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Tell Me About It

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With Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 20, 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: 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.: Carolyn

You give great advice and great chat!

A couple of weeks back online, you had a question from a woman who didn't want to have sex until she was married and another question about a guy who didn't want to say "I love you" until he met the woman he was going to marry.

You said the woman was well within her rights to make her decision, but the guy was controlling. I thought you would get tons of comments on the diffent perspectives, i.e. it is more sacred for a woman to give physical intimacy than a man to give emotional intimacy.

In my book, they were both doing what few people do today -- wait for the right person.

Am I wrong?

Carolyn Hax: Thanks!

It's your book, so you get to write it.

But I saw (and still see) two cases that don't compare so neatly. The guy's story had more context to it that suggested he was idealizing not only his future Great and Only Love but also the person whom he would bless with that title. Gave me the creeps.

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But yes, every single woman is jealous : Regarding today's column. Yes, jealous is too strong of a word, when chances are they have just grown apart. Wish you had called him a little more to task for assuming its jealousy. Why do all married folk thing single folk are jealous of them? And then jealous of kids too? That is oh so presumptuous. Perhaps the wife needs to look at what she talks about when she does (or did) get together with her old friends. If she was all talk of husband and baby, especially baby, then its no wonder they don't hang out anymore. Yes, I realize that is what her life is now, but I've seen it happen. Some moms get so wrapped up in their kids, you can't get a word in edgewise. I phased out one married friend because of patronizing comments, like "Now that is why I got married" and "I'm so glad I don't live like that anymore." People grown apart, and if the couple is happy living the married with kids life, perhaps they should seek out new friends. Make new friends, but keep the old.

Carolyn Hax: I agree with everythinhg you said, thanks, except the part about taking the husband to task. Much as I would have liked to, seeing as it's one of my favorite pastimes, he was merely repeating what his wife had apparently said, and so I felt I had to make my point without killing the messenger.

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Still confused on Long Island...: Hey Carolyn!
I am submitting this for the third week in a row and would LOVE for you to answer. I know you get a million questions. So I have been "seeing" this guy for about two years now. We went to college together, but things didn't get spicy until afterwards. I know that he slept with other girls in college. We pretty much only hook up with each, but we are not bf/gf. He does not want to have sex because he is "scared to death that it will ruin our friendship." I've tried seeing other guys, but I always end up back with him. He tells me that he is so hurt when he sees me with other guys. We talk all of the time, hang out all of the time, and he's told me that he loves me on several occasions. Is this not going anywhere or just moving at a snail's pace?

Carolyn Hax: Could be either one. How bout this: "I'm scared to death we're missing out on something great just because we're scared to death." Unless you're experiencing a direct threat to your life, fear is a lousy motivator. I'd present him with the attitude that yes, caring about people hurts sometimes, so what?

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New York, N.Y.: How should I handle this situation? On Saturday I got roses from a secret admirer; none of my girlfriends have confessed to sending the cheer-me-up bouquet, and I suspect it might be a former supervisor-now-just-a-friend from work, "Jerry." Last night I went out with Jerry and some other work friends and got pretty sloshed. I took a cab home (by myself!) around 10:30. At 11:14 my cell starts ringing -- it's Jerry. I ignored it and thought that if it was something important, he would leave a message. Five minutes later, he called again -- and again, no message. So I turned my cell off. In the sober light of day, what should I do? I am not romantically interested in this guy. Should I just ignore all of this, or bring it up so it doesn't happen again?

Carolyn Hax: So what doesn't happen again? You have a couple of coincidences that may support your conclusion, but also may not. Flowers could be from someone else entirely and Jerry could have been checking to make sure you got home okay--which friends should always do for friends who leave sloshed and alone. Ignore "this" until you actually know something, then deal with it then.

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The Shore: Any suggestions for someone that just doesn't like herself? How do you change your personality to be someone you actually enjoy? I don't want to turn myself into anyone special -- just somebody I don't loathe or constantly doubt...

Carolyn Hax: Therapy, for starters. Sorry to be so boilerplate. But self-loathing is the first step to a lot of serious stuff that you really don't want to have to deal with, if you aren't dealing with it already.

