washingtonpost.com
Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 27, 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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Arlington, Va.: Hi Carolyn,
I am due to get married in a matter of weeks. Everything is all set, but me. I have cold feet (I'm the bride). My fiance and I are opposites, but we have wonderful moments where I feel like he's the perfect guy for me and then I have moments where I'm not sure.

There is one guy from my past who always comes to mind when I'm in relationships and I get cold feet. This happens often, but I've never been engaged before. I was very into this guy and never let the relationship with him play out. I dated him on two occasions and jumped ship early on because I was always afraid of something, maybe that he'd break up with me or find out I'm not perfect or something. I now find myself longing for him or maybe just some things about him that my fiance doesn't have (not material).

I'm freaking out. I feel overwhelmed and trapped and I don't know what to do. Everything about this wedding has not been as fun and happy as I thought it would be and I don't know if that's just normal wedding planning drama or if it's because I'm not 100% sure about this. I want to run away and hide where no one will ever find me so I don't have to face these questions and so I don't make a mistake, but running away could be a bigger mistake. I am seeing a counselor on my own, but I don't feel like it's helping me sort through my issues. I know you deal with questions like this all the time so I thought maybe you could provide some helpful insight. My mood is very low so I am considering taking antidepressants and that may help me get through this, but I could use your no-nonsense advice too. help.

Carolyn Hax: Postpone the wedding.

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Carolyn Hax: Quick--how did that make you feel?

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Carolyn Hax: I'm guessing relieved (and probably a little nauseated, too, which goes with it). You're not in any condition to be getting married, and if you think you'd be doing something terrible to your fiancee by asking for more time, consider this--would you want him to marry you if he were saying all these things you just said? No way. And the other-guy thing isn't even the main reason. You'd just want your husband-to-be to be sure that he wants you as a wife. Simple, but huge.

As for the other-guy thing: His rightness or wrongness for you shouldn't factor at all into your decision. This isn't an either-or question. The question is, should you be making a lifelong promise when you're in the midst of an anxiety attack? Also, the reasons you give for not going after the other guy suggest you're fundamentally unsure of yourself, another condition that makes marriage a shaky idea.

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Arlington, Va.: Carolyn,

My friends and I are debating this -- what would you say about someone in their late 20s (say, oh, 28) who has never been in a committed relationship? Reason I ask is because I recently met a guy who fits that description and for some reason when he said that a huge red flag went up. I can certainly see someone being 28 and never married or in love, but to have never even had a girlfriend? There's gotta be something flawed about that. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: Flawed! Eek.

I think you're judging a guy pretty harshly when you know pretty close to nothing about him.

Far as I can see, you know two things: that he has never been in a committed relationship, and that he is honest about that. So far, not so bad. (Please tell me you'd rather have an honest loner/geek than a lying stud.) He could easily be a late bloomer for any number of the numberless reasons people bloom late.

Now if you do know more, and it's all consistent with someone who has intimacy hangups, then you're probably right to see flags.

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Your response to Arlington...: ...is absurd. She'll get over the anxiety. I don't see any reason to postpone the wedding.

Carolyn Hax: Absurd? Really. So where does that 40-plus percent divorce rate come from? I think marrying when one is not happy about getting married is absurd. I also think the whole cold-feet canard is overdue for exposure as such.

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Carolyn Hax: But thanks for writing!

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Re: Flawed Boyfriend: Maybe he's been in prison for the last 10 or so years. Give the guy a break.

Carolyn Hax: There you have it. Thanks muchly.

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Arlington, Va.: To the other Arlington, Va., person -- I, too, was a bride to be who wasn't sure. I got married anyway, and then spent the next two years being sure I'd made a bad decision. The only thing worse than postponing a wedding is a divorce that comes from knowing you could have prevented it. If you can't wholeheartedly commit to this guy, don't do it now.

Carolyn Hax: Rarin. (sp?)

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New York: Hi! Love your column! I am about five months pregnant (first time). I have now had two people say to me, "Wow you're really big!" or "You look really pregnant!" And then act astonished that the baby isn't due for four more months. I find this incredibly annoying. I have gained about five pounds more than I should (according to the books), but I am trying really hard to eat well and exercise. Any suggestions on how to handle this. Right now I just want to sock them, which I think is probably a bad way to handle it.

Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: You'd make your point, though.

Still, I'm not sure you'd be right. Yes being told you're really big is somewhat insensitive, considering what society currently thinks of women and largeness, but: you're PREGNANT. Big is in your belly. Big is good. Big is a compliment. Unless they ask whether you're carrying a twin in your butt, in which case it's not a compliment.

As for those extra 5, that's nothing. At this pace, you may be 10 over for the whole pregnancy, which is pretty darn good.

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Montgomery County, Md.: What are your feelings on gut feelings? I have a feeling that I am in an emotionally abusive relationship, but often question myself and wonder if I am just INCREDIBLY oversensitive. My sort of boyfriend and I only have sexual relations on his terms (when he is drunk). When he is drinking, he unleashes these verbal missives about how he thinks I am delusional and naive regarding various things in my life, in particular, my health. I am currently not well and, since my illness is not visible (no wheelchair, bruises), he thinks I am able to just "overcome" it mentally. My father used to treat me this way, but I saw it as "tough love" then, but now, at age 30, I am just not so sure. Also, I am too afraid to ask this man to make plans to spend time with me, because I get a barrage of excuses. I wait for him to plan everything. Abuse? Or just a really fudged-up relationship I should ditch?

Carolyn Hax: Um, can I choose both? However, that's not to say your gut feelings can be trusted. If they're telling you this is a very bad guy for you, great, but they should have screamed in your ear this was a very bad guy for you, from the first time he mistreated you, so loudly that you flipped him the bird and left.

So, please back up your gut feelings with some hard information. Call the Nat'l Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE, or RAINN, 1-800-656-4673. Please get yourself some counseling.

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Bride: It takes a lot of courage to postpone a wedding with all the expense and stigma but it is better than the alternative of marrying with a lot of doubt and divorcing a few years later. After I broke off my engagement, a lot of people came out of the woodwork to tell me their first marriages were like this. They knew it wasn't right but didn't want to disappoint family and friends by cancelling. They said they felt in their heart it was more than cold feet but didn't want to cancel in case they were just overreacting.

Carolyn Hax: Well said, thanks.

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Flawed Boyfriend and Intimacy Hangups....: What would other signs of intimacy hangups be? The inability to share a toothbrush with me? Because if that's a sign, I want a NON-intimate man. There's nothing grosser.

Carolyn Hax: Is this the first place your mind went when you saw that post? Because that's just weird.

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Stupidville (???): So I hopped into bed with a long-term (formerly-platonic) friend a couple of weeks ago. Since then we've been hiding out from our friends and boinking like the proverbial bunnies. The chemistry and the sex are wonderful, but... eh, what are we doing?

Should I just allow myself to relax and enjoy this or should I head it off before Bad Things happen? And just what would those Bad Things even be?

Clearly, I'm not thinking straight here. But that's okay, because it's soooo much fun. Right?

Carolyn Hax: So, you're with someone you really like, both inside and out, and you think the proper reaction to that is to end it?

Open the bedroom window, let some oxygen in.

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I was in Arlington's shoes once: Deep down, I knew I shouldn't get married with those feelings, but the pressure of the fact that the wedding was all planned, gifts had been sent, etc., along with the repeated "it's just cold feet" advice I got from friends influenced my decision to go on with it.

Now I'm divorced. So I agree with your advice. On the other hand, I know how unlikely she is to take it, so I wanted to say to Arlington, it's OK -- it's not the end of the world even if make the wrong decision here. No one WANTS to get divorced, but in the end, everything turned out for the best for me and my ex, we grew a lot, still get along, both eventually met our soulmates. Of course, things wouldn't have turned out so rosy if we had had kids together. So my advice is, if Arlington doesn't take Carolyn's advice and goes through with the wedding (which she probably will) just make sure not to have kids until you are sure you made the right decision about your marriage. Be absolutely positively sure.

Carolyn Hax: Wicked monster totally honking sure. Thanks.

