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Tell Me About It

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With Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 30, 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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Silver Spring, Md.: Do you think it's possible to start a relationship long distance, as in 3,000 miles long distance? We originally met about a month ago, and have been keeping in touch via e-mail. There's somthing there, but I'm not really sure if it's practical.

Carolyn Hax: If I say it isn't possible, 50 people will write in to say they did it.

It isn't practical, you're right. Also not easy, though it is easy to fall for the emails of someone you can't stand in person. Words and a whole being are two different things. I have yet to run across the e-mail, for example, that has chronic halitosis. Just something to keep you thinking realistically.

So I guess all you can do is expect little to nothing and see what happens, and don't sacrifice your social life locally in the meantime.

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Anytown: Yesterday, I received a forwarded joke e-mail from my recent ex-boyfriend. The first name on the "to" list was his ex-wife, who caused a lot of problems for us when we were together (begging him to go back to her, etc., after they'd been split up for a year). I'm angry he just provided her with my e-mail address, and angry that he is so insensitive. Am I right to be offended?

Carolyn Hax: [Sound of forehead slappage.]

Um, could it be that she still loved him? Having a problem seeing the problem of an ex-wife begging to have her husband back. A year after the fact is hardly dragging things out.

And it's a [stinkin] email address. I think you can both be in possession of each other's without exchanging gunfire.

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Fan, Fanpolis: I don't understand. First your Wednesday column disappears and you had said that it'll be snippets from older columns as you are on maternity leave, but the Friday column was still alive and well. Fine. This week, there was no Wednesday column at all, and Friday is an old snippet. Couldn't someone on The Post please informed us about the whereabouts of the Hax column? It's not nice leaving us in the air.

A fan

Carolyn Hax: Dunno where you got your info, but it isn't and wasn't ever so. Wednesday is on hiatus till I come back from my leave (Wed. Sept. 8). Friday is a snippet column until " " (Fri. Sept 10). Sunday is, was and has all along been alive and well.

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West Coast: Online only please. Carolyn, I'm recently married and we are expecting a child. in the discussions my wife and I are having on our family's religous experience, I've hit sort of a brick wall. I've never made it a secret that I would like to return to the church I've grown up in and become an active member (and would like to have my family at least attend church with me if not take an active role). Before pregnancy she never indicated any concerns and attended my church several times with me. Now she has plenty of them, the main being that our biracial child will ignore or forget my wife's culture while a member of my church. Our child will be exposed to traditions and customs of my culture at my childhood church, but will have a mother, grandparents, aunts, uncles and a host of extended relatives who can provide that same education on my wife's side. The only problem is that my wife's side of the family doesn't celebrate her culture's holidays or often participate in religous observances. Because her side of the family can't or won't provide that same cultural education, my wife is reluctant to make my childhood church a regular part of our lives. Am I wrong for wanting our child to have some of the same experiences that I had? I turned out well enough for my wife to marry.

By the way, I encourage my wife to participate in more cultural activities (both of our cultures) with me. She does when she feels like it. I encourage her to attend church with me, if she feels like it. But for us to be six months into our marriage and then find out that she is opposed to our family attending my church (which she has attended several times in the past with no complaint) is throwing me for a loop. Am I expecting something I shouldn't? Am I being a controlling jerk? Right now I'll even take thoughts from the peanut gallery.

Thanks! BTW, Congratulations and welcome back.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you.

Given that your baby is unlikely to gain much from your church in utero now or ... ex utero (is that right?) for at least 4 or 5 years, you have plenty of time to figure out what combination of its parents' cultural institutions will give it the best chance of growing roots in both cultures.

So use that time to talk productively about what each of you wants for this kid. By productively I mean no digging in, by either of you, and no promoting of your own agenda so blindly that you lose sight of the end result. In fact, that's a good place for you both to start. What, exactly, is the end result you're trying to achieve with your child's cultural education?

Once you have that in mind, then you're good to go where most parents end up: about 100 miles wide of all your perfectly laid plans. The little suckers have a way of making so many of these arguments moot.

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Anytown (e-mail): The problem for me has nothing to do with what she did, but that he included me on a list with her. His actions, not hers, that bother me.

Carolyn Hax: EW EW EW COOTIES!!!!

Thanks for clarifying, but I got it the first time, and I still don't see how you can possibly give a [bleep] that he sent you both an email.

