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Tell Me About It

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

She's back!

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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Carolyn Hax: Hi guys. Thanks for all the nice postings. After 10 weeks of poop and screaming, I'm ready for something different. Online poop and screaming.

For those who would entrust me with their questions, please note I haven't slept in two years.

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Carolyn Hax: By the way--does raising kids to watch the Red Sox constitute child abuse?

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Bewildered: Is there a statute of limitations on dating a friend's ex- spouse? Say 10 years have come and gone and your friend is re-married. Is it still taboo?

Bewildered

Carolyn Hax: Only if the parting was bitter--specifically if the ex-spouse wronged your friend and never copped to it. Otherwise, laws of maturity prevail.

Ie, good luck.

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San Francisco, Calif.: Welcome back! And thank goodness...Back in February, I began dating a man who rather quickly (within a matter of two months) professed his love, told me he knew how'd he propose, etc. There were times when I felt things were proceeding too quickly but didn't say we should slow things down because I was afraid he'd take it as rejection.

Well, last week he told me that he's not ready for a relationship, that he wants to just "date" me, and maybe "date" other women as well. I never put pressure on him to be in a relationship, and simply allowed things to go as he seemed to want them to go. Now I'm left feeling hurt, betrayed and not so sure I want to date him at all. Where did I go wrong?

Carolyn Hax: You went wrong the moment you tuned out your skepticism because you were afraid of the way he'd react.

Why did you respect his feelings more than you did your own doubts? Other people's feelings matter, of course, but that means only that you're obliged to keep them in mind, not treat them as marching orders.

(I'll make this a two-part post since i'm taking so long ...)

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Carolyn Hax: Whether it was founded or not, you had a reason (or reasons) to be skeptical. You owed it to yourself to pay attention to what your instincts were telling you, and then to act accordingly. So you thought things were moving too quickly. Did that mean you didn't feel as strongly for him as he did for you, or you didn't believe he knew you well enough yet to like you as much as he professed, or what? And once you had an answer there, then you owed it to yourself AND the guy to deal with the answer. To speak up, to slow things down, whatever. And if he took that as a rejection, then so be it--he wasn't ready for honesty. And so he wasn't for you.

BTW, the arc of his affections is classic for someone in a big hurry to have a relationship. Instant strong feelings usually mean a person's after something else, and you're just the vehicle. Use this as permission not to take the rejection personally.

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Bad Mom?: I recently found out I'm pregnant, and I'm not as giddy and elated as your average woman. Is something wrong with me? It was a planned pregnancy, though it happened immediately after beginning to try (which I think is a part of my weird feelings). I don't mean to imply that I'm not happy, because I am and I want children, but I'm also mourning the loss of my "old" life and still reeling from the sudden-ness of it all (I've known for more than a month, and still feel the same). Any insights?

Carolyn Hax: Mixed feelings are pretty common, as are guilt feelings for having mixed feelings. So, nothing wrong with you. There might have been something missing from your reasoning behind trying to get pregnant, though, and while it may seem like a moot point now I think there might be some peace to be found in staring down your motives. Were you under outside pressure, or were you following a life script that you chose without serious thought? Talk about common--school, job, mate, house, kids, holy [bleep] how did I get here? If either of these is true, it doesn't make you a bad mother, it just might make you an apprehensive and mildly confused one. Nothing that honest contemplation can't cure.

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Contraction-ville (ain't pretty): You come back right as I go into my first labor! I'll catch you on the transcripts but you were missed. Hope all went well...

Carolyn Hax: Thanks! It was a giggle a minute. Good luck, and remember, it does end.

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Fairfax, Va.: I just turned down a third lunch invitation for today. I'm trying to lose some weight, following a sensible plan (Weight Watchers), and due to a bit of overeating this morning, I need to eat light the rest of the day to stick with the program. I've been having motivation issues, finally feel like I've rediscovered my motivation, and don't want to get derailed. But if I'm turning down invites out of a desire to lose weight, is this a sign of a problem (it makes me a little uncomfortable that I've been making up excuses about not being available to go to lunch this afternoon rather than telling the truth), or just that I'm prioritizing myself right now? As a reference point, these lunch invites come up just about every day in this office, and usually I plan for them.

