Tell Me About It

With Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 2, 2004 12:00 PM

Carolyn takes your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

Appearing every Wednesday and Friday in The Washington Post Style section and in Sunday Source, Tell Me About It ? offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there -- really recently. Carolyn Hax is a 30-something repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.

Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody. In case I forget to mention this at the end, Nick Galifianakis is going to be online right after me at 2 p.m., so you guys can stick around and talk cartoons with him for some relief from Problems.

_______________________ Tune in here at 2 p.m.: Nick Galifianakis Live Online.


Anywhere, or Everywhere?: OK, sorry to sound a little like a stalker here, but I just read the Dec. 18th column and couldn't find the link to the picture of your boys! Would you mind re-posting? Also, congrats on the third! I hope the pregnancy is going well. Here tis

Carolyn Hax: Going well, thank you. Unless you're a donut within a two-mile radius of my house, in which case it's going very very badly.


Somewhere, USA: Carolyn, I have recently confronted some harsh realities about myself. I am only 21 but I am a raging alcoholic. As in -- when I'm not in class or at work, I drink just to fall asleep, because I can't stand being awake most of the time. I have also been doing a lot of drugs very frequently; I know I'm addicted to one in particular and I know I can't stop without help. I don't want to embarrass my family and I don't want all my friends to know what kind of shape I'm in. Where do I start and who do I talk to? Thank you.

Carolyn Hax: You already started, yayyy.

There are lots of places for you to continue and a lot of people you can talk to, but since you mentioned class--if you're a student, you probably have easy access to all kinds of health facilities. If so, I'd start there. Look up numbers for substance-abuse counseling or even just mental-health services, place a call and ask to be pointed in the right direction.

If you aren't under an academic umbrella, an employment umbrella often works too. Many employers offer an Employee Assistance Program, which is one-call access to whatever you need. If you're concerned about your privacy, though, be sure to ask good questions. Last I checked, some things were private, some things weren't, and I'm sure the new privacy act changed the rules quite a bit.

And if you have no such immediate resources, there is always, always AA. Always listed, and always a good start, even if the whole deference-to-a-higher-power thing doesn't fly with you. One established, trained resource for treatment can always steer you to another that might be more appropriate.

Good luck, and, if you're feeling alone in this, take heart--I just got through reading that the holidays are an epiphany moment for many a problem drinker.


San Francisco, Calif.: As one of approximately 25 people in the U.S. who are actually at work today, I would like to thank you for carrying on with the chat and giving us all something to do.

Carolyn Hax: No no, thanks for coming. I was afraid I'd be chatting with crickets.


Chicago, Ill.: Admit it -- do you read alt advice columnists like Savage Sex?

Carolyn Hax: Nope. Sorry. I don't want other ideas slipping in among my own, even Savage ones.


Fairfax Station, Va.: I wanted to know what the best way to get my ex-girlfriend back is. I love her a lot and she keeps telling me that she is not sure if we will ever get together. She said she would try but now likes another guy and plus her parents dont like me. We still talk and stuff but I am confused.


Carolyn Hax: Let go. You don't want her back unless she's sure, and you won't know she's sure unless she comes to you of her own free will. I'm sorry.


Asheville, N.C.: Happy New Year!

I'm a 20-something woman currently in a great relationship. We've been together for six months and are really compatible in lots of ways. The problem? Every time I've been dating someone who's been good to me for this long, I've lost a lot of sexual interest. Is this the normal pheromone drop or would you guess I have trouble sustaining desire for people who treat me well?

Carolyn Hax: Idunno. Do you maintain sexual interest in people who treat you like ****?


Online Only Please: Hypothetical Question: You have spent years in therapy dealing with the aftermath of being raised by an emotionally and physically abusive father. He recently says something so offensive you just want to write him off and never see him again. (He says that you and your husband are so horrible genetically =- with close relatives suffering depression/alcoholism -- that he thinks you should not have a child and should instead adopt a nice Asian kid because they seem to turn out well. And he is serious. He says he feels strongly that you and your husband would make a horrible genetic cocktail.

