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Tell Me About It

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With Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 21, 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: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Cringe City, Md.: Hey Carolyn,

OK, my crude behavior has gotten me into trouble and I'm wondering what is the best way to extricate myself. The other night my husband and I went to a housewarming party for a friend's boyfriend. The friend is somebody my husband knows from work. I like these people a lot, but they are a little more proper than most of the people I know. They're not my social betters or anything, just more straitlaced.

Anyway, we had some drinks and we were walking to the bus stop at the end of the night with some of my husband's coworkers when a car drove up and the driver started yelling at us for being in the crosswalk. I turned around and, you guessed it, flipped him the bird only to realize later that it was our host, driving somebody home, and he was just joking. I am sure my reaction did nothing to impress anybody. With my friends I would just laugh it off but as I said these people are more straitlaced. What would be better -- to make a little joke about it to the girlfriend by way of my husband, or just pretend it never happened and hope I'll never see those people again? Or is there a plan C? I'd be grateful for your advice.

Carolyn Hax: When I stop chuckling, I think I'll think that letting it be is the best way to go. I'll get back to you.

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Carolyn Hax: I mean, your reply was in the spirit of the moment.

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McLean, Va.: Please please please answer this Carolyn! I've submitted a few times and I could really use some advice. There was a reader that posted last week that said she and her boyfriend have been going out for three years and that she loves being with him with other people, but not alone. Well my boyfriend and I have been going out for about a year and a half. Things are really good -- he's a great guy. But we have one issue that we always fight about and can't seem to get past. He loves being with me but only when it's just me and him -- never with his friends or mine. He says that he just likes spending time with me and when he goes out he likes to just go out with the boys. I think it's a bunch of crap because I don't understand how you can be in a relationship and not want to include your significant other in every aspect of your life. It's gotten to the point where I don't think he will ever include me in his social life and I am not OK with that. We always argue about it, especially after another weekend of not being asked to go out with him, and he always says the same thing. I want to spend quality time with just you. Do you think he will ever change? Or is this just the way he is?

PLLLLLLLLEASE answer this!!

Carolyn Hax: OKAAAAAAAAY. But I've actually answered this a squillion times before. The details vary, but it's the same question: Will X behavior change? And the answer is always the same: Not if the person doing it thinks it's just fine. Until he decides otherwise, this is the way he is. All you can do now is decide whether that's a dealbreaker.

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Carolyn Hax: Since you mentioned the person who likes her boyfriend only in traffic--I probably should have elaborated last week that it sounded to me like she liked the idea/security of a boyfriend more than the boyfriend himself.

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Chicago, Ill.: OK: My husband's job turned from full-time into part-time a year ago and he still hasn't looked for a new job. I, however, work full-time and am starting a second job soon so we can make ends meet. We are in debt up to our eyeballs. He feels guilty about all this but at the same time is not actively looking for work. When I show him relevant classified ads, he finds some reason why he doesn't want the job. He is sensitive about money issues because I have a degree and make more money, but I need to find a way to kick his butt in gear without seeming harsh or uncaring. I have tried gentle nudging and it's not working. Help!

Carolyn Hax: Sometimes I think being "gentle" and "nudging" is the harshest thing you can do. And I think when the better-educated, better-earning, more-fully-employed female is tiptoeing around a male with a possible bout of depression and a probable bruised ego is one of those times. The better approach would be anything that won't make him think you think he's to be pitied. So. How do you feel about: "I love you. I also count on you, and need you to get out of this funk. What do you think it will take?"

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hmm...: is a squillion more or less than a zillion?

Carolyn Hax: It eats a zillion for breakfast.

