister and I live in the Southwest, let's keep it vague and just say Mountain Time, and our whole family lives on the north East Coast. My older cousin is having her first baby. None of us are particularly close but we see each other at holidays etc. My sister and I (both younger and less financially well off than the rest of the cousins) both recently received invitations from another cousin to this cousin's baby shower, complete with a "sally and joe are registered at these two baby stores etc" line written at the bottom of the invite.

Obviously my sister and I are not going to shell out $500 apiece to fly to attend the shower, which is not occurring on a holiday weekend or anything. They must know this. So this seems to me like a completely unveiled directive to purchase and ship a gift to the cousin, and my sister and I both resent it. I would have sent a little something anyway, and I don't like being bullied into buying something off a registry that I can't necessarily afford.

I don't know what I hope to accomplish by asking, but do you think I am overreacting to be -ticked] about this? If you say I am, I'll get over it I guess, but I just feel like the only time I ever get contacted by this side of the family is in conjunction with a gift-giving occassion and it makes me want to never see any of them.

Carolyn Hax: If there's a clear precedent for gift-mining, then you're probably not overreacting. Either send your regrets
But if there is no precedent, your anger might be unfair. Some family members are caught up in the idea of not leaving people out and don't even think about gift pressure--or they worry that an invitation'll seem like a gift solicitation but are more worried that you'll feel shut out, and err on the side of inclusion. Always nice to put the more charitable spin on it, unless you're all but forced not to.


To DC who doesn't drink: I was always the designated driver among my group of friends. Hence, I didn't drink when we went out. If someone was bold enough to ask why I wasn't drinking, I simply said I was the designated driver. They always left well enough alone! Good luck and congrats on taking such a huge step in your life!!

Carolyn Hax: So caught up in my rant that I didn't see the obvious, thank you. Though on behalf of all victims of people's big noses, I'd like to encourage "none of your business" for anyone up to saying it.


20011: Ohmigawd. That last poster (suck it up and go to the parents' place for every holiday) must have been my younger sister. The one who I used to be close to, until she drove me away with her constant lectures on where I was inadequate, how I disappointed her, how I disappointed my parents, and how I must act to be an acceptable human being again.

Carolyn, indeed, just don't go is reasonable.

I don't want to play the "choose between families" game every holiday. I don't want to spend the rest of my life going "home" (I have a home thanks, and it's here, not there.) for every holiday.

I see my family regularly. I see his family regularly. I just choose to do it at other times than the societally perscribed ones. It's lower stress for all of us. And it gives us a chance to celebrate in our own way on those holidays.

Carolyn Hax: My high horse just whinnied its approval.


Statue of Limitations: sort of like, the opposite of the Statue of Liberty?

Carolyn Hax: F'ing brilliant.


Washington, D.C.: What's a tactful thing to say to a good friend who isn't being asked to be a bridesmaid? I'm in my late 20s and have lived with several good friends in several different cities in the past 10 years or so, but don't want 10+ bridesmaids. I've already been a bridesmaid 5 times in the last couple years and feel like, while flattered to be involved, I would not be offended to never be asked again. But I have some friends who seem to feel differently. One friend's HUSBAND asked me if I was going to ask her to be in it - and this was BEFORE I got engaged. I love all my friends - is there something I can say/do that says, "Think you're the greatest, just don't want a herd on the altar"

Otherwise, I'm impressed by, "Think you're the greatest, just don't want a herd on the altar." Funny, frank, and damn nice when you consider people are LOBBYING to be in your WEDDING. Next Halloween, the twins are going as Oy and Vey.


F'ing Brilliant: I think you meant "Sporking Brilliant!"

Carolyn Hax: Right--what was I thinking.


Re: Overreaction: you have a right to feel irritated. I'm getting married in a couple months and when the subject of showers and guest lists came up I made a point not to include anyone out of the state who I didn't already know would be coming. It's rude and presumptuous, not to mention greedy. you are under no obligation to send a gift if you can't aford it.

Carolyn Hax: See, here's why I'm not sure it's rude--you aren't under any obligation to give a gift. It's right there in the etiquette books. So what's the harm in letting people know they're included if they want to be? FWIW, I also think it's also fine not to invite out-of-town people.


On the forced holiday note...: What about inlaws' religious traditions? It's clear to me that unless I go along with the inlaw family on the all-night, standing-the-entire-time, in-a-dead-language holiday church services, I'm practically the enemy. I resent this, while on the other hand realizing the practical benefit of sucking up and going. It drives me insane. HELP?!

Carolyn Hax: Why can't you be allowed to go on a suckup cycle? 1 year his family, 1 year home, 1 year your family, 1 year home. Anyone who has a massive problem with that owes you an explanation as to why you must spend every year doing something to please someone else without its ever being your turn.


Washington, D.C.: There is a part-timer at my office who talks about her impending wedding a lot. (I am single and have heard enough of this to last 5 life times, it's hard for me to hear). Her boss said I should "include her" since she's part-time & isolated. ARGH! Do I have to?

Carolyn Hax: Including doesn't have to mean indulging. Try changing the subject.