Then I'd strongly suggest being nice. Sorry to be so simplistic. But unless being a doormat is what you don't like about yourself (in which case the advice still applies, though it gets a bit more complex), it's easy to underestimate the restorative power of kindness. Every day presents about 20 little opportunities for decency--like holding the door for someone with his hands full or leaving an oversize tip--that reflect happily on you. And then if the little stuff works, go bigger. Call someone out of the blue, send flowers, sponsor a shelter dog.

And then ... when you feel lifted by these things, use that state of mind to look at the parts of your life that you loathe or resent or doubt.

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Far from home: I used to live in the United States until my father's job took my family to Europe. Since I've moved, I've met a guy online who lives near my hometown. I've been talking to him for more than a year-and-a-half now, and we are dying to meet each other. We plan on doing actually going through with it when I visit my old home.

I'm certain of who he is, and I know that meeting him wouldn't be dangerous, but I am afraid if I tell my parents they won't let me. I don't normally keep secrets from them, but I would be devastated if the refused to allow me to go. What should I do?

Carolyn Hax: How old are you?

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Childless in Virginia: What do you do when you are closest friends with someone (married, 1 child) whose answer to anything child related is "You don't know, you don't have a child"? (or other semi-hostile versions of the same?) It's getting to where I am wondering should I feel guilty that my husband and I don't have (or are even sure if we want) kids?

Carolyn Hax: I hope you're not serious about wondering that.

Before you go internalizing your friend's answer, try telling -her- how it makes you feel. "I know I don't know, but it makes me feel pretty worthless when you say things like that to me."

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re: Being Nice: So, what is your advice if one of the things that frustrates you about yourself is that you're too nice and put everyone else first. Or that you go out of your way to present a certain image of yourself that you almost feel like you're acting all of the time (except with 1 or 2 people). These are things that I'm frustrated with about myself and trying to find a way to change...

Carolyn Hax: For the first, I'd institute a private little merit system. For people who are good to you or who have a real need that you're happy to fill (like the guy trying to open the door with his hands full), you are a warm and giving soul. For people who take advantage of you, you are politely remote.

For the second, the direct suggestion would be just to drop the act. Not so easy, though, if you're terrified of the consequences, which is usually the case--e.g., you want badly to be liked, and fear you'll be rejected if you don't bow and scrape and play wonderful. So the first step then is to figure out why you're so afraid of getting even one negative review that you're hostage to people's opinions.

But then the second step is the same--drop the act and let people not like you. It usually shuffles out so that a few people think you're great, a few think you're awful, and the rest of them don't really care. Not bad, especially when you consider you don't have the pressure to act all the time.

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San Francisco, Calif.: Hi Carolyn.

You give great chat? That's sounds durty! hee hee.

Carolyn Hax: Eee, you're right. My brain put the missing article in there automatically.

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Why oh why: do people ask for phone numbers and never use them? Even when I specifically ask "If I give you this number, will you use it?"

I don't want to give any more details, or hints about gender, because I think men and women are equally guilty of this. I just don't understand it, and am hoping for some insight as to why this happens. I am so tired of meeting a great person, and giving out my number when asked, then never hearing from that person again!

Carolyn Hax: Caught up in the moment, drunk, it's easier to ask for a number than to say, "Nice talking to you but I'm done," put off by your grilling them ... anyone else? Not that any of these things is good, just that they're common. Churning up a froth about it isn't going to help, either, even if people are being jerks and you're justified in feeling frothy. Either lower your expectations to zero, or start asking for numbers yourself.

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Re: Being nice: When I was in college, I consciously dropped "my act." I found that most of my friends didn't care -- they had always seen me for who I am. And, at least in my case, it was nearly all of my friends, so I had been underestimating them.

Carolyn Hax: Nice point, thanks.

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Carolyn Hax: In fact, they probably did more than not care--I bet they were relieved.