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Maryland Native In London: Hi Carolyn,
I'm studying abroad here and become fairly good friends with another american student on my hall.She's fun and I enjoy her company but she can be a bit selfish (converstaions always tend to turn back to her no matter what the topic) but she's confided in me that she has low self-esteem and is bulimic. I want to be there for her but sometimes it's really hard to be her friend.She'll be thoughtless one moment but wanting a shoulder to cry on the next. Any thoughts?
pax
I want to be a good person

Carolyn Hax: What a good egg you are. I know this undercuts my whole treat-people-as-individuals-and-not-categories campaign, but I'm going to suggest you read up on bulimia; http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/ is a good place to start. Having some idea what she's struggling with can really help you sort out what to take personally (ie., don't-stand-for-it bs) and what to take as her problem (ie, roll-with-it bs). That alone can make her much easier to deal with, and therefore like. Or is it vice-versa.

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Flipping the bird: No, please don't let it be. You realized he was making a joke about being mad at you for being in the crosswalk...how? Because he then laughed? Said he was kidding? Something, I'm guessing. But unless you gave a similar signal that your response was a joke (in which case I agree with Carolyn, let it go), then at this moment the guy thinks he was flipped the bird by someone he has just had in his home. It's not so much that he might be thinking you're crude as that he might be hurt or angry that his hospitality was returned like that. I opt for a short phone call or note saying you'd had such a good time at their home, had no idea he was the driver you'd flipped off until too late, and apologize in a lighthearted way. ("Mom always said never do things in public that might get back to people you just met!;") THEN let it go.

Carolyn Hax: Good point, thanks. I just assumed all were in on the joke.

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Arlington, Va.: Mclean wrote: "I don't understand how you can be in a relationship and not want to include your significant other in every aspect of your life."

Um, I can. It's normal and healthy. Include your SO in most aspects of your life? Yes. Every aspect? No.

Carolyn Hax: I dunno, that question didn't set off alarms. I mean, you don't want to be the girl who insists on coming along on every single one of her bf's guy nights, but I think it's normal, healthy, etc., for the guy to have wanted her, for example, to meet the guys, and maybe hang out with them on a more appropriate occasion. I even agree with the idea of inclusion "in every aspect" as long as simply introducing a mate around meets the standard of inclusion, and it's not a Krazy Glue thing. It's the complete shutting off of a part of your life to someone that I think is a bad precedent in an intimate relationship. Unless your spouse doesn't have your security clearance, of course.

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UVa: Hi Carolyn -

Last week, "Outside the Beltway" wrote in about being attracted to a co-worker and wondering what it meant and what to do about it. Your response was "Totally normal--marriage doesn't switch off the senses. Just endure, stay true, stay at arm's length as possible, and it'll burn out (or the project will mercifully end)."

I'm wondering whether and to what extent your answer would change if he had not been married.

Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Completely. I might even tell him to go for it, depending on the whole work situation (whether one reported to the other, etc). And if he did go for it, the crush might still burn out, or the logs might catch and burn for years. Who knows. That's why I included the advice to stay at arm's length. By not feeding the fire any more--keeping their conversations professional, for example, instead of getting into deep personal stuff--he can actively help it burn out.

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Ugh: I was just inhaling a carton of french fries and I put the salt packet in my mouth and didn't realize it until I chewed it open.

Carolyn Hax: The important thing is that you learned something from the whole experience.

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Fertility Woes: Hi Carolyn,

Wanted to get your advice: After trying for 2.5 years, we're finally pregnant. The one sticking point is that my husband and I started an infertility group in my local community (sorely needed)--we started the process many months ago, but it took a while to get it up and running.

We're hoping to squeeze in our next event before I am showing, but we feel guilty and are dreading the day when we have to tell the people in the group (would not tell them at a public meeting, obviously). I am only 11 weeks, nervous, and not ready to share the news with people who are not family. Is this horribly deceitful? How should we let people know? The group is still in its infancy (no pun intended), and I would -hate- for it to fall apart because the coordinators foiled nature's plans and got pregnant!;

Thanks

Carolyn Hax: Talk about your good problems to have. Congratulations.

I strongly urge you to reconsider trying to pass for infertile for your next event. These people are going through enough, they don't need to be lied to, even by people with only their feelings in mind.