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Columbia, Md.: Ok, after reading the response from the "really big" pregnant woman, I wonder if I have been horribly rude all these years. When a woman I know is pregnant, and excited about it, typically when I see her around 4-5+ months (especially if I found out the news via phone) I say (excitedly) "Wow! You really look pregnant/are really showing!" or something like that. To me, it's like admiring shoes she bought and is really psyched about, but am I wrong? I'm a woman, and only do this with people I consider good friends if it matters.

Carolyn Hax: Idunno, said by the right person in the right way, just about anything is okay, and said by the wrong person the wrong way, just about anything is offensive. I don't want to say, "Yeah, that's bad," and end up making you bite your tongue on genuine expressions of admiration.

Suggestions for the stumped: For your good friends, you can't lose with, "Wow, you look beautiful"-- and if they don't look beautiful or arent' good friends, "Wow, you look so happy."

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Fairfax City, Va.: I'm 12 years out of college. I had a successful career as a CPA and am now considering staying at home full time with my new baby. I know this is right for my family (at least for now) and my husband is very supportive of whatever I want to do, but I have such a self-imposed guilt trip about it. My parents paid for college and now I wonder if they consider my resignation as a disappointment. I also seem to care too much about what my working mom friends/family might think about me... how do I get over this? Also, will we not be able to afford some of the things they get to enjoy, distancing us in the process?

Will it get easier after some time? (Baby's only six weeks old now so maybe the hormones are just in anxiety overdrive still.)

Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Nothing matters but what is best for you and your spouse and your baby. Repeat till it sticks.

If it helps, I'd be disappointed in a kid who lived her life to please me, and proud of one who trusted her own judgment and lived her life accordingly.

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Arlington, Va.: "Wicked monster totally honking sure?"

Put down the booze, Carolyn. It's only 1 in the afternoon and you've still got three kids to take care of.

Carolyn Hax: Assuming I didn't misplace one.

Put down your Wall Street Journal, Arlington. It's 1 in the afternoon on a late-August Friday.

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Nowhere Virginia: Carolyn,

I think I need help. I think I have binge eating disorder. Now what? I don't want to see a therapist. I told my husband, and his response was just stop eating so much then. He doesn't understand.

Carolyn Hax: First, get informed on what you're doing to yourself: www.edap.org.

Then ask: Why don't you want to see a therapist? You would go to an oncologist if you had cancer, so I can't see any reason not to go to a therapist for an eating disorder.

I would urge you, though, to find one who specializes in eating issues--ask your regular doctor for a referral, or contact the local chapter of one of the big professional associations (www.apa.org for psychologists, for example, or www.psych.org for psychiatrists).

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Re: Quitting Job to stay home with child: Your college education isn't wasted by staying home with your child. There's no better gift you could give your child than an educated mother. You'd just be using your degree in a different way.

Carolyn Hax: Or an educated father! Otherwise, bravo, thanks.

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To CPA mom: Keep up with those continuing education requirements. Who knows if you may not want to go back next month, year, or decade. Keep YOUR options open.

Carolyn Hax: A most excellent point, thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: for pregnant friends, I like to be helpful by standing behind them and beeping when they back up.

Carolyn Hax: A valuable public service.

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Annapolis, Md.: Does anybody in Arlington work? Just wondering, cuz they all seem to be here today.

washingtonpost.com: It's called "multitasking."

Carolyn Hax: It's called "Friday afternoon in late August."

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West Palm, Fla.: A gal I briefly dated (and fell hard for) last year emailed out of the blue -- she cut things off due to unfinished emotional messes. We've been e-mailing a few times a day for the past few days. We've kept in touch every now and then over the years -- but nothing to this extent. Is she just being friendly or does she want something more?

Carolyn Hax: Type after me: "Are you just being friendly or do you want something more?"

If you scare her off, you'll have your answer on those unfinished emotional messes.

