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.
Yay, you printed my question on Wednesday - but the point I really wanted to make was that I seem to be the only person who is put off by someone's (very recent) history of sex buddies. It tends to make me think that that's all they will want from me, too. Am I prejudging, and does it matter if I am?
Carolyn Hax: Yer welcome. But the point I really wanted to make was that there's no reason to prejudge the guy, since you're in control of how you get to know him. If he puts you off, then so be it--don't date him. If you like him but fear he just wants a sex buddy, don't have sex with him. Etc.
Scared I'm Odd, USA:
I'm afraid that there's something wrong with me. I have a wonderful husband of a year, he makes good money and we can pay our bills with a little left over, I'm hopefully starting grad school next year, and we are on good terms with family and friends. But I'm not happy. I feel like I don't really matter in the great scheme of things -- and my friends here I met through my husband and I guess I don't feel like I have my own identity. I feel like I wish I could go back to college when things were simpler -- I don't know what to do. I love my husband and our life but feel like there's something missing. Could be my job -- haven't found anything that I'd like to do long-term (mostly just trying to pay off debt so need a job that pays better than non-profit stuff) and I'm trying to find volunteer activities. But I just feel -- alone -- stupid huh? Like I'm the only one who's feeling out of place right? Guess I just need a slap to wake me up to realize how lucky I am. HELP!
Carolyn Hax: Actually, I've never bought the I-have-nice-friends-and-no-money-problems-so-I-should-be-happy logic. Those are things you should be grateful for, always, but if they come in a form that doesn't do it for you, it's okay to admit that too. There are millions of great jobs out there that I'm thrilled I don't have, and all kinds of wonderful people out there, living saints even, to whom I am thrilled not to be married. Does that make me weird? No. I'm weird, but that's not why.
So stop beating yourself for considering that maybe, just maybe, your perfectly good life is the wrong life for you--or that a few elements of it aren't right.
You don't say how old you are or what led you to make the choices you did, but I hear a lot of what you describe from people who do everything they felt they were supposed to do. Meaning, school then job then love then marriage--all solid, all respectable, all chosen because it seemed like the "right" time to go to school/get a job/get married--and, as they start to suspect in their late 20s or 30s, all possibly chosen without enough serious thought.
So, give your decisions some serious thought. Are you pointed to the right grad school, is your relationship with your husband satisfying or rote, are these the friends you would choose to see on your own, it that even a priority of yours, or would you rather be spending your free time doing something else? You may feel like crap for a while as you dwell on it (warn your husband accordingly, that you're going through a what-the-hell-am-I-doing-with-my-life phase), but the payoff will be worth it.
And, last word that I probably should have put first: Make sure this is life stuff and not brain chemistry stuff (or some combination of the two) by getting screened for depression. You can get an idea through www.depression-screening.org, but talking to a doctor is best.
Carolyn Hax: Wow, sorry about all that dead air--I should have saved that question for a column sted taking it on live. By the time I figured that out, though, I was too far in.
How does one decide whether it is in the best interests of a school-aged child for his or her parents to stay married? Both parents are good parents but they do not love each other and the child seems to sense the lack of affection. Marriage counseling was not successful, and further discussion is impossible because one parent has an uncontrollable temper. I would describe the relationship as an amicable detente -- tolerable, but distant.
Carolyn Hax: There aren't words to capture how badly I don't want to get involved in this. It's one of the most horrible decisions out there, which is evident from the fact that I've heard grown kids of unhappy parents, those who divorced and those who chose to stay together "for the kids," argue passionately for both decisions. Ugh. I don't think there's any way anyone can lean one way or the other without being intimately familiar with the particular family in question. Kids should grow up in a happy house--by -their- definition of happy. There's no one unversal blueprint for that.
I will say this, though (and probably regret it): "Uncontrollable temper" is an abuse flag, as is a refusal to discuss important things, and I can't see how any kid is better off living with an abuser. HAve you talked to your marriage counselor solo, to see what s/he may have seen?
Kansas City, Mo.:
Over the past year, I have developed a deep attraction to
the woman who sits at the desk next to mine at work.