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Carolyn Hax: Liz, do you have a good charity Web link we can post here? I need to cleanse my palate of that one. What a waste of concern.

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Silly Question: At the bar where my girlfriends and I hang out most, the bartender often cuts our tab in half for us, or at least subtracts a large chunk. In your opinion, should we tip him a percentage of what the bill SHOULD have been (since he DID make the drinks and all), or what he ends up charging us? Maybe more of a Miss Manners deal, but there is some discord among us. Thanks!;

Carolyn Hax: Tip on what the drinks would have cost. When you've just been given a freebie is no time to get cheap.

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Washington, D.C.: I was reading an archive of your chat that talked about a husband who wouldn't clean up after himself (filth-pig, as he was called). I don't know if you feel like reviving the issue, but I have a lot of experience living with people and have a couple of cents to add.

If you live with someone, you don't have to insist that every little thing is split evenly, just that everything evens out. If you can't get your spouse to do something that's important. Say "fine, I'll do all the cleaning, but you have to give me a foot rub every night, or do all the lawn maintance." Or whatever seems fair that you can agree on. If you agree on something and s/he still won't do it BIG problem. Otherwise, life gets better for all.

Carolyn Hax: Well put, thanks.

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Huh?: I'm not sure I get your response about the email and the ex-wife. So what if she still loves him?? Their relationship is still over (they -are- divorced after all) and it's probably better for her to accept that and move on than cause problems with her ex-husband and whoever he chooses to date after the marriage is over. That's what happens when you get divorced -- your ex dates or even marries other people. And it could be that she's just manipulative and doesn't want him to move on.

The poster said she had caused problems, so maybe she has some legitimate fear that the ex-wife will start to contact her and bother her if she has her email. It's hard to judge from what the poster said.

But maybe I have little patience for this type of behavior because I had a boyfriend whose ex-girlfriend would call him a year and a half after their breakup, crying and saying he ruined her life.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, if you've been around this forum a while you've seen that I too have little patience with this type of behavior, especially when manipulation is involved.

But it's for the ex-husband to get impatient with the ex-wife. You say it's hard to judge from what the poster submitted, but I did judge from what she -didn't- submit: a hard example of how the ex-wife bothered her. All she said was the ex-wife cried and clung, and is now in possession of her email address. That still warrants a "so what"--along with, perhaps, or some pity for the ex-wife.

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washingtonpost.com: Does Boohbah count as a charity?

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Education : In addition to Liz' link for palate cleansing, how about some education? For you folks who find it necessary to mass e-mail -- anything -- blind carbon copy, not the "To:" field. Let's say it again, together now, blind carbon copy.

Carolyn Hax: Blind carbon copy.

How'd I do?

And may I add, please use a narrow definition of "necessary." Thank you.

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San Diego, Calif.: Can you explain why it is so easy to give advice but not live by it? My best friend is in a completely dysfunctional relationship (alcoholic, cheating boyfriend) and comes to me for advice costantly, which I give without reservation (leave the bum, he's no good for you, etc). I on the other hand can't seem to look at my own boyfriend (controlling, witholding) with the same critical eye. What gives?

Carolyn Hax: Some people live pretty well by their own advice, some can't even get close. I could argue that's a back-door definition of happiness.

But to answer your question, I think there are two things going on: Your ability to see yourself, and your ability to see others. You will be able to see yourself except for what's too close to see, for which you need others; and you will be able to see others except for what goes on in private, for which you need to trust them (and they need to trust themselves). The key is to balance the two.

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Shoe Question:: May I ask what shoes you're wearing right now?

Carolyn Hax: Barefoot. And if you'll excuse me a sec, Gus is screaming and the babysitter isn't making much headway with it. Back soon.

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More on e-mail: Carolyn, not to be a contrarian but I kind of understand what the e-mail girl was feeling. My boyfriend included me on a large e-mail he sent out to several people, one of them being an ex who still wanted him back. I was pissed that he had given her access to me again, previously she e-mailed me every day saying how much she loved him, and I had been forced to change my email address. The worst part was he sent it to my work email address and I was forced to go to my IT person and get a new one. Blah! Does that make me snippy? I am just curious, I did not make him feel bad for long but I did firmly remind him that I needed him not to pass out my e-mail.

