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.
Stupid question here but I really hope you can get
to it because its been bothering me a lot.
I have fairly unusual hair -- light blonde, really
curly -- and its usually the first thing people notice
about me. The guy I've been dating for a while
seems to really dislike my hair -- always asking me
to straighten it or if I've thought about coloring it. I
can't help but thinking that he really doesn't like
the way I look then and I've been getting more
and more insecure about my appearance. Do
you think this is just something I need to get over
(most likely) or should I talk to him about it?
Thanks so much and LOVE the column!
Carolyn Hax: Something YOU "need to get over"? Ack. He needs to like you for you, and you need to suggest he try it or date someone else. Phrased in the nicest way, of course. Being with someone who thinks you're absolutely brilliant exactly the way you are is one of the underrated joys in life.
When should one be able to tell when the writing is on the wall, and know that a male/female friendship won't lead to anything beyond a friendship.
Carolyn Hax: I don't know that there's a when, since, if you pick a time limit, there will always be an example of someone who took that-long-plus-more to fall for a longtime just-friend.
But you don't want to torture yourself, either, so I'd set a limit of, "When it feels like you're torturing yourself." That's a good time to heed what the wall has to say.
Re: today's column: I agree there's no point in telling someone, "Hey, you're obnoxious and overbearing. Stop being obnoxious and overbearing." On the other hand, if she's truly a good friend, one should feel free to say, "Hey, shut up, we're trying to watch the movie," or "He didn't ask you your opinion on his new Mickey Mouse watch. He likes it, so don't bug him."
Carolyn Hax: Point taken, but--isn't it up to the person being bothered to speak up? If the un-bothered friend knows for sure a certain behavior is bothering others, I agree with you, but I think running interference for a friend's -possible- rudeness is a tough position to put someone in. It's a weak example, but it's an exqample--Mickey-wearer might not care what boorish friend thinks. A friend just shouldn't feel obligated to apologize for someone all the time.
Is it really okay to wear all black to a wedding?
Carolyn Hax: I've done it, and no one beat me with a stick.
What's the best response to you boyfriend of a few months when he tells you "I love you" when you don't love him but think he's really great but you're just not ready for that? Is there even a way to respond without making both of us feel like asses?
Carolyn Hax: Probably not, but let's try. Um ... "I love that you do, and I hope you'll wait for me to catch up."
Peroxided in the U.S.:
I guess it's Murphy's Law that "Sydney" would find the one guy in the world who doesn't like blonde women. Take it from one of the millions of women who have to go through expensive, time-consuming coloring in order to be blonde... it's less trouble to dump the controlling boyfriend and find another guy than it is to maintain an artificial hair color. (My theory: he doesn't like her getting a lot of attention, and wants to make her less attractive to others... though maybe the hair dye is just warping my brain.)
Carolyn Hax: I know, I thought the same thing re Law.
And it's always less trouble to dump a controlling other.
I wore all black for my dad's second wedding -- and I was in the ceremony.
It may have been a commentary about my stepmother-to-be, though.
Carolyn Hax: You do run that risk.
How about the truth? I like you a lot, but I'm not there yet sounds okay to me -- if you throw in I hope you'll wait, well, I guess that's okay, but only if it's true.
Carolyn Hax: Good point, thanks.
I have two friends who are dating. One friend has made it clear that he intends to end the relationship relatively soon. The other friend has purchased him a rather expensive Valentine's Day gift and has asked my help in preparing it for final presentation to him. I feel uncomfortable helping her do this since I know it is going to make him more uncomfortable and also since he plans on breaking it off soon, but I'm not sure that I can say no to her without seeming suspicious and strange. Any advice on how to handle this?
Carolyn Hax: Stall her, then tell him to DO IT for [somebody's] sake because she's got big plans, he's setting her up and you're not pleased to be in the middle. What's he waiting for, Punxatawney Phil?
My husband comes from a very difficult childhood background -- parents used drugs, stole, etc., and he has done an admirable job of rising above all that. However, his methods of "discipline" regarding our children (now teenagers)involve so much posturing and shouting and demanding to be "right" that he is alienating them from him. And he often likes to bray about how he "wasn't raised that way" and there's no point in mentioning he wasn't raised at all, at least not during these royal edicts. I find myself unable to defend his actions, so I'm "siding with them." My God, this sounds pathetic. Any suggestions besides watching him destroy his relationship with his kids?