And this is a side issue, but for what it's worth--"only" 11 weeks is decently far along; no one is out of the woods completely until the baby comes out healthy (and then enters a whole new set of woods, but that's for another support group), but you are near if not at the end of the stage of highest miscarriage risk. I call this a side issue because even if you were three weeks and at the height of risk, I'd still urge honesty. If you did then develop complications or miscarry, who better than your support circle to help you through it?

Anyway, back to the point. How to let people know. I'd try choosing a group member to succeed you, explaining your situation and seeing if that person would be willing to take over for you. If no, pick someone else, repeat. Once you have a successor, prep him or her thoroughly, announce the change and the reason, and even see the transition through the next event.

Other opinions welcome here. (As if I have to solicit them.)

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Washington, D.C.: Holiday chat this year? I long for stories of reindeer poop, bacon pants, the death chair, and decorating christmas trees with mini liquor bottles!

Carolyn Hax: What do you say, guys?

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Washington, D.C.: To the woman who's going to get a second job: don't do it! It'll just enable the problem. Unless you have a very easy first job, the second job will deplete you and possibly affect your health. Better to go for credit counseling and perhaps marriage counseling. But lay it on the line to hubby that you cannot (and should not) handle it all yourself. I have been there--my husband was content to watch his job drift away and not even try for better employment, much less seek training or further education, while I worked myself to death and he kept spending. I finally got rid of the husband -- and my second job!

Carolyn Hax: Hard to argue with that, thanks.

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Carolyn Hax: I need to take 5--unexpected babysitter gap. Be right back.

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Carolyn Hax: Okay, I'm back. Cavalry just arrived.

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Chicago, Ill. (online, please): Hey Hax, how bout helping a young gal make a decision?

Say you're a freshman in college, significantly unhappy, with a history of depression and an eating disorder, and you'd like to move back home, a thousand miles away, where you think you might be happier. But part of you would like to stay at school in the "big city" to try and tough things out, because you really WANT to be independent and you want to like where you are. I don't really like the school I'm at, but the city makes up for it; the school I'd go transfer to back home is a wonderful liberal arts school, but it's 30 MINUTES from my parents' house.

So, I'm not asking you to decide for me (duh, only I can do that), but do you have any Hax-ish suggestions? Pearls of wisdom? Decison-making guidelines or questions I should consider? ANYTHING!

Thanks a lot, you're great; sorry I rambled.

Carolyn Hax: Please, that's nothing.

I think you should just give yourself permission to choose the best school for you, personally as well as academically, given your various considerations. Frankly, the older i get, the more I think the bravest acts are the ones that involve a willingness to do what works, regardless of how it may appear, instead of climbing whatever mountain Onlookers or even our own biases might say is the more impressive challenge. You're fighting, and I hope beating, depression and an eating disorder. Yay for you.

So, while you may feel that you'll be somehow more worthy if you "tough it out," prove you can do it, etc, I would argue that it takes big guts to admit that a place isn't for you, whether your depression factors in or not, and that another, possibly more nurturing place would be better.

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Carolyn Hax: That delay was just for the turning of brain gears. Tougher Q than I thought going in.

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To the producer: Tell whomever is in charge of it that the Levey chat is all dorked up.

Thanks

washingtonpost.com: Thanks. I've undorked it to the best of my ability.

Carolyn Hax: Liz is modest, but she's an undorking savant.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

At what point is it okay to settle for a nice comfortable relationship instead of the grand passionate love affair you've always imagined?

I'm almost 30 -- and I realize I'm much too young to be "throwing in the towel" -- but as the holidays approach and the Big 3-0 is only days away, I find myself wondering if I'm just expecting too much from potential partners and need to reorient my expectations a little.

I hate being lonely, and this time of year, coinciding with my birthday, has just made it really tough. How do you know whether it's just a little case of the seasonal-blahs or some important life realization?

Carolyn Hax: I'd be leery of a loneliness-driven "a-HA." Deciding that grand passion isn't all it's cracked up to be, okay. Adding 2 and 2 and seeing that your greatest chemical buzzes always gave way to the greatest incompatibilities, I'm all for it. But, "I'll do anything for company" is the kind of epiphany that leads to weddings that lead all your friends to write in to say, "My friend is marrying this dork and I'm not sure I can stand by and watch it happen."

