Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 15, 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.


Los Angeles, Calif. (former D.C.!): Dear Carolyn,

My wife can't dance. There, I said it! That felt really good.

My wife loves to dance, but when we go I can't help but think of her doing "The Elaine" on that particular Seinfeld episode.

She's awful. I'm serious. It's painful. I'm at the point where I don't want to dance with her, but she is having so much fun! How do you tell someone that they can't dance without looking like a complete a**-hat? Do I tell her? Dance lessons? Do I just deal with the fact that my otherwise lovely wife can't shake her booty? I know this sounds kind of ridiculous (yes this is real) but it's really starting to affect my nights out. I thought this would be a job for you, Carolyn. I don't want to talk to my friends because it's such a goofy problem, and I don't want to embarrass her or myself. Help!

-Groove Machine

Carolyn Hax: First, I'd like to thank you for being too embarrassed to ask your friends for help, because that means I got to start the day with a mental image of "The Elaine." Not to mock your pain or anything.

Second, DO NOT tell her, please. She obviously gets so much joy out of dancing, and you could kill that completely and permanently with a few words.

While I think dance lessons are a great idea--exercise, closeness, possible remedy for dance-floor atrocities--I wouldn't expect them to fix the problem completely, esp if there's a complete lack of rhythm involved. Instead I'd try the route of enjoying how much she's enjoying herself. Gotta be something in that.


The District: Funny thing about today's column is it's me, but I'm 33. I just like hanging out with the guys more than I do my girlfriends because I'm not in a relationship and that bums me out and all my girl friends want to talk about are the relationships they are in and believe me, the guys never want to talk about relationships. People have pointed out to me that guys don't just come and talk to me because I'm always with guys, but hey, I like my guy friends and am not going to give them up in an effort to meet a guy who I would like to be more than friends with. Perhaps that means I've signed my own one-way ticket to singledom for life....

Carolyn Hax: I dunno. Choosing to hang out with women just to help you meet men is no better than hanging with women because they make you self-conscious about having a boyfriend. I don't know about permanent singledom, but i do think you're cheating yourself badly by letting your insecurity du jour choose your friends.

Now if you just didn;t find your female friends interesting, that would be something else--but in that case, you'd need to find new friends, not write off all women and gravitate only to guys. The moment you generalize, you deny yourself the opportunity to meet individuals who don't fit your prejudices--and who have the potential to improve your quality of life.


Reality Check: Am I a total cow?

My best friend is pregnant with her second child. Best friend's mom called me and hinted HEAVILY that I should throw her a shower for this second child.

When I questioned the logic on that one -- I thought you only got a shower for the first child - she said "oh no. You always get a shower for a second baby. Especially because this one is a girl and her first was a boy." (And I'm thinking, "really. what'd they do 20 years ago when you didn't know what sex the child would be until it was delivered?")

Am I a witch for not wanting to do this? I love my best friend (obviously) and wish her every joy and happiness with ALL of her children, but I have never heard of a second shower. It seems a bit greedy.

Carolyn Hax: I agree. Unless there's unusual, unanticipated need--someone lost a job or died or ran off with the birth coach--it's a lot like asking the village to underwrite your child. Bleah. Fortunately, it's the mother who tried to strong-arm you, so all you have to do is decide not to do it.


Guyville: To the 21-year-old college senior who keeps getting stuck in the "friend zone" and can't snag a beau... lose 20 pounds, do your hair, fingernails, put on some makeup, perfume and a dress and you'll have a date by next weekend. Men like "girlie girls" but not girlie men.

Won't date "one of the guys" You can kiss my a**hat.

Carolyn Hax: Perfume it first, or else he won't be interested.


Arlington, Va.: I have a therapy question for you. I just started with a therapist recommended by my referring physician, and well, this therapist gets on my last nerve. I'm going to try one more session, but this raises a really difficult question. How do I break up with a therapist? I have a regular weekly appointment scheduled so I can't just stop calling her; I'm going to have to say something to her.