Carolyn Hax: 1. Try talking to him when he's not in the throes, and point out the same things you just did here.
And if you've tried that and failed,
2. Friendly Neighborhood Shrink. But in the form of a family therapist/clergyperson/parenting class instructor who can offer constructive suggestions--maybe without even getting into the mistakes he's making now. That way it can be an "I was thinking we could get some ideas on how to talk to our kids better" group endeavor vs. a "you were raised by wolves and are alienating your kids" remedy.
I'm in a real transitory stage in my life. All my life I got the good grades, was a super achiever, went a good liberal arts college, with everyone telling me later on in life that it would translate into a good job. Now nearly a year after my graduation, I'm working as a temp, doing I job I could have done at age 10, and wondering why we have to earn a degree to do work that is so easy. Don't get me wrong, the position I temp for requires a BA/BS -- but, I don't feel I'm applying any of what I worked hard to learn in school. Shouldn't college really just be a 4 year course of learning to do your taxes, your laundry, balancing a budget, etc? And where do I go from here?
Carolyn Hax: To anyone who can help you get a better job. College career office, alum association, informational interviews, volunteer internships, anything you can fit within your time, budget and imagination limits. Not only does the job market suck right now, but, with a few boom-cycle exceptions, the job market is also supposed to suck for newly minted grads. You know how to think and how to work hard, which will eventually serve you as promised, but in the meantime you don't know much else that will help an employer. I'm sorry no one prepared you for that. But it will change with time and with the experience that you now need to be creative about getting. What are you good at, where do you want to be, how have others gotten there, are you ready to do the drudge work it takes to get there? Those are the Qs you should be asking.
Also, answer for the unasked question--it's okay to be a non-super achiever for a while. You're in this phase, might as well enjoy what comes with it.
Run Blondie, Run!;:
I am having the opposite experience from our curly blond friend. I am dating a guy who is so nice, so respectful and kind that I recently noticed my self-esteem rising. I didn't think I had low self-esteem to begin with either!;
This, I have now realized, is ABSOLUTELY the best quality of any relationship. She should get out now and go find one with this quality.
Carolyn Hax: And grab me a donut while she's out. Thanks! (And congratulations.)
St. Louis, Mo.:
Black is not appropriate for a wedding. When a woman wears a "little black dress" to a wedding I always think -- "humm, someone does not have appropriate dressy clothes." So, try navy blue, dark purple, blue or pink. Black is for evenings out with men and for funerals.
Carolyn Hax: And social tsk-tsking is for the '50s. Clean and well-dressed of any color is fine.
Just a comment to the woman who is upset because her mom won't call her. Your mom may just not be a "phone" kind of person. In our household, my husband always answers the phone because there's just something about a phone that unnerves me. I don't like the surprise of who's on the other end. And calling someone else? Fuget abat it! It takes way too much energy for my shy psyche to pick up the phone and dial someone. What if I'm interrupting? What if they don't want to talk with me? Etc. I can call someone IF there's a specific reason (I'm returning their call, we have to arrange something, I need some information that only they can provide), but to call up just to chat? I'm just not that kinda gal, and maybe that woman's mother is a little bit the same way. Some of us just weren't born to be phone initiators, and that's OK, just work with us!
Carolyn Hax: I agree (obviously). People have their reasons. As long as the relationship is two-way and rewarding in other ways, so be it. I actually had some older readers write in with an interesting explanation--some of them got so accustomed to treating long-distance calling as an expensive luxury that they still can't get into a 5-cents-a-minute mindset. Just never developed the pick-up-the-phone habit. Thanks for weighing in.
