Tell Me About It
(get your Nick picture here)

With Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 23, 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.


Somewhere, USA: So, guy asks you out for first date, clearly is a date... when the check comes doesn't pay for you, is fairly nice otherwise. Is it petty to be bothered by this?

Carolyn Hax: I don't think so. I believe the person who asks, male or female, should at least offer to pay.


Washington, D.C.: Hi, Carolyn. In last week's chat you said not to ask about someone's possibly self-inflicted scars "unless you are a close friend or mate." What if you think they might still be cutting themselves? When I was in college (a few years ago), there was a girl in my group of friends, not exactly a close friend, who I strongly suspect was cutting herself. She rarely wore sleeveless shirts, but when she did I noticed she had x-shaped scars on her upper arms, meaning multiple cuts in different directions. Plus, one time I noticed some of the scars were re-opened, as if she was cutting along the same scars (to avoid making new ones?) Anyway, I never said anything about it (was trying not to be nosy), but I've always kind of regretted it. Maybe I could have helped her somehow. Your thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: I think in that case you go straight to the Trained Establishment--which in your case would have meant tipping off an RA.

BTW, please don't take this as criticism for your not trying to help her. It's both a common situation and a difficult one, one that paralyzes a lot of genuinely concerned friends.


Alcoholism in D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

I have been dating a new guy (about a month) that I really like, but I suspect he may be an alcoholic. Perhaps you can read these signs for me and see what you think. He drinks to the point of blacking out and then calls when he's drunk and later can't remember what he said. He gets really defensive about his drinking. Twice this past month he has driven to my house while drunk. He drank so much in college that his grades suffered. All in all, I wonder what I am getting into.

Carolyn Hax: I don't. You're getting into a relationship with a problem drinker.

Everything you listed is a well-established, Times Square-quality bad sign. Do some homework--the information on alcoholism is good and abundant. I have a Web site for you to start with, but it'll take me a second to dig up.


Carolyn Hax: Found it. It's the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA):


San Jose, Calif.: Carolyn, I'm getting my HIV test results tomorrow and I'm terrified. As a result of my lifelong depression, I've been acting out sexually and have done some pretty stupid things, so I'm pretty sure the test will come back positive. (I'm a guy, btw)

Some statistics I've seen are that the overall failure rate of an individual condom due to breakage is about 1 in 250, so I can't imagine why anyone would knowingly have sex with someone who is HIV-positive. This makes me fear that no one will ever want to be intimate with me again. How do I cope with the likelihood that I will be alone for the rest of my life?

Carolyn Hax: You cope with that tomorrow. I'm serious. You don't know your test results yet, so don't react to what you don't know. React to what you do know: That there's a chance you might not like what you hear, and that you ought to be prepared to ask someone at the test facility to refer you to support and counseling resources.

I know I'm assuming the facility will be prepared to handle referrals, but it's my understanding that this is the way HIV testing is handled--with immediate, therapeutic follow-up as a matter of policy. In case this understanding is outdated, you might want to call ahead to ask how the test center handles its results.

Last thing--one of the things you do know, today, is that you struggle with depression. If you aren't in treatment for it already, please make some calls, now, to address that.


Charlottesville, Va.: Dear Carolyn:
I volunteer as a counselor to battered women. I think your answer to the question in today's column form the woman with the unstable husband was 100 percent correct. I hope that she takes heed.

I wonder if you would post this so that I might add something. The amount of danger she is in increases every day that she gets closer to getting that degree. He may feel somewhat "secure" right now because she has made it abundantly clear she is not leaving at the moment. He knows that she sees the diploma as her ticket out, and he may act up in a severe way as the date draws near.

Her best bet is to not say another word about leaving, create an escape plan, and get out BEFORE she graduates, so that he will not be expecting it and planning vengeance.

Carolyn Hax: Excellent point, thank you.


Washington, D.C.: Hey Carolyn,

Since a large percentage of STD's are asymptomatic (at least for some people), many people might not know that they are transmitters.

That being said, can you usually go to a doctor and ask for a "full screening" and get tests for all of the major STDs? Or do they only test for a few, without some physical indication that you might have others?

In other words, if I head to a doctor to get checked out for STDs, and they say "it came back clean" should I assume they checked for everything important?

Carolyn Hax: I don't think you can assume anything. Find out exactly which tests are being performed and, if any are excluded, ask why.


Hax Haiku: At last it's Friday
What does this mean? Carolyn
Hax will light our way.