Plus, comfortable and passionate aren't mutually exclusive (not to fire up those unrealistic expectations or anything). I'd define "comfortable" as being with someone who not only loves you, but really -likes- you, AS-IS, and the feeling is mutual. You can be in this state and also find each other attractive.

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Toughing it out in Chicago: But!; it depends on what the family is like as well. I had some of the same issues and while it's been anything but easy, I think going home would have been far, far worse. At least I proved to myself that I could survive, had I moved back home I would have had to deal with feeling like a failure as well as smothering parents (who love me dearly, but don't have a clue). I tried killing myself while on my own, I would have killed myself had I gone home.

Carolyn Hax: Sobering post, thank you. More to come on this:

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For Chicago: I left a somewhat prestigious college and moved back home to deal with depression. Though I was very uncertain at the time, it was one of the better decisions I have made, and my post-college life (career, friends, etc) most definitely have not suffered.

On the other hand, you are only a freshman. The first semester is overwhelming for everyone. Unless you believe your health is at risk, you might want to stick it out one more semester and see if things get better.

Carolyn Hax: I went back and forth on the issue of sticking with it through the normal freshman adjustment period. The health is the deciding factor, but I'd throw in that she should make sure that, even if she is feeling okay, she has really good support at school 1 before she makes any decision that resembles toughing it out. Thanks. One more:

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Chicago for Chicago: I went to a school 5 minutes from my parents house, and my mother was a staff member at the same college. It made no difference in my 'college experience;' I saw them on school breaks and major holidays. Please don't get hung up on the proximity of your parents.

Carolyn Hax: True. Something becomes a crutch only when you lean on it more than you genuinely need to.

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Re: Chicago: Hi Carolyn,
I really liked your answer to Chicago: figure out what you need to do and go do it, regardless of what others may think. I've tried to adopt that attitude lately. But what about people who may use that as the Easy Way Out and never do the hard thing -- like stick out a boring job that will pay the bills while you try to apply to grad schools instead of moving home to mummy, for example. Where do you see the line between knowing yourself (including limitations and goals) and looking for an excuse? I am wondering if I'm being too harsh on a friend with a history of quitting things once he doesn't feel like it anymore (at mom's urging, no less)...

Carolyn Hax: I think the question is the answer--the difference is between knowing yourself and looking for excuses. Part of knowing yourself (and making difficult choices) is recognizing the difference between a fixed limitation and one that you could get past if only you were willing to work harder.

So, take shyness, for example. You know you're shy. You're nevr not going to be shy. A hard choice would be admitting you're never going to feel comfortable meeting people cold in bars, and so taking on X volunteer job and Y committee chairmanship, and showing up regularly whether you're in the mood or not, as a way of getting the human contact you know you need. An excuse would be clinging to an unhappy relationship because you dread having either to be alone or go out and meet someone else.

The difference in self-awareness and effort is why I believe quitters ( and their mothers) tend to know when they're quitting.

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Christmas, DC: I am all for a holiday chat!;!; However can we not be like all the stores around here and wait until after Thanksgiving? I can't believe how many christmas tunes i've been hearing already. I dont know why people are jumping the gun this year?

Carolyn Hax: Because they did it the last 20 years and got away with it? Don't worry, it can't be before Thanksgiving. Maybe Dec. 12.

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Sad, In the way people pity you: Hi Carolyn. I am sure you won't respond to this because I know you get tons of e-mails that are more important than mine. Yet I write anyway. Just like in my current sort-of relationship I hope he will feel something more than lust for me but I'm pretty sure he won't. Honestly, I believe times have changed, but do guys really respect a girl that sleeps with them quickly without a commitment? I was always prudish, believing in love and sex going together, no sleeping around for me, but then all of a sudden I find myself having sex with this guy, a co-worker (oh damn), and there is no love, no commitment, and oh, finally the girlfriend is out of his life as of last week (our relationship began about six weeks ago). I have become the sleazy woman that I always judged and it doesn't really faze me. I think I was too judgmental in the first place. But what do I do now that this guy knows I love sex? I want him to care about me as more than a friend, as more than a f-buddy, but have I screwed myself over by literally screwing him? I'm sure you will tell me that I am an idiot for sleeping with him or that I have to stop, but why? I don't believe that guys and girls are so different in their needs. Ouch, I expect a tongue-lashing from you.

