Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 20, 2004; 12:00 PM

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

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

Editor's Note: 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.


Silver Spring, Md.: Dear Carolyn,
I am in love with a man, who is living with another woman. He wants to have his cake and eat it, too. What should I do? I can't seem to move on? The decent men in this town are either married, gay or living with someone. Where's the best place to meet single men?

Looking for love.

Carolyn Hax: A man who is seeing you while living with another woman is not "decent." Being single has to be better than that, no? And if it isn't, then work on being single before you go out looking again.

Re your question, you find people while doing the things you already like. If everything you like is a solitary activity, try broadening your interests. It's like weight loss--there's no magic to it, you just do what it takes.


Carolyn Hax: Since someone will invariably ask: weight loss, you eat properly and exercise (without starving or injuring yourself); meeting people, you make an effort to get out and be social (without throwing yourself at the first candidate with a pulse).

Good to be thorough, right?


Perv-ville, Tex.: Carolyn,

I am getting older. My taste in women is not. I can't be alone in this. How do you deal without turning into a complete perv?

Carolyn Hax: When was the last time you found a woman attractive for who she is, and not what she looks like?


Arlington, Va.: It's been a while, but going on a first date this weekend. Any advice?

Carolyn Hax: Repeat to self as needed: You are the same person you'd be if you were going out with an old friend/sibling/longtime co-worker for coffee. (Except clean-shaven, and of course there's that nervous tick.) If your date doesn't like that version of you, better you both learn that now.


Carolyn Hax: Have fun!


Austin, Tex.: Carolyn:

Please help! In a nutshell, my problem is that I can't seem to stand my best friend from high school anymore (we're both 30 now). That may be a bit harsher than it actually is, but here are the objective symptoms:

We live across the country from each other, so we really communicate almost exclusively through e-mail and IM. I find myself censoring myself ALL THE TIME with respect to what I tell him -- facts, opinions, random thoughts -- because it seems like every time I say him something he comes back with either "what a stupid thought" or "who cares about that?" or some such. Not in those words, but in words that put me on the defensive as if I should be backing up or validating my comments. Sometimes things just come up off the top of your head, you know? They may not make sense, but they're thoughts that you're supposed to be okay with sharing with a best friend....

So what do I do? Is there a way to change my mindset when talking to him so this doesn't happen to me?

Carolyn Hax: Instead of changing your mindset, try sharing your honest reactions to his comments, vs. defending yourself or whatever it is you've been doing. Eg, he says, "who cares about that?" and you reply, "I care about that." You don't even need to elaborate. Just let him see what you're telling us here. If he continues to abrade, then try talking by phone. Could be you're reading a tone that he doesn't intend to convey; it's a real problem with communicating in writing, particularly by email.

And if after all this he's still so hurtful to you that you have to edit yourself, tell him this and then end the friendship.


Wherever: Hoping I'm not jinxing my relationship by asking this in advance, but... my boyfriend was previously married, and gave his wife his grandmother's wedding/engagement ring, and his marriage ended badly. She gave him back the ring, but now it seems kind of tainted. If we got married, would it be too weird for him to give me the ring? Would we need a whole new positivee associations ring? WWCHD? How about the Peanuts?

Carolyn Hax: What would YOU do? Do you care about having an engagement ring at all? Do you want to marry this guy? Would you want to marry him with the old ring, no ring, two pieces of yarn twisted into a ring? Then wait till the issue comes up, in its own good time, and then tell him honestly how you feel about the whole ring thing.

And since someone's inevitably going to submit this (feeling preemptive today), it's not uncommon for marriage-counseling types to advise that people who are remarrying let go of past stuff and its past associations. But it's not like you can discard a whole past marriage, so I say you just go into it with an open mind and discuss what you are and aren't comfortable keeping. Again, when that time comes.


Carolyn Hax: Sorry that took so long. I actually wrote WCWD, then decided it was irrelevant.


