Tell Me About It

With Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 5, 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: Today's theme: Be nice to me, it's my birthday (37).


Carolyn Hax: Or don't. I don't want charity till I'm at least 38.


Frederick, Md.: Dear Carolyn,

I love your column. Only thing is, your advice today seemed harshly-worded: "he could also have had a complete change of heart based on a hatred of kids." Plenty of people choose not to have kids, and the reasons aren't always as black and white as "hatred." I think the couple's issue is one of pure honesty. If the man has decided deep in his heart he doesn't want kids, he should be honest with his wife. But please don't say people that choose not to have kids are motivated by "hatred." That's unfair to those who make the choice for as many reasons as there are individuals. There's enough prejudice out there against people who don't want kids. I was surprised to see your otherwise excellent column giving a tacit endorsement of those existing prejudices.

Carolyn Hax: No no no, no tacit endorsements--just hyperbole in service of a point (that apparently undermined it). Sorry.


Is it really the solution?: Hi Carolyn,
I have noticed that with a lot of your answers to people's relationship problems it comes so easy to you to just say ditch 'em and leave. Do you really think it's that easy for people cut out loved ones, family members, spouses and lifelong friends from their lives? On paper it may seem like the right and easy choice to remove anything that is making you unhappy in life, but in reality there are feelings, time and love invested into all these relationships that can't just be thrown out like trash. Do you really honestly feel that just getting rid of people that are a part your life is the best solution to so many problems?

Carolyn Hax: By the time they get to me, and given the condition they're in when they get there, yes. Look back at your own life, and at others' lives. We leave relationships behind all the time, even good ones, because we move, change jobs, change lives. That doesn't mean people are disposable, it means life is a dynamic thing. And, I think it's a gross mischaracterization of what I've been saying all these years to suggest that I endorse "remov[ing] anything that is making you unhappy in life." I think I've been extremely consistent: When it's broken, fix it, and when it can't be fixed--and it's costing you more emotionally than it's worth--move on.


Oh geeeeez: Personally, I'm not having kids because I hate them.

Frederick, get your head out of your butt.

Carolyn Hax: Well, there's that. Thanks.


Rockville, Md.: I know the Washington Post frequently publishes article bashing males. I want to give my response. As a DWPM I have frequently dated women in the D.C. area and have been totally turned off. Ads they place misrepresent their age, weight, whether or not they smoke, even where they live. Frequently, they want to meet the first time at "a restaurant of distinction" -- guess who is supposed to pay. I usually suggest coffee and see how it goes. Other women expect to be wined and dined -- there is no such thing as an inexpensive date. Others claim to be into the arts, but don't know a van Gogh from a Rembrandt or Beethoven from Gershwin. So many are into their careers, they don't show up and don't even call to cancel or reschedule. I almost never find someone interested in ME, or who ask questions. Others show show and go into a litany of complaints -- about their ex, kids, job, etc.

I have many interests, am financially secure, have an excellent job, and frankly am fed up. I would rather be alone than put up with such activities. I understand why some men look overseas for prospective mates-but that runs the risk of someone just wanting papers to live here.

Carolyn Hax: I just ran this by the editor in charge of male bashing at The Post, and she says you're bringing this all on yourself.


Alexandria, Va.: Hey Carolyn,
I am ready to propose to my girlfriend. We've been dating for four years.

Problem: she occasionally says things in conversation like "I'm sooo not ready for marriage" and "I think we should date other people before we commit indefinitely to one another" (she is the only girl I've ever been with, and she wants me to make an "educated choice" -- her words). But aside from these random comments, the relationship's great, I'm happier than I've ever been, and when I've asked if she wants to take the break she speaks of, she always says no and gets weepy. So I am baffled. I'm afraid I'll propose and she'll reject me... which will end everything for good, I'd imagine. Uh, I don't know what to do, any ideas?

Carolyn Hax: Hold the phone. If she says no, it's over for good? Why? Putting her in an all-or-nothing position sounds to me like more of a deal-breaker than a declined proposal, especially since her possible objection might be conditional--meaning, yes except for the inexperience thing.

Not to say she's blameless here; her mixed messages aren't exactly fair either.

