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Tell Me About It

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With Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 23, 2004; 12:00 PM

Carolyn takes your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

Appearing every Wednesday and Friday in The Washington Post Style section and in Sunday Source, Tell Me About It ? offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there -- really recently. Carolyn Hax is a 30-something repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.

Mail can be directed to Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

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.: From boyfriend/girlfriend to boy friend/girl friend -- will it ever work?

Carolyn Hax: Yep. As long as you both act like grownups, meaning no held grudges. (I know, takes all the fun out of it.)

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Portland, Ore.: Hi Carolyn,
My 23-year-old daughter and her five-year-old daughter both live with me and are supported by me. I pay all the bills and do most of the housework. Whenever a chld support check happens to come, it is, naturally, in my daughter's name. She thinks she should get all or at least half of it because she's the mom. I think I should get most or all of it because I pay all the bills, including daycare (which actually exceeds my mortgage payment). She does occasional, freelance type jobs sometimes and very strongly believes that, since she makes so much less than I do, she should not have to contribute any of her pay to household expenses, except for gas, sometimes.

Most worrisome is that my healthcare insurance does not cover my granddaughter, so she is completely uncovered. My daughter will be covered until she is 24. If I were the legal guardian, I could cover my granddaughter. But my daughter will not even consider that... she becomes very angry near this topic.

This morning, during a minor argument about her schedule the next two weeks, she shoved me, knocked me down. I got angry and said I wanted her to pack, and that I didn't want to live with her anymore. Truly, I'd have no problem putting her out on the street -- her biggest interests are hanging out with friends (frequently until the wee hours so she's not able to be attentive to her daughter the next morning), getting stoned and becoming America's next Top Model. But I have a very hard time putting my granddaughter out.

I want out of this situation.
Do you have any ideas for action on my part?
Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: I would talk to a family counselor and a lawyer. Not being either one, I don't know what your options are (though I suspect they range from limited to unthinkable). But your granddaughter's well-being, not to mention your own, demands that you start doing your homework. Immediately. Please.

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Boise, Idaho: He cheats. We try to work it out, identify issues, etc. I take a couple of weeks to deal with my own stuff. He freaks out and breaks up with me. Then, for months, he tries to contact me through various means. Doesn't exactly say he's sorry but does say he realizes how good the relationship was for him and that he wants to work on his stuff. I see a pattern of not respecting me, my decisions or frankly his decisions (continuing attempts to contact me after he dumps me), not to mention the obvious amount of selfishness. Yet, a part of me wants to believe he's changed. I should run like hell, yes?

Carolyn Hax: What do you get out of all this drama? Figure that out, and it won't feel like you're running uphill.

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Rockville, Md.: I know summer wedding season is almost over, but maybe this isn't too late for the fall wedding planners.

A plea to the bride and groom:

PLEASE do not seat all the single people at one table, especially if we already know each other. It's fine to seat groups of friends together, but that makes it hard for us to meet other singles and make NEW friends.

Thank you.

Carolyn Hax: Counterargument: When I was single, I hated being seated away from my friends because we usually had all traveled from different parts of the world and had only a limited chance to see each other, and the last thing I wanted to do was spend two hours "getting to know" someone I'd never see again. So, best just to roll with whatever you're handed. It's just a day.


BTW, either the post.com server or my computer is getting hung up, so the sluggishness is not me. For once. I swear.

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Girlfriend to Girl Friend: Ask yourself this: If he told you tomorrow that he was dating someone new, would you be fine and even be able to hang out with the new couple. I thought i had made the transition until I got ridiculously jealous in that situation. Of course, Carolyn is right, I just thought I was ready to act grown up and I wasnt. Oops

Carolyn Hax: Good point, thanks--though I see the part about being able to hang out with the new couple more as extra credit than a requirement.

And, actually, you could still have been both ridiculously jealous and grown-up about it. Jealousy needn't be acted upon childishly. Keeping a civil distance till the greenness passes is a legitimate, friendly way to respond.

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For the grandma in Oregon: Oregon DHS

The granddaughter may be eligible for public health insurance.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you!