Carolyn Hax: Emergency rooms
Filled to capacity with
Patients who hit walls.


Washington, D.C.: How filthy is too filthy? I've been married for several years, and our apartment is filthy. It looks like a mail truck crashed into a laundromat, one with a microwave where everybody had just finished eating a TV dinner and was tucking into some cookies at the time of the crash. I'm not a naturally tidy person; when I lived alone my cleanliness standard was "cluttered but sanitary," enough to be able to tidy up for guests on short notice if they didn't mind a few magazines on the floor. Dirty clothes would be out of sight, any dishes would be clean or in the dishwasher, and floors would have been vacuumed or mopped recently enough. But my beloved is a huge filth-pig and no amount of marital negotiation has changed that (believe me, I've tried everything). There are enough good things (he shows me a lot of affection, holds down a good job, has the exact same politics as I do, bed is good) that I've decided to stay, despite qualms over the filth and my husband's TV habit (I think B contributes to A). I work slightly longer hours than he does, and I'm not willing to clean up after a grown man no matter how much I love him. The most effort I make is to throw away food wrappers and boxes, and move the dirty dishes into the kitchen where I may wash them someday. Bizarrely, I rarely see bugs.

I'm just wondering if it's dangerous to live in so much filth. I may be losing perspective. I go to other people's places and they say, "Oh, I'm sorry it's so messy" because there is a coffee mug sitting out, or there is supposedly some (invisible) cat hair lying around, or a couple of kids' toys are not put away. Needless to say nobody ever comes to our place. I worry because we are trying to have kids and there's no way a kid could live in that environment. Is filth alone grounds for divorce?

Carolyn Hax: It's certainly grounds for hiring a housekeeper. And for the days between visits, have containers handy (hampers, blanket chests, giant sealable Rubbermaid tubs) into which you can chuck the day's detritus so 1. you don't have to look at it, and 2. you can hand the full ones to Filth-Pig once a week and say, "Please wash these, thanks." I know that's dangerously close to cleaning up after him, but with the handy-receptacle plan, you'll cut your daily investment to about 5-10 mins. of bin-filling. Which sounds like a worthy investment to me.


Washington, D.C.: What is the best way to encourage a sexually unadventuring (OK that may not be an actual word, but you understand) girlfriend with strong Catholic roots to be more crazy and open-minded in bed? Talking is good, of course, but that can be uncomfortable at times given the subject matter.

Carolyn Hax: Unadventurous. But close enough.

I'd think establishing an environment of love and trust and intimacy that allows her to feel secure with you, followed by gradual, gentle, pressure-free encouragement to explore new things, would be the way to go here. But having neither been nor been involved with a sexually conservative Catholic girl, I'm kinda beyind my ken. Anyone?


Washington, D.C.: I'm not depressed (I don't feel particularly SAD), but I feel profoundly apathatic, just completely emotionless, like a zombie: I have no desire to see friends, have conversations, socialize, etc. I've been skating though life like this, but recently it became too overwhelming so I called in sick to work on Monday -- and every day since. Everyone (friends, family, coworkers) thinks I have the flu. The problem is, if I just felt something (anger or sadness) I could approach this, but how can I make myself have FEELINGS again.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, you sound depressed to me. It's not just sadness, but hopelessness, inertia, numbness, social withdrawal ... and if my word isn't persuasive enough, do some reading at Please please. You can find your feelings again by getting treatment.


Response to Dirty Apartment: Replace your dishware with disposables. Disposable plates, utensils, and cups. It won't make him cleaner but it will make it easier to keep the place clean. We did this in my college apartment one year. It was a lot better then arguing over who had to clean dishes. Go to Wal-Mart and a months supply will cost less the $15 total.

Carolyn Hax: My inner environmentalist wants to cry, but it's a brilliant solution. Thank you.


Midwest, r.e. Nick's Cartoons: Oh no, Nick's changing the way he draws... More non-babe women, and now he's messing with the razor stubble! Tell him to just draw his funny cartoons, he doesn't have to change to make people happy!

I was just kiddin' when I yanked on him about the messy hair and razor stubble. The problem is he draws too well -- if he drew un-realistic people like other cartoonists, no one would hassle him! Exhibit #1

Carolyn Hax: ... of where he got the idea that all men have messy hair and razor stubble.

I hadn't noticed a change though. I'll have to ask.


RE: Catholic Girl: It probably has nothing to do with love and trust. She probably feels guilty and therefore can't get into it completely. Maybe the guy should marry her, and then I bet she'll be wilder than he imagined.