So tell her you're baffled. Ask her what she really sees in her future with you. If you'd like to launch this conversation by proposing, go for it--but be ready for it to be a conversation, not a final decision. You guys are trying to read hand signals where words would serve you much better.


Boston, Mass.: Happy birthday!
Fluff question (maybe): I think my co-worker is copying my clothes and general style. Every time I wear something new, she shows up in a similar outfit a week later and "marvels" at the "coincidence." "Oh, you have the same shirt? I didn't notice! That's awesome!"

Should I say something to her? We now have same clothes, same boots and even a similar haircut. She's nice but we do everything at work together and its weird to have a clone.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks!

Two suggestions. Either just say, "Yeah, same shirt--you're starting to look like my clone," a we're-all-friends-here way of saying you're on to her and perhaps she ought to take note ...

... or buy/borrow something distinctive that you'd NEVER wear, wear it once and never unearth it again. Heh heh.


Alexandria, Va.: I want to know where this DWPM is? I am a DWPF and am none of those things he describes. Let's get together! I'm a little simple... what's the "P?"

Carolyn Hax: Pouting.


Carolyn Hax: Yok yok. Professional, I bleeve.

_______________________ Ahhh, thanks C. Making mental note...


Arlington, Va.: Hi Carolyn,

As I approach 30, I seem to be drifting apart from my close girlfriends from college. I have been married for five years, have a house and am thinking about children in the near future. My once-close girlfriends are largely still living with their parents, and constantly nag me about no longer being "fun" -- i.e. going out and partying all the time or taking group vacations to foreign countries that would be irresponsible for my desire to save for a family and other (mortgage, etc.) obligations that they do not have. It is not fun always being the one to say no and to be viewed as "old" and no longer a good friend. My view is that these girls are immature and don't understand responsibility. Is there hope for saving these friendships, or should I cut my losses, lose the constant guilt and find people more in my own stage of life? If the answer is the latter, how to graciously do so -- just taper off contact over time?

Carolyn Hax: "These girls are immature and don't understand responsibility"? What are they thinking, you sound like a bag o' giggles.

Sounds like somebody is/somebodies are taking each other waaay too seriously. When they call you old, just cop to it. Yep, I'm a hag. Have fun in Rio, buy me a calico thong. (Or if a trip sounds appealing and on the cheap side, go--you don't have kids yet, and you aren't dead yet, either.) Then invite them to things you're willing to do. If they're into that, you stay friends. If they're not into that, you drift.


For Alexandria, Va.: Keep in mind that she may be deflecting so that you don't think she's rushing you or so she doesn't appear to others as being one of those tapping-her-foot-waiting-for-the-ring-because-she-has-no-life women.

Just a thought.

Carolyn Hax: A good possibility too, though bad for her if true. I hate that game-playing s***.


Chicago, Ill.: I have a friend who's BF turns me off (I'm afraid of him because he's violent). She's having a party soon, and I won't go because he'll be there. How to explain my absence with honesty and tact? I want to try to salvage a friendship with her so we can hang out at times when he's not around.

Carolyn Hax: When a friend has a boyfriend violent enough to scare you, you don't make it about a party. You tell your friend you love her and you're worried about her because her boyfriend is violent. If you have any wording questions at all, call a local domestic-violence prevention organization and ask someone there to help you approach this. Start with the national hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE. They have local listings and may be able to guide you directly.


In Response to Rockville, Md.: I am 31 year old single woman who DOES know the difference between Beethoven and Gershwin and just about every other composer from Scarlatti (both of 'em) to Strauss (R and J) because I love classical music. But I don't love when people rant about how hard it is to find that "special someone." There are many good women and men out there. Dating can be tough and being single can be lonely. So -- volunteer, take care of yourself and be positive. It will all work out.

Carolyn Hax: Well gosh you're nice. What I don't like is people who use their personal dating problems to tar an entire sex AND geographic region. (And its major daily newspaper, owned, published and executive- and managing-edited by men. But who's counting.) That rant was about the ranter himself, nothing more.


Holiday Time?: Isn't about time for some reindeer poop?