Carolyn Hax: Is it a problem? No, I don't think so. But it is a bummer, as well as minor crime against nature. Program or no, your body needs fuel. That means lunch. If you can't refuel sensibly in the company of others, either the others need to choose their restaurants better or you need to chuck your program.

I applaud your motivation, especially the fact that you aren't using your one slip as an excuse to give up--but if overeating this a.m. means that, according to the program, you have only enough points left for lettuce tea for the rest of the day, sticking to the program isn't going to help you. Sensible fuel will help you. If having a Plan keeps you on track, great, but how long is that going to last before you start resenting the way you have to scehdule yourself around food? Consider using knowledge of nutrition as your primary plan and using any formal plan as only a backup.

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Washington, D.C.: Good to have you back! My question is this: What should I do if my boyfriend always want to invite friends along when we go out? I feel like unless I specify that I want to be alone with him someone else will always be coming along. Most irritating is the habit of asking if I mind if they come along as he is on the phone inviting them. Any ideas?

Carolyn Hax: Have you talked about this when he isn't already on the phone inviting other people?

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Carolyn Hax: Oh, and thank you. My one brisk post today and I forget my manners.

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D.C. to Boston to NYC: Hi Carolyn -

Congrats on the new baby and welcome back!

I have decided to cut off a friend -- to block her e-mails, phone number, etc. She basically stole money (about $400) from me a few months ago and we have gotten into fights over it three times since then. She finally said she'd send me a check on June 1 (she is in Boston, I moved to NYC for a job two months ago) but it never arrived. When I reminded her of it via e-mail last week, she ignored it, and said half my e-mails to her ended up in spam. But she told her boyfriend that I "was after the money again" (in those words) and he in turn told my boyfriend, who told me to stop harassing them.

Basically, I am out $400 (which happened while I was on unemployment, no less) AND apparently am the bad guy. I know I will never get paid, and now I feel there is a rift with my boyfriend on top of it. I feel the best way is just to ex-communicate her from my life. But do I owe her an explanation first? I think it will just result in another fight and have me feeling worse.

Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks!

On the face, I'd say the answer is no, you don't owe an explanation, not unless it would give you some peace of mind. (Though it would open you to her saying something to infuriate you further, always the risk when you try to explain yourself in a volatile situation.)

But: Your boyfriend's not backing you is weird. If you're right that this money was "basically" stolen (whatever that means), then shouldn't you be cutting your friend AND your boyfriend loose? Why does he get a pass? If you're in the right here, someone close to you and theoretically on your side shouldn't see your efforts to collect as harassment.

Alternative is, this is a more complicated story and he has a point and maybe you should hear him out. Without the details, I can't say.

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Norfolk, Va.: I don't know how to ask this question without sounding like a pig. So, I'm just going to ask it... after giving you a little backstory first.

I'm a 35-year-old male and my wife is 31. We're both working professionals (Me: Computers /She: Physical Therapist) and when we married five-and-a-half years ago, we were "pleasantly plump." About a year-and-a-half ago, she lost 30+ pounds in six months and has managed to keep it off. She looks terrific -- gorgeous, even -- and to show off her new body she has changed to a more revealing wardrobe. So, her "assets" are more emphasized than ever before. My problem is, when I married her, she was beautiful but dressed sort of plainly and had low self esteem about her looks. I used to always tell her she was beautiful and she'd coyly say, "No I'm not." Now, she's sort of become the Vogue magazine version of beautiful and her career has really started to take off.

For myself, I've become insecure about whether I deserve to be married to such a beautiful person. My conscience questions whether she'd want to stay with me -- a guy who lost 40 pounds and managed to somehow regain it all back within the same year.

So my pig headed question is, "What needs to happen to me in order to feel reassured by a woman who once felt within my grasp, but no longer feels that way?"

