Tell Me About It

With Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 19, 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.


Hickville, USA: I'm so tired of everything. Everything that goes on just makes everything worse. I just wish I had someone that loved me enough to just take me over for a while. To give me a break from this emptiness. Someone that would just hug me and tell me I'm OK, that I am a person. Is there anyone out there like that? Anyone that wouldn't cringe at the real me. The mutilated me. Someone who would see that side, say so what and love me anyway? I don't mean like a boyfriend, that's not my problem. I just want someone to SEE ME and love me anyways. Instead, everyone just sees the facade, and looks right through me. I'm invisible. I'm... nothing. Please... help me.

I'm dying inside and either no one knows, or no one cares. I'm alone. I have scars on my arms and shoulders. The razor in my bathroom screams my name, I can't throw it away. I want to cut myself, deep, and watch all my misery spill out of me for just a little while. So that just for a moment I feel some peace. For once, I would like to sleep, and actually wake feeling refreshed, and new. Not this dreamless, half-waking s--- I do at night. I wake and feel like I haven't slept at all. I only go to bed out of habit. If not, I would never sleep. At least when I'm awake my imagination offers some relief. When I sleep, there's nothing, just darkness. Black darkness. Someone, please, tell what is the point in all of this? Because I don't know. All I feel is emptiness and darkness. THAT IS ALL. I smile, and all I feel are the muscles in my face emotion. I laugh, the same thing. Even when I cry, I only feel hot tears running down my cheeks. There is no relief even in crying.

Please! I just want someone to love me and give me some peace. Some rest. Someone that can take away this emptiness. It's not even pain. It's beyond pain. It's nothing. The only way I feel anything at all are through the characters I play in plays, and then its not me. Please, help. If you were wondering, I'm turning 18 in a few weeks. And therapy isn't an option. My parents think I'm the perfect child, and to find out otherwise, would kill them. I stopped cutting myself, it's just tempting. I actually wrote you a little over a month ago, but lied about my state. I said I was from South Carolina. I haven't cut since then, but, I'm still no where near happy. And I still want to, I just don't.

Carolyn Hax: Wait, don't be so quick to dismiss what you've accomplished--you're not cutting any more, and that's great. Truly.

I'm afraid, though, that if you keep fixating on a magic "someone" who will understand the real you, you'll sink back into the emptiness and frustration deeply enough to undo that accomplishment. There is no magic someone.

Good news is, there are more someones than you can count, and they all are poised and ready to understand and love you unconditionally. And hug you and tell you you're okay. Some of them are in your life already, in fact--you just won't see them that way until you give them a chance to know you, to hug you, to know you're in this pain so they can reassure you that you're okay.

Your parents, for example--you say it "would kill them" to find out you were someone other than the perfect child, but I'll argue that it would kill them to find out you were holding back your real feelings for fear of upsetting them. They WANT to know you. They're your parents. Let them, please.

Whether that's something you're prepared to do now or something you need help approaching, please please talk to an adult you trust, or even better, a trained counselor, at your school, church, wherever you have the easiest access. You're not alone in having these feelings, you're just isolated with them and so it seems to you like you're alone. Tap the same willpower that you used to stop cutting and use it to start talking.

Talk to us again, too--would you be willing to report back next week? I can't do hugs but I can and do care.


Washington, D.C.: Hi ya, Carolyn. I'm submitting this early because it's been on my mind. In last week's chat, with respect to gauging a successful marriage, you mentioned emotional satisfaction. What is this exactly and how does one know they've acheived it solo and/or in partnership with a SO? Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: When you don't feel lonely. I could try to explain further but I think everything else is covered by that one umbrella.


Re: Guy Friends: Carolyn,

I totally agree with your answer to the college freshman in today's article. My freshman year, several girlfriends and I made friends with a group of about 10 guys -- played cards, went to games, ordered pizza at 2 a.m. We bonded, laughed, cried... eventually some couples formed (10 years later, there are babies on the way!), but the friendships were just as important to me. Other people who I grew to love: a few professors, some friends' parents, "townies" I met at church, and students from other colleges I met on a semester abroad. Boyfriends can come and go, but these are the relationships that last.

Carolyn Hax: I feel like a twit for disagreeing with someone who agrees with me, but I've felt like worse, so here goes. It's your last line--saying boyfriends come and go but other friends don't is swinging almost too far the other way. Sometimes, the boyfriends stay to become best friends, old friends, life partners. Sometimes, the friends go. Point is, no one -type- of love has a corner on the significance market, so you should take and enjoy what you get, even when it's not likely to last. But I think you do agree with that part, which I appreciate.


