washingtonpost.com
Tell Me About It

With Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 18, 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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Washington, D.C.: Just wanted to thank you so much for Xmas response, my pet-peeve is people whose pet-peeve is thinking that the "X" in Xmas is replacing the Christ part with Sponge Bob. Doesn't anyone study the classics anymore, or just study anymore? Psst, don't tell them that Xmas is really a Pagan holiday anyway and many Christian sects throughout history tried to have it outlawed. Happy Holidays!

Carolyn Hax: You're welcome. And, hey, that's why I celebrate it still, in spite of my avowed nonbelief. Easter's off the calendar though ...

Anyway, in defense of the original poster, not many people study the classics anymore, yours truly (mostly) included. But anyone opposably thumbed can look up stuff like that in a dictionary or online. That's why my pet peeve is more along the lines of people who get worked up before they get their facts straight. Not that I don't do it myself sometimes--but I always flog myself soundly when I do. Rest assured.

Merry SpongeBobmas.

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Washington, D.C.: Happy holidays Carolyn! What a treat to have a Thursday discussion. I'm a single mid-20s gal who's happy in life but wants a mate. A lot of my friends keep saying "Oh, I have the best guy for you" but never follow through. Currently friend A and friend B want to set me up with friend B's friend, and friend B's friend wants to meet me. But friends A and B are not being proactive in making plans for us to meet. I don't want to be annoying about it and ask when we are going to meet. But I'm wondering if there's anything I can do to make this happen?

Carolyn Hax: Do you know who Friend B's friend is? Ask him out.

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Your Dad's Contribution to World Peace: OK, so who isn't relieved that Saddam Hussein was captured? But nothing is worse than the inappropriate attributions. Being an expat myself, I don't follow the news word-for-word, but one Average Joe was quoted in the Washington Post on Sunday as follows: "Last week, Gore and especially Dean were saying, 'They haven't even caught Saddam yet' As soon as they opened their yap, it happened."

But... I think you, or more precisely, your dad, really must take responsibility for the capture of Saddam.

Who can forget the opening stanza of TNBC 2003, published to great fanfare just 24 hours before the capture?

"'Twas the night before Christmas
And this much is plain:
We've had sightings of Elvis
But not Saddam Hussein."

My year-end bonus is to be unveiled at the end of this week. Any chance your dad would like to comment, publicly, on how low it's sure to be?

Carolyn Hax: I'll ask him (after 1--he's with his personal trainer. Who should be asking about her bonus. But anyway).

And thanks for giving credit where credit was due. He has already taken it, of course.

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Carolina on My Mind: I realize that the Holiday Chat was last week (I read the transcripts). But I want to share a story about a family tradition in my house that we've "exported."

Years and years ago I had a sibling who died several weeks before Christmas. Because my mother is a "smart" shopper she'd been buying presents for months. Many local charities have an adopt a kid for Christmas, so my parents adopted a kid and gave all the presents to that child.

Ever since then our family had adopted a kid for the holiday and everyone in the family buys him/her a present. We don't stick to the same gender as my sibling, nor do we stick to the same age. We do, however, try to focus on an older child as it always seems that they get ignored.

I've exported this idea to several of the places where I work. Instead of trading names, or buying meaningless presents for co-workers (or even extended family members) we buy a present for a needy child. It makes everyone feel better about the holiday, makes a difference in someone's life, and cuts down on silly junk.

Carolyn Hax: I'm all choked up. Thank you.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

I am tense. Can't relax. I worry mostly about finances (my work isn't all that stressful) and family/friends/sig other. My back is a permanent knot and I grind my teeth. What advice do you have for someone who knows her worries are unfounded and can't afford the day at a spa that she desperately needs?

Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Dunno if a spa day is up to the challenge of untying a permanent knot. What you want are permanent sources of perspective. A realistic financial/bill-paying plan; a habit of making lists when you feel overwhelmed, so you can see what really needs to be done; an appreciation for the word "no"--to others who demand too much, or to yourself if you spend too much; a commitment to taking time for yourself during non-work hours, in increments that won't make things worse--e.g., hot baths, 30-min walks, a TV-free hour before bed.

If that doesn't work, consider the elephant-in-the-room approach. Is there a source of stress right in front of you that you're desperate not to face?

And if nothing works, consider the medical route. Anxiety can be a treatable disorder.