- PLEASE BE GENTLE IN NORFOLK

Carolyn Hax: The only oinking I hear is the suggestion that getting in shape puts the burden on her to reassure you. Grow up, Wilbur. It's your job to take care of yourself.

So do it. Not for her, though--she liked you plump, remember? Enough to marry you? Do it so you can say you beat your insecurities instead of just feeding them Cheez Doodles.

And by taking care of yourself I do mean eating wisely, exercising, blah x 3, but I also mean dealing with your depleted self-worth (on which exercise in particular can work wonders, for what it's worth). Carried with the right attitude, a few extra pounds can be perfectly attractive. Whining that you're not good enough for someone? People can't run away fast enough. Your weight is merely a symptom.

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Weight Watchers: Carolyn,

I'm afraid that your discouragement of the woman who was trying Weight Watchers will get her off the program and it is really one of the healthiest and most flexible plans out there (no crazy all meat type stuff).

It can be incredibly hard when you are dieting to be around temptation. Maybe she has enough points left to eat "fuel" for the day but if she is around the restaurant food which is always cooked with a ton of oil (it is just the nature of the beast), she may end up making unhealthy choices. Also, she isn't saying that it is a life change and that she will never go out with her friends again, just that she isn't going this once.

To me, that is not such a bad thing. Breaking bad eating habits takes a ton of self control and she is in the development process of gaining that self control. Once she gets it, she'll be back at social lunches.

Carolyn Hax: I'm afraid of that too, and thought twice before typing what I did, but in the end I don't think any program is the answer. Initially, fine, whatever it takes to get started--and I meant my applause for the motivation. I just don't think anything that forces artificial social behavior has a future. (Of course running in circles for 30 min hardly strikes me as natural, but I'll gladly sacrifice philosophical consistency for effectiveness.)

If she declines a few lunch invitations today to keep the wheels on the bus, fine. But education about food--reading labels, understanding what they mean, understanding metabolism, parsing one's own cravings--is the only "diet" that I've seen work long-term.

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Re: Piggy: Carolyn, your advice is almost always right on, but I think you ignored the point that our self-conscious friend with the now-gorgeous wife was trying to get at: She may have been happy with a large man when she was a large woman, but now that she is dy-no-mite...

It's not like that type of change in preference -- shallow or not -- doesn't happen every day.

Carolyn Hax: I did ignore it! Practical considerations: What she does is beyond his control. He can either stay as-is, if that's the way he's most comfortable with himself, or work on his body, if that's what feels right to him. In both cases, she will do what she will do. I just hope that in the process they'll at least be honest with each other. One burden that -is- on her is to let him know if her hot self has developed a different opinion of him. E.g., "Exercise and self-discipline have become important to me, and it's now difficult for me to respect the way you treat yourself." If that's in fact the way she feels.

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Lending Money to Friends: Never lend more than you can afford to never see again.

Carolyn Hax: Or: True friends only steal what you can afford to lose.

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Charlottesville, Va.: Hi Carolyn; great to have you back. Hope all the little ones are fine!

If you are lucky enough to meet someone when you are in your early 20s, smart enough to want to wait to get married so you have time to grow, get to know yourself and the other person, get established in a career, blah, blah, blah, how does one determine how long a wait is too long? Do you just know when the time is right? Is it practical or reasonable for a couple to date 6 or 7 years when that little biological time clock is ticking?

Carolyn Hax: If you met in your early 20s and 6 or 7 years have elapsed, your little clock may be ticking, but not so loudly that you can't concentrate.

There's no one answer to this question, since the "time is right" question is one best answered in hindsight. We all think we know what we want at any given time; it's only when the consequences of a choice start filling the mailbox that we question our soundness of mind. So, the best thing I can recommend, and I -strenuously- recommend it (channeling Demi in "A Few Good Men"), is that you feel utterly comfortable being yourself, your best AND ugliest self, in the presence of this person before you decide it's for real. If you're holding back X opinion or Y news because of how you fear someone will react (see fast-moving relationship question, above), you're not there yet.