Washington, D.C.: A suggestion for Hickville: sometimes having a creative outlet really helps. Try keeping a journal, you are gifted at writing.

Carolyn Hax: Excellent idea, thank you. I had also meant to suggest a physical release with an emotional element to it, like yoga. Stress should never be dismissed as just a mind thing.


Boston, Mass.: Please tell Hickville that the 'nuts love her, and that no one deserves to hurt themself.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, guys. There are a lot of these, Hickville. Hang in there.


To Hicksville, USA: Carolyn, you advice was great, but I wanted to add something, too. We've all felt this way at some point in our lives. It's hard. I would encourage him or her to do unto others... meaning, if all they want is someone to hug them, then hug someone else who needs it. Volunteer at a hospital or homeless shelter, and by helping others, and following the advice you gave, perhaps that will help them help themselves.

Carolyn Hax: Another good suggestion, thank you.


Washington, D.C.: In reference to the "successful marriage"... I guess I don't really have one. I am so very lonely in my marriage. He's physically there, but we can not connect no matter how hard we try. Could it be that neither of us really want to? How do I gather the courage to examine my choices and what I truly want to do?

Carolyn Hax: You just do it. I'm guessing just the fact that you put these possibilities in writing means you're already starting to face them. Now you have only to keep going (as if you have a choice; in my experience, open that door a crack and there's no way you can shut it again).

Two things to keep in mind if that's true: There's no "no matter how hard we try" until you actually say to each other the things you're scared to death to say, and, barring any bizarre twists, there's nothing you can set in motion that'll feel worse than the loneliness. If there's a name for that I'd guess it's "desperation," but if it passes for courage, so be it.


Re: Hickville: Carolyn, you're usually right -- about everything -- and I hope you are in this case, too, about the parents wanting to know the Real Hickville. (Hickville, I'm a parent, and I know I do truly want to know my child.)

Can't say that's universal, though, for all parents, for it certainly is not the case with my own mother. I do not live up to her image of what her daughter should be, and she is not the least bit interested in knowing the real me. That's a pity, but there it is.

Hickville, do try to let your parents know the real you; it will likely deepen your relationship with them a great deal, and will give them an opportunity to grow a great deal, as you grow, too.

In any case, they do NOT want you hurt, even if they are not open to learning who you really are.

A lot of young people go through what you are going through -- I did -- and it hurts like hell, but it DOES pass, and it passes more quickly with help. Please please please talk to someone.

Carolyn Hax: I'm wrong plenty, and you're right that I don't want to be wrong here. Thanks for the thoughtful plan B.

One thing to add--that parents who can't/won't/don't have an honest relationship with their kids usually get that way for -their- reasons. Meaning, it's not the kid's fault, it's the parent's, for having a blind spot. Sad thing is, it's often (I'd even say usually) something the parents themselves don't realize they have. I think they'd all love to be close to their kids, but just aren't equipped to be.

Funny how all roads lead back to finding the courage to say what you feel.


Boston, Mass.: Hi-
Let's say you're sitting quietly sipping tea in a lovely little cafe. Then right next to you plops some guy wearing one of those phone headsets, who proceeds to blather on loudly about nothing to the whomever is on the other end. When this happened to me last weekend, I took it as a cue to get up and leave. But I don't like this option. I want to sit in a cafe, too. What would you, Carolyn Hax, do in the same situation?

Carolyn Hax: I, Carolyn Hax, would plant two 13-month-olds right next to him to eat their banana cubes, and make -him- get up and leave.

Not really. I'd leave too.


New York: So this is an interesting one... I've been cabbing down to work with this girl for about three or four months now. She's very attractive, and we manage to have interesting conversations at 7 in the morning five days a week. I should ask this girl out.

So I was doing a little homework, asking our mutual friend about her, when the friend tells me she has a boyfriend. I'm a little confused by this, because in the entire time we've been meeting up,she hasn't mentioned a boyfriend once.

Now obviously, she has every right not to tell me this, but everyone but me, including my boss' wife just knows this as a matter of fact. I'll admit I haven't explicitly asked her "do you have a boyfriend," mostly because I don't want to intimate my attraction and make things weird, but I'm just trying to figure out why someone would actively avoid mentioning a boyfriend in answering the question "so what are your plans for Valentines Day?"

