Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 24, 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.


Superior, Colo.: Hi Carolyn,

There is a guy in my company whom I like very much. He works on a different floor, and even in a department that I don't have any dealings with. We've been talking for about a month, but I can't quite get a reading on whether or not he's interested in something more than friendship. Should I just bite the bullet and tell him that I'm interested in something more?

Carolyn Hax: Easier to invite him out for a drink after work, I think. Plus, gives him some cover if he doesn't feel the same way.


Anywhere USA: What does it mean to "outgrow" a relationship?

Carolyn Hax: As you mature, your tastes and interests change, right? You (probably) don't eat Trix and play with Matchbox cars any more, so you also probably don't want to marry the kid you had a crush on in 2nd grade. It's a little less black-and-white when you're talking high-school or college sweethearts, but only a little.


Washington, D.C.: HI Carolyn,
What do you think is the importance of saying the word love? I've known this guy for four months, have only seen him off and on since we live in different places, and he is comfortable saying he loves me. To me, this sends alarm bells -- too early, is he really being honest but I might just be a skeptic. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: Depends. Some people really deserve the skepticism, some don't; it is possible that he's just really secure and comfortable, and can express love when he feels it, even in a friendship sense. To figure out which he is, look around him. Either he shows other signs that he's, like, at peace with his feelings--say, he drops the L bomb freely around his family, and freely admits to less-than-flattering emotions--or he shows other signs that you should be alarmed--say, a tendency to put up a macho front, or to see you as he wants to see you, and not as you really are. One word: context. It's the plastics of relationships.


Office Love -- DON'T do it: I'm trying to extract myself from a flickered out relationship with a former co-worker. There was enough there to sustain a year-long office flirtation, but a few months into actually dating and I'm bored out of my mind. Office crushes and dating require very levels of interest and compatibility...

Carolyn Hax: For every DON'T like yours, there's an "I met my spouse at the office and we're living happily ever after." Modern life doesn't exactly pile on the communal opportunities. We all have to meet people where we can. Just don't forget where you're meeting them and plan your approach accordingly. E.g., if you're about to hit on some guy you work with, make sure you don't sit next to each other or report to each other, and phrase your offer in such a way that he can say no and still pass by you in the hall without having to duck into the supply closet.


Boston, Mass.: Since when does going out for a drink with someone after work mean you're interested in something more than friendship? I have drinks with friends after work all the time... oops?

Carolyn Hax: It's not a binding contract, it's a start. Please don't make me spraypaint little stenciled feet on the floor.


Denver, Colo.: Hello Carolyn,

I just found out that my best friend was offered and has accepted my dream job while my rejection letter was in last night's e-mail. I am happy for her and am trying to be supportive, but inside I am crushed. I'm trying not to let her know but my world is falling apart. How can I be a good friend and not a jealous maniac? She is so excited and I feel like I'm falling into a pit of despair.

Thanks for any thoughts!

Carolyn Hax: Your world is not falling apart. You were simply told that your world will have to revolve around something else. Deal accordingly.

BTW, ask around--I bet that most people who thought they were accepting a "dream job" discovered otherwise shortly after they started it, and that most people who really are in their dream jobs got there only after one or two or multiple really brutal rejections. One word: perspective. It's the plastics of career suitability.


"Outgrow": I think your answer to the "outgrowing" question is a bit overgeneralized. True, all of us adults (hopefully) have outgrown playing with cars, etc., but I think it's great if you and your second grade sweetheart each "grew up" in such a way that you're still simpatico as adults and could commit to each other....

Carolyn Hax: Hm. I agree, but I'd say "incomplete." Yes, some people who meet while emotionally unfinished can and do age nicely together. Not sure if I left it out consciously or un-; I see it so rarely that I'm always afraid to throw it out there as a possibility, lest a destined-for-train-wreck pair of high-school sweethearts use it to back up their decision to wed.

But, then, sometimes it takes a train wreck for people to learn they belong on the bus, so I should stop trying to mess with destiny (or stop believing I ever could). Thanks for the correction.


Alexandria, Va.: Hi Carolyn! Looooove the chats. Regarding your first poster inviting her co-worker out for a drink... if he were interested, wouldn't HE have asked her out by now (according to the latest book by a "Sex and the City" writer)? I am not sure whether to be disgusted by the book or enlightened.

Carolyn Hax: Dunno a thing about it, but if it says all men think alike on something, err on the side of disgust. Yes, men in general are socialized to make a move when interested, but there are enough men out there who are shy/oblivious to women's signals/tired of making the first move/tickled by women who make the first move to suggest that a woman who wants to nudge a guy along should certainly give it a try. I mean, really.