I'm a shy person, but she's managed to draw me out of my
shell, and I feel very comfortable confidng in her.
Although I work with M. eight hours a day, five days a
week, I want to spend more time with her.
I've never felt this strongly about a woman before. I think
she knows I am attracted to her, but not the extent.
One problem: She has a steady boyfriend, and he works at
the same office, although in a different department.
I'm dying to tell M. how I feel, but I am torn.
I respect that she's in a relationship. Besides that, I don't
want to jeopardize our work relationship, or more
importantly, our friendship. On the other hand, I'm afraid
of missing what might be my best chance to fall in love.
Do I tell her how I feel? Do I step aside? Should I wait
things out? Thank you for your help.
Carolyn Hax: Interesting one. Normally this is a "just SAY it" situation, but you're sitting next to her alldayeveryday. Bleah. And, you're also getting to know her in the best way possible--slowly, naturally, and in real, day-to-day light, vs. mini-performances over dinner. I'd hate to suggest something that interrupts such a healthy process.
So how about a halfway compromise. Leave things alone as long as you can stand it, just to let the feelings develop more; it's still early enough that this may not be love so much as a crush on the first woman you've ever really connected with.
Then, if and when you feel confident it's more than that, say something discreet that she can choose to ignore, also discreetly, if she doesn't share your feelings. E.g., when she mentions the boyfriend, say something to the effect of, "I'm afraid I can't be objective abotu him any more." Or something like that.\
Any other thoughts out there?
Re: staying together vs. divorce:
The problem with staying together in a loveless marriage "for the sake of the kids" is that it precludes the possibility of getting into a better relationship. In the best of all worlds, kids should be able to see the love, vitality and caring that a great marriage has. They'll never get to see this if their parents plug along in a relationship that's at best a "detente." I vote for a split.
Carolyn Hax: I agree that it's important, crucial even, to factor in what the kids will learn from watching their parents interact--and that kids deserve to grow up amid the "love, vitality and caring that a great marriage has." (Amen.) And, that seeing anger, abuse and/or isolation, obviously, could be traumatic.
But lovelessness is a little grayer. As long as the parties are respectful to each other, one could argue that a blah relationship is less traumatic than a divorce.
Furthermore ... there's no guarantee that either parent will get into a better relationship. Both have to have fixed or outgrown what got them into the failed marriage in the first place, then they need the luck of meeting someone who's better for them.
A lot of "buts" to a post I fundamentally agree with, which is why I hate these situations. You can argue the fine points all day and there's still a kid getting hurt, either way. How do family court judges sleep?
Why would you ever regret saying that "uncontrolable temper" is an abuse flag?
Carolyn Hax: Because it could be construed as a vote for one outcome or the other in a specific situation about which I really know nothing--when all I really intend to do is weigh in on a general concept, that uncontrollable tempers are bad. That's why.
My questionable typing skills aren't the only reason this chat is slow.
I hope this is the right way to follow up! Yes, I spoke with the marriage counselor solo, who did seem to favor divorce in this instance. And yes, possible abuse is a concern although it hasn't really occurred yet, which is one of the reasons I've been reluctant to take action that would result in visitation without my participation. Almost all of the time, he is a terrific father, but...
Carolyn Hax: Yep, this is the right way to follow up, thank you.
Since you've talked to the counselor, my next suggestion is to talk to a lawyer. See what your options are here. And if you've talked to a lawyer, too, maybe get your counselor to talk to your lawyer and throw in a child specialist (get referrals from the lawyer, the counselor and your kid's school), and make sure you have every bit of relevant information you can possibly gather. Then, unfortunately, it's reckoning time, just you and your conscience and gut. Brutal.
San Francisco, Calif.:
Work Crush: Sometimes work crushes are the product of the fact we interact most often with the people with whom we work. It isn't so much that the person at the desk next to us is "the one" as much as it is that work created a comfortable environment in which we could interact. So before making such a risky move, try out some other ways to get to know people -- volunteer, join a basketball/softball/whatever league, get out and mix with people in other situations which don't create the meat market atmosphere of bars, etc.
Carolyn Hax: I.e., reproduce as well as you can the steady contact you have at work so you can work past your shyness again. Nice suggestion, thanks.