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Amusement Park: Carolyn, The things I read in your chats are kind of amusing because it makes me think we have all lost our perspective. So far today you have had married people who disappear from friends, women who are suddenly all-knowing because they became mothers, single people whose friends fall off the earth when they become part of a couple. Funny, I thought having a child or being in a loving relationship was supposed to be a source of joy. And yet some people who get coupled and/or have kids seem to wear it like a badge of pride over their single and/or childless friends and it makes them do things to their friends to alienate them. It's slightly amusing because the logic is dumb. I am in a great relationship, and therefore don't want to see my friends anymore. I became a loving mother, and now I have no love for my friends. Funny.

Carolyn Hax: Funny, but sooo human. Think about it--we manage to take everything that's a source of joy, be it a baby or a promotion or a silly new toy--and turn it into a stick with which we beat our social competitors over the head. That is, till we grow up enough to feel secure enough not to need the ego enhancement that comes from putting somebody down.

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Arlington, Va.: Re: Sponsoring a shelter dog, how does that work? I'm an unabashed dog lover and occasional host to dogs belonging to friends who are traveling, but my situation doesn't lend itself to full time, responsible dog ownership. I might be able to take on temporary situations, though. Is that what shelter dog sponsorship is and if so, what is involved?

Carolyn Hax: I meant paying for an ad when a shelter does a newspaper or Web campaign with pictures and descriptions of pets that are up for adoption (not sure if all shelters do this, but I've seen so many that I think it's common enough). But your question makes me wonder if there's such a thing as foster care in the pet world ... I bet there is, through breed-rescue groups, since the rescued animals have to stay somewhere until they get placed. If this is something you'd like to do, I'd make a few calls to local SPCA-type orgs.

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Why oh why: are people so anal as to think if you give a number it must be used. Sure, it's a crappy move to not use it, but that's a risk you take with meeting new people. The next time I ask for a number, and the girl says "ok, but you've gotta use it", I'll just tell her to keep it.

Carolyn Hax: Which would be some bracing honesty, and that seems to be what people want, right?

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Vienna, Va.: Asking for a number and not using it: get busy, don't come up with the right opportunity, call and s/he's not there, feel it's too late, can't connect the name with the person/conversation... I've given out my number and then been remote when called. Timing is everything.

Carolyn Hax: Good ones, thanks.

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Snail Mail?: Hi Carolyn!
Do you ever get handwritten letters from people (re: the column)? If so, is there an address? C/O the Post?

Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Yup.

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

Full disclosure--I'm far more likely to see an email or online post.

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Re: Being Nice: The beauty of not being the nicest, most like person ever is when you stop trying to please everyone, you realize that you don't even LIKE everyone. So, if they don't like you back you don't give a crap!; Very liberating.

DC

Carolyn Hax: So very very true.

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Call, send a note, do nothing?: Dear Carolyn,
I recently learned (through a mutual friend) that my friend's husband is going through a very rough patch -- second DUI, in a sober halfway house, so away from his wife and baby girl. I want to be supportive, I'm so heartbroken for my friend and her husband, but I'm relieved he's seeking the help he needs. I know their extended families are nearby and supportive. I don't know what to do. I was thinking about calling when I thought she wouldn't be home, and leave a "Hi there, thinking of you, sending good thoughts your way..." kind of message. should I just send a short note instead? Do nothing? (obviously, this is not a subject they're announcing to the world). What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: Call her for real, and make a gesture of friendship that you normally would, like invite her dinner or offer to bring it. She's probably dying to feel normal.

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On the Subject of Ego Enhancement: I met a very attractive, intelligent, well-educated, professionally successful, and nice guy out last weekend, who, for some reason, felt the need to give me his father's resume! His dad happens to be head of a hospital, Yale/Harvard grad, etc. He was obviously very proud of his father and rightly so. At first I wondered what it meant that he was telling me all of that. Is he insecure or what? My dad is a maintenance man. Now I'm feeling insecure and wondering if I should even bother seeing him again!

Carolyn Hax: I don't know if he's insecure, and if you're not sure, why not just see him again? That is, assuming you liked him enough to want to. What his father does might have been just a random conversational detour.

Or not, but, again, you won't know till you know him better. Either way, what your father does is what he does, and there's no shame in any honest living, and it has no bearing on what goes on between you and a date. Go see if your date guy feels the same way.