Carolyn Hax: See, there's the kind of hard example I was talking about. Had the weepy ex already abused your email address once, like in your case, then getting angry at the guy for failing to BCC would have been completely justified.

Oh, and it's okay to be a contrarian when you're right.

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Midwest visit: Busy family affair weekend. My father's wife, Gail, will meet my two year old daughter for the first time. Although my father and Gail have been married since I was one, I have never considered her my step-mother. She has always been the wife. She's a nice person, but I would feel very strange ever having my daughter call her grandma. She's Gail, not grandma. So do I bring this up or correct anyone who dares to ask my babe to call her grandma -- or do I simply ignore and let what happens over the weekend happen over the weekend.

The 29 year-old step-daughter (huh? stepdaughter?)

Carolyn Hax: I'd go with B. 28 years seems like long enough to hold up a grudge screen between you and Gail. Your arms must be so tired.

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Parents with Different Religions: I was the one who changed my mind about religion after the baby was born. I had always said that I would be fine with raising my children in my husband's religion (Judaism). After me taking Judiasm classes and attending a Unitarian church as a "compromise," I found that I couldn't change my beliefs any more than he could.

So we decided that we would celebrate both holidays, but the children would attend a Christian church. I know that my "about face" about religion wasn't fair, but we managed to work it out.

Carolyn Hax: I'm sure a huge part of your working it out was your willingness to acknowledge that you weren't being fair. Amazing how far such a simple admission can go. Thanks for writing in.

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RE emailing exes: Why, oh why, would these people email exes who might still want them back, and who might or might not be trying to sabotage current relationships? I wouldn't dream of doing that...enlighted me?

Carolyn Hax: Maybe they're over it now and on to just being friends.

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Washington, D.C.: In a year, I'm planning to finish grad school and am considering moving to New York where my boyfriend plans to return (also in a year). I know I love him very much but have conflicting emotions about trying to live my life as a strong, independent feminist while "following" my boyfriend to another city. I have no connections in NYC, know that I can get a job there, and would only really be moving there for him. Do you have any good advice?

Carolyn Hax: This will come out snarkier than I mean, but you do need to get out of school.

If you read "feminist" as having as much choice/say/opportunity as a man, as opposed to more, then you can "join" your boyfriend in NY without surrendering your strong-indie-fem-credentials. At least one of you has to move for you to be together, right? So wouldn't making him move because he's the man be just as offensive as it would be for him to make you move because you're the woman? Examine the possibilities, choose for yourself. That's all there should ever be to it.

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MidWest Visit: Parents need to stop thinking of the title of grandma (or whatever grandparenty title they chose) as a gift to the step parent and start thinking of it as a gift to their child who can never have too many people loving them.

Carolyn Hax: Also well said. Thanks.

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How's Gus?: So what was wrong with Gus? Problem solved? Poor baby.

Carolyn Hax: Nothing wrong with Gus, except that he's 3 months old and doesn't know how to say, "I'm cranky, please take me for a walk." He was cranky, so Courtney the Merciful has taken him for a walk. Thanks for asking.

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Anonymous: More fun religion questions. There are no kids in the picture, but husband my husband is jewish, I'm not religious. I'm already dreading the holidays this year because my husband refuses to even acknowledge Christmas but expects me to celebrate Hannkuah with him. I would have no problem celebrating both, but he won't even wish me a merry Christmas. This has gone on for four years now -- I thought I'd be okay with it, but every year it bothers me even more. What can I do? This year I'm thinking of completely ignoring Hannukah and completely covering our house with Christmas decorations, but that seems petty.

Carolyn Hax: Probably because it is petty.

But it does show you're too angry to keep up the holiday routine without saying anything, so say something. Now, nicely, before December rolls around and your hostility hits its annual peak.

Before you get going, though, I think you need to consider that he might see his religious observations as trumping your non-religious ones--ie, he might find it insulting that you want him to celebrate the holiday of a faith even you don't believe in. Just a guess. If that's the case, though, you might want to be prepared to make an argument for Christmas as something that is important to you culturally. Which is a reasonable argument to make if that's the way you feel.

By saying this, though, I run the risk of appearing to agree with you that this is a religious question. It's not, it's a marital-accommodation question. Any description of a marriage that starts with "s/he refuses ..." followed by something the other spouse deems important is frankly not promising. Please do have this one out.