Response to Kansas City, MO:
He should not mention how he feels. She has a right to go to work without being solicited socially. He is hung up on the only person he can talk to, and calling that feeling by a name normally associated with social relationships outside the office. He needs to develop a social life outside of work, and socialize less at work.
Carolyn Hax: Another good point, thanks.
For the workplace crush:
Saying "I'm afraid I can't be objective any more" may be a little scary/too much/too full-on at first. How about starting with something like "He's a very lucky guy?" (and if you're really lucky, she'll throw you a bone by elaborating on the nature of her relationship with her boyfriend, e.g., whether he appreciates her enough, whether she appreciates him, etc.)
Carolyn Hax: Definitely more blow-offable than mine, thanks--though given the other responses, I'm also going to underscore the part about waiting a while before even considering something like this.
RE: Staying together for the kids vs. getting a divorce...
The asker and discussion responses have explored some variations of the staying together option, but why not ask what kind of divorce the couple envisions? All divorce scenarios are not the same, and surely some have better (potential) outcomes for the kids than do others. Surely that's an important component in the decision-making process
Carolyn Hax: Huge, actually. Thanks.
Gossip Central, Calif.:
I have learned that there is a rumor going around the office that I have been sleeping with one of the senior people in the office, a married man with a small child. We are friends and I think he's great, but I can honestly say that I think that I've never actually had ANY physical contact with him, maybe not even a handshake! What to do... tell him that there is this rumor? His wife knows people at the office, and I would hate for this to cause ANY sort of problem for them. Or ignore it?
Carolyn Hax: Ignore it. Don't even tap at it with a 10-foot pole.
My cousin recently got engaged (after years of "you're so lucky you're married," and "how do I find the right guy?" and "I'm never going to get married." drama). To no one's surprise she is a grade A bridezilla. My mom and I ignore what we can, put our respective feet down when we can, and tell her to stick it where the sun don't shine when we can. To no avail.
The question is simple. Does ANYTHING work? She expects us "local" folks to act as tour guides, social secretaries and cruise directors for the hordes (yes, sadly, hordes) of out-of-towners coming in for the wedding. We're willing to have a large stack of brochures and transportation information available to those who ask for it. I'm so mad I can't even be happy for my cousin anymore.
Carolyn Hax: Nothing works but "no," and you're going to pay for that, too. It's usually worth the price, though, if that's any consolation.
When you're really losing it, be glad you're not the poor groom, whom she is marrying for all the wrong reasons. A Bridezilla's day comes and goes, but Wifezilla is forever. (Until she mutates into Exwifezilla.)
I don't agree. It could be the love of his life. I have many friends who met their spouses through work. Don't be so quick to judge.
Carolyn Hax: Don't agree with which one? I lost count. I think he should consider that it's a proximity crush and give time a chance to prove otherwise, and in the meantime get out more. Does that sum it all up coherently?
Hax, thought you were way off the mark on Monday re: the person who picks their skin needing medical attention. Don't you think people just have bad habits and pick at thier bug bites, arms, etc? But aren't crying out for help?
Carolyn Hax: Unhappy marriage plus 40 added pounds plus skin-picking = treat this as more serious than "bad habits."
From where I sit, "way off the mark" is defined as minimizing something that might be serious. Which do you think has worse potential consequences: treating it as nothing only to find out it's serious, or treating it as serious only to find out it's nothing?
What scares me is how many people think treating mental health should be an Absolute Last Resort, as opposed to a routine part of routine health maintenance.
I just got back for a second lunch date. Perfectly good guy who I'd like to have as a friend, but I'm really not interested in romantically. How do I stay in touch without leading him on?
Carolyn Hax: So this is breaking news? Cool.
How bout this: "If I were to ask you to lunch just as a friend, would that be okay, or is this romantic potential or nothing?" Unless that's more abrupt than you are, in which case sub in something that's more your style but equally hard to misread.
My boyfriend and I are thinking of getting married within the next year or so and I have been looking at rings online just to get an idea, but it's all so overwhelming and pricey! Do you recommend a way? Also, I'm a little worried I am spending too much time looking at rings. I want to enjoy our relationship the way it is right now, but since we just started seriously talking about getting married, I have starting looking. My question is, how do I look forward to getting married without missing out on the joys of dating?