Also, just as a warning to your other readers, I went on an anti-anxiety/depression drug a week or so ago, and no one warned me that the first several days I'd be wandering around behaving like a drunk. Would have been nice to know of the possibility in advance, and I would have cancelled meetings. Instead, I have several really funny (in retrospect) comments to live down.

Carolyn Hax: All you have to do is call to say you're going to cancel your remaining appointments. If she asks, say you don't feel you're making good progress.

I'm fully aware of how hard this would be, but I;m going to recommend it anyway: Consider telling her you don't feel like you and she click, and asking her to recommend a colleague who might suit you better. I say this because there's a pretty good chance she 1. knows you're not clicking and 2. knows you well enough now to be able to make an informed referral.

Again, this is a hard thing to do, and if you're not up to it, that's understandable. But if you think you are up to it, it could save you the trouble of getting another shot-in-the-dark referral.


Portland, Maine: Phew. I was beginning to wonder if I was the only one of my friends that thought a second baby shower was a bit greedy... they all looked at me like I was mean because I didn't want to attend.

Carolyn Hax: Maybe you are mean, but this isn't why.

Oh, I should have mentioned--second babies (or third or fourth) who come many years after their siblings do merit another shower, I think. In that case it's pretty much understood that all the gear is long gone.


Kissing Perfumed A**Hat: Um, some of us are trying to eat lunch whilst we chat. Thank you.

Carolyn Hax: Obviously you are new here, or you'd have known better.


Arlington, Va.: I too was (and still am) primarily hanging out with guys. But, I found it was because we had more of the same interests than most of the women I know: sci fi, sports, beer. I found it difficult to get beyond friendship with my guy friends. Even when we would do semi-dating things, just two of us: see a concert, a game, etc. a lot of the guys never got my hints. I know there are other women like this, I'm friends with a number of them. And, I eventually found a great guy with whom I can be who I am, as guy-like as it is, and he finds me sexy for it.

It wasn't a matter of fear, or low self-esteem, it was more that I grew up extremely tomboyish and wasn't going to change into something else.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for bringing up this side of it--I didn't have room to do it in print. When your reason for choosing out-of-mainstream friends is for the people themselves, then it can still be a problem at certain stages in life--say, high school, when people are still more comfortable chasing types vs individuals--but I don't think it stays a problem.

For one thing, the friendships themselves are more satisfying because you're in them because you enjoy them, not because you're hiding from the alternative. And, they're also more likely to lead to romantic attachments because you genuinely have something in common, vs acting like you do. Like you said, though, it can take a while, but so does every relationship based in something more than instant physical chemistry.


Re: Arlington: Just make sure that the therapist isn't "getting on [your] nerves" because s/he's asking tough questions. Somewhere along the line, people seemed to get the idea that therapy was supposed to be easy and fun...

Carolyn Hax: Really? I can see "not excruciating," but "fun" sounds delusional. Anyway, you're right, tough questions can't be the reason for the split. Thanks.


RE: Guyville: I think that some of the subtext of Guyville's response (perhaps unknown by him) is that people find others who take care of themselves attractive, whether it be on a physical (hair, makeup) or emotional (self-confidence) level.

For some people, that translates as dressing nicely, etc. but it doesn't have to be so superficial. People who take care of themselves in general carry themselves differently and talk about themselves differently, which all goes back to Carolyn's original response that the poster do some internal emotional work.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks--that's a concise way of working in the importance of personal appearance without making it about makeup, perfume and nails.

And I vote "unknown by him." Otherwise we'd have to grant him partial credit. Thanks.


Girls vs boys: Carolyn,

I hate to beat a dead horse and it may be just me, but unless it is on one of the rare occasions that my girlfriends and I have a "girlie night" it is never a all male or all female thing. I am friends with people not sexes. And it is not a couples thing. We are not dating each other.