Freezing Cold, New England:
Online only please: My dad is going to get married (second time around) to a perfectly nice but very dumb blonde. My dad has a history of being VERY irresponsible with money and I feel like it's my duty to warn her somehow. My hubby said, no, talk to your dad, first. Good advice, I tried, part of the whole Dad's whole money problem is that HE CAN'T TALK about it. I tried to raise the issue gently by pointing out that money has been an issue in my relationship with him in the past, and so I hope he can talk about money alright with HER. he hemmed and hawed and the next day sent me $500 in the mail - apparently he totally missed the point. Now I don't know what to do. Should I give up on telling dad he better have a pre-nup for the sake of his bride, and just warn her directly? I don't know her all that well so it would be weird, but frankly I'm just worried for her (My mom has suffered major consequences and I don't want anyone else to have to!;).
Carolyn Hax: I know the proper answer here is for you to stay out of it, but I don't see why you can't just say to the lightly less-than-intelligent, "You do know my dad's bad with money, right?" and then let her sort it out.
BTW, a slap for the gratuitous blonde slap.
Early Wedding Question:
Please respond, I value your opinion on this much more than the typical wedding-advice-givers!
We don't want our guests to feel obligated to bring gifts to our wedding -- in fact, we want to discourage gifts because we really just want to show our friends and family a good time without them having to do anything but show up (enough of a task in itself for out-of-towners.) I'm positive that just "spreading the word around" like people do with registries would be no good because people will still feel funny showing up empty-handed. So I think we need to make it concrete by putting it in the invitation as in "We desire no gift other than your presence." Is this tacky?
Carolyn Hax: Arguably. It is considered an etiquette don't to put any gift specifics in the invite, even when they're guest-friendly specifics.
But more important, people will still feel weird coming empty-handed (which they're supposed to do, technically, and send gifts later, but that's another answer). And they'll still give you gifts. Spread the word around, mean it, throw in mention of a charitable cause you'd like them to contribute to as an alternative, and still expect that people will give you gifts. The point is to make your point, not to get carried away enforcing it.
Online only, please.
I am dating a great guy. But he said something to me I can't stop thinking about. He said he has never fallen in love (he's 29) despite numerous relationships during his life because he only plans on saying those three little words to the woman he wants to marry, and she will hear them for the first time when he proposes marriage to her. So, all this time and girls have loved him, but he doesn't love them back. I wonder what this is all about.
Carolyn Hax: That I could live with--I mean, he felt how he felt, and if it wasn't love, what could he do?
But I would flee! flee! flee! from the other thing I smell here, which is the whole "my love will be perfect" mentality. Bleah. His love, with whatever goddess he falls for, won't live up to the lofty ideal he's imagined for it, and in fact will be just as random and sloppy and fate-pocked as everyone else's. I don't like his chances at happiness, or the goddess's, till he gets his mind around that. Dude needs to relax.
How do you respond to a "message carrier" who was not asked to deliver the message -- she just couldn't resist dumping on you.
Example: "Mother would never tell you herself, but... she just hated your Christmas present and wants to return it to you. I thought at the time it was a bad chice, but didn't say anything. I don't know how I can tell you this any clearer -- she DOESN'T WANT IT."
Still in Shock
Carolyn Hax: It's about the message-carrier, not you. I swear. Pity her.
I'm confused about your response to the guy being called names. You missed the "but not this way," which I think is quite legitimate. I see it like the person who was dealing with the silent treatment -- the grievances are legitimate, but her tactics border on verbal abuse.
Carolyn Hax: Isn't that what I said?
I broke up with my boyfriend of four months last night. He has a major drug problem -- a practice of his that dates back 10 years. He's very kind, fun and supportive, but rather than delude myself into thinking I'm the person he'll want to change for -- or worse, get caught up in the madness myself -- I decided to get out.
I care for him so much; I honestly feel like I was "on my way" to being in love with him before I chose to end it. I'm wondering if I should try to help him get help or stay away altogether. I want what's best for him and I want him to know that I do care very much.
Carolyn Hax: Care very much by staying away after letting him know exactly why you're staying away. You did the right thing.
Around and About:
"he only plans on saying those three little words to the woman he wants to marry, and she will hear them for the first time when he proposes marriage to her"
Can you say control freak?
Carolyn Hax: "Control freak."
Deep South, USA:
I was having lunch with an acqaintance recently and the conversation turned to his ex, which it does frequently. He's still bitter about the divorce, which he claims came totally out of the blue. Anyway, after he said yet another disparaging thing about her, I asked why he married her. After a lot of thought, he said that she was always a mystery to him, that he could never figure her out completely, and that she was always surprising him. At the time, I thought that sounded pretty sweet and romantic, but, when I mentioned it later to my husband, he was appalled. So, what's your opinion, Romantic or Divorce Waiting to Happen?