Carolyn Hax: It's always time for some reindeer poop. But the official poop-slinging season opens next Friday.


How soon?: Happy Birthday, Carolyn!

My fiance and I have been together for almost two years and we are planning on marrying in the spring. He has three grown children from his previous relationship. Unfortunately, his wife refused to grant him a divorce so he has had to wait two years before getting a no-fault divorce. His two years are up in 26 days (who's counting?) and he will be filing the first day he can in Jan.

My question is this: should we wait until the divorce is official before we tell his kids that we are marrying? They have all met me and know that we are living together but is it just too weird to announce our plans while he is still married to their mother?


(I now officially feel like "trailer trash")

Carolyn Hax: 1. Thanks!

2. Oh please! Their marriage has been over for 26 days short of two years, and that's not counting the death throes that inevitably led them to that day. Unless you had some hand in the demise of the marriage, which your year count seems to rule out, you have nothing to be ashamed of or apologize for.

Plus, these are -grown- children. If they get pissy about your announcement, I think you can be reasonably confident that they were pissy already and looking for an opportunity to express it.

So, my advice is, wait till the divorce is final. Really. But do it out of respect for the soon-to-be ex-wife, who obviously has issues still with the divorce, even though her STBE husband has obviously long since moved on. Waiting another month won't kill you.


Really?: I love game-playing soap. It's much more fun in the shower.

Carolyn Hax: Got a URL for that?


A Southern University: Hi Carolyn,

Maybe it's just a product of the age (21), but no matter how ardently I pursue other interests, or try to cultivate myself, I always find myself going to others for validation. Sometimes it works out alright, but when that affirmation isn't there, I find myself in an emotional pit. How do I learn to be enough for me?

-Lame Undergradute

Carolyn Hax: Keep practicing. Eventually you'll get sick of the whole process and its ups and downs and inconsistencies, and decide it's a whole lot easier to answer just to yourself (with occasional important exceptions, as you develop lasting intimate relationships). Plus, you'll gradually start to see that a good percentage of those whose approval you're craving are people you don't really respect all that much, at least not enough to pretzel yourself for them.


Ypsilanti, Mich.: Hi Carolyn,

My boyfriend and were recently having a discussion about the future... marriage has been on both our minds. What's bothering me is something he said: He told me he'd always love me, but when I asked if he'd always be IN LOVE with me he said he wasn't sure. When I asked why not, he said that maybe someday I'd grow, change and fall out of love with him and then he would still love me, but not BE IN LOVE with me, as someone who wasn't in love with him.
What's your take on this?

Carolyn Hax: He's being honest. Not very romantic, and he blinked when you called him on it--the logic twist at the end carries a 3.3 degree of difficulty--but real. People do grow and change and fall out of love all the time. And any view of marriage that's built on the idea that all or even most lasting couples are still in love with each other is ... I won't say delusional, too strong, but maybe a disenchantment waiting to happen.

Some do stay in love, some just love, and both groups generally consider themselves lucky. And no matter what they tell you, no couple from either group, nor from the fell-utterly-out-of-all-definitions-of-love group, was able on their wedding day to see their fate coming.

So. My question for you is, why the need for assurances? You don't know-know how you'll feel about him, either, if you're being honest with yourself. Don't put him on the spot. It's not fair. And, FWIW, I don't suggest getting married until you find a way to live peacefully with unknowns.


Happy Birthday!;: I can't believe you're a Sagittarius!; I totally had you pegged as a Virgo.

Carolyn Hax: Really?


Out here in N.C.: another 30+ question. I just turned 31. I'm feeling down. Not happy with my job and trying to change. Feel "jealous" when I read about someone younger than me with kids, husband, house, etc. I was engaged to "the guy of my dreams," but that fell through. Feel like I'm ready to be married to boyfriend, but not sure. I have been able to travel, have definitely grown up in the last few years (and thanks -- I read your column all the time and it has helped the process), have a masters, and have some great friends. But I can't seem to shake the "loser" feeling. Advice?

Carolyn Hax: Not really. Just that the "loser" feeling is the only part of your life description that screams loser. Attitude, baby. When you meet someone whose life you genuinely would prefer to yours--and I mean the whole thing, the exact spouse, the exact kids, the exact house, the exact location, the exact job (or not), the exact car/haircut/shoe closet, then you have something to complain about. Till then, embrace what you have as the best thing out there for you.