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Washington, D.C.: Just got an e-mail from my close friend announcing that he and his wife are FOUR WEEKS pregnant. Is this inappropriate or am I old fashioned?

Carolyn Hax: I like option C: Be happy for them. Life is hard enough.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

Help!

I e-mailed you a couple of weeks ago about some not-so-open-minded comments my boyfriend had made when we were visiting his parents. I thought that perhaps he was just more relaxed and reverting to the way he grew up while he was around them, but this morning he made some comments that just horrified me -- so I could definitely use your advice. I've spent the entire day at work in tears.

He grew up in a conservative neighborhood, but given that he is such a loving, caring, nature and animal-loving guy, it is so difficult for me to believe that he actually believes what he's saying. I don't know if he's just trying to push buttons or what, but I can't see myself with someone who is so narrow-minded as to believe that just because someone has different color skin than he, or has a different sexual orientation than he, they are less entitled to earn what he has earned in life.

So, considering that in all other aspects he is a wonderful man and we care for each other so much, how do I negotiate this? Do I just tell him how it makes me feel? Do I tell him that if he doesn't see the light, we're over? Is there any chance of opening his mind?

FWIW, we've been seeing each other for about 4 months -- pretty seriously the entire time.

Thoughts? Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Why are you so invested in this guy after four months? And why are you so afraid to address something that obviously horrifies you? And worse, to explain it away lamely ("reverting to the way he grew up," "conservative neighborhood," "barf") as a way to avoid having to deal with it? SAY something. If you can't SAY something, you have no relationship. Period. And if you can't deal with the answer you get when you SAY something, then you aren't ready to have a relationship.

The general answer, by the way, is always that he is who he is. Confronting him will just get you the specifics.

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Boy-girl to friend-friend: But what is to be gained by the whole "being friends" idea? I can see if we were in same social circle or career/office, but we have no reason to come into contact with each other unless I contact him (since he broke up with me he said it was my call). I think I'd still want to be with him if we spent time together, so why do that to myself? We weren't friends first -- met and started dating if that matters.

Carolyn Hax: You're thinking too much. If you like someone enough to want him in your life even though the romance didn't work out, then you stay friends. If you don't, then you don't.

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Big loser, USA: Heya, Carolyn:

I have much to be thankful for in my life, but my birthday is this weekend and it's pellucid that my closest friends in the city have forgotten. I'm surprised at how much this has hurt my feelings, and what I'm really dreading is the impending humiliation of making up celebrations to tell parents/friends in other cities/coworkers about. Given all the pain and suffering in the world (and in your chat) it's clear that this is not a big problem, but do you have any suggestions for a fun "couldn't be happier" weekend? (The buds will all be out of town.)

washingtonpost.com: Suggestion: Rent "Sixteen Candles."

Carolyn Hax: Or grow up. Both worthy investments of time.

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Carolyn Hax: Just to be pellucid: Acknowledging the pain and suffering of the world does not inoculate you against being called childish when you're being, in fact, childish. Your hurt feelings are real, but that doesn't mean you're obliged to indulge them. Laugh at yourself for them. Much healthier, not to mention much less likely to hamper your weekend plans. Or non-plans, both of which are just fine to have for one's birthday.

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Attorney for Portland, Ore.: Here's the name of pro bono, or reduced cost attorneys -- they hopefully can offer immediate help.

OREGON LEGAL SERVICES CORPORATION
516 ES Morrison, Suite 1000
Portland
Oregon
97214-2340
Tel: 503 - 234 - 1534

Carolyn Hax: You guys are very cool. Thank you.

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Washington, D.C.: How do you figure out if your current lack of desire to get married is not being ready in general, or not wanting to be married to the person you are with?

Carolyn Hax: Does it matter? Both mean you don't want to marry the person you're with, and so you'll need to deal with that accordingly. Soon. If it turns out to be a general aversion to marriage, then you'll find that out in time.

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For Rockville re: seating arrangements: OR, let everyone be an adult and let them sit wherever they want. I always hated assigned seats at weddings (usually stuck next to someone I didn't like and far from someone I did). I had open seating at my wedding and the guests raved. Just another option!