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The Grandma Saga: Ok so Carolyn if you and your husband got a divorce and he remarried, would you feel good about your three kids calling his new wife Mom? Or for your kids' kids one day to call her Grandma? I'm thinking maybe not if you're being honest with yourself.

Carolyn Hax: In 28 years, my kids' kids can call his new wife Grandma. Honestly.

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Bad Day Poison: Hey Carolyn, and welcome back!;

Yesterday I had a bad day at work. A customer upset me so much I had to leave the office sobbing for a half hour. During that time I called my mother, my boyfriend, and my employment agent and discussed the problem, or just vented. When I came home, I vented more to my boyfriend.

When I was done, I felt so much better and I could see clearly what I needed to do at work today. However, my boyfriend was in a grumpy mood for the rest of the night.

I feel like I infected my boyfriend with my bad day poison. Should I have handled things differently, or is it normal for someone else to be burdened by your bad day for a little while if you vent to them? He seems fine today, so I don't think it lasted long, but I still feel a little guilty.

Carolyn Hax: As long as you don't so it often, there's nothing wrong with calling up the troops to help you deal with something. That's what troops are for. Since you're asking them to assume part of your burden, though, it's only natural they'll will be affected by it. Which is why you should not do it often.

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Carolyn Hax: Sorry guys--I'm still alive, just reading through a pile of ??s and dithering, basically.

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California: Hi Carolyn,

A co-worker is being laid off after being told she would be transferred to another department. Today (Friday) is her last day and the promised job doesn't seem forthcoming. What can I say/do that doesn't seem shallow or insincere? Difficult situation all around (tears, sarcastic remarks, general sense of dread and doom).

Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: One person's deep and sincere is another person's "I can't believe s/he said that," so you're best off just saying what you feel.

Unless you feel, "Better you than me," in which case go with what you'd like to hear in her place. Maybe, "You got a raw deal," or "I'm sorry," or "I'll miss you," or all three.

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Re: Venting: I'm glad that someone posed this question. When is it "too often?" I'm going through a relatively tough time at work right now, and I feel like I "vent" to my husband every night, exhausting him (just as you've described.) But it's hard to answer the question, "How was your day?" without getting into all of this. I don't want to be a polite stranger -- "It was fine, thanks. And how was yours?" -- but it does seem as if I'm placing an unfair burden on him.

Carolyn Hax: Re "too often," you have to trust your gut. Or, trust his gut--if he's suffering real damage from your stress, he needs to say so.

For example. You say you're going through a "relatively" tough time "right now." So that means there's an end? Is it clearly defined, and soon? Is this a rare bad spell? And if not, does he understand that and support your decision to stick with it?

Or do "relatively tough times" come up frequently, last a while and take a lasting toll?

If it's the former, you hang in and vent judiciously (talking to help you understand and find ways to cope, judicious; complaining about the same stuff endlessly, injudicious). That's life. If it;s the latter, you consider looking for a new job.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

When my wife of one year tells me that the reason that she loves me is that I treat her well and that I love her a lot. It kinda bothers me that that is the best that she can come up with. When I think of why I love her its because of her personal traits, not because she loves me. Am I being irrational about this?

Carolyn Hax: Doesn't sound like it. We all like being loved--or, even better, love being liked--but it should matter by whom.

Before you get too freaked out, though, ask yourself how articulate and self-aware she is about other things. If she's not, it's possible she does like you for you and is merely ill-equipped to say why.

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Warrenton, Va.: To Washington, D. C. "Feminist": Tell her to shove it up her feminist b--t! Men should not have to put up with PC-feminist crap. It will cause trouble down the road and make it more likely that a future wife will simply run off with the kids because such women are more loyal to their disrespecting ideology than to their husbands. Many eventually drop their careers anyway to raise children (as some have done in my own office), and there is nothing wrong with that.

Carolyn Hax: Whoa, you're disrespecting MY ideology. I'm a feminist. My "PC crap" says women deserve rights equal to men's, and if you think that means I'm going to use that as an excuse to behave selfishly, you've got something up your butt.

You can say butt, you know.

Now, having said that, I agree that our strong, independent, feminist poster has a lot to learn about converting her strong, independent feminism from rarified theory to practice on actual people. Which is why I said she needed to get out of school.