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Carolyn Hax: Or, just click here:

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Shoe fluff: If you can't wear stockings with open toed shoes why are all the sexy black evening shoes open toed? No one wants to see me in a dress with my pale old white legs!;

Carolyn Hax: What's wrong with pale old white legs? I have two of them.

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washingtonpost.com: Here

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RE: Your dad?: Carolyn,

Sorry, but I'm confused. Is your personal father part of the Saddam thing?

washingtonpost.com: Your "personal father," mind you.

Carolyn Hax: Right, my public father had nothing to do with it.

My pops's "The Night Before Christmas" rendition has the power to influence global events. He's quite humble, considering.

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Anxiety: Carolyn,

What's a good way to deal with an anxiety problem without taking medication? I've tried therapy before and didn't get much out of it so I am looking for a new way to deal with it. I feel like I have to train my mind to think about things differently but I really don't know where to start.

Another issue is that I am finding that most of my friends don't understand. Which frustrates me because I feel quite alone in dealing with this. One friend told me to just take a few deep breaths. As if it were that simple...

Carolyn Hax: Two answers you don't want before the answer you (I hope) want. 1) Don't knock the breathing. I actually meant to include it in the list to the other poster but forgot. It's not only a proven physiological knot-un-tier, but it also forces you to stop and do nothing but think. Or not think. Doing that can also slow you down mentally, which can then help keep your incomplete thought-bits from piling up and overwhelming you, and that's something.

2) Did you try one therapist and quit, or did you search around a bit? Therapists may be trained and licensed and all that, but they're still people, and whether you click or not is still going to have a huge effect on the success of the relationship. If you went one-and-out, please try again.

Now the where-to-start question. If I were trying to change from an anxious mindset to a calmer one, I'd go straight to the recent past and see how many things I was memorably anxious about actually lived up to my dread. Even horrible things tend to pass, or, when they don't, they at least recede in importance as we adjust to the new version of reality. Humans are resilient beasts. Unless you have a medical condition that prevents it (see therapy, above), you can make a conscious decision to be one.

Last thing, don't look to friends to understand. Their job is to care about you, and as long as they do, you're not alone. At least, no more alone than the rest of us. Understanding you is merely a bonus.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn, what do you think about a secretary who won't attend the office holiday party because she is a Jehova's witness (and therefore does not believe in holidays or celebrating them), but gladly accepts our holiday gift (money)? I am told she justifies it by saying she considers it a "bonus" which is ridiculous since it is a government office and we all get paid by the government and we are not her bosses, so it is literally impossible for this to be a bonus. I don't know why, but the mental gymnastics here so one can pretend to be true to their faith but still take the offered money has always offended me. What's your take?

Carolyn Hax: I think it's funny. But I'm sick.

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Scared for my sister, Minn.: Carolyn, I am very scared for my sister. She was married to a man who was physically and emotionally abusive. He hit her, diabled her vehicle so she could not leave, called her fat/ugly etc. She finally divorced him and moved out at great expense to her and her children from a previous marriage. She gave up the house and did not fight him on anything just to get away. To make matters more difficult he is a police officer. I just found out that they have remained "friends" and just went to Las Vegas together on vacation. I am petrified that he will really hurt her (if not worse) someday soon. Can I say or do anything or do I have to just watch this all happen?

Carolyn Hax: Surely you can say you're worried about her, and keep the phones open, and intervene more forcefully if and when he abuses again. But beyond that, I think you get to join the ranks of agonized spectators. Unfortunately, the bleachers are packed.

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Anxiety Sister: I have problems in this area too. All the points you raise work. Here are a few more. When it gets overwhelming, I stop myself and simply feel the feeling; give in to it -- it then tends to go away. Friends can get burned out hearing about (choose one) your anxiety, affair with a married man, marriage, lousy job, etc., especially if the situation never seems to go anywhere. Leave them out of it. You have also made a big step forward recognizing that anxiety is your problem.

Carolyn Hax: Good stuff, thanks.

And remember, we always have this, courtesy of Liz:

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Christmas surprise blah: What do you think? My brother, who is 22, lives with my parents, doesn't financially help with anything though he is working (not that my parents would take it, but it's the sentiment that counts, right?), doesn't pay his car insurance (parents do that), graduated from college, is looking to ask his girlfriend to marry him. She's his first girlfriend and they've always been long distance. At any rate, I think he may be making the announcement at Christmas and I need a suggestion on reaction. I really don't care if he gets engaged to this girl as I don't think that he's ready for it. He hasn't lived on his own, taken care of his own bills, etc. And my impression of this girl is pretty much the same. She's a serial "serious" dater and last time I had spoken to her, prior to them dating 8 months ago, she was seriously wanting to marry another guy. Well, he's going to be very hurt if I'm not excited for him, but really, I just won't be. Outside of that one conversation with her about her then-"i'm going to marry him" boyfriend, I've never really spent time with her so can't say either way that I am happy for them that they are together. To me, they just are. Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I can see a lot to be happy about. They're both about to grow up, fast, whether they like it or not. Mazel tov, I say.