Silver Spring, Md.: Couldn't the poster just say they don't drink? I guess someone could ask why to friend's boyfriend doesn't drink b/c his father was killed by a drunk driver. Everyone just respects that he choses not to drink, even if they don't know the reason behind it.

Carolyn Hax: You're right. S/he could, but apparently right now doesn't want to, and so shouldn't be forced to. Thanks for the post.


Eastern North Carolina: Need help with a unshakable stalker. I met this girl while doing a class project in college 4 years ago. At first, she just called me for help on schoolwork, but it progressed to her calling every day and following me around campus. We were both engaged to other people, but she wrote me love letters and made a lengthy confession of her love. I told her gently that there was no future for us and tried to avoid any contact after that. We are both now married and moved away, but somehow she keeps tracking me down. She called my cell phone and I changed my number, but today I got a message on my work voicemail letting me know that she would be visiting my area soon. How do I get her to stop trying to contact me? I have no interest in ever speaking or seeing her again.

Carolyn Hax: Have you told her this in no uncertain terms? If you haven't, it's time. Then take none of her calls, return no emails, etc. And then if she continues to pursue you after that, in any more than an occasional-tracking-down kind of way, keep a record of her efforts to contact you in the event she starts to get weird.


My Own Cozy Apartment, DC: Carolyn, Sigh. How should I deal with friends/coworkers who constantly pester me because I never go out with them? I'll do the occasional dinner or show, but I would much rather curl up at home with a good book and a cup of tea than go to a bar or, even worse, a club. I'm just not interested (nor do I have the cash). These people, who are otherwise perfectly nice and lovely, get almost hostile when I decline, insisting that it would be "good for me to get out." I love my quiet lifestyle and don't see anything wrong with it. How do I get them to quit without risking their friendships? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: "I think it's good for me to stay in. I like quiet things." Like the nosy people, they'll go away eventually if they keep hitting the same wall. Also couldn't hurt to be the one to invite them to that occasional dinner/show/quiet thing, so they know you're not blowing off their company, just their louder activities.


Washington D.C.: May I ask a quick,stupid question? In your experience, what would be the "median"(I hate to say "normal")amount of time for a late-30s couple (who were both recently divorced)to get engaged? I know there's no hurry, but I'll be honest, we plan on eloping in seven months and I just dont need the "eyebrows-raised-arent-you-rushing-things" response either. Thanks, "We're Not Bennifer"

Carolyn Hax: Now wait, Bennifer are people too. Do what feels right and let the natterers be damned.


Arlington, Va.: Happy Friday!! Let's say that I have several issues that I need to discuss with my wife. I am a much calmer person than she is. She has a tendency to get defensive and lash out when we discuss things she does not like to discuss. My question is how to deal with discussing several issues. Should I tell her what they are and then ask her which she would like to discuss first? Should we discuss one issue then wait a day or so and move on to discuss the next issue? Or do we discuss them all at once? These are the issues: money (she spends way to much); sex (she doesn't have any interest); second child (she wants to have another child, but we have the money and sex issue). Thanks to you and the peanuts.

Carolyn Hax: Howdy. You don't have several issues, you have one--you and your wife are living in separate marriages, divided by one whomping communication problem. Bring up your concerns, and when she gets defensive, explain that you're not attacking her
Whatever you do, please leave out the "I am a much calmer person," because even if true that's the kind of judgment that puts a person on the defensive. Repeat after me: You both made this mess, you both made this mess, you both made this mess. Make sure you say this to her when you're asking her not to get defensive, that you're ready to assume your share of the blame for the state of you
And it is a mess, so please do resolve the overarching problems before you start having sex again with someone who wants another child and has a tendency to do whatever she wants in spite of you. If it helps, the money and the sex aren't about too much money and too little sex, they're both the same issue, too--control. She's telling you she's in control. Unfortunately, the best thing for this right now is counseling, and I say unfortunately because a third common venue of spousal control is refusal to go to counseling. Try nevertheless. Ask her to do it for the kid(s). Go alone if you have to.


Chevy Chase, Md.: Hi Carolyn, Several years ago, I had a problem with depression that involved cutting myself. It's recently started up again. I'm seeing a psychologist about it, but I feel like I have nobody friendwise to open up to. Last time I was going through these things, I know a lot of people got scared and didn't know how to deal. In fact, one old friend recently confronted me about it and said that I never fully acknowledged the impact my cutting myself had on her (basically I threatened to commit suicide and called her in desperation). So I'm really shy about opening up to anyone again for fear people will think I'm weird or that I'll lose friends. Seeing a pyschologist isn't the same as opening up to a friend, though, but is it normal to keep these sorts of issues to oneself? I don't want to burden people, either. Any advice you could give me would really help a lot. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Ask your psych for support group suggestions, or check Once you have a network you can lean on for the hard stuff, then I think you'll feel better about telling friends--and you can assure them that you won't be pressuring them this time to handle any more than laymen should. BTW, even though you did ask a lot of that friend, it's still good that you reached out to someone, and please don't hesitate to do it again solely because of that one experience. Just be prepared this time with more solid places to reach. Take care.


Carolyn Hax: Wow, lost track of time. Sorry to keep doing this, Liz. Have a good weekend everybody and type to you next Friday.


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