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re: phone numbers: I asked a guy-friend once, why he didn't call girls who gave him phone numbers in bars. He said he only asked for the number to get it. It's an ego thing. The goal is to get a number not a date.

Carolyn Hax: In which case the non-call is a gift. Thanks muchly.

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Re: Sources of Joy: I think it's human nature to want to "one up" other people. Most people, if you give them something, they always want more; that's how humans are, in general. So instead of criticizing people who take this peacock show much too seriously, we should all just evaluate our own behavior in response to the show-offs. Put it in perspective, and suddenly a whiny new mother who can't stop gushing about her snot nosed kid becomes just another happy person. And next time maybe we think twice before starting the "I'm better than you" parade. My 2 cents.

Carolyn Hax: Very evolved--I'd charge two bucks.

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washingtonpost.com: Sorry about that, Carolyn.

Carolyn Hax: YOU crashed the site?

Fine by me--I think I'm a little off today.

But I'll stick around till my usual sign-off time, somewhere between now and Sunday.

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Okay... mom's turn: All right, Carolyn, I'll bite. What is the appropriate response to a childless friend who attempts to give you "advice" on how to raise your children that is obviously founded on abyssmal ignorance of what it's really like? I've had well-meaning friends give me advice that ranged from silly/harmless to downright jaw-dropping stupid. If it's not okay to tell a friend "You don't have kids, you don't understand," what is okay?

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for bringing this up--I should have included in my original answer that she should make sure she isn't telling her friend how ot raise her kids.

Anyhoo. I think the "okay" response is always dependent upon the circumstances, including the closeness of the friendship, the stupidity of the advice, the frequency of the advice attempts, etc. If it happens once, you ignore it and laugh really hard about it later with other parents. If you're close friends, you talk about it, or, better, laugh really hard about it right there. Etc. One of the great responses to unsolicited advice? "Thanks, I'll keep that in mind."

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Minneapolis, Minn.: Hi Carolyn! Online question for you -- I just joined a Jazzercise dance aerobics class. Almost everyone there is very welcoming and I make friends easily. However a woman in the back row seems avidly interested in scorning me. I am a bit of a learning clutz -- I have trouble turning images around in my mind, so following the instructor is harder for me than for most. I won't be inept once I've learned the steps, but I'm not troubling anyone.

This woman audibly snorted when I did something too slow, and laughed outright when the instructor asked someone else to show me something with the weights during class. I see her watching me before class and it isn't friendly interest, it's looking for something to ridicule. I don't know her, but it's clear she has no reason to be jealous of me for anything.

So, what I'm doing is looking to see if there is any unconscious part of me that thinks it's OK for her to scorn me -- easily there could be, I grew up with scorn. I think that's why she's after me, she senses that she can get her hooks in. But while I'm working on that I'm just wondering -- how would a person with no scornful history deal with this situation? What is normal? What would you do? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: I would feel bad--who likes to be ridiculed?--and then I would tell myself to override that feeling with pity for a person who feels the need to show scorn for a total stranger just trying to learn something new. Really--she's to be pitied, not feared. Imagine how miserable it is to be that person.

If I were in a particularly confident mood, I might also walk up to her after class to ask if I'd offended her in any way. (My courage for confrontation is spotty, so I don't want to pretend I'd stride up to her without compunction.) People like that really don't expect to be called on it--which is the other side of your suspicion that people see you as prey.

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Impatienceville: Tom Petty sure had it right when he said the waiting was the hardest part. Any advice on how to wait better without acting like a whiny brat?

I am waiting for the guy I'm seeing to get past a nightmare 3+ too-busy-to-see-me streak which included a two-week business trip, ungodly hours at work with no days off, and trying to catch up on his sleep.

Carolyn Hax: Seen any good movies lately? I always used to go by myself when I needed to get my mind off something.

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Re: animal fostering: YES! Most shelters are in great need of temporary homes for some of their animals, as they often run out of space in the shelter. Also because some animals respond much better to living in a private home rather than a shelter. If you feel you would be able to foster a pet until she/he finds a permanent home, please do call local shelters and/or rescue groups. They will be so grateful to hear from you!