OK, it's not hypothetical, it's me. My husband and I are nice, successful, grounded people and look forward to having a child sometime soon and providing it a loving, stable home. Should I feel guilty for never seeing my father again? I have had enough. This is the most offensive thing I have ever heard and I feel there is no way that my husband and I cannot take this personally. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: If you don't feel guilty, I'm not going to try to make you.

But if you don't feel guilty, why are you asking about it?

Two things. If you feel you've tried hard enough, that nothing has worked or ever will work, and that he's just more toxic to you than he's worth, then of course distancing yourself is a legitimate, valid option.

But if this example alone is your justification, please consider that what he said really in fact wasn't personal. Really. It sounds like his own bitterness (and racism), purely, with nothing at all about you or your husband mixed in. He didn't say you were screwed up, he said you come from screwed up families. Maybe I'm too screwed up to see these as the same thing, but I don't. Remember, though, he's from your gene pool, too.


Silver Spring, Md.: Nick Galifinakis' name is familiar to me. Has he ever done stand up?

Carolyn Hax: His cousin Zach does. Very well in fact. Nick is an artist, and does the Tell Me cartoon.


Crowded House, Va.: My brother was supposed to move in with me in October so he could look for a job in the area. His girlfriend was to spend a night and then move on to another town. After they arrived at my apartment they told me she was pregnant, so I was no longer in a position to say she couldn't stay. Thanksgiving weekend she lost the baby. This is sad, but probably for the best since neither of them have jobs or any sense of responsibility. Now it is 2004 and the three of us, my two cats and occasionally my boyfriend are still living in my ONE bedroom apartment and I am the only one paying bills.

I love my brother and welcome him to stay, but when it is not family, it is a lot harder to live with people and I had only met her once prior to her moving in and would not have allowed her to stay had she not been pregnant, but the miscarriage makes me look evil if I ask her to leave now. I've said to my brother that she can stay until the end of January, but I don't know if she understands this. What's a girl to do?

Carolyn Hax: Throw them both out. End of January, they're either out on their own or they're out on their own. Comes a point when you aren't doing people a favor by allowing their lack of responsibility to persist without consequence.

Of course, being one of four people and two cats in a one-bedroom sounds like a pretty horrifying consequence to me, but apparently it's not enough.

BTW, the baby thing is sad, from beginning to end, but irrelevent.


Just Wondering: What does it mean to be "emotionally unavailable"? I've heard it used to describe several people I know and I still can't quite put my finger on what exactly it is that they all have in common. Thanks!;

Carolyn Hax: I'd say it means that, beyond a few surface things, these people don't share themselves. Like what scares them and drives them and upsets them and makes them angry or happy or insecure. Then there's the effect of this hardness, too, on the people who care about them, which is often to leave them feeling alone, unsupported, un-sympathized with.

Tortured phrasing, but I hope it's all there.


Topeka, Kan.: Hi Carolyn,
I just got back from a holiday trip to find four messages left over a week's period from a former girlfriend (I'm married now) wishing me merry Christmas, sending love, etc. Just fyi, I've stayed in loose touch with her over the years, she's met my wife, and I thought things were OK. But there was a definite creepy edge to a couple of her calls when she wasn't getting any response ("if you don't want to talk to me, I'd at least appreciate your telling me"). To be honest, I don't even feel like calling her back, but don't want to be a jerk about it. I'd appreciate your thoughts.


Carolyn Hax: I don't think you'd be a jerk if you didn't call her back. Her calls and messages were inappropriate, and one appropriate response is to decline to respond. However, you and she both might feel better about the outcome if you did call her back, explain that you were away and suggest that, given the tone of the messages, it would be best if she didn't call you again.



Annapolis, Md.: Hi Carolyn,

Long story short: My father is an alcoholic who has recently begun drinking again after about two years of sobriety. Two years ago he was arrested for a DUI and to my knowledge had stopped drinking. He came back from a business trip earlier this year and started drinking a beer or glass of wine with dinner.

When I was home for Christmas I saw behaviors that I remember from his heavy drinking days and could smell hard liquor on his breath. My question is what is my responsibility now that I'm an adult and out of the house? Do I tell my mom that I suspect he's drinking more than she thinks (even though I know she won't give him an ultimatum to seek treatment)? Do I confront him? It's hard to know what to do when I'm so far away and don't see the whole picture.