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washingtonpost.com: Boohbah!

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Ultra Embarrassed: Carolyn,
Last week, I was under a lot of stress at work and PMSing like crazy. I ended up crying in front of my boss. I am sooo ashamed and supremely embarrassed by this. Any advice on how to cope and face my boss again?
Thanks.
P.S. Your kiddos are adorable!

Carolyn Hax: Sucks to be human sometimes, doesn't it? Do your job well and let time and professionalism absorb the mess. If nothing like it has ever happened before, your boss probably already sees it as an exception.

(And thank you. Forgot to say, it's Jonas, left, and Percy.)

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Carolyn Hax: Hey guys, sorry about the non-sequential links. I keep posting my next thing too fast. Which is in itself a little holiday miracle.

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Maryland: Carolyn,

Is there any good way to deal with condescending people? Especially if these people are your friends.

Carolyn Hax: A wide-eyed thank-you always works in response to a patronizing suggestion. Or, new friends.

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Washington, D.C. -- online only, please: Hi Carolyn,
I've been reading your column for years, and I'm hoping you can help. I got out of a serious 5+ year relationship two years ago -- we'd been living together- when he broke my trust so badly we broke it all off. He apologized, but the damage was done. It took me awhile to move on, but I've been dating someone new for a few months. My ex is having some personal and family problems, and he's dealing by drunk-calling, text-messaging me, showing up at my work, saying that he's so sorry and he needs me as a friend. It's obvious he's hurting. I told him this needed to stop, and stopped returning his calls but find it very hard to tell him to go to hell (as those close to me have recommended). I think it's manipulative but he still keeps calling. I don't know why me, why now, why I'm so stressed about this, or the right way to handle this is.

Carolyn Hax: Go to hell? Wow. I hope that's just your shorthand and not the phrasing they really suggested.

Not that they're wrong. You really shouldn't take his calls, let him visit at work, respond to his e-mails. He needs real help, either from his own inner resources or from a pro, and people in his position often reach out to people like you as a way of avoiding that help.

So, your not letting him lean on you is actually a favor to him. Before you cut him off, explain what you're doing--say you care, but you aren't the one who can help him, and therefore you won't be his crutch.

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Toledo, Ohio: Long relationship (since high school) with a sweet, smart guy. We're 28 now and he's still living at home, no job, not looking for a job, not sure about anything (after four years of college and however many out). I have a good job, a condo and am rapidly losing respect and affection for him. I'm also restless and bored. Can you get unbored? I'm not sure I even want to. I've probably answered my own question. Time to go, right?

Carolyn Hax: Indeed. Sorry Mr. Sweet, Smart Guy.

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Houston, Tex.: Just when I'm getting over my Orbitz pop-up golf addiction, here comes Boohbah! Darn you, Carolyn Hax! -shaking fist at sky- hahahah.

Carolyn Hax: Blame Liz! Blame Liz!

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RE: anxiety and stress: Carolyn,

For people experiencing anxiety, stress, and muscle tension. I agree with your suggestions but would like to add one that personally has done wonders for me.

Yoga. Basic gentle Hatha yoga. Community centers often offer inexpensive classes. It can help people learn to control thier thoughts through relaxation, meditation, and breathing techniques.
Just my 2 cents on something I found very useful when Western solutions were not.

Carolyn Hax: Many have posted with similar suggestions. Thanks, mellow ones.

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Re: Crying Girl: Carolyn, I would advise her to be diligent -- especially if the boss is a man (which I assume is the case considering her reaction). Men often view crying and such as weakness and may think she's one of "those women" who can't handle stress or responsibility. I know this because I was one of those men, and one of those bosses -- luckily, in bitching about a particular woman to my then girlfriend, now wife, I was woken up to some particulars about how pms can affect women's emotions. She might want to at least talk to the boss about it -- not to say she was pms'ing, but that she was going through a really tough time (which is true). Anyway, my two cents, from a dumb male (redundant?) perspective.

