Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 10, 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.


Arlington, Va.: Hi Carolyn,
I am a 25-year-old woman who has totally lost interest in sex. I have been with my boyfriend for three years. Lately I have come to regard sex as a total chore, and I don't know why. I find myself lusting after random, unattainable people and wishing I were with them. Every time I begin to become intimate with my boyfriend, I just keep thinking of a list of things he did or does that I resent -- I wish he made more money, I wish he did more around the house, etc.
Could you help me?

Carolyn Hax: You haven't lost interest in sex, you've lost interest in sex with your boyfriend. Understandably, too--there's little that can kill passion faster than quiet, seething resentment. If you have something to say to him, say it.

And if you don't like him any more, break up. Your not wanting to sleep with him and his not helping around the house each are reason enough on their own. (Not so sure about the not making enough money thing.)


Washington, D.C.: I've had this horrible relationship with my mother for some time. She has been depresssed, mean and draining. Everything is always about her and her problems. Finally one day I told her I couldn't take it anymore and she needs to talk to someone (therapist) because she sounded depressed and these were not problems I could solve. I also pointed out I am her child and it's not my role to solve her problems to please lean on someone her own age. She got so angry at me and left these terrible messages on my machine about how I am a horrible, selfish mean person and she didn't raise me to be that way. She keeps leaving them and I don't call her back because I don't know how to respond. I feel ill over it but until she gets help I don't want to talk to her. I can't take on her issues anymore. I'm so lost, just don't know what to do. It's coming into my daily life and I'm just getting dizzy. I feel like it's going to suck me in and I'll never get out. Help please.

Carolyn Hax: Sounds like you did the right thing. Also sounds like you could use the support of a therapist yourself. Your mom might have a diagnosable illness, one that--to someone trained to recognize it--comes with both an expanation for why she's being so awful to you and a well-established protocol for friends and family to follow in dealing with her.

For an example of what I mean, think of alcoholism--alcoholics tend to wreak a specific kind of havoc on their loved ones, and so there has arisen a protocol for those loved ones to use in dealing with them (like the ones used in Al-Anon, Adult Children of Alcoholics, etc.). It's the kind of guidance that can make your hell make sense, and also make you feel good about the limits you set, vs guilty.


Washington, D.C.: I'm hoping you can give me some pointers on how to deal with a friend of mine who has an annoying habit. He hates it when anyone in our group of friends uses a cuss word in a conversation and when you're speaking to him and you cuss he pretends like he didn't hear what you said. He'll just stare at you until you "take the hint" and repeat what you said without the cuss word. I don't know what to do about it but I don't like being subtly "disciplined" by a friend.

Carolyn Hax: Then just keep talking and let him stare till his eyes dry out. What a doink.


Arlington, Va.: Carolyn,

I have recently started dating a man who I think has a problem with alcohol. I like to go out for the occasional happy hour but this guy binge drinks a lot. Recently I brought it up to him when I told him I didn't want to see him anymore and he said "well maybe I should just find a girl who doesn't mind my drinking habits." Is it just me, or is that the most flaming statement that he's an alcoholic?

Carolyn Hax: I'd have to know how much he drinks (and/or how much alcohol affects his life) to know whether that statement is aflame, but it does suggest you're not soul mates.


Washington, D.C.: Speakin of Al-Anon and ACOA, can anyone tell me where to find an ACOA meeting? I've just started therapy (for the first time) and he suggested I go. I think he's right and I need the help/support.

Glad you're finally back! How is the bundle of joy?

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, Liz.

(Joy bundle is bundled and joyous, thanks.)


Washington, D.C.: Dear Carolyn,

I just recently became engaged and my finace and I went out and picked out a ring. Neither of us are into flashy, predictable jewelry so we choose a simple but unique ring with very small diamonds. We both really like it.

I don't go around flashing it off but when people hear I'm engaged, they ask to look at the ring. The people who know me very well say they love the ring, that it looks like me and my taste. Other people, however, like to squint and ask "Where's the diamond?" And then they inquire why its so small and if I'll be "upgrading" in the future. They seem so concerned as to why I'm deprived of a seemingly essential part of a relationship.

I'm tired of being polite to these rude and materistic people but I have a hard time telling someone to keep their opinion to themself. Can you help me come up with some effective responses to these comments?

Carolyn Hax: "Why would you say such a thing?" It's confrontational in the mildest of ways--and therefore that much more gratifying, I hope. Jerks that big should be put in a position to explain themselves.

And if you find it too hard to say even that much, just go with, "I think it's perfect." True jerks won't get it, but those with any discernible gray matter will pick up on the implied reproach.

Congratulations, BTW, on your happy news.