Validation: Why is it that some people need it and some people just don't?

Kind of like fear of public speaking, I guess.

Carolyn Hax: True, but both hangups can be kicked, or at least mastered.

Knowing why would certainly make that kicking process a whole lot easier, but I for one have no idea where the divergeance occurs. Maybe in utero.


Boston, Mass.: Hi Carolyn (online only please):

Long before I started dating my current boyfriend, I learned (by reading his personal notes which I am totally ashamed of and would never do now that we are a couple) that he was into men as well as women. With bisexual tendencies myself, I'm not freaked out by his physical interest in men.

But as our relationship gets more and more serious and I start to entertain thoughts of marriage, I am increasingly troubled by the idea that this interest might one day take him away from me. I'm not ordinarily obsessive about this kind of thing, but it is definitely becoming a preoccupying thought (nothing like secrecy to consume your thoughts).

But I'm worried about bringing it up to him for two reasons:
First, because of my shame in reading his personal things. But more importantly, because I know that bisexuality can be pretty damned confusing and he has probably worried "what if I'm gay?" before and (whether he is or isn't), how horrible would it be to know that your girlfriend has the same worrying thought? What could he really say that would put me at ease?

We have a very loving, great relationship and a great sex life... it's just this one nagging worry.

Carolyn Hax: Tell him you know, and why, and deal with it. You'll both feel so much better. (After a possible sojourn in hell, but that's the standard feel-better prerequisite.)


Alexandria, Va.: What to do about a remarried ex-husband who still attempts to make contact? He moved away a year ago and has since contacted me by e-mail a few times -- never an actual e-mail, just a forwarded link here and there, a group e-mail with his new cell, and sent me books for my birthday (no note, just the books). I feel like he is just doing this to taunt me and to get me to react. I feel engaging him will make him feel he's "gotten" to me. I don't want to be friends with this person bc I don't like him. My friends give varying advice, including e-mail his wife, tell him you'll e-mail his wife if he doesn't stop (my pref if I do anything at this point), ignore it, tell him to stop. I'm interested in the gallery's and your thoughts...

Carolyn Hax: Two things.

Ignore. Please. I don't really see any attempts to make contact. Block his email address if it makes you feel better, and mark the unopened packages "return to sender." And since you can't be a victim of a game if you refuse to play, there's also nothing whatsoever wrong or weak about emailing him first to ask that he please stop contacting you. In fact, it's the stand-up thing to do.

And, ignore future advice, or at least weigh it gingerly, from the people who advised you to rat him out to his wife. I mean really. How spiteful and over-the-top.


N.C. Loser: Might NC be depressed? I felt EXACTLY like N.C. (minus the jealous about kids/marriage thing) for about two years before it got so bad I went to the doctor for my "tiredness." She pegged it as depression in two minutes, got me on meds and into therapy, and I now have a zest for life again AND got the enrgy to make the changes in my life (job) that I needed and just added to the upswing. Not to sound dire, but N.C. might want to talk to a doctor.

Carolyn Hax: It's not dire at all. Thanks for the suggestion. For anyone in this spot:


Kid "haters": The earlier post about "kid haters" and the predjudice the child-free sometimes experience got me thinking: How come? I mean, why do people often get so nasty toward those who have made a conscious decision not to have kids? I'm in my early thirties and have been married eight years, and my husband and I have pretty much decided that we're not having any--and some of the reactions we've gotten to this would curl your hair. Any theories?

By the way, happy birthday, and I hope your two little guys are well.

Carolyn Hax: Thanky.

I have no theories, and I wish I did. I hear about it a lot through the column, and it mystifies me every time. Except of course when the disapproval comes from the would-be grandparents--but even then, it's not their decision, and that means their job is to accept the couple's decison, support the maturity it takes not to produce unwanted kids, and deal with their disappointment privately.

Any peanuts able to explain the nasty reactions to couples who choose not to have kids?