Carolyn Hax: Hey, don't be so hard on yourself. That was just ignorance, not stupidity.

I agree with the diligence, but I'm not so sure about the talking about it. See, she goes in there and explains, and she chalks it up to a tough time, and then Boss gets to think (a) she can't handle tough times and (b) she's still anxious about what happened.

If anything, I think it would help if she took the "so I cried, BFD" attitude--internally of course, to be reflected externally by the fact that she got on with her job and life as usual.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn:

My current boyfriend told me something that made me a little jealous, or uncertain about our relationship.

He went to lunch with a co-worker and that he found her attractive (meaning he briefly thought about dating/kissing her). He said nothing happened, and it was a brief thought. He said he feld really guilty about it and later realized that he really liked me and wanted to be with me.

My question is, do you think this type of circumstance is indicitive a relationship that is not very strong?

Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Think of him as a cat who just dumped mouse guts on your doorstep. Might not be what you've always dreamed of receiving, but it's still a gesture of love.

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Anxiety disorder expert: Take this from someone who knows -- many anxiety orders are have an organic, physiological origin. All the breathing, distraction, therapy, and chocolate won't cure it, or even treat it. Please get to a doctor. The meds, although mild and unimposing, have given me back my life. The doctors think the problem is genetic, not something someone did or didn't do.

Carolyn Hax: The posts seem to be running both ways, that behavioral changes were extremely effective and that they were useless and only meds worked (and one who said meds worked short-term and behavior long-, just to cement the balance).

So, it looks like most things--try the behavioral stuff immediately, and, if it doesn't work, swallow your fears/biases/self-flagellatory tendencies and see a doctor. While also keeping up the behavioral stuff, because exercise is good and breathing somewhat essential. Consensus?

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Charlottesville, Va.: Re: Crying at work - almost everyone I know who's female has done this at one point or another, and they've all lived and gotten promoted to boot. I think it's a common female reaction to stress/anger, and I tend to view it as inevitable at some point -- which makes it easier to forgive myself for the times it's happened. Just carry on and it will all be fine -- and if it's not, if one crying episode is enough to seal your fate, well, who wants to be there anyway?

Carolyn Hax: Well said, thanks.

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re: Anxiety: Why is it that people will do anything, and wait too long to deal with their problems rather than take medication? It doesn't have to be for the rest of your life, and a good therapist will probably tell you that too, unless you have a serious condition. If anxiety and stress are really interfering with your life you need to do something and do it fast. I know first hand that usually by the time I'm at the I don't know what else to do stage I need to see a professional immediately. There shouldn't be anything to be ashamed of - I only felt stupid afterwards that I waited so long to tackle a serious problem.

Carolyn Hax: What did I just say two posts ago ... fear, biases, self-flagellatory tendencies, I think.

But once you realize you can get professional help and still be in control of your care--e.g., you don't have to take any meds you don't feel comfortable taking, you can ask for more information to help you get more comfortable, you can talk to a different doc/therapist, etc--then i think a lot of the fear gives way to the reverse, a sense of power over whatever it is that ails you.

It can also take care of the biases/S-FTs, because it helps you see that the act of researching doctors, making appointments and hauling yourself into said appointments is really just another version of taking care of yourself. Right? Some people see therapy, etc, as cowardly, until they realize for themselves that asking for help takes guts.

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Re: christmas surprise blah: They might not be about to grow up. My boyfriend's brother a sister-in-law have both graduated college, even have a kid, and they haven't grown up. They see no problem with taking money from the 'rents to pay their rent or make the car payment on the SIL's car (a 2003 model no less). She claims the job market is just too terrible, but hasn't held a job in three years and that was waitressing (after graduating college).

Point being, just getting married will not nessesarily mean they are going to grow up, unless the parents actually stop letting him remain a child.

Carolyn Hax: True. I just saw it as launching the brother out of Mommy's house, but apron strings can span continents, much less separate addresses. Blinded by Boohbah, I guess.

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Mouse guts?: Gee, thanks for that. My salad has just taken on new meaning.

Carolyn Hax: Any time. I'm eating a salad, too, and didn't miss a beat. Bite. But then I am sick.

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Holiday Gift: As I sit here looking at the stupid plastic desk thingy (plastic, chattering lips) I got from my "secret santa" at work, I am wishing we had done the charity thing, too. Definitely will happen next year. Thanks for the great idea!
- Washington, D.C.