Why does it have to be either or? (not that you said it did)

Carolyn Hax: I hope I didn't say that, because that's one of my pet peeves (and its extension, freaking out over a mate's opposite-sex friends, might be my mostest pettest peeve). Like people for who they are, not which rest room they use.


Washington, DC: Is it wrong to hate surprise parties? The wife of one of my best friends wanted to plan a surprise party with me for him, and I refused. I find surprise parties inherently dishonest and feel like they always hurt somebody's feelings. I don't like lying to my friends in order to set them up for a surprise, and I feel awkward when other people ask me to participate in their ruse. One time, my girlfriend threw a surprise party for me and, while the thought and the party were wonderful, I had a very hard time getting over the initial hurt and anger because I felt she neglected me on my actual birthday in order to build up the surprise. I hate to rain on other people's parades, though, so should I just get over it and play along?

Carolyn Hax: Absolutely. And, no. You have good reason for hating them, reasons I think a lot of people share. But just because yours sucked and you hate them doesn't mean other people don't love them. The safe middle here is, as always, to live and let live--dont' take active part in their planning, but don't let your refusal become a crusade to prevent them. (Dishonesty, hurt, anger, neglect--very big feelings there for such a relative trifle.) Unless of course you have actual knowledge that the intended victim hates them, in which case crusade away.


Des Moines, Iowa: If I submit a question, and you decide to answer it in the paper, about how long would it be before I'd see the answer in print?

Carolyn Hax: A week to a year--sometimes I answer one the day I get it, sometimes I sit on things till an answer presents itself. On average, though, a few weeks.

FWIW, mail volume high, selection chances slim. I say this only because I do get follow up mail from people asking me why I haven't aswered their questions yet.


"Girl's nights": Can I just vent for a second? I hate, HATE, the concept and emphasis some women put on "girls nights." It just shows that they are defining themselves by the presence -- or absence -- of men. I mean, come on. Its insulting. Hang out with who you want, when you want, and don't think of it as some big dramatic time to have girl-bonding or whatever. If you have balance in your life and are happy and hang out with good friends, lose the labels.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

Carolyn Hax: In honor of Tempest in Teacup day, here it is.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn. I had an affair with a friend who was separated at the time. He is now trying to work out his marriage and obviously the affair ended. But he wants us to be "friends" again, and he thinks it's OK for us to see each other surrounded by other friends (most of whom, I'm sure, suspect what happened between us) and his wife (whom I think also suspects). I hate to not have him as a friend, but I can't imagine facing his wife and seeing them back together. I told him we won't speak for a while, and right now I'm very hurt, but I may be OK later on. Any thoughts? Am I crazy for not saying right out I will never see him again?

Carolyn Hax: I don't know, but I do think you're crazy for calling it an affair when the guy was separated. The problem with any potential friendship isn't just that you still have feelings for him--though that is a big problem--it's also that your relationship wasn't openly acknowledged. If he intends to keep you a secret, then the proper place for you in his life now is at a safe and civil distance. Never seeing him again works, too, I suppose, but it doesn't sound realistic.


Washington, D.C.: Just a slight defense of "girl's night". Occasionally, when planning a night out, I and others sometimes find we have to label something "girl's night out" to keep some of our friends from showing up with their SO. OK, that sounds mean.

Attempt #2. I love my friends, I like their boyfriends -- but sometimes I just want to see them and not the couple. And when you plan a day of shopping and pedicures and the couple still shows up, sometimes you have to say "girl's night out." And yes, I have my own SO (who thank god says, "Have fun" and leaves it at that).

Carolyn Hax: A fine defense, not slight at all. Thanks.


Exile in Guyville: (great album by the way...)