Carolyn Hax: Stop looking for rings. Solves the price issue and the time-consumption issue and the missing-the-point-of-lifetime-commitment issue.
About the bored home schooler...:
You say that the "home detention" isn't working... how can you possibly know that? Chances are that her parents didn't pull her out of school because things were going well there. For all we know, she has made great strides academically, and just needs a little time to make some home schooling social connections.
I'm not sure what the advice to her friend should be, but your casting homeschooling as "home detention" based on a few phone calls is quite a leap.
Carolyn Hax: I knew I'd get at least one of these.
I didn't say the home-schooling wasn't working, I said the home-detention wasn't working. Meaning, the decision to home-school her clearly needed to include a social component, since she was stuck at home and bored and wasting time on the phone, which can't have been what they envisioned. I don't think there were any leaps there that weren't justified by the letter.
Good afternoon. Thanks for answering my question: is it okay to ever be jealous when people around you are much happier than you are? What to do when other happiness brings you down? (something other than volunteering for those who are worse than you). Thank you.
Carolyn Hax: Use the jealousy as a cue to make changes in your own life, vs an excuse to sit there and stew and blame outside parties for your disappointing life. (Not that you're doing this--it's just a reaction I've seen much too often.)
Hi, Carolyn. Please answer my question: How do you know when you continue seeing someone because of who that person is or because you just don't want to be by yourself. I have been seeing this guy for two months and things are okay but not super. My friends tell me to end it because I am not thrilled but my mom says I should just continue because he doesn't repulse, is nice to me and not like there is anyone else waiting. I don't know what to do. Advice?
Carolyn Hax: Listen to your own voice instead of your mom's and friends' voices. You can't possibly choose a good mate for yourself when you don't even know yourself very well.
And, for what it's worth--your mom's advice horrifies me. How would you like it if some guy were dating you because you were nice and not repulsive and he hadn't found anyone better yet?
My husband and I are in our mid-30s, have been together for five years and married for a year-and-a-half. I am so angry and resentful towards him, and I don't know what to do. He doesn't do anything around the house unless I ask him several times and eventually get upset about it, and even then he'll only do one specific task and nothing else. He won't get the mail, feed the dog, pay the bills or do anything that requires a regular effort. I could tolerate this, but he also ignores me completely whenever the t.v. or anything else catches his interest. I have to repeat myself over and over in order for him to answer a question or acknowledge that I'm speaking, even when I'm sitting right next to him in the car. He promises to do something and then "forgets" immediately, over and over again. We've seen a marriage counselor, and things get better briefly and then go right back to that way they were, which is almost worse than if they just stayed crappy so I could stop getting my hopes up. I see a therapist on my own, but it doesn't seem to help with this situation. My husband and I don't fight all the time and do spend some enjoyable time together, but I can't bring up this subject without him twisting the conversation and getting angry, making the issue about my "tone" or how I'm "always" bringing this subject up. I've tried everything short of leaving him, but maybe it's time for that. What should I do?
Carolyn Hax: What can I say. You tried. Though your saying you're leaving, and clearly meaning it, might be enough to get him to listen to you and respect you, finally. The question then will be whether the anger has eroded your feelings beyond the point where you even want to reconcile--but that's for then.
Side thought: Any chance he's ADD?
My best friend lives in another city and is having a rough time of things. She's unemployed, being supported by her parents, has a very limited social life and her self-esteem is in the garbage -- she thinks she's ugly and that no man will ever love her.
I just don't know how to help her anymore. I have sent her to a therapist (she recognizes that there's a problem) but she just cannot make any decisions -- like to temp, to move, to get out of her apt and live life.
Any suggestions on what to say or do?
Carolyn Hax: Suggest small: that she start an exercise plan, like walking every day for at least 30 min., increasing time and exertion as she goes along. Then if that takes, she can add something else--again, small--like taking on a once-a-week volunteer gig for a cause she cares about. Walking pound dogs, writing fund-raising letters, collecting food for a food bank, whatever. The more productive she gets the better she'll feel, and the better she feels the more productive she'll get; the trick is to get her to start. Good of you to look after her like this.