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Northern Virginia: I think most young women have a worse phsysical self-image than what is actually there. They think they are fatter, uglier, more whatever than actually they are. Apparently I have the opposite problem. I don't think of myself as drop dead gorgeous or having a body that stops traffic, but I never thought of myself as real fat either. I've come to terms with my body. But lately, almost once a week, I've been getting asked "When are you due?" or "Is this your first?" by a variety of strangers, co-workers, doctors etc. Both women and men, but more often men. I'm FLOORED when they ask -- notably. Unless the second coming of Christ is upon us I'm definitely NOT pregnant!. Sometimes I'm polite and gently tell them that I'm not pregnant, sometimes I'm a bit more forceful. I'm thinking of letting them see me cry so that they will understand the insensitivity of their questions. What do you think? Any other suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: Could it be your clothing? During an unfortunate brush with baby-doll dresses in the late 80s that I'd rather not discuss any further, I was congratulated regularly.

as for how to deal with the questions, a simple statement of non-pregnant fact probably suffices, since most people quickly realize the implications of their mistake and feel horrible for it. (And probably will think twice before commenting again, to anyone.) I know this doesn't give you much satisfaction, but your source of that is right in your question: You've come to terms with your body. That is so much more important than anything else--and also a real accomplishment given how many people can't accept themselves.

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No committed relationship here: I'm in my late 20s, and have never been in a committed relationship, and I don't think that there's anything hugely flawed in me (I'm a woman, by the way). I just haven't really found anyone, and have been in school/working for a while.

But now I feel like I have a huge character flaw that's prevented a relationship that none of my friends have told me about. Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: I do what I can.

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Ellicott City, Md.: Is this a good reason for therapy/medication? I hate my job so much that I am severely depressed. Wanting to drive into a tree depressed.

I am looking for a new job, but how do I make it through the days in the meantime?

I really really hate my job.

Carolyn Hax: Are you serious about the tree? Then yes, a good reason to seek help.

Have you considered other ways to leave your job than a one-to-one swap? E.g., education plus wage slavery--get yourself into a degree or training program that interests you, and cut your expenses enough so that you can support yourself with a part-time service-type job.

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Agony: I've got a crush on someone I work with. We hang out all the time and work very closely together on a team of about five people. We flirt a lot and I spend the night at his place in his bed on a semi-regular basis. However, nothing has happened. My crush has been developing over three years. I know him very well now and like him even more than just the initial attraction I felt three years ago when I started working here. What do I do? Risk the friendship and work environment and pursue this? Ignore it until we're both in a situation that would not hurt our careers? If I do that what if one or both of us meets someone in the meantime? A complicating factor is that he's 35 and ready to get married to someone and I'm 25 and not sure what I'm ready for. The other complicating factor is that we see each other for extended periods of time EVERY DAY... what to do?

Carolyn Hax: Has either of you thought to ask yet, "Why are you in my bed?"

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For Arlington, Va.: Get married. But first, get yourself a contract with a network for an unscripted TV show, to be called "The Divorce." Here's the concept: You let viewers across America share in your uncertainty (and perhaps your fiance's as well, for all you know). Then, the viewers (as well as the big gambling houses) will lay their odds down on how long the marriage will last. Finally, we'll watch week-by-week 'til it's over (or who knows, maybe not). Either way, you hit the jackpot.

Alternatively, you could take the boring, dignified route and postpone.

Carolyn Hax: I'm not sure whether to post this or steal your idea.

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Binge eater: I have a good friend who goes to Overeaters Anonymous and has found it very helpful. Chapters nationwide.

Carolyn Hax: Someday, ask me what I almost typed here.

Thanks for the great suggestion--I bet she'll be more likely to seek help with an option like this.

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IN HIS BED?: And they've never discussed what's going on?

Do I need to get out more or what?

Carolyn Hax: No, they do.

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White Plains, N.Y.: The other night i had one of those awful moments when in a group or professionals and I stood up to make a comment, got flustered, and got off point. For the past two days I have totally been beating myself up about it -- replaying it in my head, etc. My husband keeps telling me that I shouldn't worry about it, no one else will remember, etc. -- all the right things. However, I am having a really hard time letting it go. I do this all the time -- replay old conversations in my head (from as far back as 8th grade no less). Is this a common trait? Any ideas for helping me "get over it?"