Carolyn Hax: Of course. I bang my forehead in shame. All the best weddings I've been to had unassigned seating.

Caveat, though: The worst wedding I've been to had a sit-down dinner, unassigned seats and more guests than seats. Still stunned at that one. About 10 of us wandered around with full plates feeling like complete morons. So either count heads accurately or do heavy hors d'oeuvres if you opt for festival seating.

This has been a public service announcement.

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re: Pellucidity: I'm really not following you on this one. It's childish to feel lousy that your friends forgot your birthday and to be embarrassed when telling people about it? How should someone feel in that situation? I understand that she's not supposed to act out over it, by why are the feelings illegitimate?

Carolyn Hax: I didn't say the feelings were illegitimate. Letting them get to you is.

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A little confused: Maybe I'm too "new-fashioned," but I'm trying to figure out what was inappropriate about the e-mail announcement that the couple is FOUR WEEKS pregnant. It is too soon? Too late? The specificity of the timing? Is it the fact that the announcement was e-mailed? What?

Carolyn Hax: It's a bit early. Many perfectly healthy women miscarry early in their pregnancies (can't recall the percentage, but it's high), so letting everyone know at four weeks often means you're letting everyone know about a miscarriage at six weeks. Which is a hard bit of business on top of the already hard news of a miscarriage.

All that said, I wouldn't call these early e-mailers inappropriate. It's usually an "error" of excitement (hate even calling it an error), and I'm not going to bat anyone down for being so excited about something that they want to share it with everyone they care about.

If I were to advise someone on whom to tell about a pregnancy and when, I'd say that before the three-month mark, tell only those whom you'd also tell about a miscarriage. For some people, that's nobody but your best friend and your mommy, and for others that's everyone on the planet.

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Preggersville, USA: Carolyn -- Spouse and I are expecting our first child. Spouse's sister confided to me last year that two years previously, she became pregnant as a result of rape and had an abortion. She asked me not to tell spouse, and I am the only one who knows besides her roommate and her therapist. Now I'm finding it hard to talk about my pregnancy with her because I'm afraid it will remind her of her painful past. Spouse has even noticed that she's oddly distant since we concieved. How likely is it that I'm blowing this out of proportion? She adores kids, as a rule, so it's strange that she's less than enthusiastic about our pregnancy -- but I'm afraid I might have alienated her already by some subconscious action.

Thanks a billion.

Carolyn Hax: By confiding in you, she demonstrated that she feels close enough to you to share her most intimate secrets. Please feel close enough to her, in return, to ask her if you've done anything to alienate her. You need to be careful about assuming your pregnancy is the problem, because doing so is right on the line of me-me-me-ism. (I.e., she's distant, so you assume it must be all about you, vs., say, something unrelated that her brother said to her, or that she's just really busy at work.) You can even say, "Knowing what you've been through, sometimes I feel weird talking about my pregnancy," and then letting her speak for herself. Trusting her to be able to do that is usually a winner, as strategies go.

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Baby Name Drama: My husband and I were chatting about baby names the other day, and he mentioned one that I hate with the fire of a thousand suns. He says it's a family name, I say it's a kind of beer. The baby would have his last name, why can't the first name reflect my family? Or, at least, be a nice name?

I tried compromising and saying, "Maybe for a middle name," but he's really fixated on this name. I'm not pregnant, but I don't want this to be an issue when I am.

I don't see why I should go through nine months of suffering, untold hours of labor just to name the resulting child after beer. How did you guys pick your baby names?

Carolyn Hax: It HAS to be mutual. Your husband needs to cease fixating.

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Washington, D.C.: Why is it that sometimes, even when two good people care deeply for each other, things just don't work out for them to be together? After having been with a great guy (exclusively) for just a few months, I broke things off after realizing that his expectations for our relationship (and me) became too much of an over-riding obstacle -- which was just simply unfair of him to do (our situation speaks much to the first questions in today's column). We both saw it coming, but I still feel a huge loss. We've agreed to stay friends. Is that even possible? Sigh.
If so, how? Please help.