Dream Job Again: I know I have to accept that I don't get the job. What I need help with is dealing with my friend. I've expressed my happiness for her -- which is genuine -- but her yammering on about the greatness of life is making the threads that hold me together snap one by one. And I don't want to be the clod that says "I'm in pain! Stop celebrating and deal with me!"

Carolyn Hax: Ah, see, that makes it a different question. What you have is not a nasty job-rejection problem, but a nasty insensitive-friend problem. That's tougher. I think you're right that you don't want to be the clod who says, "Stop celebrating in my face, please"--but as you paste on your best good-sport face, I think you do want to remember, after the hoo-ha dies down, that this friend is the one who celebrated in your face. Sad when a friendship suffers possibly irreparable damage like this, but, at the same time, it's stuff like this that tells us who our friends are. I could argue that's actually the up side of going through stuff like this.


Baltimore, Md.: Is it enough to stay in a relationship because it is "as good as it gets?" I can't say I'm happy in my relationship, but given my last 10 years of dating, I haven't experienced anything better. I'm not saying I want to stick around until something better comes along. I'm asking, is it valid to accept this less-than-happy medium?

Carolyn Hax: Do you think it is? Sounds pretty depressing to me.


Asking out a coworker: And then there's the old spectre of "sexual harrassment" to deal with. Many guys may just decide it's not worth the risk to make an overture to a co-worker. It's a wonder any two people in the same company ever get together.

Carolyn Hax: This is why I said you have to make sure neither of you reports to the other; there can't even be the appearance of quid-pro-quo, a you-go-out-with-me-or-else-your-future-in-the-company-dims threat. I should have added that a "no" needs to be taken as a final "no," or else you swerve into the definition of a hostile environment.

So why did you put it in "quotation marks"? I think it's serious stuff and it's good that some legal boundaries have been made clear.


Closetville: Hi.
Any advice or resources or opening lines for coming out to one's slightly conservative parents?

Carolyn Hax: Last time I checked (admittedly, a most long time ago), the resources on coming out of the closet are abundant. It's inspiring, really--there's a real, collective effort by the people who've been through it to reach back to help those who are just beginning to face it.

Of course I'm blathering on and I can recall maybe two of the actual resources I uncovered back then ... and one of them I just Googled and its Web site is down. Let me check a little more and get back to you, and also let the gallery weigh in.

Well that's the resources part. Such as it is.

The advice part is, give them some credit and don't assume they can't handle it. Be honest, then let them surprise you. And if they in fact can't handle it, don't assume their inability to handle it is permanent. People often do come around, when they've had time to get used to the idea.


"Sexual Harrassment": I often wonder if Chris Rock is right. Would it be harrassment if it was Brad Pitt hitting on you instead of (insert any unattractive-for-whatever-reason' guy's name)?

Carolyn Hax: Let's just say that if "Brad" refused to take no for an answer, it would still be harassment. It just might take "someone" a little longer to find it annoying and then threatening enough to take legal action.


Washington, D.C.: I was recently talking with a friend of mine who is a few years older, and someone whose advice I generally think is pretty sound. She remarked that in her opinion no one could have a completely fulfilling relationship with their first love. That everyone needs to experience a broken heart before they can really know what makes them happy.

So, is this right? I mean, I understand that there is a certain amount of wisdom that comes from unhappy experiences. But, I've always thought of it as more of a cumulative effect rather than discrete experiences resulting from discrete types of relationships.

Carolyn Hax: Is it "right"? Who knows--I don't think you'll ever find the whole truth in such an absolute. I do agree, though, that you need to get your heart broken before you can really know yourself emotionally, and that you need to know yourself emotionally before you can choose a mate wisely.

But I'm not going to deny someone who was, say, tortured in middle school by the popular crowd the right to claim experience with heartbreak.

For that matter, nor am I willing to say that someone who was tortured by the popular crowd in middle school has the inside track on good romantic decisions. Maybe you need a heartbreak, any heartbreak, when you're mature enough to make good use of it?

Okay I'll shut up now.


Seattle, Wash.: Carolyn, oh Carolyn, my boss is driving me nuts and I'm doing all I can not to slap her this morning. I've worked for her for 3.5 years and she annoys me more and more every day -- she can't make decisions, she is really insecure, she is constantly trying to control me. At times she is so rude to me that her boss has made her appologize. I will probably leave this job in the next 6-8 weeks for a much better job, but in the mean time, how do I hold it together and avoid blowing up on her? I need some sort of mantra to keep me focused here.