Carolyn Hax: I'd say definitely voice your concerns to your mom, and to your dad if you think it wouldn't backfire--but what I say isn't going to be as good as what Al-Anon says, since this is what they do. Just make sure you do something, or else this will gnaw at you.


Arlington, Va.: Hey Carolyn,
My grandmother, always a vivacious woman, is slipping into Alzheimers. My grandfather is healthy and energetic but is rapidly turning into a bitter old man before my eyes. They live alone and drive one another crazy, and he is beginning to resent her, I think. We try to get my grandfather out of the house and volunteering or something to keep his mind occupied, but he's afraid to leave my grandmother alone. They refuse to look into assisted living options--they've lived in the same house for 50 years and insist they're not ready to leave. My grandmother denies anything is wrong with her, and won't even go to senior centers during the day for games, chatting, etc. for fear someone she knows will see her.
This is putting a huge strain on my family. Any ideas? Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Idea, but one that should lead you to most of the ideas out there. Get in touch with an Alzheimer's support organization--I just tapped my way to the Alzheimer's Association, help your grandfather find his way into the care of the local branch. If they are anything like the ALS Association, which saved my pops during my mom's illness, they offer advice, up-to-date information, caregiver support groups, access to in-home respite care so your grandfather can get to those support-group meetings, etc. What he's going through is devastating but also, for the people in these orgs, familiar, and that alone should some as an enormous relief to him.


Minneapolis, Minn.: Speaking of "emotionally unavailable," my friend told me that after she spent one hour filling out the surveys to an online dating site, the computer came back with the result that she was "emotionally unqualified" to be matched with anyone! She was shocked of course, and made inquiries to find that they judge people's responses on a certain pre-set parameter of ranges and I guess her responses were too unique to be categorized. Since then she's heard from several others who got the same result. Can you believe it?

Carolyn Hax: Sounds like they're made for each other.

And that people aren't made for pre-set parameters.

But you knew I'd say that.


The Workplace: Is there a way to say nicely to a someone "Put up or shut up"? I have a friend/co-worker that constantly whines about his lack of a girlfriend. I mean constantly. On Fridays, when someone says "have a good weekend" his response is along the lines of "I'll likely have a lonely one."

New Year's Eve was the final straw for me. I asked him to go out with my friends so that he wouldn't have to hang out by himself that night. He said he didn't want it to be a date, and that we were just friends. I told him that was fine, I had no interest in dating him myself. So, we go to the lounge we always go to for New Year's, we talk, have a few drinks, I (and most of my friends) strike up conversations with people at tables all around us, generally we're having fun. My oh-so-single friend doesn't really speak to anyone. And then, about 10:30, he says he isn't feeling well and leaves. The next day he calls and says he left because "he wasn't meeting anyone." I asked why he did not strike up conversations with anyone, and he just didn't know why.

Really, if you want to meet someone, I think you have to put some effort into it! I'm able to exchange phone numbers or e-mail addresses if I meet someone new and enjoy their conversations, and I don't complain about not having someone "special." I just don't know how long I can listening to someone whine about their loneliness and still remain nice. Is there a nice way of saying "well, quit whining and DO something about it!"

Carolyn Hax: "Well, quit whining and DO something about it!" Sounds like the nicest thing you can do is drop the tact.

But for what it's worth, this guy doesn't need a girlfriend to feel better. He needs a clue, of the kind I doubt he'll find on his own outside a therapist's office.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

I have never reached my full potential, because I have a hard time focusing on any one goal at a time. Then there is the question of what I should focus on: A career that I love or one that pays the bills so that I can enjoy life in my "leisure time." I've changed majors several times -- even dropped out of nursing school during my next-to-last clinical rotation, because I realized that I wasn't very good at it and didn't like it very much. Am I normal? What do people do who are like me? I'm afraid they live to have a ton of regrets.

Carolyn Hax: I hope they get screened for adult ADD.

But if they don't have any diagnosable disorder, people tend to muddle through the best (at least it seems that way anecdotally) by taking jobs that pay the bills and that don't completely suck their souls dry while they give months, years, even decades of thought to what they really feel they should be doing. Thought plus measured experimentation--through classes, travel, volunteer work, research, etc.--is even better.