(speaking from experience)

Carolyn Hax: My weekly education, this chat. Thanks.


Silver Spring Curlygirl: For the one with the not adventurous GF -- gentle communication is key. Ask questions about what she fantisizes about, tell her about yours. It doesn't even have to be in a sexual environment. Just ask questions, offer ideas of what you like or would like to try, and realize that you may never get her to go along with it, but healthy discussion is half the battle of getting there.
-Betty in the Kitchen, Debbie in the Bed

Carolyn Hax: Not the fun half, though, alas.


Conservative Catholic Girl: I used to be one.
Then I had great sex.
I am not one any longer.
I think the answer is -- provide her with the time of her life.

Carolyn Hax: And paper plates, so you can throw away dinner and get right to it.


Great Falls, Va.: Hi Carolyn,
I am worried for my friend. She is very happy in a relationship -- that's the good part. The troublesome part is, I think this guy has a major boozing problem. He drinks all the time, acts out of control, can't hold down a job, etc. Her father and sister are both alcoholics, and I fear she's seeking out familiar patterns. How do I tell this to her? She seems so happy with this guy, she thinks his antics are fun and exciting, and she seems to enjoy taking care of him. Do I sit back and watch?

Carolyn Hax: "... and I fear she's seeking out familiar patterns." You think?

Certainly feel free to say something, and to be as blunt as you care to: "Given how much this guy drinks, I fear you're seeking out familiar patterns." But also expect her to deflect your concerns, and possibly distance herself from you if she's really not keen on self-examination.

Also, make sure your voicing concerns remains just that. It's not uncommon for well-meaning, friendly intervention to mutate into a mission to fix somebody. Ultimately it's her call how messed up she wants to be. The role of a friend is to call attention to something she may not have considered, then let her consider.


Washington, D.C.: Look, I'm a Catholic girl who knows plenty of other Catholic girls, and it could just be that this is the way this particular Catholic girls is in bed, and it has nothing to do with her religion. Can we please refrain from assuming out of hand that any less-than-adventurous Catholic is that way because of Catholic guilt? It's an incredibly condescending assumption.

Carolyn Hax: Okay, but aren't you assuming it's an assumption? He does know this girl, and if he thinks she has a case of the Catholic guilts, he may very well be right. Besides, he spoke for no other Catholic girls but that one. I just checked the other posts, and I see no generalizations on the topic. ('Cept yours.)


Somewhere, USA: I'm depressed. I'm fairly sure of that, but I'd much rather just pull out of it on my own. Is this a really stupid idea? I can't help thinking that if I just get more exercise, eat better and take better care of myself, all the problems will go away. Or at least I'll stop crying every day.

Carolyn Hax: I wouldn't call it stupid, just needlessly stubborn. Would you set your own broken limb? I see nothing whatsoever to gain from denying yourself access to a legitimate health resource. If you don't like the treatment or you don't feel you're responding to it, you can always stop it. Get more exercise, eat better, take better care of yourself AND see a doctor.

That's actually redundant; taking better care of yourself includes the exercise, diet and mental-health care. The body and mind aren't separate entities, nor are, say, medical care and nutrition. That's a wildly outdated way to view your health.


Boston, Mass.: At a party last weekend, I accidently walked in on my good friend's husband and one of her best friends. It was dark, but I'm not stupid. I know what I walked in on. I confronted the husband later, his reaction was "Even if I was, would I tell you?"

Do I say something to my friend? They have been married seven years.

Carolyn? Peanuts? I'll go with a majority vote.

Carolyn Hax: Oh I hate these questions. Tell, don't tell, both avenues suck.

I think, given the guy's obnoxious response to your question, I'd lean toward telling my friend.

But this is 1. a case-by-case thing, so please don't take it as a blanket "always ratuling; 2. a quick reply based on very little information and 3. quite possibly my bile talking and not my better judgment.

Consider it thrown to the peanut-lions.


Re: Angry Husband: Why is everyone talking about abuse? Sure, the woman should not stay with someone just for tuition, but why is everyone so sure he is abusive? She said he never hurt her and she never mentioned him even yelling directly at her, I believe. Doesn't everyone get angry sometimes? What's wrong with venting on a few inanimate objects?

Sure, it could be worse than she describes, but why is everyone jumping to the conclusion that this guy is dangerous?

Carolyn Hax: Because there's a -lot- wrong with bursts of anger that become violent. Please don't lull yourself into believing that smashing stuff is ever a legitimate outlet for rage. Or that flying into rage, in fact, is ever legitimate. Obviously, people get angry, but the healthy ones know how to deal with it before it claims victims, even inanimate ones.