Carolyn Hax: Any time. I know where you can donate the chattering lips, too:

Tell Me About It
Style
The Washington Post
1150 15th Street NW
Washington, DC 20071

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From one crying female to another: Just wanted to add that my (male) boss's reaction to my recent at-work meltdown was "thanks." Mostly because in my stupid crying coma I said things everyone had been bitching about behind the scenes but no one (including me) actually tried to deal with. Well, now we're all dealing. Hard, but things look like they are actually going to improve.

You just never know.

Carolyn Hax: I think we're on to something here. For Style's infamous New Year's In-Out list:

Out: Meetings
In: Crying jags

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Silver Spring, Md.: Where are the pictures of the kids? I want to see them! I was so delighted when I first heard you where pregnant. It is such an amazing experience and we need more of your type of DNA around.

washingtonpost.com: Scroll up!

Carolyn Hax: ... and click the "Here." And thank you, though my DNA has produced plenty of skeptics. Which is too bad, since No. 3 is coming in April. Ahem.

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Pennsylvania: Carolyn,

Fabulous discussion last week (I just caught up with it this morning). Sounds like your Pops and Weingarten would have a grand ol' time chatting, based on his TNBC Santa!

This week my husband and I just received news that he has received an enormous promotion. His new position and accompanying salary move us to a fiancial level that is almost frightening. We are stunned, and plan to keep it under wraps both with family and friends (the money part, not the general promotion part) and try to maintain the same standard of living as before. However, we are now in a position to significantly help out others, both charities and friends/fam who may need it.

We have one very old friend with whom we have fallen out of close touch with, although we saw him briefly last month. He is dealing with serious mental illness, unemployment, and (if this continues) possible homelessness. Without a job or health insurance his medical care has been substandard, resulting in a vicious cycle.

We are now prepared and willing to do what we can to help. Do you have a suggestion as to how we bring this up with him and what are the first steps to take? Since he doesn't have a phone, we will travel to talk with him and try to get him checked into a hospital for appropriate treatment and medication evaluation. Above all, we don't want to offend him or make him run the other way. Ideas? Thanks...

Carolyn Hax: Congratulations, both on the change of life-station and on the cool way you're handling it.

Since your friend might have a real problem with accepting money or support from you, you might just want to say to him that if he wants X treatment, it's his, and all he has to do is show up/call X number. Then have the arrangements already made with X treatment facility and its billing office. I wish I had a more clever idea, though--anyone else want to weigh in?

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More Anxiety: On the topic of holding out and avoiding medical care/medication -- I think the "stigma" of psychiatric care/medication sometimes makes people hold out -- and shouldn't. I have a father who always made sort of snide "shrink" comments that let me know he didn't believe in that kind of treatment. Funny though -- when I finally told him I'd been seeing a therapist, he was just as supportive as the people who had encouraged me to go. People who love you want to see you be happy/healthy regardless of what it takes to help you get there.

Carolyn Hax: That's a good dad. And, I hope, reassurance to those who are afraid that they're going to be judged. Often parents et al will mutter about this or that, but when it this or that happens to their kids, or anyone else they really care about, they'll surprise you and be supportive. Thanks.

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Crying at work: This whole thread is making me feel better. I am a female who just cried at work this morning.

washingtonpost.com: I'm crying now.

Carolyn Hax: I cried earlier (see above) but I think I'm done.

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Not another bookstore, MA: How many self-help books are too many? Why do people constantly tout whichever life-affirming book that helped them and expect you to find instant (gratification, validation, realization, fill-in-the-blank-ation) in them?

How do I politely tell people, that if the answers to my problems could be found in a book, I already would have found it? By the way, having read all of the "Awakening the Parachuting Cheese Soup for Successful Dummies Within" books out there, am I spending too much time on something that is obviously not working?

Carolyn Hax: Where to start.

They tout because they feel better and want you to, too. (Toto too!) Which seems harmless enough.

If they attach any expectations to their touting, they've graduated from caring to meddling. Are you sure the "... and expect you to find instant (gratification, validation, realization, fill-in-the-blank-ation)" isn't something you've projected on them? Based on expectations you have of yourself?

Either way, you don't have to find out. The only response required of you is, "Thanks." It never has to get explored further or raised again.

I do think having read Every Single Major Self-Help Book is a sign you're looking for the answer you want to hear, instead of the one you need to hear (or already know) but don't want to. And if you've had Every Single Major Self-Help Book recommended to you, then maybe you spend more time talking to people about your problems than facing them.