I wanted to tell the women who felt like they had guy friends but not beaus: I've always had more guy friends than female -- but I realized I would only ask my female friends about certain subjects -- I was being sexist! When I stopped talking about boys and hair they stopped speaking about it so much. Now my best girl friend and I talk about home improvement projects, camping and things that we're both interested in -- and I got her a subscription to my favorite magazine (Atlantic Monthly) so we talk about that, too. I have also found that the older I get (I'm 31) the more men are interested in me even though I do not wear makeup, paint my nails or any of that stuff. I pursue the things I am passionate about, and I know who I am and that makes me interesting to talk to and the older you get the more important that is to romantic partners. So now, much to my amazement the girl who had few dates in highschool, and fewer in college, is fending them off in droves.

Carolyn Hax: Real live example! Thanks.


Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Hi. Met a swell fellow on one of those online dating services. Went out for a month. While he made it clear that he wasn't ready to be in a commited relationship, we had some fun. Suddenly he turned from hot to cold and then evaporated.

Friends won't allow me to call/write -- cause in their minds he doesn't deserve me. Still, there are so many things that keep bringing him to mind... what say you? Must I really remain silent or may I contact him. (I'm not going to nag or really question, but rather test the ground to see if a friendship is possible.)


Carolyn Hax: He's not swell, he evaporated. Onward.

Unless you're ready for him not to be swell and not to return your calls and not to be happy to hear from you. If you're really just in this for a what-the-hell-maybe-we-can-be-friends, then what the hell. If you like your friends hot/cold/callous.

I suspect you aren't in what-the-hell mode, though, as much as you might tell yourself you are: If your friends are phrasing their objections in the "He doesn't deserve you" format, that means someone, probably you, is treating him as someone who could potentially get you. And I think that stopped being a potential outcome when he precipitously stopped seeking you out.


Carolyn Hax: Sorry for the slow spots--I just started and then changed my mind on two of the last three questions I picked up.


Northern Virginia: What are your thoughts on unmarried couples buying a home together? Some of my family members have said they think this is a bad idea because "if you aren't committed enough to get married then you aren't ready to make a huge purchase together." We've been living together (rent) and think of it as an investment in our future. And besides the cost of homes in this area almost makes it impossible to buy with a single income. With our combined incomes we'll have more options. If we break up then we would sell and move on.

Carolyn Hax: It's the last sentence I'm sure that's tripping people up. Yeah, you could break up and sell! Unless you stall breaking up because you can't face the logistics of dealing with the house, and instead let the dying relationship stagger along for months. Or you could both want to stay and get in a huge fight over who has squatter's rights. Or one of you could want to stay but not be able to afford to buy the other out, assuming you can even agree on a fair price in the midst of a possibly ugly breakup. And on and on. If you're going to do this, you need to consider these possibilities, including all the on-and-ons--and get a really good lawyer. Or, one of you could buy and the other pay rent, assuming one of you is probably in a better buying position anyway, though that would be somewhat unfair.


Affair: If she was his friend, she would have waited for him to truly become single before having a sexual relationship with him. If she was his friend, she would have realized he was rebounding and still had feelings for his wife. If she was his friend, she would have wanted him to work things out with his wife. She slept with a married man -- although separated -- that's an affair.

Carolyn Hax: Eh, I think it's more complicated. If she knew he still had feelings for his wife and/or that the issue of their working it out was still on the table, then I agree with you that a line was crossed. Absolutely.

But if she had reason to believe the marriage was over but for the paperwork, then I think the mistake was in skulking around, not in the relationship itself. As for wanting him to work things out with his wife, that's not a given for a "friend" to want. With some marriages, the friends want nothing more than for the carnage to end, for the good of all involved. Again, the possible scenarios here could go on and on.


Let us be Shallow: This chat has a habit of harshly judging people who post anything that can be construed as shallow or superficial.

Guyville's preference for hot feminine chicks in dresses and makeup is just that -- his preference. That doesn't make it wrong.

It seems like the people (CH included) who prefer things like "interesting conversation" think they are SO much better than Guyville because they don't care so much about superficial things.

Chances are they are just not as good looking.