I'd hardly counsel divorce after one fist goes through one wall in a decade of otherwise unshakable calm. But several major eruptions, combined with substance abuse, other inappropriate behavior and a consistent refusal to get help, mean it's time to call in the experts and get the hell out of the house. Everyone is "jumping to the conclusion" because, again, all the Times Squarian signs are there. If you can't see them, please do some reading: try Domestic Violence: The Facts" at or, if you have the time and interest for a longer read, "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin deBecker.

I can't help but think violent and/or abusive behavior would be much less of a problem if people didn't rationalize it as the norm.


Arlington, Va.: Just want to say thanks for the posting of the depression stuff today. I've been sticking it out for a while and now have decided to get help as a result.

Carolyn Hax: You're welcome, and yayyyyyy. Just by making the appointment, I think you're going to feel better. Taking control of things is remarkably reassuring. Was for me, at least. Good luck.


Just curious: Can the washington post monitor how many people are online for your chats each week? If so, what's the average? We're up to about a gazillion, right C?

Carolyn Hax: I'll try not to say anything stupid.


Carolyn Hax: Better late than never.


Re: Party in Boston: Tell her. Tell her. Tell her. Otherwise she is bound to somehow find out and she will wind up feeling like a fool. And she will somehow feel betrayed by the one who didn't tell her. I am speaking from experience here.

Carolyn Hax: This pretty well represents what everyone's saying. Thanks muchly.


Washington, D.C.: Why doesn't Boston consider confronting the friend's best friend? There were two people involved in this and maybe the best friend might be more willing to open up about what exactly was/is going on.

Carolyn Hax: This is a different twist ... but Idunno. I put myself in the wife's place, and I think I'd rather hear from my close friend the observer vs. my close friend the cheater. But that's just me.


Petty in D.C.?: Am I being petty because I'm secretly annoyed/depressed that I'm helping my guy friends pick out engagement rings, plan Valentine's Day, etc. and I'm painfully single?

Carolyn Hax: Not petty, but maybe self-defeating. Why does being single have to be painful? Or, different approach--how many of your friends' relationships would you actually want to be in? I've found that envy of other people's lives rarely withstands real scrutiny.

You're living the life you're living because of who you are and the choices you've made. Whether you love it at the moment or not, it's still better suited to you than whatever it is you're observing in your friends, or just imagining would be better.

And, if you don't love your life at the moment, taking the steps you feel comfortable taking at the pace you want to take them is a far more reliable way to get into a life that fits you than having someone rush in and sweep you off your feet. All that usually gets you is a temporary head rush, followed by, if you're lucky, some nice companionship--which in itself won't fix the parts of your life you weren't thrilled with.


Boston, Mass. again: Yes, I was intentially short on details. Specifics and details would be quite indentifing to said people, at least one of which reads you.

I don't really feel confortable talking with the other girl. Much better friends with the married couple. I thought about asking her, but decided it would not work out well.

But I really appriciate the one who had been there and mentioned resenting those who didn't tell. I feel guilty as heck not sayign anything, but I'm so scared of the fallout and don't want to be blamed. Lots of folks do shoot the messenger.

Carolyn Hax: You're right. But think of it this way--if you stay silent to avoid being blamed, you're looking out for yourself. If you speak up at the risk of being blamed, you're looking out for your friend.

Take the latter path and, no matter what happens, you'll always know you took the unselfish route. That alone should be enough to tip your decision, but, if not, consider also that your friend might come to see your unselfishness in time--even if her first reaction is to shoot the messenger.


Re: Re: Party in Boston: So if the friend tells her, what's the husband going to do? Probably deny, deny, deny. If this is the first incident, the wife will probably believe him and not the friend. Don't tell the wife unless you have someone to back you up.

Carolyn Hax: True. That the husband will deny, though, is not the messenger's problem. Her responsibility is to act in the best interests of her friend, not to cover her butt.


Re: Angry Husband: OJ's several incidences of domestic anger included throwing and smashing furniture and stuff.

Carolyn Hax: Nothing to add, thanks.


re: just curious: gee, thanks for answering my silly question without unncessary sarcasm.