Virginia: The first post got me thinking. Any advice for total loss of interest in sex when you're fairly certain it's not related to any kind of resentment or relationship issues? Very happy with husband and relationship. Known him for six years, married for one. Just really no interest in sex with him or anyone else. Just not feeling like a sexual creature. Have tried to mix it up, etc. I can't figure out what's wrong with me -- if I'm too stressed, tired, distracted -- or if it's something medical or more than that.

Carolyn Hax: Is it something you want to fix, or that he has asked you to fix? Then start with the list you gave of possible explanations and work your way through it--can I reduce my stress, can I get more rest, can I organize my thoughts better, is it time to ask my doctor if there's a medical explanation.

I'd also add to the list that you might be too detached from your body. If you go from table to car to desk to car to couch to bed, you're not going to feel like a fine physical specimen; bodies need inspiration no less than minds or hearts do. Go to a gym, go for a daily walk, take a dance class, see if that doesn't wake you up.

And if it isn't something either of you wants to fix: I don't think there's anything wrong with treating it as a slow patch. Couples have cycles. Just be careful not to exclude your husband in this decision--you should be talking, even if you aren't, you know, hm-hming--nor to let a slow patch turn into a monastic ever after.


Family Problems: Carolyn,
I really hope you can shed some light on a problem I am having that makes me sad. I wrote a long note and then I realized that my problem in a nutshell is that my parents (still married) are very selfish and never even just ask anything about me. They only live 10 minutes away and my dad has not stepped foot in my house in 2004. My boyfriend's brother lives thousands of miles away and he has seen my house more than my own dad. What the?

Carolyn Hax: Whatever the ?, consider that it's not you, there's nothing you can do about it and it's not going to change.

I don't know anything about you or your family, or who is in the wrong, or even if anyone is in the wrong. However, I've found there's really only one effective way to deal with people who continually let us down, and that is to stop expecting otherwise. This is who your parents are. It's sad.

Even sadder, though, would be for you to keep refreshing this sadness by continually hoping they'll be someone else. Say to them, once (or once more, if you've said it already), that you miss them and you're disappointed they don't come by more often, and if you've done something to keep them away, you wish they would give you the chance to remedy the problem. Then live your life as if they're not in it, and treat their rare appearances as a happy surprise.


Experience with no interest in sex: I went through a patch with an old partner. I just wasn't interested in being touched sexually, though everything else seemed peachy.

Figured out it was my birth control pills. Two weeks after I went on a different brand, the drive was back.

It's worth talking to a doctor or just looking at your meds.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, I always forget that one, and it's significant.


Re: Engagement Ring: I'm glad someone brought this up. In my office talks of this person's ring and that persons ring (even those that are not deemed engagement rings) makes me feel like I will have to hide my ring if I become engaged any time soon, because to them it my not be anything to write home about.

I never knew what I should say, now I know, and I'll wear whatever my beloved chooses proudly and happily.

Carolyn Hax: Glad to help. You could also try no ring at all. It's an idea with ambitions of becoming a trend.

By the way, you don't have to wait till you're engaged to take on the ring snobs. You could even have fun with it: Every time they slam a ring, just say something like, "Really? I think it's lovely." Just make sure to use the exact same words every time. "Really? I think it's lovely." "Really? I think it's lovely." "Really? I think it's lovely."


Cuss-free zone: I know it sounds crazy but some people are still offended by profanity (and justifiably so). It's no different than using a racial slur. It's offensive and the friend has a right to react accordingly. Carolyn, why should he be the one to compromise?

Carolyn Hax: Uh, because he's -staring- at people? Like they're naughty 5-year-olds? If I'm playing Pick the Doink, and my choices are between someone who genially says, "What a bleepy day," and someone who responds to that by glaring at genial cusser, person B is my doink. And I'd win the all-expenses-paid cruise.

If he is offended, he is welcome to say, "I'd prefer it if you didn't use that word around me, thanks."


RE: Ring: You could also head them off at the pass. While presenting your hand say "Isn't it gorgeous" or somethings similar, that will stop rude comments in their tracks.

Carolyn Hax: Great idea, 'cept I'd tweak it to, "I absolutely love it." Calling one's own stuff gorgeous is a bit ... too.


Re: Virginia: I have to throw these two-cents in regarding her lack of sexual desire. I find that if I focus on how I'm too tired, too busy, or too uninterested in sex then, duh, I don't want any. But if I start thinking about sex, sex with my husband, my favorite past experiences with him or even someone else, or my favorite fantasy with him or maybe Brad Pitt then I really get in the mood. Once I start thinking about sex, then I have to have it.