To: Divorce or Stay for the Kid:
I wasted too many years to count staying with the uncontrollable temper "for the kids." Ask the parent with the temper to get anger management counseling. It worked wonders for my ex, but he refused to go until I said I was leaving. And I wish I'd left years ago. Living with someone with a temper affects everyone in the household. It is emotionally traumatic because you are always walking on pins and needles, waiting for the next blow-up, hoping not to do or say the wrong thing. Why would you want your child to grow up this way? The aftermath is not unlike post traumatic stress syndrome. I say leave, leave, leave.
Carolyn Hax: Thanks.
Second Lunch Date:
If you paid for the entire tab or at least half.... take Carolyn's advice. If you let him by lunch... sneak away quietly and be ashamed of yourself
Carolyn Hax: Bit harsh, no? As long as she buys the next one, there's no reason to damn her to moocher's hell.
Re: Waiting for Something Better:
Not only does the guy deserve more, but so does the poster. Why are people so terrified of being alone?
Carolyn Hax: Inadequate exposure to good fiction.
Somewhere Out There:
My fiance's younger brother is "going through a rough time" and my fiance wants him to come live with us. If he were merely going through a rough time, it would be one thing, but it seems like he has just never grown up, and that his whole family coddles him to the point where he doesn't seem to think he NEEDS to grow up. His life is a mess, but not because he's going through a rough time, it's because he screws up so much!
He lost his most recent job because he got piss-tested on the job site, and since he uses almost every day, it came up positive (he usually has friends give him samples, but this time he was surprised by it). He's having trouble finding another one because he's "never felt like" taking his GED. He wrecked his latest car (which his dad bought for him) because he likes to race it, and slammed it into a telephone pole. His cellphone is under my fiance's family plan, and he is supposed to pay his share each month, but he owes almost $1000 because he goes over by so many minutes. And my fiance refuses to bug him for the money, he just says what the rest of the family says, "Oh, but he's going through a hard time..."
I really do not want him to move in, because I know he will just continue in his ways, and if I try to get my fiance to say anything to him (like about not using drugs in our house!), I know he'll just hem and haw and tell me what a hard time his brother is going through... I told his mother that I didn't think he should be living with us unless he was going to seriously try to get his act together, and she said I was being "mean" and should just let him do what he wanted because he's "going through a rough patch right now." AHH!! Any advice?
Carolyn Hax: Hold your ground on refusing to let the brother move in, and seriously reconsider marrying your fiance. Knock-knock ...
Arlington's husband could also be passive aggressive.
Carolyn Hax: True, but:
Re: inattentive husband:
To me this guy screams ADD. Those are all things either my ADD husband or my ADD self do on our bad days. Definitely worth checking out. Even knowing what's going on helps a lot, and medication if appropriate can make all the difference.
Carolyn Hax: Thanks. Not that this makes us both right, just another vote for getting him checked.
And not that his being ADD would automatically mean the marriage can or should be saved. It's just that if he does have a treatable condition, he should get it treated so that he can improve his quality of life and she can improve the strength of the facts she uses to make any decisions about her future with him.
I respect your attempt to be generous to the lazy husband, but sometimes people are just lazy, no excuses. This lady might be a lot happier if she just does everything herself for a while. Then she can see how she feels about him when they aren't stuck in the position of bum and nag. He'll still be a lump, but she'll be out of her own rut.
I've been there too- I once mowed the lawn (Reel mower, not power) while carrying the baby in a sling on my hip, because my husband couldn't remember/find the time/get the energy. He was so embarassed by the neighbors asking him if he was ok and remarking on my mowing performance, that he's never had a problem since in doing that chore.
Carolyn Hax: Nerve officially struck. Thanks (for the image as much as the point). More coming:
Hi Sorry for yelling in the subject line, but she described my husband -- but he and I both know that he has ADD -- and I knew it BEFORE we got married. Which makes it easier for me to handle (and work around) and helps him understand and learn coping strategies for his life. He hyper-focuses on odd things, and can not concentrate on others. He forgets everything, is easily distracted (he'll get up to do the dishes, get distracted on the way to the kitchen by and the dishes are totally forgotten), when he's focused on something, you need to physically touch him to tear his attention away.