Carolyn Hax: I'm a dweller, too, and sometimes I find it helpful to pay attention to how often most normal people screw up. Think about it--we've had a whole thread here today about people who say the wrong thing to pregnant women. Another point--we all try so hard to say and do the perfect thing, and yet we deeply privately HATE people who always do and say the right thing. Flustered is human is cool.

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Oldtown, Va.: Carolyn,
I am wondering if I should be worried about my girlfriend's drinking. She works hard at a stressful job and comes home many nights and typically drinks two large glasses of wine while surfing the net or reading. She doesn't get drunk, so far as I can tell, but she does this most every night. I am wondering if this is odd behavior. I come from a family where drinking is a problem, so maybe I am just sensitive to it. I would really appreciate some objective advice. Thank you.

Carolyn Hax: Since it's a judgment call (dunno how large "large" is, etc), I'd look at other aspects for your answer--say, is your relationship suffering from the wine-and-surfing? Then maybe say you miss her/you're worried about her, and feel she's withdrawing. If everything's fine but you're just not comfortable with regular wine, I wouldn't worry about it.

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Anywhere: Hi Carolyn,

So here's a problem I never thought I'd have. An unintentional side effect of a medical issue is that I have lost a lot of weight in the last year. I am eating three square meals a day, taking medicine, and working with my doctor to get back to a healthy weight. In the meantime, co-workers will come up to me and remark, "Gee, you sure are skinny" or something like that. This is really awkward for me because I really don't know how to respond. I don't know some of these people well and I don't feel that I should have to disclose my medical history on demand. Plus, I'm never sure if the remark is intended as a misguided compliment or as an implication that I am purposefully hurting myself. What's a good response to this? "Mind your own business" seems kind of harsh, but on the other hand, I would never go up to someone and say "Gee, you look pudgy today."

Thoughts?

Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: I imagine some mean it as a compliment and some are expressing concern. To all I'd try just saying, "Thanks." Then neither of you will know what you're thanking them for, and you can use that confusion to change the subject.

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Bed thing...: I've been in that bed -- not proud -- just stupid.

Umm... she knows what's going on -- she just doesn't like it and is hoping you will tell her what she wants to hear.

HE IS ENGAGED. Even if they DO talk about it, he's made it clear who is his choice.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I don't think he's engaged. I thought the same thing, then re-read: "he's 35 and ready to get married to someone" I suspect just means he's ready to settle down.

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Charlotte, N.C.: Can we finally put to rest this idea that college is strictly for career training? (This is for the CPA worried that her parents will think they paid for college for nothing, since she quit her job.) Of all the things she gained during those years, classwork is small potatoes. All the things she was exposed to and came to understand, all the maturing of her own philosophy of life... would she be the same person without those years? (Not that she'd be less, but she'd be different.)

Carolyn Hax: I'll post it, but I have yet to experience my first official putting to rest of anything.

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Two glasses of wine: Two glasses of wine is considered moderate drinking, and most doctors agree that it is good for the heart, circulation and the memory!; (That is assuming the glass isn't big gulp sized!;)

Carolyn Hax: True, sort of--that two-a-day number I believe applies to men, and for women it's supposed to be one a day. But then it depends on her weight and body type ... and adhering strictly to numbers is no way to live ... and etc. That's why I called it a judgment call. I'm also fond of the idea that if it seems like nothing's wrong, there's nothing wrong--unless you've just finished a Kendall-Jackson Big Gulp.

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Dwellers Unite: I'm a dweller. Don't beat yourself up over it. I find it's easier to dwell on those things if you find a way to laugh at them instead....

Carolyn Hax: Right--make it into an anecdote. Thanks!

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West Hartford, Conn.: Other side. I was a bride. The groom decided right before the wedding it was not right. After the initial shock of canceling I found myself okay. Ten years later and married to the the right guy, I am profoundly grateful to my ex-fiance for having the guts to canceled the wedding. I was too wrapped up in planning the day to see marriage and forever was not for us.

Carolyn Hax: Beautiful, thank you.

I can't linger today, unfortunately. Thanks all and type to you next week.

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