The most important sexual organ we have is our brains. I like to use mine even more than my hands!;

Carolyn Hax: Explained: all those brain-enlargement ads in my in-box.


She wishes he made more money?: I'm wondering if her boyfriend has maybe picked up on the fact that she regards him, at least partially, as her wallet. How disgusting.

Carolyn Hax: Eh--I started to say that in my answer, but what if they're living together and barely making rent, and he's being lazy about work? I'm always happy to jump all over someone, but I didn't think there was enough there.


re: cuss-free zone: How could you not correct the poster that while some people may find cuss offensive there is a HUGE difference between cussing and using a racial slur.

Carolyn Hax: Because I read right past it. Glad you didn't, thanks--there is a HUGE difference indeed.


Long Beach, Calif.: Ahh... I think I did something stupid. I knew a guy I was friends with might have liked me. After drinking with him last night, we ended up in bed together. I thought we were just having fun but he seems pretty serious now. He's already making plans for the future and talking about how this is not going to be a one night stand and everything. I feel so guilty for all this -- I never meant to start anything and couldn't want a boyfriend less. What do I do? He means a lot to me as a friend but of course I wouldn't have a relationship with him because I felt bad. Do I owe him a talk? Apology? I don't want to make him feel awkward but I know he's already been talking about us to mutual friends. I just can't shake feeling like I did something really wrong.

Carolyn Hax: You owe him a talk and an apology, since, yes, you did do something wrong--you took something you wanted even though you had reason to believe it would hurt someone. And have the talk soon, before he takes out an ad in the Times.


Cussing: The big question: has he said something to him/her before? If he has, and if it didn't work before, I hate to say roll with the passive-aggressive behavior, but hey, there is enough disrespect floating around here for everyone involved.

Carolyn Hax: No no no! What he does is not okay, even if he has spoken up before. He either continues to express his objection, or he excuses himself from conversations with the profane mother#$%^&*.

No disrespect intended.


What a &8$*wit: The anti-cussing, pro-glaring guy would last about five minutes in my group of friends!; If someone tried to pull that, he'd unleash a tidal wave of gratuitous profanity.

As a post above mentioned, some people are legitimately offended by profanity, which is their prerogative. They just have to ask politely for the other person to stop. It's ridiculous to try to shame someone over a rude word with a rude gesture.

Shoot, now I almost wish that guy WAS my friend just to brush up on my creative cursing. Oooh, will "shoot" bring on the glare of shame?

Carolyn Hax: Nothing to add but applause for "tidal wave of gratuitous profanity." Nice concept and phrasing.


Bridal hell: Carolyn,

I'm getting married in less than a month. My usually calm and rational parents have flipped out on me recently, and have said hateful, offensive things to me how my fiance's input is unwelcomed because he isn't paying for the wedding (he's paying the traditional part of the groom), etc. My mother has told me I've been nothing but demanding and whiny -- I don't agree with this at all. She's gone down a laundry list of everything that they are paying for, but that "I'm getting my way on." In any case, the drama has taken away some of the joy of the wedding.

I know that on the day itself, I will have a wonderful time surrounded by friends and the man I love, but what happens if I still resent my parents on the big day, and feel like I have to fake being happy with them? I'm very disappointed and saddened that things have ended up like this. I don't want to feel alienated from them. We apparently have very different wedding philosophies that should've been discussed from day one. If I had known what would happen, there is no way I wouldn't be paying for my own wedding, but as things stand, I can't afford to pay for it myself with less than four weeks to go.

Carolyn Hax: How's this. Tell your parents excatly how you're feeling as a result of all the bitterness--that "the drama has taken away some of the joy of the wedding," that you're "very disappointed and saddened that things have ended up like this," that you "don't want to feel alienated from them," that "we apparently have very different wedding philosophies that should've been discussed from day one." You've said it all very well. Add that you're very hurt by the things they've said about your fiance.

Then tell them: You know it's late--probably too late on most things--but that they're welcome to have their way from now on, on everything. You just want to come out of it happily married and with your family ties intact.


Engagement Rings Again: Carolyn, I opted for no ring and you still wouldn't believe what people say. Actually, how long have you had this job? You would believe it. The a**hats always come up with things about how he wouldn't spend the money, is a cheapskate, etc, when it was my decision, met with some resistance from my intended, not to have a ring.

Carolyn Hax: 7.5 years.

But that was a hypothetical, wasn't it.

I would believe what people say. I still think no ring is a fine choice, as a fashion statement, a political statement or as no statement at all. The way to get around the a**hats isn't to try to predict the one behavior that won't get their attention. It's to try to live your life on your own terms, unapologetically, and with as little contact as possible with a**hats. I swear, I spend about 70 percent of my column inches trying to persuade people that there's no law saying they have to date, befriend, work for or remain married to a**hats.