Carolyn Hax: Not to sound (too) cynical, but I wonder why sometimes things DO work out, even when two good people care about each other. People are complicated. Life is complicated. Spending virtually every day with someone is three sets of complications, and that's before you factor in the complications of everyone else you run across--kids, coworkers, jerks who cut you off and then drive 5 mph below the speed limit. Not that I have anger issues or anything.

So what do you do? You lower your expectations--not of the quality of the person you're with, since that should always be off the charts, but of the -specific- end result of your couplehood. You don't go in thinking, "I want candlelit dinners, gifts a mindreader would get, mind-blowing sex." You've kinda got to see what you and another person create, and then decide if you're emotionally/physically/intellectually gratified by it.

As for the remaining-friends part, see above.

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Washington, DC: Hi Carolyn, I need you input on a parenting issue. I am the parent of a beautiful two-year-old boy. Recently my parents watched him while my wife and I attended a wedding. When we returned, we discovered that they had driven him to a restaurant for lunch and had not put him in a car-seat. (I know that I should be flogged for not leaving them with a car-seat, but he was with them for a few hours). Now I'm not sure what to do. My instincts tell me that if they exercised such poor judgment that I shouldn't leave him with them again. But, it's important to me that he have a good relationship with his grandparents and alone time is important in reaching that end. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Trust them again, but leave more specific instructions (as well as equipment). The whole car seat thing is new enough so that they probably drove you everywhere without one, right? Hard to call it "such poor judgment" when it worked just fine for them in their day. Of course, we've all learned a lot in a short cultural time--think of how recently formula was considered superior to breast milk--or, hell, how recently this country had codified segregation--and still ignorance is not an excuse. But it's certainly grounds both for forgiveness of one bad judgment call and for patience as you introduce them to a whole new set of child-care rules.

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Arlington, Va.: For "Baby Name Drama" -- Schlitz?

Carolyn Hax: Mickey's Big Mouth.

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Lost, USA:
This may be too long for one answer, but here's my question anyway:

How do you learn to like yourself?

My shrink says that when I learn that, everything will fall into place. But I still think I won't like me until I'm thinner, finish my Masters, make X amount of money per year.

I know I'm a good person with lots of friends and I love my family, etc. How do I see in me what they do?

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I think there might be a short answer to this: Know what your natural strengths and weaknesses are, set standards for yourself that challenge you without forcing you to work against your nature, and then live by those standards. For example--if you want to be thinner but always cave into your sweet tooth, then let yourself have dessert a few times a week and lose weight through exercise. Just to give a simplistic example.

Also, I'd watch out for big shallow Hollywood goals. You want to be richer and thinner? Shocking! Why not just shoot for "comfortable in my own skin": meaning, in a job that suits you, with friends who like you for you, in an exercise routine that suits your abilities, studying subjects that interest you. Be who you are, very well; stop pressuring yourself to be what society or the media or whatever tells you to be.

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Anonymous: For Washington, D.C. - Why not buy your parents a car seat as a "happy grandparenting" gift? That's what my brother and sister-in-law did when they had their first child. My parents were thrilled, because it said to them that the new 'rents trusted them enough to haul the baby around.

Carolyn Hax: Nicely done, thanks.

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Re: Portland, Ore.: About the mother with the deadbeat 24-year-old daughter: the daughter only works occasionally, yet the mother lays out a fortune for daycare. The reason is? The daughter can get a full-time job, OR take care of the granddaughter, and work her freelance jobs around the demands of motherhood. No one can take advantage of you without your consent.

Carolyn Hax: I disagree that this applies here. I'd pay for day care to give my poor grandkid a shot at consistent care. Leave her with her screwed up, pot-smoking, intermittently employed, entitlement-addled mom just to make a point? Egad. This isn't just a taking-advantage mess, it's an abuse mess.

Now, I do agree with you if you apply that principle much earlier in the process. I.e., cut off the indulgences before there's a baby involved. Still, given this baby arrived while the daughter was still a teenager, the window for using tough love may well have slammed shut on grandma before she even realized her daughter was badly in need of it. If there were no grandbaby in the picture, for example, g'ma might have been on course to kick her daughter out at 19 or 20.