OK. I just want you to tell me she's totally into me and I should go for it.

Carolyn Hax: She's totally into you. Go for it.

Or, what I was thinking before you handed me my line: She hasn't mentioned a boyfriend, so ask her out. She knows what her relationship is better than your mutual friend or boss's wife does.


Re: Today's column: While I agree you with you for the most part, great friendships don't always compensate for lack of kisses.

Carolyn Hax: And kisses don't always compensate for the lack of great friendships. Would the person who has everything please step forward?


Carolyn Hax: Our luck, it'll be the guy yelling into his headset at the coffee shop.


Washington, D.C.: I could use some advice. I am pregnant with my second and am having some complications. Nothing life threatening but I am having a lot of discomfort, worry and a slew of doctors appointment. My questions is when people ask how I am feeling or how the pregnancy is going should I be honest or just say the baby is doing great. Which thank the Universe is true. I hate to be dishonest but do people really want to know about my troubles. Close friends obviously know and I being terrific. Lots of offers to watch my two year old while I go to these appointments. But I am not sure how to handle people I am not close to.

Carolyn Hax: People may really want to know, but the bigger question is whether you really want to get into it with everyone. To keep an honest-but-arm's-length balance, your line works just fine, and for variety, "So far, so good, thanks" seems honest yet noncommittal. Good luck with it.


Noisy cafe: For someone who had just emphasized how important it is to say what you feel, I am surprised that you would suggest that if someone was talking too loud you would simply leave. Why not politely ask that they lower their voice? Maybe they just don't realize how loud they are being.

Carolyn Hax: Say what you feel to people you care about; pick battles in coffee shops. That happens not to be one I'd bother to fight.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn. My husband and I are trying to buy our first home. Since my sweetie has a pretty demanding job (12-hour days, overnight shifts, no weekend time off) the brunt of the legwork has fallen on me. Because I tend to worry about things (everything) -- this is stressing me out big-time. I know he's trying and he cares. But he reacts in his own laidback way. Do you have any suggestions about how I can keep things in perspective? I feel like I'm starting to get a little resentful and irritated.

Carolyn Hax: Walk away from it (assuming you haven't signed any contracts yet). House can wait till you put it all in perspective.

If you are in the midst of a binding deal, talk to your agent, mention that you're losing your bleep. A competent pro can both absorb a lot of the legwork and reassure you these deals are routine.


Pregnant: why do people always want to ask pregant women "how are you feeling?" I'd get tired of that in about two minutes.

Carolyn Hax: They're just showing they care. Beats the alternative, like letting Humpty Dumpties stand on a crowded Metro.


Louisville, Ky.: Please answer today, I am really desperate.

My grandfather asked that I speak at his funeral. I didn't want to be responsible for this, but how can you say no to this kind of request? He had been quite ill for many months and did pass away last night. The funeral is Monday, and I have no idea what to say or even where to begin -- funny stories, touching anecdotes, a list of his accomplishments? Please help. Any advice you or the peanuts could offer would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you.

Carolyn Hax: Tell us, a bunch of complete strangers, who he is and why you loved him.

Not literally, just have that in mind as you write.


Virginia: Hi Carolyn,
I've dated my girlfriend for 4+ years, and last fall, I decided I was going to propose on Easter. I was fine with that decision then, but now that the date is fast approaching, I am becoming super-nervous and stressed and having second thoughts about the whole thing. My question for you and your readers is, is this normal? Nothing has changed in our relationship, but I'm becoming a nervous wreck!

Carolyn Hax: Because ... you're afraid she'll say no? Afraid she'll say yes? Afraid you set an arbitrary date to propose because if someone had ordered you to marry her last fall, you'd have refused? Be honest with yourself about what you really really want, and then act on it--unless you're still not sure, in which case don't act.


None of my business?: Online only please.

I am 26 years old and have recently found out that my older sister had attempted suicide when she was 13 (I would have been six). She told me that my parents never mentioned it again after bringing her home from the hospital. My sister doesn't really remember why she attempted to kill herself and both she and my brother (who is in between us in age) have said that they don't remember much of their childhood. All three of us have struggled with self esteem.

I want to confront my parents on this. My sister still carries some guilt but doesn't want to go to therapy. I am angry that my parents never got her into consueling or talked to me about it. (they never talked to me about drugs or sex either). I idolized my sister growing up and copied her behavior all the time. I want to know why they weren't concerned for our welfare.