Carolyn Hax: Eight more weeks! Eight more weeks!


Coming Out Info: Human Rights Campaign has AMAZING resources for coming out and lots of people to talk to about it, if one needs to.

Good luck!

Carolyn Hax: Thanky.


Washington, DC: To: Baltimore: Maybe this is an age thing, but I look around me and see lots of wreckage in the lives of folks who actually married their "as-good-as-it-is-going-to-get" boyfriends. When they realize that the only way it will eer get better is to walk, they are a lot older and its a lot harder.

Walk away from this one or you will certainly see it get worse.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I'd argue it's an ageless thing. I hear the good-as-it-gets refrain from young'ns, too, men and women and gay and straight, and they end up in the same twisted pile.

Well, not the same pile, each couple has its own, but all the piles lok the same. Don't want to give anyone any idears.


Worcester, Mass.: Carolyn,

My wife and I are getting divorced. She wanted it, not me. We were married for 10 years. My family and friends are relieved; some have even said they are happy this has happened.

I have found out that she has had a number of affairs. I trust the people who have told me, including woman who I thought were her friends more than mine.

But when I see her (we have agreed to shared custody of our 9 year old) I can't even imagine what they are saying is true.

Also I still love her so much I know I have the capacity to forgive her. She denies everything and tells me to just stop looking in the past and to move forward.

How do I stop loving her? Did I love someone who doesn't even exist?

Carolyn Hax: You loved what you saw. You probably chose to see some things and look past others, and she also probably didn't show you everything. All of these are normal, if not ideal, so while it's good that you're examining your role in the demise of your marriage, don't examine it so hard you get eye strain.

This is going to be hell for you for a while. Certainty on the affair issue, one way or the other, won't make the hell stop. Moot point either way. Time will bring you out of it, as will your eventual acceptance that whatever she was doing and whatever you were thinking, she wasn't the woman for you. I'm sorry.


Washington, DC: There is an aquaintance of mine who I think is having issues with her boyfriend. It seems to me that he is quite controlling and extremely jealous to the point where he gets really angry if she speaks to another male. He checks her e-mail and often her telephone messages. She plans her time around his time and he, of course, doesn't like her friends. I don't know her well enough to have a "heart-to-heart" talk with her but isn't there a Web site I could have her look at that has a checklist red flags which indicates she could be heading into an abusive relationship... which is where I think her relationship is heading... if it's not already there. She's 20, if that makes a difference.

Carolyn Hax: (Occasionally I hear people have trouble getting the page to open, but I've checked it a bunch of times and it works.) Open the handbook in Acrobat, and check out/print out pages 12 and 13. Everyone should, really. It's quick, concise, thorough and right on.


Washington, D.C.: re: as good as it gets

I am not the original poster on this one but I have a related question. What if you don't want to settle with someone when its less than perfect but also are trying to balance that with the understanding that no one is perfect anyways? Some days I feel like my boyfriend has flaws but they aren't my problem and he is so great for me that they don't matter... other days they really bother me. I just am having a hard time weighing how much is reasonable for me to expect, and more and more I think we should maybe date other people just so I can learn to appreciate him more for who he is and stop wishing he didn't have the problems that he does. Is that fair?

Carolyn Hax: Sure, but I doubt you'll go back to him. Why would you want someone when you want him to be someone else? And why would he want someone who wants him to be someone else?

The whole nobody's-perfect truism really throws people off at mating time. Yes, correct, no one's perfect. But some people's imperfections aren't going to matter to you, and some are going to annoy the hell out of you, and some are going to make you miserable. There is absolutely no reason you HAVE TO be with someone who falls in the latter two categories. Use "nobody's perfect" to remind yourself to be flexible, to be forgiving of human frailty, to be no more rigid in your expectations of others than of yourself. Don't use it to rationalize staying with someone who makes you unhappy/bored/irritable/angry/moody/insecure.


Re: heartbreak: Your response to the person who argued that everyone needs at least one big heartbreak to be emotionally secure kinda worried me. While I've had plenty of heartbreak/relationship experience, I'm my boyfriend's first serious relationship (we've been dating for several years). He was always too shy to ask girls out and maybe only went on a couple of dates in high school and college. I was the one who asked him out, and we are blissfully happy and talking about marriage, but I'm now a little scared that he might not be "ready" for me emotionally. Should I bring this up with him? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Sigh. I thought I'd left a big enough loophole. If he knows who he is, trust him to know whom he likes.