Carolyn Hax: Grateful to hear that, thanks.

A lot of ongoing threads today.

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Concerned in Maryland: Moving in with boyfriend of 1.5 years soon. I've always lived alone as an adult. Like to be independent. I'm worried that I could never live with someone. I love him and want to make this next move with him to see how things are, but at the same time, can't imagine seeing him everyday. Sometimes, I discourage him from staying at my place because I want to sleep alone and enjoy being alone. I don't think it's him, but my friends say I should want to see him everyday and that if he truly is the one, it would be a pleasure to share a space with him. If this is true, then I'm more confused and scared. Maybe I'm just a loner? Any ideas, advice? Thanks ahead of time.

Carolyn Hax: Confused, scared, can't imagine, worried. 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 =

DON'T DO IT.

Really. I can't see one reason you want to move in with this guy, except maybe to prove to yourself that you're normal. Listen to what your little voices are screaming at you.

Or, take last week's advice (was it last week's?)--unless you like messy move-outs in which you pick book-by-book through the bookshelf to reclaim what's yours, don't move in with anyone as a test of your relationship. Save it for when you feel comfortable that this is a way you could live for the rest of your life.

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RE: Mom's Turn: As a single gal, I really like your answer Carolyn. It would appear that there is a lack of sensitivity of lacking on both sides. Mom's turn -- "abyssmal ignorance of what it's really like" is right up there with a single woman saying "at least I didn't settle for the loser you did." Both are equally offensive. Really, can't we all just THINK before we open our respective mouths?

Carolyn Hax: Or have blobs of Jell-o handy so we can pelt each other with them when we run out of epithets. Thanks.

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San Francisco, Calif.: On numbers... Met a girl at a bar one time, asked for her number, and actually used it. I called a few days later and got this reaction:
Me: "Hi, is (name) there?"
Her: "This is she."
Me: "I met you the other night..."
Her: "Oh, s--t", [click]

Not one of my favorite moments. Anyway, why does someone give out the number if they don't want the call? It appears, the call/not-call dilemma works both ways.

Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Not one of your favorite moments, but now one of my favorite posts. Hope you don't mind.

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Carolyn Hax: Sorry again guys--trying to find a good quick one to end on and stuck in needs-a-long-answer hell.

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Gay Marriage USA: How tacky is it to make a pilgrimage ot Massachusetts and elope, then send out marriage announcements with "No Gifts, Please" on the actual announcement? We're really doing this for us, not for the big rubber-chicken party (to which we've been subjected to plenty of those).

Carolyn Hax: Either leave off the "no gifts" and trust word-of-mouth to take care of that, or skip the announcemment altogether. Blank statements like that are off-putting, for one, and also--getting a few unwanted tokens of people's joy and affection for you is just not that awful a thing.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn- I'm posting early because your column this morning struck a nerve with me, and I wanted to get something off of my chest. I'm a 25 year-old female, in a long-term relationship, and I have found that it is really hard for me to make new girlfriends. I have some wonderful girlfriends from college, but we're spread all over the country. When we get together, it's great -- just like old times, but the rest of the time, I find it's hard to forge bonds like that with the people I'm meeting these days. I feel that when I meet single women, they discount me as a potential friend because I have a boyfriend. Or, if I go out with a group of single women, they are more concerned about meeting guys than really hanging out and having fun together. On the flip side, when I meet women who are married or have boyfriends, they automatically want us to all hang out as a foursome. I love my boyfriend, but I really miss the "girl time" I used to have when a lot of my friends and I lived in the same city. I don't feel like I have that anymore, and the only new friends I'm making are potential "double daters" -- which is nice, but do you have any advice for making good girl friends that I can have fun with?

Carolyn Hax: Two things. Double-date your way to, eventually, maybe a few closer friendships with the female halves of the pairs, and don't write off all single women because that rightly p's them off. (See thread No. 204 from earlier ... wonder if I can knit them all into one answer.) And be patient. It's just harder to make friends after college. Fact of life.

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Carolyn Hax: Couldn't find any quick answers, then found two. Anyway. That's it for Tell Me About It--Abridged. Thanks for sticking with it, and type to you next week.

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