Is this any of my business? I have the best relationship with my parents out of all my siblings. Since finding out about this, I have been very angry with them. Is it my place to open this discussion or should I wait until my sister is ready to deal with it, if ever?

By the way, I live several hours away from my parents, so when I visit it is usually for a long weekend... long , awkward weekend.

Carolyn Hax: Certainly it's your place to question the home environment your parents created and how it affected you, but given the intensity (and velocity) of your feelings, and the big gaps and gray spots in your recollections of that home, you might want to bat this around in therapy of your own first. Just to get you a little more sure before you go charging off after your demons.

FWIW--I'm not entirely sure my parents ever "talked to me about drugs or sex," but they were consumed by concern for their kids' welfare. Meaning, some people just don't have the words--and your parents could have been in totally over their heads with the suicide attempt. Before you confront them, try to get a better sense of what happened.


Washington, D.C.: Is it wrong to feel guilty for not wanting to be friends with someone who I've been friends with for 20 years? She doesn't have many friends and everytime we get into an argument, I feel bad even though its not my fault. The main problem is her drinking and the way she acts when she does. We've talked about it but she always seem to do the same things over and over again. Any suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: If it really is her drinking that gets in the way, you're not helping by giving her a pass over and over again for bad behavior. Talk to someone at Al-Anon. Find out how to conduct yourself in a way that both helps her and inoculates you against guilt.


Carolyn Hax: I'm still here, just reading. Sorry.


Washington, D.C.: What would you say about a guy who still has anger and resentment toward a girlfriend he dated eight years ago? They dated for a year. To me, it seems odd to still have that much anger and feeling toward someone who you dated eight years ago and haven't talked to since. The way he talks, you'd think this girl broke his heart yesterday.


Carolyn Hax: I'd say he has his reasons for hanging on. Likes being the victim? Likes having pre-fab excuse to hide behind in case of future relationship blowouts? Likes having the last word and can't get past the fact that he didn't get it on her?

Lots of other possibilities, too, and none of them flattering. I would challenge him on it; his response might be enlightening.


Missoula, Mont.: Always thought love was supposed to be about the butterflies, a problem that has led me into liking many people too, too much and getting hurt. Trying to get away from that, and now I'm sort of falling into "like" with someone who likes me very much. But no butterflies, none at all. Is this reality (coming down from the fantasy is always hard!) or should I hold out for the butterflies? Mind says no, heart says yes.

Carolyn Hax: Define "butterflies." Do you feel any passion for this person? If not, I'd pass. (But stay friends if you find you're otherwise drawn to the person, since passion can have a delayed onset.)

But if you do have passion and all you're missing is the WHY HASN'T S/HE CALLED ME adrenaline rush, then it sounds like a pretty good thing. I mean, nothing wrong with having zero doubt whatsoever that you're loved and the call will come--if of course you love the person, too.


Alexandria, Va.: HELP! I have a serous etiquette question. My husband recently started therapy. What's the proper etiquette when he returns? How was your day dear? Talk about me much?

Or do I just ignore the whole thing (respect the doctor-patient relationship) and hope this all ends soon?

Carolyn Hax: "How'd it go? No need to answer that if you don't want to." And tuck the hope-this-all-ends-soon as far away as possible from your conscious self. No doubt he already feels like his problems are an imposition, so nothing to be gained from making him sure they are.


Washington, D.C.: Had a date with a girl from an Internet dating site and it was stilted and it didn't go well. Told all my friends about it including physical flaws of hers which turned me off (not that I'm perfect myself). But we had a second date which was better, and a third date which was great. She's grown more and more attractive the better I get to know her. I'm just afraid that my initial impressions of her will somehow get back to her and I neither want to hurt her feelings nor have her dislike me for thinking she was a little heavy or what-have-you. So, anything I should do or should I just stop worrying?

Carolyn Hax: Unless your friends are bereft of social skills, I'm sure they've connected the dots and realized you've revised your first impressions. And will keep their mouths shut accordingly.

And if they are bereft of social skills and do flap their gums, all you can do is tell her the truth--that you were obviously mistaken and figured that out by date 2.


None of my business again: In therapy, I realized that I always tried to save the day in my family (which is partially why it pains me to see my sister struggle with her relationship with my parents -- she still feels like they don't love her). I talked about my relationships with my parents in therapy, but I don't see how I will find out what happened with my sister from my own memory.