I know the decades thing sounds dreadful, but life is long. The pressure to make something perfect out of it NOW NOW NOW is often a far greater obstacle to happiness than your average not-perfect job.


Alexandria, Va.: I don't think Online Only's father was being racist He said Asian kids turn out well -- what's wrong with that?

Oh wait, I forgot, we're never supposed to notice cultural, ethnic or physical difference. Must continue to chant, "We are all the same, We are all the same"

-flogs self-

Carolyn Hax: People who say all Asians turn out the same is, in fact, the one who's guilty of lumping people together here.

-flogs you and prejudiced dad-


For Alzheimer's Patient: You can also look into hiring a geriatric care manager, who would evaluate your grandmother's and grandfather's needs, interview potential caregivers, and help gently cut through both partners' resistance. My mother is a geriatric care manager in Connecticut, and she is a member of the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers. To find a care manager in your area, go to their Web site.

Carolyn Hax: Excellent, thank you.


Maryland: I am really into the guy I am seeing. Sparks like I haven't felt in a long time. Sparks for the right kind of reasons. Thing is that I can't accept the fact that he is into me. He's one of those guys I always considered out of my reach during all those years spent in the social world of high school and college so part of me feels like I can't understand why now, guys like him go for me. It's like I was the class nerd and he was the football star. I'm sorry if this sounds silly, but it's an issue for me. How should I get over this?

Carolyn Hax: Time, and self-respect, and a dose of jock-reverence antidote.

But what worries me is the "sparks for the right kind of reasons." How can you be judging this guy wisely if you're in awe of him? Doesn't sound healthy for me, or fair, for that matter, to either of you. Either he's human and equal in your eyes, or your feelings for HIM must be suspect, not his feelings for you.

Conveniently, the remedy for that is also time, self-respect and reality. Some people are awesome and lovable and all that, but they're still people. Repeat to self as needed.

Oh, and even if they are right and true sparks, don't make any decisions based on them anyway. Notoriously unreliable and fleeting.


e-Land: Geriatric Care Managers link isn't working.

Thanks Ack, my fault. Try this: Geriatric Care Managers

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for letting us know.


Silver Spring, Md.: I'm kind of scared about myself. I think constantly about wanting to be alone. It's almost an obsession, my desire to simply walk off and leave my life. To start over somewhere else. I don't want to hurt myself or anything, it's that I feel so worn down by the drama in the lives of those nearest me and by my own dissafication with my own job, where I spend approximately 12 hours a day. But I'm married, with a child on the way, and obligations I can't ignore. But I waste so many hours a day trying to think how to escape my present life, I think I'm beginning to go a little nuts. I was in therapy for a year, and recently stopped it. I'm not sure now to shake myself of this --I'm afraid someday I will just walk off and hurt so many people, including my as yet uborn child. What do I do?

Carolyn Hax: Get back into therapy, please please, with a different therapist. Tell your OB, too, that you're depressed and worried that you might just up and leave everything. Your situation is precarious but not unique, which, like with the Alzheimer's and alcohol struggles today, means there are resources out there for you.

Also, stop seeing this as something you have to "shake." You're trying to deal with circumstances (difficult people, draining job) that are tough enough to assess clearly when you aren't doing it through physical fatigue and a hormonal barrage. So cut yourself and your baby a break and get someone to help you walk you through whatever you need to do to set limits on your external pressures--to lessen your work hours, distance yourself from people who take more than they give, treat your possible/probable depression, etc. This is not the time to worry about how things appear to people; do what you and your baby need, without apology.


Going to Africa: I just graduated from college and in three weeks I'm leaving for the Peace Corps. I'm unbelievably excited, and I've wanted to do this since I was eight, but here's the problem: a boy. At my age, what a surprise, right? We started dating this past summer, and I really like this guy. I'm not flighty in the ways of the heart and I've dated around enough to know that this could be the person I'd be interested in settling down with. Just not now. Do you happen to have any thoughts on (very) long distance relationships? Do they ever actually work? If they do, what makes a successful one? Obviously, if we break up, its not the end of the world, but we both feel that a long distance relationship might be worth trying in this particular case.