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Baby Name Drama Revisited: ...but, uh, isn't the WIFE also fixating, on her dislike of the name? It seems they BOTH need to compromise.

Carolyn Hax: No no no. Aaaagh. Wife doesn't like the name, then both husband and wife move on to the next potential name. It's the husband's insistence on this name, despite his wife's dislike of it, that forces the wife to press the fact that she dislikes it. Hello? She even offered a compromise, using it as a middle name, which is pretty decent considering she doesn't like the name.

Except when two parents have zero names they agree on (which would suggest to me other Issues), there's no need to compromise. Both have full veto power.

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Baby Name Drama: Actually, the name is "Porter", which I think is either a hotel employee or kind of beer.

I told him that "Heineken" or "Pabst" would be acceptable.

Carolyn Hax: Type of beer, not name--so, Stout. Or Nut Brown Ale.

I don't have the same problem with Porter that you do, but that's kind of the point--reactions to names are SO personal, and often visceral. This is your (future) baby you're talking about here. The No. 1 concern both of you should have is that everyone's feelings are accounted for, potential child's included. I hate to make a mountain out of this, but please don't bring kids on the scene until you're both in the mode of treating each other's happiness--with little stuff and big stuff--as the equal to your own. He should have serious problems with the idea of forcing a name on you that you don't like. His stubbornness doesn't bode well for when you're new parents, and the need to accommodate each other becomes intense.

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EWWW!;: Carolyn,

I am so disgusted by the person who thinks it's inappropriate for her "CLOSE" friend to have announced pregnancy after 4 weeks. Is the implication that, like in the olden times, the woman should be embarrassed?

Carolyn Hax: I didn't get that. I just think it's the same old thing that always comes up in this forum, that people like to get worked up about other people's behavior. Makes them feel better about themselves. Think of it this way. Spoken thought, "I would -never- do that! Unspoken thought: "Because I am too smart/polite/thoughtful/special/etc."

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Baby Name Dram Re-Revisited: I don't mean to trivialize this issue, becasue as a parent I know it can be an extremely touchy subject, and I sure hope your husband hears your concerns. But at least he isn't fixating on a name that, oh I don't know, is synonymous with an unpleasant bodily finction.

Sincerely,

Ralph

Carolyn Hax: My grandmother always referred to the bathroom as the john, and my father's name is John. I've never been able to figure that one.

In your honor, next time I have to ralph, I'll pronounce it "rafe."

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D.C. re: baby name: Maybe they should both stop fixating until they are actually pregnant. Aren't there enough things to stress out about in the world without making stuff up to stress out about? Go buy some shoes.

Carolyn Hax: Definitely go buy shoes, but I think this is a proxy fixation--bigger issue is the equal-respect-for-other's-happiness thing. So they should admit as much and duke it out.

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Re: Deadbeat 24-year-old with child: Carolyn,

A couple of comments about the deadbeat 24-year-old who is living off the largesse of her mom. First, the mom relates a situation in which the daughter became physical with her, shoving her during a disagreement. Very bad sign. If the mom didn't report this to either the police or to social services as an elder abuse issue, she needs to. If the mom needs to take legal action against the daughter at some point regarding custodial issues, the documentation provided by such a report could be important.

Also, it strikes me that the daughter may possibly have some kind of mental illness issues, perhaps bipolar mood disorder or some other affective disorder. If she hasn't been seen by a psychiatrist yet, she ought to be evaluated if at all possible. If the mother reports the daughter to social services regarding parenting issues and the recent escalation of verbal disagreement to physical conflict (the shoving), she might be able to force the daughter to undergo evaluation.

Many people who just seem to be problem characters have undiagnosed mental illnesses that can be treated. It seems to me that if someone is behaving in a way that is irrational, puzzling, and destructive to themselves or to others they have a relationship with, a psychiatric evaluation should be as automatic as a physical evaluation is to someone who is experiencing something like chest pain or shortness of breath. The brain is an organ just like any other. There's no shame in having a mental illness or in seeing a doctor who specializes in treating mental illness. The shame is in letting treatable conditions go undiagnosed out of ignorance or embarrassment.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the thoughtful perspective. This is a fact that bears mentioning again--many mental illnesses are known to present themselves when people are in their late teens and twenties. The point you make about irrational/puzzling behavior goes doubly so at this key age window--particularly if the behavior represents a marked change from past behavior.