Fairfax, Va.: Hey Carolyn,
Last weekend I was invited to a birthday party at a restaurant by the birthday girl. She invited 10 of us. When the check came, she just sat there and expected everyone to reach for it. I'd brought a gift for her, but then I ended up shelling out $30 for her portion of dinner and (expensive) drinks. Essentially, I spent $70 in total for a casual friend's birthday -- more than I spent for my boyfriend's bday last year. Am I old fashioned, or is it rude to throw a party for yourself and then expect your guests to pay? Maybe I am just a disgruntled old hag...

Carolyn Hax: It is rude to throw a party for yourself and then expect your guests to pay.



Selfish in St. Paul, Minn.: My mother, with whom I have a close relationship, just told me that I am selfish as I celebrate Christmas Eve with my husband's family instead of with my own parents. Christmas Eve is the only time my husband's family gathers as they all go to the other side on Christmas day. I have been married over three years and this is the first I've heard of any concerns. Growing up, my family always celebrated Christmas Eve and basically just hung out playing Scrabble on Christmas day eating leftovers.

My mother said that I should do what my brother does and alternate Christmas Eve celebrations. When I pointed out that my sister-in-law's family adjusted their celebration according to her schedule and that my husband's family is not in a position to do so I got another, "you're being selfish" response. I can never, ever, recall my mother insulting me in any form on any other occasion in my entire 36-year-old life (I know, I know, I'm counting my blessings) but that is part of my problem.

I think she's had a Christmas-related mental snap but as it is SO out of character I can't help wondering if I'm the one with the snap. I told her that I would continue to celebrate with my in-laws and that we would celebrate with my parents and my brother's family on Christmas day as planned. After a few loud sniffs we said good bye and hung up. I haven't talked to her since, this was on Wednesday, but that is not unusual. However, I keep waiting for the whole thing to surface again and I need to have a sanity check before I speak with her again. Am I being selfish? I think I'm meeting the responsibilities that come with marriage and my husband agrees but I still can't keep from the sinking feeling that I've somehow slipped into the Twilight Zone and maybe I am the selfish one. HELP!

Carolyn Hax: It is kind of puey (pyooey?) to chuck your family's tradition in favor of your husband's every year. I'm all for rolling with these things and adjusting the easiest thing to adjust, but why isn't his family ever adjustable? Why must yours always suck it up? Why can't you alternate?

That said, your mom's lashing out strikes me as unfair. If she has something to say, she needs to say it, and not just hurl barbs at you. Because her accusation was so barbed and because it was apparently out of character, it's possible she's upset about something else and this is how it's showing itself. Nudge her a little and see what comes out.

That and that said, you and your husband are adults. Pleasing this or that set of parents needs to give way to pleasing yourselves. If you haven't thought lately about what works best for the two of you as a couple, it's time.


On Kids: I had a friend in college who told me she thought it was selfish to decide not to have children, because it is our duty as human beings to carry on the generations.. Just one possible explanation. I think in general people tend to do what other people do, and what has always been done, and they don't know how to handle those that don't follow the herd.

Carolyn Hax: Good lord, I think the carrying-on of the generations is in safely in enough hands (12 billion?) for us to concentrate now on feeding them all. But if she feels that way, I guess it's a real viewpoint. Yours makes more sense to me, especially since some people do tend to lash out at things they don't understand, but still. Saying "Oh" just isn't that hard. Thanks.


For Selfish in St. Paul: Your husband's family goes to the other side...of what? To the dead? Well, then, I can see how that can limit their flexibility...

Carolyn Hax: Excellent point.


Re: ex-husband: You didn't say why you broke up, but it is possible that now that your ex-husband is remarried and moved, he is past the ugly feelings that were part and parcel of the divorce. Granted this is a pollyanna'ish perspective, but maybe the books (presuming they were something you were interested in at one time) were in honor of what you USED to have. From what you have said there have been no chatty type interaction reviving old angst.

Yes, tell him not to send you email if you must, but try to let go of the anger you have. It only hurts you - quite badly - at this point in the game.

Carolyn Hax: Another excellent point, tx.