Carolyn Hax: Wow, what a shallow and superficial reading of this chat.

Guyville wasn't judged for liking feminine women, he was judged for implying that all men like feminine women, and that women who believed otherwise were cows. That made him exquisitely wrong. And harsh-judgmentworthy.

And, we who lobby for the value of interesting conversation (NPR! NPR!) do care about superficial things, too. Deeply. Ar ar. But--and I'll use the pompous "we" even though I can speak only for myself here--we've tried dating people based on those superficial tastes and we've decided never to try that again. No no no. So we're not better, just older, in a mileage sense at least, and wary of a definition of attractive that stops at the mere physical.


New York, N.Y.: Is it considered okay to Google someone? I did that today with a guy somewhat like and discovered he placed a personals ad with an bdsm-type Web site. Now I'm ready to run.

Carolyn Hax: Why would it not be okay? It's there, it's not invasive. That not-okay thing is to assume the John Smith in the ads is the same John Smith you like. You'd be surprised at how many people share names, even somewhat unusual names. So be sure before you run.


Limbo, USA: Hi Carolyn,
I'm in the very odd position of being bummed out about a big raise I got recently. I had kind of "dug in" as being dissatisfied enough with my salary to consider looking for new jobs in new cities and kind of overhauling my life. Then I got a huge raise, which I'm REALLY happy about -- don't get me wrong -- but I had gotten kind of excited about starting over somewhere and now feel like it would be foolish to follow that plan. Any thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Ever heard of using a coin flip to see what you really want? When you're stuck, you tell yourself you're going to abide by the heads-or-tails ruling? Then you usually find yourself relieved or disappoined by the outcome, and voila, decision made? Anyway, that's kinda what just happened to you. Why not keep formulating your plan to start over, and see what happens? If nothing pans out, you have a big raise to enjoy.


Maryland: Final Friday thought for you since everything has been so serious today. Don't you wish you didn't have to include so many disclaimers in your chats so as to not hurt someone's feelings. I think a lot of people just need to suck it up and not take things so seriously in life. Let's all just get drunk and ...

Carolyn Hax: And what? Afraid to say?


Carolyn Hax: Sorry, couldn't help it. Truth is, disclaimers are probably more my failing than the audience's--harassment prevention run amok.


Googling: I hope it's not too late. Another possibility is that the guy's ex-girlfriend (or whomever) placed the ad in his name, knowing future love interests would Google him and find it.
Believe me, it happens.

Carolyn Hax: I'll believe anything, thanks. Speaking of my failings.


Jupiter, Fla.: How much can a person change? The man I've been seeing on and off for several years, told me a few weeks ago that he had been physically abusive in a past relationship. He said he didn't think he would ever get to that point again. He can still get extremely angry but never to the point of hitting me.

Carolyn Hax: RUN. Seriously. I sounds like he's declared himself cured, vs actually getting treated. I like that he was honest, but not much else.


Homeless Anywhere: My father is homeless. He's currently sleeping in a shelter. It's a long awful story. I'm drawing a blank as to any agencies I can contact that may be able to help him. He's not at retirement age yet, not eligible for Social Security or disability. His unemployment ran out years ago, He's a vet.

What he needs is a job and an apartment but his credit is shot and without a job, no apartment. And he lives in a very poor area with no jobs.

His health isn't the best and I'm sure he's suicidal. He has the hotline number but I wouldn't be surprised if he killed himself.

I'm feeling tremendous guilt since I won't let him move in with me and can't afford a crappy apartment for him but allowing him to move in with me would irreversibly negatively affect me and it would be a disaster.

Any help you can give me would be so so so much appreciated.

Carolyn Hax: Oh dear. Just saw this. Anyone out here have a good resource? I know it's late, Liz, but if something pops up ...


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

My boyfriend and I are planning on moving in together in a few months, and I'm really excited about it. However, I know the statistics that couples who live together before marraige have a higher likelihood of divorce. What's your opinion on living together before marriage?