Washington, D.C.: Any advice to the older sister who thinks her 23-year old baby brother is making a big mistake by planning to marry the girl he is engaged to? I respectfully shared my feelings with him a month prior to their engagement, and he was somewhat receptive to what I had to say. I have acted supportive if not distant in the time since they began planning their wedding. FYI, I see her as very controlling and manipulative of him, and he (though older than I was when I got married) could benefit from waiting a few years before tying the knot.

Carolyn Hax: Define "somewhat receptive." If he was just being polite, you probably need to accept that you said your piece and the rest is for him to find out. If he showed signs of having real doubts--or, even better, expresses any new ones--then you get one more disciplined shot at it: "Have you thought any more about what I said?"

To put this all in perspective, you have about a .1 percent chance of getting through to him. This number being scientifically achieved through the banging against walls of 17 million sibling foreheads.


Arlington, Va.: What does WWCHD mean?

Carolyn Hax: It's WWJD, or "What would Jesus do," but with a far dimmer bulb in its guiding light.


Camp Hill, Pa.: I have a question for the woman in Silver Spring: why is she in love with a man who is living with another woman? Does she love that he is unattenable? I had a female friend who was dating a married man, and I can't figure it out. It is obvious to everyone else that he is only using her, yet some women take what is obvious to everyone else and delude themselves into thinking this is the great romance of their lives. Now, how is any guy going to take a woman like that seriously: she is going to treat available men as second rate to "the lover of her life", who is unattenable. Shouldn't such women work on their ideas of relationships before accepting another boyfriend?

Carolyn Hax: I'd be careful with that "such women"; making this one (whopping) mistake doesn't make it a pattern.

However, I do agree that many people who date adulterously are both attracted by the impossibility of it--so romantic, all that "Ah, but it can never be ..." BS--and snowed by it. Think about it: Since it can never be, it can never fail, and it certainly can't annoy you to death day in, day out with all its annoying little habits, because it lives (and snores, and scratches itself) somewhere else.


Cubeville, Md.: Today is my 45 birthday. I had no problems with 40, but in the last 18 months I have had three biopsies (two negative, still waiting on the third) and I am feeling rather fragile. My sister wants to do cake and stuff with the family this weekend and I just don't feel up to it. If I don't celebrate it will probably cause me more grief than if I just suck it up. Any advice?

Carolyn Hax: Don't hate me for saying this, but, happy birthday!

Maybe 45 marks the offical start of the do-whatever-the-hell-you-want-with-your-birthday phase ofyour life. If cake doesn't do it for you, nothing wrong with that. But unless you're on a restricted diet or determined to make headway on some weight loss, I can't see what occasion can't be improved by a cake. Even a biopsy, even a third biopsy. Life isn't completely joyless, is it?

But, again, if a cake is not your idea of a good time, tell your sister you'd rather she take you to a dumb movie or to get a massage or for a ride on a carousel (and if it has already been ordered, I'll selflessly take the cake off her hands).


Chicago, Ill.: Hullo Carolyn,

I've not had a girlfriend for about two years now. In fact, have not had so much as a fling. Until recently... My pheremones or something have changed, and I find myself constantly hit on in bars, clubs, etc. I know, I know a real problem. Most of my men friends tell me to go with it and enjoy the casual sex, but I feel a little silly doing that. How can I try to turn these moments into possible dating scenarios rather than just random hook-ups? I don't want to settly down and get married, but I'd like to wake up with the same person on a regular basis.

Thanks for your help! I hope you reply...

Carolyn Hax: Ask for numbers, call the numbers, get to know the person who answers. (Unless it's the number for the pay phone outside a laundromat. Not that people would ever do such a thing.) If they balk, offer your number, or suggest meeting again on X day at whatever club you're in. Some rejection (or a lot of it) will be part of the effort, but that's standard. You don't have to sleep with them randomly, I swear.


Washington, D.C.: Hey, Carolyn, how about another rationale for Perv-ville... The physical beauty factor is the obvious attraction for most men to younger women, but I can't help but wonder if some older men also find younger women less of a challenge. With relatively less life experience, probably less income, certainly fewer years of dating and relationship experience (and with it the wisdom and insight that comes with those years), younger women may be less likely call a spade a spade (or a perv a perve?) or to put up with Perv-ville's bull-$%--.