Carolyn Hax: Sorry to disappoint, but the only lashing I'm inclined to deliver is for your I-suck defeatist attitude. Wow. (I'd beat you up for abetting a cheater, but I suspect you're more fazed than you say you are.)

I don't know about you, but I don't respect guys who sleep with girls sans commitment and then judge them for doing the same. So if your co-worker won't see you as more than a lust object, and if the only reason for that is that he doesn't respect you any more (important distinction), then you don't want him. Trust me.

Otherwise, you guys got into this as a lust thing, so if he still sees you only as a lust object, that doesn't make him evil or your behavior stupid. It just means he remained consistent while your feelings changed. (Or that you lied to yourself going in about your ability just to "satisfy needs.")

So, long analysis short: Stop beating yourself and just tell him your feelings have changed. See what he says. If he says he's not into you that way, then tell him you're sorry, you can't do the just-sex thing any more.

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Somewhere in Sunny Maryland: Do postpartum depression symptoms vary from regular depression symptoms? I'm the mother of a 10-month old and most of the time I'm fine, but sometimes I'm so clearly not fine and I'm not sure why. Is this just part of the "wonders" of parenthood and if it will pass in its own time.

Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Thought. Don't sit home speculating and feeling so clearly not fine when there are copious, excellent resources for people in your position--even if they all just tell you you're normal and not to worry. Ask your OB or midwife. Ask your pediatrician (who will have access to many referral options). Call the hospital where you delivered. Ask your regular doc. Doing is so much more comforting than worrying.

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London, England: Are you going to chat next week in spite of the holiday in the States. The expat, Hax-loving community would be much obliged!

washingtonpost.com: Unfortunately, we're not going to have any programming next week, but Carolyn is welcome to resked for earlier in the week if she so chooses...

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, Liz!

I'm sorry, I don't think I'm going to reschedule. Too much outside pressure on my time these days.

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Fluff: Hi Carolyn - What are your vices?

Carolyn Hax: Staying online after 2.

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Washington, D.C.: OK. So my sister is overweight. She's a college student, and I imagine that she would be much happier if she lost some weight. (Sounds superficial, but we all know how college kids can be.)

I know that she's been talking to a professional on-and-off at school. I assume once she slogs through her personal issues that she'll start caring more about her body and do something to lose the weight.

Here's the problem. My mother sees my sister's situation as her own personal failure. Mom has tried everything, from encouragement to threats to bribery. Mom is now pressuring me to address the issue the next time I see my sis.

I'm submitting early, so I won't be able to respond to you and the peanuts telling me to tell Ma to mind her own business.

As much as I'd like to blow her off, I know I will end up talking to my sis about it. So what is the best way to approach this? We're very close, but don't see each other that often. I want her to know that I care about her/her health. FYI, I also struggled with weight issues (anorexia/bulimia through high school and some of college, but relatively healthy now!)

Love the chat.

Carolyn Hax: Pleeeease don't talk to your sister about this. Summon whatever strength you can to resist the pressure, and if you have any strength left over, explain to your mom that nagging only makes weight issues worse. Your experience gives you tremendous authority to say this.

Or, if that line of urging is hopeless, urge Ma to back off and let the professional do his/her job.

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me too: Yay!; I'm missing the whole light-hearted stuff too - the chicken pitcher, etc. Things have been so serious lately.

Carolyn Hax: We'll have to remedy that.

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Undorking:
I can't tell you how long its been since my last undorking...

Carolyn Hax: I'm going to leave this to Liz.

And, I'm going to leave. Thanks, have happy Thanksgivings and I'll type to you in December.

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