Carolyn Hax: DWH. Romantic if you're in high school, disastrous if you're in it for life. Make it an addendum to my first answer today: That person who thinks you brilliant as-is needs to know you inside and out before coming to that conclusion, else s/he learn more and have a subsequent change of heart.
-Appalled in the Arctic
I am 21, on the brink of graduating from college, and
clinically depressed. Superficially, my life looks
great, tons of friends, active, etc., but I still come
back to my room wanting to kill myself at night. I am
on anti-depressants, in therapy, but still just don't
seem to see an end to this road I'm on. I think
there's no more hope any more. Thoughts on how to
break out of this?
Carolyn Hax: Immediately, tell your therapist you're having suicidal thoughts. Walk away from the screen and call. Please.
Longer-term, you break out of this by understanding--or at least repeating it to yourself till it sticks--that the hopelessness is the chemicals in your brain talking. Keep dealing with them, with the therapy and an adjustment to your medication if necessary, and they will eventually even out enough for you not just to list but to enjoy everything you have. You just have to work your way through this. The best parallel I can draw is to (stay with me here) motion sickness. You know how you can't feel anything but nauseated, and you can't think about anything else, and you feel like it's never going to go away? But then it just ... does. And you feel human again. Like yourself again. And the relief is palpable. This awaits you, I swear.
How many girls are going to accept being proposed to by a guy who has never once before that moment said he loved her, anyway? If he can't admit to falling in love with me long before the let's get married stage, then the relationship is never going to get to the let's get married stage.
Carolyn Hax: Right, there is that. Thanks.
Tho I bet he sees it as a grand sweeping-off-of-feet scene.
No wedding gift request:
A friend of mine included such a message (no gifts required, please consider charitable donation) in some information about how to get to the wedding location, not in the invitation itself. I personally thought it was great.
Carolyn Hax: I personally agree. Thanks.
I think my girlfriend is beautiful. I think she would be even more beautiful if she let her hair grow a little bit, and used a somewhat different shade of hairdye. Am I a shallow, insenstive pig for thinking this, and should she look for someone who loves her just as she is? A former girlfriend suggested I get a different haircut, and I've always been grateful to her because I think I look a lot better with it.
Carolyn Hax: It's one thing to point out that someone has big hair (New England edition: big heah) and needs a run to the barber; it's another to think you can do nature one better. So, one mention of "Have you ever grown out your hair?" doesn't an I. pig make. Just stay away from things that are integral to her (judgment call, I know), make it a passing mention and don't care too much whether the suggestion is taken. It's the dwelling on it, the cumulative pick-pick-picking at things, that really erodes a person's self-worth.
Re: Weddings with no Presents
I heard about a couple who just asked their
wedding guests for their favorite recipe. Then
everyone got to give something that meant
something to them, but no registry craziness...
Carolyn Hax: [applause]
One of my close friend has had a tough year or two. She accidentally got pregnant, had a falling out with the father, and had to leave school to have the baby. She started going to a community college where she lives and became involved with one of her professors.
He's not that much older than her, and from what she's told me, he's brought a lot of happiness and a feeling of security into her life.
Here's the horrible part: She recently found out in a rather roundabout way that he was in jail a few years ago for involutary manslaughter... of his ex-girlfriend. He hasn't been straightforward with her about it, and she doesn't know all the details, but she wants to stay with him and support him. She feels terrible because he's been fired and ostracized for lying about this to his employers.
How can I convince her to get out of this situation?? I know she is needy right now, but she insists there is not perfect relationship and this is the best she can find for now. She doesn't seem to listen to my rationale that being mildly lonely on your own is better than being unsafe in a relationship. I am worried sick about her, she is such a kind person, I don't know what to do.
Carolyn Hax: Hello, what about the baby? Hard to convey speechlessness and outrage in print.