Sometimes they're unavoidable, obviously. In that case you either ignore them or call them out, depending on your temperament.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn... this is off the subject of sex and cussing... sorry if I put a damper on things! I just got news from my doctor that I should be tested for ovarian cancer, even though "I have nothing to worry about" and they just want to "rule it out." How do I maintain normalcy, i.e. not freaking out, until the test is completed with the results back? What can I do to get my mind off of it (the advice of close friend). I'm losing my mind. Help?

Carolyn Hax: That's okay, the cussing thing has gotten totally bleeping out of hand.

This takes a bit of mind control, but you can do it: You have nothing to be upset about until you get a test result back that says you should be upset. Truly. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is any different this minute from the minute before your doctor said you should get tested.


No no no!: Don't give in to the parents on the wedding. This is not just about the wedding, it's a power play. They are trying to enforce their will over their little girl, who is getting married. Give in now, and it will be the same fight, over and over again.

Carolyn Hax: No no no! What I suggested is actually the one sure power-play killer: "Forget it, you win, I'm not playing any more." Mull it over. Reach back into childhood for examples of how well it works. You could even argue that, as a manipulation-buster, it's a tad manipulative in itself. I think, though, that's a needlessly dark way to interpret what is intended as a nice way for a little girl to say, "You guys duke it out, I have my own life that I need to go live."


Charlotte, N.C.: How is a "tidal wave of gratuitous profanity" any more mature than staring? They both seem pretty childish to me. For the record, I am one of those people who are uncomfortable hearing certain words bandied about, and I've never had a problem saying, "you know, not one of my favorite words, okay?" You'd be surprised how accommodating people can be when you just ask nicely.

Carolyn Hax: It's not more mature. It's a bleepload more entertaining.


Arlington, Va.: Carolyn:

What should I do? A girlfriend of my best friend has come on to me in a big way. She started out very subtly, so much so that it could have been taken as perfectly innocent flirting. However, the last time I saw her she whispered in my ear "I want you and this is no joke." I laughed nervously, but she didn't. Should I tell my friend?

Carolyn Hax: No, tell her to back off or you'll get a restraining order--or you'll tell her boyfriend, depending on what your horoscope says that day. That should scare her off nicely.


Charlotte, N.C.: Re: DC cancer test

Why should she take her mind off of it? Why is it that some people encourage others to repress perfectly natural feelings such as anxiety? I can understand that there is nothing to fear yet, but can't the lady be nervous if she wants to? If her being uneasy before a test isn't going to affect the results of said test, she should go ahead and feel what she's naturally feeling. The more one concentrates on NOT feeling a certain way, it seems the more likely she'll end up feeling MORE of that certain way.


Carolyn Hax: You're welcome! But technically it was her friend who suggested she take her mind off it--ie, repress anxiety. My suggestion was that she apply reason to the situation--ie, lessen anxiety. That has to be better than feeling it.


Madelia, Minn.: I've had breast cancer, and have had several consequent surgeries. After a long and mutually monogamous marriage, I'm single again. I've dated a bit over the past five years but am absolutely terrified of becoming intimate with someone. It's so out of character for me; I'm quite confident in most other realms of my life. But once I consider the possibility of being intimate with someone, I start panicking... and the relationship miraculously ends.

How can I change this?

Carolyn Hax: Have you said upfront to people, or at least early on, that you've had several breast surgeries? Having it out there might preempt your fear that it'll scare someone off.

I know, I know, it's not exactly first-date conversation, but it did happen and what else is there to do about it but embrace it as part of you. A proud part of you, in fact--your body, your tough, resourceful body, beat something big and scary. So-called "perfect" bodies should have half as much to show for themselves.

Of course, I am assuming it's your body that has you terrified. If it's an emotional intimacy that has you terrified, then it sounds like the brush with mortality--I'm including the cancer and the end of your married life in this--has left you with a fear-of-loss hangover. If that's the case, try reframing your fear-of-loss thoughts into seize-the-day thoughts; if nothing else, you just learned that pain is not only a side effect of life, no matter how you live it, but it's also survivable. So, use that to go live life the way you've always -wanted- to live it.

That said: Whichever it is that's dogging you, body fears or mind fears--if you find your fear is more than a pep talk/mind reframing can fix, please take it to a pro.


A**HATS?: I'm just staring at my computer screen until you stop all this swearing!; So there!;

Carolyn Hax: I just flipped you the bird.

Bye everbuddy, thank you, have an effing awesome weekend and I'll type to you next week.


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