Carolyn Hax: True. If they're immature as well as young, however, they will create work for him that more than makes up for any advantage he may see in their current gullibility. The jealousy fits alone could scare a grizzly back into the woods.


Ann Arbor, Mich.: Re: Washington, D.C. who thinks of her 23-year old sibling as a "baby brother" and wants to talk him out of his engagement because she thinks the girlfriend is "controlling and manipulative" -- maybe he just wants to marry someone who reminds him of his sister!

Carolyn Hax: Missed that one--heh. Thanks!


Princeton, N.J.: Hello Carolyn -

As you may well know there is oftentimes pressure from immediate family put on young men and women of means to "honor the family" and "do the right thing" in marriage which would be to stay -- find a solid match. As someone entering the 30-something range the pressure from my family is certainly mounting. Doing the right thing and honoring the family -- for me -- would be to make my own decisions about relationships. But it is not always so easy when not only family but peers encourage the idea that one should not put faith in something so intangible as love. I've had open discussions with family about the issue and it will not die down.

If I continue to walk this tightrope no doubt I am headed for a fall. Any advice (should I move)?


Carolyn Hax: "Young men and women of means"? Is this another leg-pulling?


Central Virginia: I've just found out that I will have some relatively minor surgery next month that will leave me with an extremely noticible scar on my person in an area that is often displayed before the public. While I am not thrilled, I am a bit concerned about my S.O's reaction. This is a person I've been dating for two years, and he has said that he is going to be extremely distressed by this surgery and it's resulting scar -- because it GROSSES HIM OUT; he can't stand medical procedures of any nature. I am confused and angry at this reaction; I will be the one sliced open, fiddled with, and then stitched back together. He doesn't think it's a problem to be disgusted by me until my stitches come out and the scar fades. I say, love "In Sickness and in Health" already applies, and he needs to get the f--k over it yesterday. I am concerned that this is only a forebearer of character flaws to come.

Who's over-reacting here? The thought of coming home and wanting to be comforted after this is over, only to be declared "disgusting" doesn't exactly thrill me.

Carolyn Hax: Then leave. You can do better. (Alone at home with a good book.)


Elkridge, Md.: Hi, Carolyn,
Could everyone please spell out their acronyms?
One mystery solved: I wondered why so many times two people seem so right for each other but just can't fall in love.

It turns out that people instinctively are attracted to others whose immune system is different from their own -- and smelling a person's phereomones tells you if their immune system is different from yours.

Read this in the book "Survival of the Prettiest" which helped me understand the world better! TSLTBS (That's Sounds Like Total...)

Carolyn Hax: I'm just the messenger here. (IJTMH.)


Confusedville: I just found out my boyfriend has been cheating on me, but he claims he wants to work it out with me. I know he still has contact with the OW, which bothers me. Should cheating be a dealbreaker or is it sometimes worthwhile to work through the hurt and mistrust?

Carolyn Hax: Did he tell you, or did you bust him? Does he have to have contact w/ the other (say, she's a co-worker), or does he seek it? Were you two having problems, or was this out of the seemingly blissful blue? Is he worth keeping, or are you clinging out of habit? It's not an easy yes-no question.

You're just BF and GF, by the way. You're under no pressure to make something work.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn, re: the minor surgery/scar. In the guy's defense, she did say that he is freaked out by ANY kind of medical procedure. Doesnt sound like he's being insensitive -- he's just a guy thats freaked out by surgery.

Carolyn Hax: And who needs to grow up if he expects to be half of a pair.


Re: Pheremones: There was a real medical study on this. It involved getting pheremones from men's sweaty t-shirts. They determined that women could somehow smell immune system differences. I don't think they expected that this was the only factor, but it could certainly be that there is more biology going on then we might otherwise think.

Carolyn Hax: All the more reason to wait out an initial attraction before operating any heavy relationship machinery.