You can't convince anyone of anything she doesn't want to believe. You can point out, however, that there may be many possible interpretations of what he actually did (or didn't do) to his ex-gf, but there's no room for other meanings in his not being straightforward with her. He's a bad guy. He was supposed to be fired and ostracized for not confronting his problems like an adult. And she is a mother, she has no right to hang with bad guys just because they make her feel better.
Okay, maybe not the crowbar you want to use. But if you find a gentler way to deliver that message, please do. Egad.
If she was always surprising him:
Why was he surprised when she divorced him out of the blue? True to form.
Carolyn Hax: Right! Hate that I missed that. Thanks.
Woodland Hills, Calif.:
Recently my best friend ask me to marry her. I met her about five years ago and at that time I never wanted to have anything to do with her again. But several months later she was in an accident and I was the only one that knew who she was. I ended up caring for her and her two daughters because I couldn't pawn her off on someone else and her parents refused to help. It turned out she had a lot more than just physical injuries.
Taking care of her, I found out what a remarkable person she is and she's made significant progress in putting her life back together.
I would like to marry her, but I am not sure sure if our past relationship would make dating appropriate. I am 15 years older than she is and I never expected us to be more than friends. Also, she usually tries very hard to please me, way beyond anything I would ever ask of her and I don't feel our relationship is equal enough, yet. I know she would make me happy but I want a relationship where I know she would be happy, too. I want to say yes but I am not sure it's appropriate.
Carolyn Hax: Is this the storyline from a movie? Between this and the incarcerated professor, I'm starting to wonder.
Anyway. You're right to question the appropriateness, and decent. And smart: If she's just in it because she has nobody else feels secure as your somewhat-dependent, she may come to regret the marriage if and when she grows strong enough not to need you (and your approval) so much.
That said, you want to marry her, she wants to marry you, yay. Why not do some research on pre-marital classes? There are some really good ones out there, and going to one together could help you both figure out what you expect from each other and what patterns/habits might get you in trouble. Meanwhile, long engagement. I'm not always a fan, but in this case it seems to make sense.
Love your chats -- Just a random thought from a guy -- It's not that we don't care about, love, admire women (I love my wife with all my heart). It is just that I (and many men I know) really don't understand women. We just nod and hope we say the right thing!
Carolyn Hax: Nice intentions, but, agh, not the nodding! Don't just agree to agree. Better to say you don't understand; there's no bummer like being written off as a mystery. Women are no harder to understand than men, so no hiding behind stereotypes allowed.
Carolyn, 28 year old male here.
Never been in a relationship and it is starting to frustrate me. I go on plenty of dates, but none of them ever seem to go past a first date. I'm not really sure exactly how to move it past that. I guess I'm somewhat out of touch with how fast things should move as opposed to how fast I am prepared to take things. I get very uncomfortable in those sorts of situations.
Carolyn Hax: Do you have any female friends?
Having a Moment:
I am seven months pregnant and alone in an office with a tray of leftover brownies. Please help.
Carolyn Hax: Have two, chuck remainder. You can do it. Be strong.
Having had to convict someone of involuntary manslaughter, let me tell you, it's a hard thing to convict someone of, because most of the time you really can see how easy it was to fall into the cirecumstances. Involuntary manslaughter could be any of the following: Death resulting from a traffic accident, having a bad argument and someone falls down the stairs and is killed, defending yourself from someone but not having enough proof that your staying and defending yourself was easier than fleeing (really), drunk-driving accident.
The guy did time, served his sentence, and he's trying to get on with life. Hard to get a job as a convicted felon, and if were a choice between lying on an application and taking the fallout later on or starving, I think most of us would lie and let the chips fall where they may.
Don't judge unless you have ALL the facts.
Carolyn Hax: I agree with the last part, but not with the lying. I don't know. It just seems wrong, especially in the context of an intimate relationship. Could you trust someone who hid that?
I need your advice:
My boyfriend's family just put together a family "year book" -- it's a family tradition. There are no pictures of me or anything. Absolutely nothing -- although I got together with them many times and took lots of pictures. Since it's a "family" thing, I don't mind that I am not in it. But my boyfriend's former spouse is included in the yearbook (and other things). It's been a few years since they were no longer a couple. How should I react when they go through the year book together and it's obvious that I am not in it and she is? Should I just pretend like it's no big deal or I didn't notice? I feel hurt by this but want things to be easy for my boyfriend since it's not his fault. What are your opinions on this, assuming that I have good relationships with them all?