Carolyn Hax: Then try it. Or consider setting each other free but staying in touch. The important stuff in your favor is all there--you're nuts about each other, you have some decent perspective--and the important stuff working against you--you're young and epically skipping town--is out of your hands. Just enjoy each other as much as your circumstances permit and trust that whatever happens will make sense in the end.


About Silver Spring: Are we sure this is a mom-to-be and not a dad-to-be? Don't know if it makes a difference, but the child-on-the-way jumped out at me as what might really be causing all this. Not a parent myself, but I bet it's a REALLY scary thing to be expecting.

Carolyn Hax: Great catch, thank you. Silver Spring, still there?

Advice would remain the same except for the physical element--which would instead become the intimidation element, since this huge thing is happening not in you but to you, generating its own kind of helplessness.

For that, though, like I said, the point is still the same--tell someone, get professional/medical help, reduce outside stresses.


Allston, Mass.: Hi Carolyn! I love your chats -- you manage to be somehow entertaining and dead-on.

I'm a first-time writer to this chat. While up until now I thought my life was going along smoothly (I'm 24), recently I've become insanely jealous of friends embarking on new relationships. I have been dating the same guy for nearly four years, and we live together. While in the beginning everything was new and fuzzy, it seems our relationship now consists of nagging, nights in front of the TV, and a never-ending comfort zone. I hear friends gush about their new guys, say things like "this is the one, I know it!," and then I look at my own relationship, which feels like an old bathrobe. Is this normal? How do I snap out of this funk? Can I? Plus, it's tough to take a couple weeks to myself just to think when we share the same bedroom. Ugh. I hate this jealous demon I've somehow become; how to banish it?

Carolyn Hax: "Comfort zone" is nagging and fights over the TV? Bleah.

You're 24. Get out, learn who you are, live. Get some light, water, air. It sounds not only like you're not ready to appreciate true comfort yet (no nagging, no fights over TV), but also like you're dying inside from planting yourself in such a teensy little pot sooo quickly.

But don't get distracted by the whole jealousy/new-relationship thing. That's just your deprivation talking. The more important thing to embrace is that "going smoothly" doesn't always equal good. Don't be so freaked out by risk.


Re: Sparks: Something in that last letter struck a chord in me -- I have had that feeling, in the past, like finally the football hero is noticing the shy nerd (just as in all those teen movies, where the guy sees past the glasses, etc., to true worth) -- and I think it's very dangerous, if she's feeling that way. It's not a good basis for a relationship to be thinking, ohmygodhelikesmehereallyreallylikesme -- or at least it didn't turn out so well for me. And I had to spend some good hard time thinking about my values and what was important to me -- once the football hero didn't turn out to be so heroic after all. These images of ourselves from the past can be powerful, and self-defeating -- it's really worth spending some time examining those attitudes, and deciding if this guy is really admirable to you now, as a person, as an adult. Or at least it turned out that way for me, though I had to crash and burn before I figured it out.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for a lot of good stuff, but particularly for: "It's not a good basis for a relationship to be thinking, ohmygodhelikesmehereallyreallylikesme." You didn't have to qualify it.

And, you can strip away all the stuff about pasts and images and football heroes and it still works. Any time you're that invested in keeping someone's attention, you're going to do too much and sacrifice too much self to keep it. Guaranteed.


Washington, D.C.: Girlfriend says "I love you."
I smile and reply "I love you too sweetie."
Girlfriend sighs and says "I hope so."

Huh? How to respond to that?

Carolyn Hax: "Oh brother" comes to mind, if this was more than a one-time sigh. But if you're feeling less combative, try, "If there's something bothering you, please tell me." She might resist, but don't press. If she's being as manipulative as it sounds, you'll just be playing right into it by giving the extra attention.


LOL: She said "NIGHTS in front of the TV", not "FIGHTS over the TV".

Carolyn Hax: Eesh, I'm a menace today. Again, same applies--nagging not a cool definition of comfort, 24 too young (actually, 20, if you count from the beginning) to pack it in for a lifetime of nights.

Anyway, good thing I can't stay on late--Nick's on now. Happy New Year and weekend, guys, and thanks for stopping by.

_______________________ Just a PSA that Nick's discussion is now live. Carolyn Hax: Go!


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