Carolyn Hax: That you shouldn't make the decision based on statistics. I've used that one myself and it's flawed. For example, it doesn't account for the fact that people who live together might have a more liberal view of marriage in general, and therefore might divorce where another couple would tough it out. Ie, it's not the living together that caused that divorce.

Anyway. My other opinion is to do it only if this is the way you're prepared to live happily ever after. If you're doing it as a tryout for marriage, as a way to save on rent/cut your commute/upgrade to a velvet couch, as a compromise when one of you would rather get married--rethink it, hard.


Washington DC: for Homeless: You mention that your Dad is a vet. The Veterans Administration has a number of social service programs for homeless veterans; contact your local VA office. You don't specify why he's not eligible for SSA or disability--if he has a psychiatric or addiction problem, he may be eligible for disability or, again, help from the VA.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you. Tons more coming--some redundant I'm sure, but I'm working too quickly to screen (also, speaking of disclaimers--these obviously are just postings and not endorsements by me).


Re: Homeless Anywhere: Perhaps try the HUD website:

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. And:


Been there, kind of: If things are so terrible that the Dad is dangerously suicidal, he can be committed to a hospital, where he can be hooked up with some services, and then later outside-of-hospital care.

Carolyn Hax: Always good for the short-term, thanks.


re: homeless: there is a site that lists state and federal programs, that would be a good starting point:

Carolyn Hax: And more:


For Homeless Anywhere: The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans

Carolyn Hax: And:


Washington, D.C.: HOMELESS VETERAN: Here's a place: I've studied social work some and I believe there are centers like this all around the country -- small, but with real resources to get people back on their feet. Most specialize in domestic violence victims, substance abusers, or other groups -- like Veterans. Good luck!;

Carolyn Hax: And:


Re: Homeless: Call the United Way - their help and info line is 211 in any city (I think), and they should be listed in the phone book. They will be able to give you answers or other resources. ALSO - please contact your nearest VA agency, and fast. They will be able to help as well, and may have some insight that other agencies don't.

Carolyn Hax: And:


For Homeless Father, Part II: also, see:

Carolyn Hax: And:


Veteran's support:

a list by state for support for veterans

Carolyn Hax: And:


Carolyn Hax: And ... I hope I haven't missed one. You guys are great, thank you.

That's it for me. Happy weekends, everybody, and type to you next Friday.


Gaithersburg, MD: Hi Carolyn - love your chats!;!; I can identify with the posters re: 2nd baby showers, but I am on the other side. I am pregnant again with my 2nd baby, which closely follows my 1st (1st baby girl is 10 months old). My friends have been asking if they can plan a shower for me and I have clearly made my point that I do not want another baby shower since it is soo close to the first (eventhough this will be a baby boy). They are being extremely persistent!; Do I back off and let them do what they want or should I stick my ground and not let them have one for me? Any advice would be appreciated!;

Carolyn Hax: Say you'd love a stock-my-freezer shower, or, if no freezer space, an easy-recipe shower. Hardest time of day w/ new baby, remember, is the early evening meltdown. (Onesies, $10; toys, $20; having an already-made lasagne: priceless.)


Re: Homeless Dad: Call the Salvation Army and / or Catholic Charities (you don't have to be Catholic to receive their services). I think both have shelters and suicide prevention programs, and much more. And they're in almost every city.

Carolyn Hax: I think this is a new one, thanks.


Second Baby Shower: If the best friend thinks a shower would seem greedy, but doesn't want to feel like a cow, she could always do a non-gifty shower. I've attended "showers" where guests were only asked to shower the mom with advice, where each guest was asked to make a quilt square which were then sewn into a quilt for the baby, and "library" showers, where guests were just asked to bring a copy of their favorite childhood book. (As a second child myself, it does seem it would be nice to celebrate the birth a little.)

Carolyn Hax: Good stuff, thanks.

Okay now I'm leaving.


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