Carolyn Hax: So you can be silly but we can't? Eesh.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,
I've become worried that my decision-making (and just emotions in general) have become cyclical. Not monthly-cyclical (it's not PMS), but annually. This time last year I hated my job and this area and wanted to move to a small town, closer to my SO and friends and away from all the hustle and financial strains, etc. As I was making plans to move my boss offered me a promotion, so I stayed and was happy for a while, and was actually glad I hadn't moved, but now I am miserable again and looking into moving. (I've been at this new position exactly as long as the old one, by the way). My worries: is this an indication that my tolerance level is only a year? Is this just a bad time of year for me (a friend worries that I have SAD)? Or is this just a sign that I should go with my impulses?

Thanks for your advice.

Carolyn Hax: I think it's a sign that you should impose a waiting period on your impulses. Tell yourself that if you still have the small-town urges come April 1, then you'll act on them. Then, in the meantime, indulge them in non-binding ways, like updating your resume and researching towns.

And if the urges do go away with the bad weather, consider that your friend might be right about the SAD, in which case talk to your MD.


Washington, D.C.: "Why does being single have to be painful?"

Carolyn, with all respect, it's obvious you haven't been single for a while... Why do "most" people get married? Because being part of an insoluable team (statistics to the contrary notwithstanding) is totally cool. Perhaps the coolest thing about being human.

Not having that -- especially when you see it all around you -- can't help but be painful (again, the percentage of the population who really doesn't feel that excepted). So yeah, compared to death, being single is dandy. Compared to being happily with someone, it sucks.

Carolyn Hax: And compared with being unhappily with someone, it's blissful.

With all respect, you're wrong that I haven't been single lately. I was for a while, in this century, and liked it. I've long been on the record as saying that the happily-paired status you talk about is most likely to arise from the happily-single status I keep flogging. The minute you put yourself in the position of wanting urgently not to be single, you make yourself vulnerable to making a bad decision--e.g., settling for someone who isn't right, rationalizing away problems that you should take seriously, rushing something that might not last if you let it run its natural course, etc.

Since you made it about me, I'll keep it about me. I've been in both positions, more than once each, and the quality of the relationships that followed tracked directly with how happy I was on my own before I got involved. Bad mood=bad decision, good mood=good decision. I will harp on this till I kick.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn and Producer:
Do you know why some of the older chats are not accessible (over a month old or so)? I've noticed this on a few other columns on the website, and I wrote in, but nothing has been fixed it looks like. Thanks.

(I was looking for the babies names on Dec. 18, but the chat is not accessible) I'll check that for you. They should all be accessible.

Carolyn Hax: News to me, too. Thanks for mentioning it.


Still mixed-Up in the Midwest: Carolyn,

A few months ago you answered my question in your column about telling my boyfriend that I had been raped. You said anyone I was making that commitment to had the right to know me fully. Here's my question -- how do you know what point in the relationship is the right time to tell someone something like that, and how in the world do you start that converstion? I've been dating someone new for about three months now, and don't want this to screw things up again. Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Pleeease don't make decisions based on fear of screwing things up. If he flees you because of your news, HE is screwing things up. I swear. You didn't rape yourself. If he blames you or punishes you for it in any way,
good expletiving riddance.

So, when to say something. That's not a time issue, it's an issue of your comfort. Do you want him to know? Do you want to get to that level of intimacy with him? Do you feel now like you're actively holding something back?

As for how to say it, you've got your phrasing right in your question. "I have no idea how in the world you start this converstion, so I'm just going to say it:" Then go. Trust yourself.


For wife of Filth-Pig: You might want to do some more thinking before you have kids with F-P. If you think your house looks bad now, wait until you have a couple of kids and an incredible amount of new stuff to keep clean and picked up. And it doesn't sound as if you can expect any help with the increased domestic workload. And when your kids get older and want to have friends over, then what? You might be able to afford a cleaning service, but that's money that could be spent on your kids or other things if only F-P would pick up after himself. Not to mention how hard it is to train kids to pick up after themselves when Daddy sets such a stellar example.

You may get to the point where you really resent the amount of extra work that results from a grown man who just refuses to pick up after himself, and that your respect for him completely erodes away. If you just met him now for the first time at this point in your life and saw how he lives, would you want to keep dating him?

I speak from experience here. If I had it to do over again, I'd pick a mate whose living habits were more compatible with mine.

Good luck to you. "Filth-Pig." I love it.

Carolyn Hax: All good points, including Liz's.

And with that, I'm done. Thanks everybody, happy weekend, and happy cold shower to all who wrote in about Nick. Holy hormones.


Thought I'd share: I'm wearing banana panties and eating key lime pie.

Carolyn Hax: An inspiration to us all.


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