For Worscester, Mass.: My parents were divorced when I was twelve, under similar circumstances. I know now that my mother had multiple affairs and her own life. Trust me, it's so much better to get out of this now. It took my dad years to get over my mother, and he now is in a loving, happy relationship. As an aside, my mother met someone wonderful as well, and is in a great relationship. Trust me, it was better for me to see that then to see the inevitable -- my father would have found out eventually. Good luck.

Carolyn Hax: And even if he never did find out, he would always have been with someone who wasn't entirely with him. Much sadder and lonelier than the sadness and loneliness he's feeling now, I'd imagine. Thanks.


Re: As Good As it Gets: I've been thinking about this a lot. My husband of two years is great -- makes me laugh is good person. He doesn't, however, make me go all weak-kneed and pretty much never has. But I met him at the right time of my life and do love him. But I see friends who have been married much longer sitting there watching their marriage die. They were weak-kneed to begin with. Do I have a better or worse shot at long-term marital bliss than they?

Carolyn Hax: This sounds like a GRE logic problem.

A) Better
B) Worse
C) Same
D) Depends on whether you like your mother-in-law

The weak-kneed feeling can cover up a lot of incompatibilities, and it always eventually fades. (Except when it vanishes completely upon the discovery that one's spouse is content to watch you do all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, bed-making, child care and bills.) It can also fade to reveal warm, fundamental compatibility with happy memories of weaker-kneed days.

The good person who makes you laugh will always be a good person who makes you laugh. However, you don't know that you will always believe this is enough for you.

Meaning, either marriage can stall, either can run happily ever after. The second type, yours, is merely less dependent on luck.

Good luck!

_______________________ Just a note that the link for the manual on the sidebar works. The link for the manual that is near the bottom of the home page doesn't work.

Carolyn Hax: Excellent, thank you.


"Sexual Harrassment": I think the quotes came from the modern interpretation of "sexual harrassment" which has expanded to "hostile environment" which can be interpreted to include the first unwanted advance before the "no". Believe me, I've seen people run to HR with the harrassment claim for the stupidest things. Never make a pass at a co-worker unless you are sure they won't overreact.

Carolyn Hax: And HR politely explains to them what constitutes harassment, and that unless their claim fits the legal definition it is a non-starter, yes? This is why clear boundaries are important--good for both claimer and claimee.


Potomac, Md.: Hi Carolyn,

I will try to keep it short:

If a boyfriend is bothered that his girlfriend has male friends, and especially, is still making new male friends, is this reason enough to move on?

My boyfriend and I have had countless, um, discussions about this. He says, that I have my group of friends, a few guys I have known forever included, and that I do not need to make new male friends. I say, I am only 21 and I am NOT finished expanding my social circle. He argues that I have him, why would I need more male friends. Ugh.

I am not looking for any guys to become my best friends, but do like to meet new people, regardless of sex, and have a good talk now and then. And I would have no problem in including my boyfriend in all of this. And I seriously am fine with my boyfriend having female friends, so I am not expecting something that I am not fully willing to return.

So, are these signs of someone trying to control me, being jealous, overreacting or what?

I'd love some advice on this.


Carolyn Hax: Long question, one operative word: Ugh.


Fantasy: Carolyn,

Is it bad to fantasize about other men than the one you're with? Basically, I don't find my man very attractive, even though he is a very nice guy and I love him.

But I find myself sometimes wishing for a hard and muscular hot body... Don't really know what to do with that. Of course, I would never tell him, he'd feel so hurt, but I feel like it's wrong somehow.

Carolyn Hax: Fantasizing is normal. What's wrong is to stay with "your man" when you don't find him attractive.


Re: Experiencing Heartbreak: Carolyn,
Why do you say that you have to have experienced the negative in order to appreciate the positive? Aren't some things black and white, without the need for comparison? If I feel happy, then I feel happy. I don't have to compare that with a time that I felt bad in order to realize that I feel happy. Conversely, can't you know that a bad relationship is a bad relationship, without having experienced a good relationship?

Carolyn Hax: On its face, your argument works. The problem I have with it is that determining whether you're happy in a romantic relationship isn't just about the moment. Often (at least, for most people by a certain age), it also becomes about determining whether that happiness has a chance of lasting well into the future. That will always be just a guess, but someone with maturity along with a full range of emotional experience will make a better guess. Das all.


Hartford, Conn.: Are you saying people who eat Trix are incapable of sustaing a relationship?

If so, should I switch to Lucky Charms? I could do that. I think. Is that a sign of growth?

Happy Friday!

Carolyn Hax: Grape-Nuts. Then you know you're mature.

Gotta go. Thanks everybody, and type to you next-next week--can't make it next Friday.


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