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Coworker laid off: A similar thing happened at my company. I wasn't going to go say anything to the people, then realized how hurt I would be in their place if someone didn't come up to me. If I was laid off, I wouldn't want to be the one making the effort. I just said good luck and good bye. All 3 said they appreciated it.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks muchly.

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Suspiciousville: So nice to have you back, Carolyn.

Here's the deal: my live-in boyfriend is going away on a camping/scuba diving trip this weekend, for the second weekend in a row. Several of his diving buddies will be there, including a girl he's talked about some, "P." P has e-mailed him photos of herself (not indecent ones, but slightly flirty) and left him voicemails (both of which he shared with me, though inadvertantly (in the process of showing me something else)). He preemptively denied any involvement with her at that time. Maybe it's because of his denial, but now I can't stop thinking about how where he'll be sleeping this weekend (and with whom), even though I don't have any real reason to think he's cheating on me. I know what it's like to be accused of cheating when it isn't true -- it's horrible to try and defend yourself when you've done nothing wrong. So I don't want to accuse him of cheating. But I can't seem to get these images of him & P out of my head.

Maybe it's just because I'd like to see him more and feel that he's giving his hobbies more of his time than he's giving me. Maybe I just don't want to spend yet another weekend alone. So do I join him on this trip, even though I hate camping and don't know how to scuba dive (and I wasn't technically invited)? Or just drop it and assume all is well? Find better things to worry about?

Thanks!!

Carolyn Hax: You feel you guys are drifting. That's a perfectly good thing to worry about and, better, to say something about.

The "P" thing, not so much. Don't worry about that except possibly to say, "Could this chick throw herself at you any harder?" Stuff like that should be out in the open, wide open, between you. Otherwise it stays inside and feeds on your imagination, where you lose all control of it. Just don't accuse him. Traffic only in facts.

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Is it weird?: not to want to talk about work with my husband? I feel like I would be venting a lot, or just boring him. Also I kind of like to leave the office in the office. I think, though, that he feels excluded.

You're going to tell me to just ask him, aren't you.

Carolyn Hax: No, I'm going to tell you to strip to your leopard skivvies and sing "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" while mixing him a martini.

Yes ask him.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: My Mom passed away a few weeks ago after a long, difficult battle with cancer. We've had the funeral, dealt with her belongings, sent out the thank you cards, etc. So now it's just me and my grief, sitting here at my desk all day, and I feel like I have a giant emotional hangover. Any suggestions for getting through the work day when all you want to do is go home and go to bed?

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry, sorry, sorry. So sad. Any chance you can go home and go to bed? Obviously this isn't a long-term solution, but it's possible all those logistics left you no time just to grieve, and people do need that.

If work is your only choice, then try to take comfort in it, the routine of letting one chore after another walk you through your day. It is something solid to lean on, a day's work.

Long term, if you find yourself feeling this way without improvement, please look into grief counseling and depression screening. It's not unusual for the situational to become clinical. (Happened to me, same reason--though ALS was the culprit, not cancer.)

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Living with Roommates in Maryland: I recently purchased a house, to save money I am renting a room. The roommate rents her bedroom and has full house privileges, but all her stuff is contained to just her room. The entire downstairs is all my stuff, living room set, dining room set, decorations. She just started dating a new guy, someone who I have known for a few years but don't really "know." He's one of those poeple that you like but don't necessarilly trust. She has been dating him less than a few weeks, and he is already spending the night, eight out of the past 10 days. To complicate it, he has two kids, age 2 and 4. She has decided that she wants to have the kids spend time in the house when he comes over, and twice in the past week when she leaves for work she has told him to just lock up when you leave, since he doesn't have to leave until 45 after her. She has made both of these decision without consulting me. She feels like she doesn't have to, since she is paying rent, that she has equal rights. I feel the opposite. I told her I didn't want the kids there, and that he could be there as much as he wants, but he isn't to be in the house alone without her there. Do you think I am being unreasonable?

Carolyn Hax: No, she is, because she's treating it as her own house instead of one she shares with someone else. That you happen to own the house has nothing to do with the fact that she's making decisions unilaterally that also affect you--though it does strengthen your case. Make it clear what you're willing to accept, and if she doesn't respect your limits, she's out. That's where its being your house does matter, much.

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Carolyn Hax: Hookay back to the monsters. Thanks everybody and type to you next week.

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