New York, N.Y.: RE Perv-ville: I take a bit of exception to the rationale that a younger woman is less complicated as she has less life expereince hence the attraction. I am a 37-year-old woman who frequently dates older men. I doubt they find me less complicated (I have a doctorate and am a partner in a law firm) or have less life experience (I have travelled the globe, been married and divorced and have diverse interests). In the case of, for example, a 50-year-old man (its 13 years) seeking my company, perhaps its attributable to personality, similar interests, etc. Now, admittedly, a 33-year-old hitting on a 20-year-old is different, but age is relative.

Carolyn Hax: I don't think anyone really means 37-year-olds when they're talking about "younger women," but thanks for the boost.

So how's the globe looking these days?


Anywhere, USA: Carolyn,

I have a huge crush on my boss and I think he has feelings for me, too. Our company doesn't have a policy against supervisors dating subordinates, but my head is telling me this could be a bad idea. I don't know if it's just because he is an older guy in a position of power (I'm in my mid-20s, he's in his early 30s) or what. He kind of reminds me of my dad, and you know how they say girls wind up with guys who are like their dads. I don't think anything will happen as long as I'm in this job (I'm looking for a new one) but I wouldn't be opposed to it if something happened. It's gotten to the point where I fantasize about us hooking up on our lunch breaks! What should I do?

Carolyn Hax: Stay away until you have a new job and a new view of him as an equal, vs an elder. Starting something while you feel in any way the supplicant won't take you anywhere good.


Young women aren't work?: You must be kidding. Actually, I find myself more at ease with older, experienced women because they play fewer games, are more confident and expressive in what they like and don't like, and have interests outside of our relationship that I can either explore or take advantage of the space it grants me when she continues to pursue them.

Carolyn Hax: I think the suggestion was that they aren't as hard on the ego, not being experienced or accomplished enough yet to appreciate the perv's true mediocrity. But I think we've waded a couple of generalizations too deep. Here's one I like: Habitual daters of any one type, by age or appearance or income level or marital status or whatever, are pretty much suspect to me.


Somewhere: I was drinking with a group of people that included my usually quiet and polite boyfriend. He had way too much and was getting out of control, and when I said he needed to stop and I was going home, he turned really belligerent and started grabbing me and throwing me around. I was scared he was going to hit me but I got away. Is this something to be worried/angry about? He has NEVER shown a trace of that behavior before, even while trashed.

Carolyn Hax: Gets trashed often, then? That's bad enough even without the throwing around.

But with the throwing around, you have more than a worry, you have a genuine reason to leave. Check out and read The Domestic Violence Handbook. I highly doubt he has NEVER shown a trace of that behavior; more likely there have been many traces, and you've never been taught to see them for what they all are. So, so common. Use this scare to educate yourself, please.


Huh?: "Habitual daters of any one type, by age or appearance or income level or marital status or whatever, are pretty much suspect to me. "

I habitually date single guys.....

Carolyn Hax: So much for preventive strikes against literal interpretations.

Habitual daters of married/cohabiting/otherwise unavailable people are suspect.


Washington, D.C.: I am still single and just wonder why married people are usually told to "work things out" when they have problem, not single people. If two people made a mistake of getting married because of unwanted pregnancy and society pressure combined, for instance, and do not like or love each other, should they try as hard as they can to make it work? Whose benefits should one consider before trying to spend the rest of one's life with someone one doesn't love?

Carolyn Hax: If there's a kid, the utmost should be done to preserve the kid's emotional health (usually that means working things out, but it can also mean running like hell). Beyond that, I think the depth of the effort to repair a breach should reflect the depth of the commitment. If you've made a pledge to stay for life, I don't think it's fair to break that pledge unless you're confident that your unhappiness would be lifelong. Staying in that case benefits neither you nor your partner.


Chicago, Ill.: This is a weird question: Is it dangerous to think about having kids when the maternal instinct seems to be missing? Does the pregnancy bring about the bond necessarily? I'm getting older and had never wanted kids, now I'm thinking about it. But I seem to have no real reaction or bond to them. My mother says that's because they're not my own. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: If you're thinking about having kids because you want them, then trust that. If you're being pressured, then trust your initial reluctance.

If it helps, a lot of happy moms find/found no joy in other people's kids, this mom included.