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Winnipeg: My husband has told me (in response to my questioning) that he will not ever have sex with me again and that this whole subject is too stressful beyond words. He is not interested in me being satisfied (euphemism) and I asked if that meant I should go outside of the marriage, he said, NO! So I've decided to get involved in community activities (theatre), work on paying off our debt, see a lawyer about my rights and in a year's time separate. We have not had sex for 6+ years and when we have attempted it, it's been lousy. There's nothing physically wrong with him. Oh, yes, he tried Viagra but went to work after taking it and said it just gave him a headache and he didn't like it.

Am I wrong? I'm really serious. Or should I get out now and suffer financially? What brought this all to a point is that someone was interested in me (and I knew it would lead nowhere) but it made me realize that I really missed sex. Other than being sexless and a bit cold emotionally, he is not a bad person.

Need to know if I'm doing the right thing(s). Also, would I be really going to hell if I took advantage of just a physical affair and nothing else?

Signed, lonely and in need of saltpeper, I suppose

Carolyn Hax: What a bummer. I'm sorry. I think you know what you have to do, and whether outsiders think you're bad for it (though I highly doubt they would) is hardly cause to deny yourself happiness.

I also think affairs would make you feel worse in the long run but, again, that's your call based on your own moral code and your relationship with your husband. Who, for what it's worth, doesn't seem all too concerned with how happy you are.

(Saltpeter=potassium nitrate=substance long ago believed, and since disproved to be, an anaphrodisiac. Who knew. Thanks, Internet.)

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Washington, D.C.: Love your chats -- thanks and happy holiday season!

My husband and I are going on a well-needed romantic getaway. A co-worker, inspired by my plans, is now thinking of vacationing as well -- to the same place at the same time (not because we love to hang out together, but because her kids happen to have winter break at the time we chose). Do I have any right to encourage against it?

Carolyn Hax: Ack. Yes! Who follows a person on her escape? I wish I'd posted this sooner so we could have a phrase-the-discouragement contest.

Though technically, of course, you have no right to keep someone from a public venue. And I'm sure if it's big enough you can avoid each other pretty well. But still.

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Washington, D.C.: Over the past year I had some awful things (loss of job, death in family, end of long term relationship) happen in my life, which left me needing the comfort of friends. But as it turned out, lots of people I call friends just were not very good at being there for me when I needed them. I even tried being direct, figuring that some people wanted to help but just didn't know how. It made me wonder how I could have picked a group of friends who really weren't much good in hard times.

I finally ended up seeking a therapist because I didn't feel much comfort from friends. A few were very good to me but most left me hanging. My question is how do I select friends and mates in the future who will are more loving and sympathetic people? What signs do I look for?

Carolyn Hax: Sorry for your hell year. I've got some ideas for picking more supportive friends, but with a caveat--it's not as if you're completely in control of the way your friends respond, even if you choose them carefully. A lot of it is just luck and chemistry.

For example, I can recommend that you choose givers and beware of takers--I think we can all spot which categories our friends fall into--but I bet at least one person surprised you by coming through with generosity you didn't suspect. True?

So you soften it to people who take an interest in you, and in whom you are interested, and whom you tend to seek on bad days, and who find ways to make time for you (not to be underestimated), and to whom you enjoy giving of yourself. Then you trust and hope and adjust when you get disappointed.

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Chantilly, Va.: Proposed "discouraging words" (maybe if she knows she won't be included she might not intrude/might back off):

Oh, I'm sure you and your family will enjoy it. My husband and I haven't been able to spend much time together and are looking forward to enjoying each other's company.

Carolyn Hax: Works for me, though might be too subtle for someone who already apparently missed the cues in "romantic getaway."

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Crying: I'm a female and I never cry. When I'm mad, upset - ever. I just clam up. I don't get PMS, either. And I love watching sports. I look female, but could I really be a man and not know it? Is there a test I can take?

Carolyn Hax: Yes, but the female sports-watching contingent would rather just assure you that you don't need to.

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Carolyn Hax: Eek. Lost track of the time. Sorry, long-suffering Liz. I need to go finish my mouse guts and cry.

Thanks everybody for stopping by and for the all the happy wishes. This is it till the first Friday in 2004--no Live Online between SpongeBobmas and New Year's. Merry everything.

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Feelin' the Love: Oh. My. God. There is so much love in this chat. Now I'm crying, too!;

Wait. I'm a guy.

Burp.

That's better

Carolyn Hax: Much.

And for those concerned, I did mean sick in the head. I feel great.

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