Thanks again.

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Silver Spring, Md: Dear Carolyn,
During a recent chat you stated that a boyfriend that won't use the words "I love you" with his long term girlfriend, until he is ready to get married, was a control freak. I have to say that I disagree and resent it -- because frankly I'd have to assume that guy is me. Just because I am not like everyone else, does not make me a control freak -- it makes me someone who feels that "I love you" means that I am committed to you for life.

Is it love when someone in a relationship be they boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife discover that the one who loves them is a liar/cheater/philanderer/abuser/just generally an uncaring person? If it is than I would be happy to never use the words.

My question is this: Aren't actions and the way you treat someone more important than any words? After all words are cheap and take really no effort.

Also is someone a control freak if they save their virginity until marriage? I am unable to give that to someone but I can gaurantee that my wife/woman I chose to spend the rest of my life with will know that she is my one true love.

Carolyn Hax: If you want to set up a bunch of strict rules governing your use of the words, "I love you," that's your right. Absolutely! Me, I say "I love you" when I love somebody. And I don't use it when I don't.

And you are also free to define the term "control freak" any way you see fit.

Me, I define it as, "someone who sets up a bunch of strict rules governing his use of the words, 'I love you.'"

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Arlington, Va.: So I'm incredibly smitten with a girl. We dated for a couple of months in college, she ended it because we met the first day of her freshman year and she had a serious high school boyfriend, needed time to explore and enjoy college, etc., we stayed friends. So five years later (and with intermitent contacts in between), we've started hanging out again sem-regularly, in a platonic fashion. Now I can't decide whether to risk a great friendship (no I won't lose it, but the awkwardness would be palpable) for a chance at more. I don't expect you to make the decision for me, but any advice or soothing words?

Carolyn Hax: Awkwardness passes, regret doesn't. Cheers.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey, is it just me or is this becoming a parent advice column?

Carolyn Hax: It's just you.

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Deadbeat Daughter: Why is everybody assuming that the parent who wrote the letter is the mother? For some reason, I assumed it was the father. Did I miss something?

Carolyn Hax: I believe only one poster guessed at the sex. I do it a lot too, when the sex isn't given; sometimes it's to keep things easier (his/hers gets obnoxious), sometimes it's a combination of hints in the question and the subtle biases of the person making the guess. I don't worry too much about it, though, since the consequences of guessing wrong seem minimal to me, except when a bad bias is inadvertently reinforced. I don't see that in this case; whether it's a grandfather or grandmother seems immaterial. Thanks for pointing it out, though--always interesting, how biases come into play.

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Washington, DC: Carolyn,

I'm having trouble coming to grips with "realistic expectations" and the "quality of the person you're with should always be off the charts" idea -- but applied to dating.

Should I date someone who is not "off the charts?" At the same time, that sounds like a great prescription for loneliness.

Setting aside a moment my desire for a millionaire super model, how can you compromise in order to find someone without compromising the "off the charts" concept? This has me baffled. And at 30, I'm thinking I need to give this some more thought.

Carolyn Hax: You compromise on things like millionaire and supermodel, you don't compromise on integrity. Specifics are up to youse.

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Carolyn Hax: Gotta run. Thanks, happy weekend and type to you in a week.

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Arlington, Va.: I've been dating my boyfriend for a year -- he's been everything I'd ever hoped for. I'm happier than I ever thought possible. So here's my problem: we're dog sitting for two weeks and I've witnessed him doing some things I consider wrong. He isn't working right now, so he's home with the dog all day. Anyway, he's jumped out at the dog to scare it, fed it garlic just to see what it would do, yelled at it unfairly, etc. Red flags are going up. Is he just bored or immature? Or is this a problem?

Carolyn Hax: Ew, just saw this--big problem. As total disregard for innocent life generally is.

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