Carolyn Hax: Thoughts are, it could easily have been an oversight. My pops put together the annual Hax family calendar last year and forgot one of my sisters. I believe he likes her just fine. Treat it as a chaos casualty and forget about it.
New York, N.Y.:
Two days ago I got a very generous job offer. It would be a great change from my current (and frankly, horrible) job. Taking this job would be, as everyone is telling me "good for me" because it would be a step up in my career and because I'm really unhappy in my current job. The thing is, however, that I'm really happy the other 16 hours of the day that I'm not at work. And I'm terrified that I'll move to this new city some 600 miles from my friends and hate it. All the signs point to the fact that I should accept the offer. Would it be wrong to turn down something that looks so promising just because of the fear of loneliness?
Carolyn Hax: Hm, wish you hadn't phrased it that way. Decisions made out of fear don't seem to turn out happily. But had you said you love your life and your city and you don't want to leave, then it would be easy. Stay and keep hunting for a better job in New York.
Relationship fears -- Somewhere in the U.S.:
As one of the oldest living virgins (in many senses of the word) in the world, I'm petrified of relationships going past a first date. Of course, there isn't much reason to be scared, because I've been on all of two first dates in my life. I've suffered from depression off-and-on for half of my twenty-something life, and when I actually a psychiatrist about this 'issue,' she asked me how it made me feel. I wanted to scream - "How the HELL do you think it makes me feel? Unloved, undesirable, prone to die a virgin and never having even been kissed. Makes me feel like a FREAK!" I didn't say much, because this these feelings are VERY difficult to express... Anything you could say to make me not feel like a freak would be greatly appreciated. Thanks and LOVE the column and chats.
Carolyn Hax: Oh, you should have just screamed! Seriously. There's no better place than that office to venture out into the whole business of being yourself, out loud. First dates are no place to start, that's for damn sure. They scare everybody. (So, no, you're not a freak.)
To feel loved the way you want to feel loved (eventually, since it takes time), you're going to have to make yourself, good and bad, available to people--which brings with it a risk of rejection. No way around it. But there is a way through it, which is to like yourself enough so that the rejection stays in perspective. It hurts, but it's just one person's opinion.
In your case, you've worked on the depression, which is great, and you're ready to move onto something else. It doesn't have to be a broad leap to dating, though. Work on friendships, interests, whatever makes you feel more sure of yourself. Then see where that takes you romantically. Nothing freaky about that, either.
Depressed in college:
People recommend treatment, counseling, medication and all that for depression, but no one mentions diet. The brain chemicals that keep you balanced, and actually everything in your body, is made from raw materials that come from food.
Poor diet can certainly lead to depression, in my experience -- and college is a great time for poor diet. I changed my diet, and it took a while because I was pretty sick -- but once I got better I had an unexpected side effect -- I felt happy. I'd forgotten what it felt like to feel happy.
So anyway, agreeing with you Carolyn about calling for help ASAP if suicidal. Just adding that doing all the recommended things doesn't mean you've tried it all and now it's hopeless. There is always something else to try.
Carolyn Hax: Including exercise--a proven, natural anti-depressant. I don't know much about a link between diet and depression specifically, but I do agree people tend to overlook plain physical health, including diet, exercise and proper sleep, when it comes treating depression. Thanks for the post.
To depressed in Philly:
I was in the same position as you several years ago, and my psychiatrist taught me some invaluable tools that went along with the therapy and meds. The first and foremost is, do not indulge in the thoughts. When, for example, you think in your head, "I am so depressed and want to die," respond to yourself with, "No, I do not really want to die and the depression will get better." Do not allow yourself to dwell on the thoughts. I think for some people (myself included), after years of depression, you get in the habit of negative thoughts. You must break the habit. Changing my thoughts patterns, along with other intensive therapy and a year or so on Zoloft, made all the difference. I see the world in a whole new way, and so can you!
Carolyn Hax: Good!
Upbeat note to end on, also good. Bye everybody, thanks, and happy weekend. (Goh Peeyats!)