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Silver Spring, Curlygirl: This happened to me once. Consider the $400 the price-of-admission to learning the truth about your "friend." All things considered, I'd gladly pay $400 to know someone wasn't genuine than to limp along with a Judas in my pocket.

Carolyn Hax: Agreed. Totally ruins the line of a good pair of pants.

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Portland, Ore.: Any tips on how to get over a lost friendship? My best friend basically ditched me for her boyfriend, and didn't seem to understand why I cared that we don't hang out anymore when I tried to talk to her about it. To make matters worse, I don't even think that the boyfriend treats her that well (no abuse or anything, they just don't seem happy).

Carolyn Hax: Her neglecting you isn't fair and I'm not defending it, but I think it can be explained. If she and this guy have created a messy, unhappy relationship beast, it's not surpising that it's sucking the oxygen from other parts of her life. Chances are this is about her hangups, etc, more than it is about you, and while you shouldn't give her a complete pass--move on, do what you've got to do, blah x 3--consider giving her a chance if she comes crawling back. With proper apologies and perspective and all that.

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Sloppy Seconds: As a second child, I resent that you aren't talking more about your new baby (even if it is the third child). How is the new one??

Carolyn Hax: Hey, I'm a fourth child. I don't think my parents even took pictures. Besides, I thought I was being consistent by not going on about my critters, any of them. But if there's fairness on the line: No. 3--August John, but we're calling him Gus--is doing great, especially given that his 6- to 7-week crying jag is mostly behind him. Apparently now they're calling it "what used to be known as colic." Kind of like The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, I guess. Anyway, thanks for asking.

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Dating a Friend's Ex: Be wary... be very wary. My wife's best friend decided to date her ex-husband after we got married. Now, this was the best friend who heard all of the sob stories from my wife when the marriage was failing. She asked my wife if it would be OK first, my wife said yes, but then reminded her of how selfish, controlling and abusive he became. She plunged in headfirst, got burned, then blamed it ALL on my wife for not telling her no. Actually accused her of encouraging the relationship so she'd get hurt, to get back at her over some perceived slight. Personally, I'm happy to be rid of the Nut Job Friend, but they're out there in spades.

Carolyn Hax: Be very wary ... of nut jobs as best friends. The dating of the ex-husband was not a problem in itself, it was merely a catalyst. Your wife played it just right. Had the ex issue not come up, there would have been something else.

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How do you know when...: ...you're not happy? I have this vague sense that I'm unhappy with my life, but the flipside of my mind says maybe this is as good as it gets and I shouldn't take that for granted. Any thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Hide the sharp things? Yeah life goes down better with a sprinkling of reality dust--kind of like confectioner's sugar--so go ahead and remind yourself that things could always be worse. But don't do that so much that you rationalize away all your chances to feel joy. I don't mean just the everyday joys of, say, hearing a song you like or enjoying your food (which, byt the way, are pretty reliable signals of happiness--if you don't feel any, you're not). I mean the bigger ones. You need to seed the various aspects of your life with potential long-term payoffs that keep you engaged. Watching a project come together, watching a child grow, watching life unfold through your partner's eyes, watching a puppy grow into your best friend.

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Re: San Francisco: Having just ended a relationship that sounds very similar in its "arc" of affections, and trying very hard not to take the rejection personally -- nor feel embarrassed for having poor judgment -- I'm interested in what those other things are that you say people expressing instant strong emotions are "after."

Carolyn Hax: Security, affirmation, some media-borne image of a happy couple, sex--lots of things. But they're all in the same general family, since it's really about going through the motions of intimacy without the actual intimacy. The real thing is one-of-a-kind, and it has nothing to do with roses and candlelight dinners. Not that there's anything wrong with either of those.

Don't beat yourself up. It's hard to resist being lavished with attention that seems sincere. We all fall for it at some point.

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Carolyn Hax: Gotta go. Thanks everybody, especially for your patience both as I acquired the rust and attempted to work it off. Have a great weekend and type to you next Friday.

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