Re: Birthday party: Happy Birthday!;

I don't think it's always rude to share the check. My friends go out to dinner all the time with each person paying their own portion (we tend not to divide evenly unless everyone has truly had the same level of stuff). On my last birthday, I asked folks to join me at a restaurant, and we did the same thing. I'm feeling concerned now that I did something inappropriate, but it seemed very natural.

Carolyn Hax: If you paid your way, or if you at least tried in earnest to pay and were shooed away from the check, your behavior was not inappropriate.


Kid haters: Why (oh why oh why) are these people even telling people what their personal and private reproductive decisions are? If you answer people's rude questions, then you are setting yourself up for rude responses. Don't then be surprised. People (like me!!) who don't ask the questions, don't then get nasty and they don't realize there are a majority of people out there who do NOT care if they reproduce or not. Please.

Carolyn Hax: Whu-wait a second. Sure, people shouldn't be prying. But when someone does pry, don't beat up the pry-ees for not being quick enough on their social feet to deflect such a hideously personal question. All blame goes on the one who pries and then has the nerve to judge.


20 years of DINKing: it seems some people react so negatively to a purposeful childlessness because we non-reproducers (no offense) usually have more money, more time, less grey hair, and no one telling us we're stupid and they hate us. Well, except them.

Carolyn Hax: So, envy? That's it, I suffer so you must? How mature of people. But I spoze it makes sense. Thanks.


Re: ex-husband: I couldn't disagree more with the "admitted Pollyanna." Well, I guess I could - probably those were his motivations, but I bet his m.o. here echoes the m.o. that contributed to the ending of their marriage - wordlessness designed to minimize emotional risk. Trying to insinuate that he cares about her without actually saying he does. And to what end? Probably trying to keep her in love with him!; In my experience, this is a good way to string someone along without having to take responsibility for doing so.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I think the Pollyanna's point was that she should put the merriest possible spin on it so she can let go of the anger already. Which I couldn't agree with more. No need to keep up a correspondence with the ex, or even respond.


Kid-Haters: This is a generalization, but I think that the nasty attitude that people with kids show towards the purposely-childless boils down to fear of criticism and plain old jealousy. My siblings have kids and comfortable lives, but they seem to take our decision not to have kids very personally, as though we're saying that we think it's a mistake for anyone to have kids. We don't, and I love my nieces and nephews, but I hear comments about how the love of a son or daughter is unlike anything else, motherhood is more rewarding than anything I could possibly do, blah blah. And when they're not celebrating the children as our future, they're martyred about the sacrifices they make as parents and how my husband and I will never know the burden they carry. It's irritating because they choose to have kids - the stork didn't drop them down the chimney - but I'm nto going to argue with them. I secretly think that they're threatened by someone making different, non-traditional choices.

Carolyn Hax: See, this is starting to make sense. Childlessness gets processed as a tacit criticism of the decision to have children, which gets taken personally, and then hurled back as criticism of the childless. Hm. I don't even think you need the part about the threat of non-traditional choices--just that you, by not having kids, are somehow judging their choice. Solipsistic on the parents' part, but that's hardly a rare affliction. Thanks.


Nasty Reactions: I've heard the exact OPPOSITE!; I'm married, I don't have kids and i've not been the victim of nasty behavior. My friends who do have kids seem to get all kinds of grief from people who don't have kids. One person i know even referred to moms as Milk Nazis.

Carolyn Hax: There you go.


Stressing out in Annapolis, Md.: Hi Carolyn,
I love these chats! I am hoping you (and possibly the peanut gallery) can help me out here. I am hosting a surprise party for my s.o. next weekend at a chic D.C. restaurant. I have sent out invites well in advance, and quite a large number of friends are coming. Problem: how do I tactfully let people know that everyone is expected to pay for his/her own dinner? We're a group of early-twentysomethings. I don't have the cash to pay for a $500 meal, but now I'm very afraid of looking tacky by politely reminding everyone to bring cash. I asked my mom for advice, and she lit into me about how rude and tacky that would seem. So now I'm tempted to scrap the whole party -- I don't want to cause some sort of social faux-pas. I know this isn't exactly brain surgery, but I could really use some advice here. Thanks, submitting early in the hopes that someone out there with manners can help me!