Southside, Va.: As usual, I can't believe the unbearable double standard applied in this chat. Attention: People of BOTH GENDERS like young hotties, for a variety of reasons, some virtuous, some not. This is not just a typical, piggish male thing. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: You're welcome, but I think the numbers happen to lean toward the double standard here. There's being biased and there's being realistic, and seeing this as a predominantly male trait strikes me as the latter.

But that's if we're even gui;ty of what you suggest. I'll need to check the transcript to be sure, but if we've just continued the discussion using the sexes given, I don't see that as having a double standard. Dissing this guy while approving of pervy older women, now, that would be a yellow card.


Washington, D.C.: One of my closest friends is now hanging around a guy that I had a tremendous crush on and actually dated for a bit. I told her it makes me uncomfortable, but she is continuing to spend a lot of time with this guy all the same. It's causing a lot of problems, and I am very upset about the potential loss of friendship. Am I overreacting, and need to get over it?

Carolyn Hax: Yes. Unless she has a history of chasing your exes just to rub her success in your face, or unless he abused you, you need to accept that you have no say in this one. She's your friend, so wish her happiness and then go out and bite on a stick or something.


Speaking of marrying for a kid...: I wanted to hear your opinion on this... Should an unwed couple with a new baby consider marriage to protect the legal rights of the mother and child, if for no other reason?

Carolyn Hax: But there are also the father's rights to consider, in things like having say in medical decisions. Plus, if one of you dies, staying unmarried can make life tougher on the survivor. Talk to a lawyer before you decide anything, either way; there's a reason beyond principle that gay couples are fighting so hard.


The Perv Responds....: Whoa back there pardners!; Wow. I've enjoyed the rampant speculation (wasn't that fun?), but perhaps you'll allow me to clarify....

20-somethings make me weak in the knees. I like that. Until they open their mouths.

30-somethings do nothing for me. Until they open their mouths.

This is not such an easy thing to reconcile. Playing the lust-versus-like game ain't a pail full of pickles... And it's just getting worse as I age. I don't like it.

Ready? Set? Attack!;

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I think we're done. (And speculation was mostly right, no?) Try this: Stop dissecting people. It's rude and childish. Plus, it makes a huge mess.


North Carolina: Hi Carolyn,

I need help recognizing if I have a serious problem in my relationship. We are both in our mid-20s, and have been married three years.

My husband verbally belittles me, but only in a very specific social setting. He also will withhold affection if we're having a disagreement, and I would have to acknowledge my "wrongness" before he'll stop giving me the silent treatment.

Those are two signs of emotional abuse, but those are the only ones he has. Life is great mostly, and 90 percent of the time we are not fighting and not in the specific social setting that seems to set him off. But I just feel so wretched and helpless when that 10 percent of badness occurs.

So I'm not in denial -- i know there's a problem. But is two symptoms a big enough problem to confront him with a marriage counselor? If the average person looked at the list of verbal/emotional abuse symptoms, wouldn't most people find one or two "bad" things that their relationship exhibits?

Carolyn Hax: "Bad" things, sure; abusive things, no way. No abuse is constant (at least not at the beginning), or no one would stick around to be abused. 90-10 seems like a pretty effective ratio, since it's got you hanging around telling yourself that 90 percent good makes the 10 percent abuse acceptable. NO abuse is acceptable.

Before you "confront him with a marriage counselor," talk to someone yourself. Check that handbook link I posted, too. Abusers need their victims to rationalize their abuse away; educate yourself out of that habit.


Momland: To the would be mother--don't do it! Do not have children unless it is a wildly overwhelming urge that leaves you sobbing when you see a stroller or a family. Get a dog, a cat, a rabbit first. Maybe the feeling will go a way. It is a LIFETIME committment, and if you louse it up, you get blame, and if you don't, no credit. Carolyn, you nearly made it to 40 without having kids. Now you are sleep deprived and will be paying three college tuitions when you are close to retirement age. I do love my kids, though.

Carolyn Hax: Whoa--don't speak for me, please. I love my decision, and I'm typing this one-handed with Gus screaming in my ear.

That said--bye! Thanks, and type to you next Fri.


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