I love my parents and they I know they did their best, but every time they are critical/judgmental of other parents or talk about how someone should be in therapy, I want to ask them why they completely ignored my sister's suicide attempt. I am very tempted to ask them what happened back then, but I don't want to hurt my sister by bringing back old pains. Am I being selfish to want to ask my parents questions about this?

Carolyn Hax: No, not if just want to know more about what happened. It's your family, you're entitled. But again, I really would caution against going into it angry. I know, you feel how you feel, but those feelings are fueled by only one side of the story. What happened was a big deal; finding out about it, what, two decades after the fact makes it a weird deal as well. So go to your parents that way--say you just found out and you're stunned and you badly want to talk about it. And if they say something directly that makes you angry, then go for it, be angry.

As for hurting your sister, you can say to your parents that this is for you and for your reasons, and you don't want to drag her into it.


To every grown-up child: Kids don't come with manuals or guidebooks. Being a parent means on-the-job training, and let me tell ya, sometimes it's tough, very tough, to figure out what to do, what will help, how to do what's best for a child.

What to do when your eight-year-old and his little friend pee into a container and hide it in the shower because they didn't get the ziploc bag they wanted, which they were going to pour the pee into so they could hide it someplace? (This still makes me laugh! It's not often one gets the opportunity to receive a "Sorry about the pee" card.)

Or when your six-year-old wants to throw himself out his bedroom window because of a minor infraction?

Or when you find your daughter cutting herself?

Raising kids is tough. Rewarding, too, but man... 'tain't easy sometimes. Sometimes parents don't know WHAT to do, and sometimes, they are going to do the wrong thing.

Parents can only do the best they can, acknowledge their mistakes, hope the kids aren't scarred for life, and sometimes, apologize when they are.

Carolyn Hax: You're right, but I really just posted it for the pee story.


Fairfax, Va.: Is it me or is it that after two years or so relationships (not married) began to get boring?

Carolyn Hax: No no, it's not you. It's actually a great way to spot the good ones. Two years or so gone by and not boring yet = keeper. Unless by "not boring" you mean rocky and unpredictable and mind-twisting, in which case you're on your own. But if you're happy and stable and passionate and keep getting happier and more stable and not appreciably less passionate, that would be a good thing.


Internet Date: And if they are so bereft of social skills as to say something to her, then why are you hanging with them?

Carolyn Hax: I always leave room for the Friend You've Known Forever and with whom you have no earthly reason to be friends except that you can't imagine not being friends. Doesn't everyone have one or two?


Saying How you Feel: When you feel that you have made attempt after attempt after attempt to "say how you feel" with a close family member (i.e., sib or parent or child) and feel that you are time after time after time met with disinterest, ennui, and/or boredom, when do you cut your losses and just quit? Does Love (sometimes) mean never having to say I'll give you so much space that you're no longer in my world?

Carolyn Hax: When you're getting nothing out of the attempts but frustration, then I guess that's when you cut your losses. But I'm not sure ejection from your world is the next step, especially with family. Unless people are truly damaging you, the intermediate step--knowing their limitations and not expecting any more of them than they actually offer--is usually effective enough.


Re: Attempted Suicide: I can understand the writer's anger, but I can also see that she was six when it happened, and that it might be something her parents didn't think they should talk to her about, then because she was so young, and later because it was her sister's business. Not everything is done for a nefarious purpose; I understand her anger at her parents, but wonder if she'd be better off thinking about why this makes her so angry now, and why she's so sure her parents are not talking about it to protect themselves.

Carolyn Hax: Good stuff to consider, thanks. I imagine her history with them is behind most of the certainties she feels, but that doesn't mean she should close her mind to what they have to say.

BTW, I'm not sure the writer gave her sex, but I used "she" as a shortcut.


Minneapolis, Minn.: Carolyn -- are you having a baby soon? When are you due? What will we do without you when you are on leave?

Carolyn Hax: Since this is Parenting Horrors Day, seems appropriate.

Yes, due in a month or so. Column will still appear while I'm on leave, and I'll come back online as soon as I'm feeling up to it. Liz will know almost as soon as I do, so watch this space for news on both my departure and return.

And in other departure news, that's it for today. Thanks all, and type to you next Friday.


State of Confusion: Caroline Boy, you are confused.

Carolyn Hax: Snort.


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