Carolyn Hax: Scrap the whole party and feed them lasagna at your apartment. The chic DC restaurant is a flourish you can't afford. Accept it and don't try.


Annoyingly Attractive Roommate: My roommate and I recently had a third roommate move in. I'm female, and the new roommate is male. He's very, very appealing. Almost ridiculously so. Looks like he fell out of a cologne ad pretty. Well traveled scientist, a nice, funny, silly, good person. In general, if I met him in some other form, I'd have a huge crush.

Currently though, a crush would totally screw up my home life. So I have let the crush breathe, but don't plan on acting on anything. I truly want to be just his friend.

However, now when I go out with guys, or meet guys, I think of the big, hunky, nice, intelligent, fun guy I have at home. And we're already living in a domestic situation of sorts, so it's bred this comfortable feeling. New guys, obviously, are unknowns.

How do I keep an open mind about new people when I have so much of what I want sleeping down the hall?

Carolyn Hax: Which would you prefer, a great apartment and a decent person, or a decent apartment and a great person?

On second thought, don't answer that.

You've forced open your mind to guys you aren't really interested in, but closed it to a guy you are. An open mind is an open mind, right? Which means it should include your roommate. Just proceed slowly. If at all--you're kind of proceeding now by being friends with him, so you don't even need to change anything. Just get to know him and see what happens.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Hi Carolyn -- love the chats. So I have another question for you about discussing potential kids with your potential partner.

In today's column you said "Is it fear of disruption, of losing a lifestyle he loves? Fear he won't be a good father? Fear of the expense? Any of these reasons is both surmountable and completely normal -- and nearly as common as parenthood."

How are they surmountable? I mean, is there anything I can say or do to help him surmount those fears? Because I really want kids, and he's not sure he does--and we don't want to get married unless we can sort the kid issue out. I don't know what to do -- I mean, I think that there's a lot of those fears on his side -- how do I deal with that? How do I help him deal with that, without putting too much pressure on him? Because I really love him and want to be with him but this is a really difficult issue... and I definitely want kids. Help!

Carolyn Hax: He should talk to parents. Young parents, fathers in particular.


Rockville, Md.: I hope this isn't too heavy or weird for a wintry Friday afternoon...

My best friend's father died yesterday, and I don't know what to say to her. My own father died last year, and I know what brought me comfort and consolation --- belief in a loving God and a better place after this life.

But my friend is an atheist --- she really truly does not believe that there is a god of any kind or that there is any existence at all after death. She is torn up that her dad is Gone. Permanently gone.

How can I console her?

Carolyn Hax: She'd be torn up today even if she were a believer. He father died yesterday.

There are a million ways to console a grieving person. Remember her dad fondly, if you knew him, or hug her, or make her dinner, or let her cry in your living room, or all four. As an atheist who lost her mom last year, I can tell you firsthand what words resonated most with me--"This is the price we pay for loving people." It seems almost harsh at first, but it establishes the connection between the depth of sadness she's feeling and the depth of love she shared with her dad. Once the connection is made, if she's like me, she'll never cry without also remembering how much love she had to feel to be able to feel this awful. It makes it somehow okay.


Re: D.C. Dinner Party: If you are inviting friends to a party, then you should be close enough to tell your friends that this is a B.Y.O.B occasion (bring your own billfold/bucks/benjamins).

I LOVE eating in swanky restaurants for mine or anyone else's birthday. My early-twenty-something friends do, too. On birthday occasions, we split the bill equally, but we talk about it before we get to the hostess stand.

If you can't tell your friends to buck it up and bring the bucks, then cancel the darned thing. But keep in mind that you're missing a fun dinner with friends because you have friends you can't talk to.

Carolyn Hax: Another well-wait-a-minute. It's fine if the decision is made by a bunch of people agreeing to go in on a hoity dinner--preferably well before they get to the hostess stand. And every invitee to one of these things should bring cash just in case. But when there's a clear host and "invitations go out," then the host should be prepared to pick up the tab. Or, again, to serve pasta at home on paper plates.


Carolyn Hax: Eek, look at the time. I'm gone. Thanks everybody and seeya for the annual holiday splatter fest next week.


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