BOTH of them need to learn more about ADD -- it will help both of them. He's not trying to be a j-ck--ss, he just has a constant remote control flipping switches in his brain.
Carolyn Hax: Remember--it's possible he's both ADD and a -----. Not that I think he is, just saying this for the sake of argument. Having an illness doesn't automatically make a person good. It's just another fact to include in the pile.
Carolyn Hax: And stop yelling!
I'm an early 20s guy three years into a relationship that recently went long-distance (we both moved out of our college town after she graduated). She's post-college depressed, and I find myself not wanting to listen anymore. She also wants to get more serious - we could move in together.
I'm three for three here. My three "serious" relationships so far in life have involved a significant other who is or becomes VERY dependent on me, and who I end up being afraid to express my feelings to for fear of sending them further down the spiral.
Is this fate? Am I unconsciously attracted to relationships with dependent people, relationships I would consiously avoid?
These are rhetorical questions, I guess. Blargh.
Carolyn Hax: But they're great rhetorical questions! Truly. It could very well be you're attracted to need. Such a common thing--you feel good about yourself when you feel strong (normal and healthy), but you're not confident enough to feel strong on your own (normal, a bit young/immature/insecure), so weaker people make you feel good about yourself, and therefore you're attracted to them, and you start relationships with them that spiral into dependency (normal, not healthy).
It's not all blargh though. Extract yourself from this relationship, kindly and cleanly, and stay out of new ones until you've found your footing--ie, confidence that doesn't need propping up. And don't rush it, just go about living a life you can feel good about. It'll come when it comes.
How do you get tested for ADD? Thanks.
Carolyn Hax: You see an adult ADD specialist. Dig around for names in your area--ask your regular doc, do some Googling, call the head of a local support group or ADD society, call a nearby university hospital or counseling center, etc. It's a small enough specialty that chances are good you'll see the same few names turning up. Just make sure the name you decide to go with is recommended by at least one source with credentials (eg, an educator or your doctor).
Hi Carolyn, Flirting is just for fun, right? I mean, unless
you choose to escalate it, flirting is just a healthy dose of
sensuality, right? How can you just have a fun time
without leading anyone on or giving a guy any
expectations of moving from sensual to sexual?
Carolyn Hax: Flirting is an art form. If everyone you flirt with develops expectations, you need to refine your technique.
Los Angeles, Calif.:
Recently I found out that I may have cancer. I have an appointment with a specialist in two weeks and he will do what ever tests need to be done to find out. Do you think I should tell my girlfriend what's going on? We were engaged last year and then broke up but now we just started dating again. Also she is under a lot of stress becase her father is very sick. I would appreciate your thoughts.
Carolyn Hax: I'd want to know. Just because I was stressed, I wouldn't want you to deny me the chance to be close to you at an important time. That's what intimacy is about. Be prepared, though, for her not be able to summon the kind of support she would if her attention weren't divided. But if you ever hope to be close, you have to share this stuff, not shield each other from it.
Sorry you've been left hanging for two weeks--hope the appointment brings good news.
Nine West Land:
I bought shoes during lunch.
Carolyn Hax: I earned shoes during lunch.
Carolyn Hax: Not that I have any chance to buy them, much less wear them. Maybe you can describe it all for me.
So what do you suggest for rest when there is hardly time to fit it in? I could lie down under my desk and take nap right now, but I'm sure my boss would not appreciate it.
Carolyn Hax: Stetch. Walk. Eat fruit. Buy duplicate outfit, dress dummy in outfit, put dummy in chair, sleep under desk.
In a nutshell - Met guy at beach, hit it off well, talked afterward, planned to get together (long distance). Before he comes, he calls and says he's dating another person at home, and wants to be upfront before he comes. Not into that, and breaks plans. Am I old fashioned?
Carolyn Hax: That, or sentient.
Carolyn Hax: Gotta go. Thanks everybody, happy weekend and type to you next week.