Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 22, 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.


Glens Falls, N.Y.: Right at the end of last week's chat, someone mentioned a type of baby shower where, in lieu of gifts, friends would shower the mom-to-be with advice.

Just curious about where it is that pregnant women have to arrange special events in order to get advice?

Carolyn Hax: I know, I got a good laugh out of that one.


Pet Peeve: People who comment on your purchases while waiting in line at the grocery store.

Any suggestions for an appropriate response?

Carolyn Hax: I could suggest some responses, but truth is whenever someone does something socially pushy like that, the best I can usually do is stammer out something lame. Which might serve its purpose better than a quip, if you think about it--looking uncomfortable when one is made to feel uncomfortable.


Arkansas: Hi Carolyn!

Love your chats and usually just enjoy reading and learning, but I'm torn with what you'll probably think is a simple question.

We're expecting our first baby and we're really excited, but still quite a bit naive and unknowing of so much. We're in the seventh month and we're starting to get asked about baby registry for gifts. I've got to be honest, it hasn't crossed my mind. We made our list of what we feel we'll need, but that's about it. I guess I just thought if people wanted to give us a gift, they'd pick something they like and give it to us.

Is registering for baby gifts presumptious that people have to buy you only what you want and pick for yourselves? I'm there a compromise in the choices? Register but only tell those who ask? Any help you can give on this is much appreciative because my head isn't exactly screwed on tight lately.

Thanks and happy weekend!

Carolyn Hax: Congratulations! Both for the baby-to-be and for not expecting people to give you things.

Registries can be very useful to people who want to get you a gift, but don't want to give you your 17th towel-and-washcloth set. When you abuse them--say, by broadcasting to everyone where you're registered whether they ask or not, or by asking for 500 expensive things, or by otherwise demonstrating greed--they become extremely tacky. Some people think they're tacky no matter what, but they're the problem you solve by telling people only when asked.

So, it's up to you. If you want to start a modest registry to make things easier on the people who want to buy you gifts, go for it. If it's not you, then it's not you--and you could always respond to questions about a registry by saying that you don't have one, but you could think of no better gift than a copy of their favorite children's book.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Two friends from college are planning a weekend reunion two weeks from now. They are flying from Michigan to their family vacation home in New Jersey (about three hours away from me). I would dearly love to see the hosts, but not necessarily the whole gang. Last year, our reunion devolved into a drunken camping trip where my husband and I were miserable. Bottom line is I don't want to spend six hours in the car for that kind of a party, but I don't want to be a bad friend by not making an effort to see them when they have to travel much farther. I don't have a good excuse, so do I suck it up and go or politely decline with no explanation? Help!

Carolyn Hax: You never need an excuse not to go to something like that. "I'd love to see you two alone, but I'm not up for a repeat of last year." It is who you are, right?

But what you may need is a little creativity. Nothing's stopping you from planning a weekend trip for you and your husband somewhat in the area of the reunion, and dropping by to see your freinds for a few of the hours you can reasonably expect them to be sober. Or whatever--there are almost always more options than "go" or "blow off."


Inadequacy, Tex.: Glam CH and Glam Producer,
Any thoughts on why a 29-year-old divorced (no kids, 2+ years post-divorce) gal would feel constantly inadequate? I don't think I'm depressed, I'm generally happy with my life, just stuck with feelings of not being a good enough employee, friend, daughter, sister, roommate, dog owner, the list could go on forever. Logic says I must be good at things because I HAVE a job, friends, roommate, dog, loving family, etc, so why do I feel so woefully inadequate, all the time?

Carolyn Hax: Someone asked, I think it was last week, when I thought therapy would be useful. Here is exactly where I think therapy would be useful: for persistent, unwanted, negative feelings that remain unexplained, along with a sincere desire to explain them. Please give it a try.


Oakton, Va.: Went to a wedding recently where instead of giving out small gifts to guests (like a small picture frame), the bride and groom said they had made a donation to charity on the guests behalf. I found this a bit annoyying, after all, why didn't they keep the gifts and instead of flowers or limos or a wedding gown, donate those funds to charity?

Carolyn Hax: So if you had not gotten a gift, and had they said nothing about the charity but had donated money privately, would you still be all out of joint? About what? The flowers and the limo, or about not getting your trinket?

Granted, it's weird that they specifically said they were denying the guests something, vs themselves, on behalf of charity. But the whole trinket thing is ridiculous anyway--like you need a reward for showing up.

So. Think about what they did--donate money to charity--and then think about what you're doing--complaining--and then think of something that would make more productive use of your brain space.


Bethesda, Md.: Early in a relationship where both people have pretty obvious trust issues, is it best to cut your losses and get out, or try to make something work? I'm not that patient, but I like this guy...

Carolyn Hax: Trust issues why, because you're abusing each other's trust, or because past partners have abused your trust so badly that you can't trust anyone new? The answers to each are so different your question is unanswerable without those specifics.

Then again ... if you're abusing someone's trust or letting someone abuse yours, then you should step back and ask yourself what is it about you that is letting that happen. And, if it's baggage from past abuse, then you should step back and ask yourself what it is about you that is letting that happen. Can't fix a relationship if the underlying problem's unfixed.


Washington, D.C.: Dating a friend's ex and know she'd be hurt if she found out and more so if she found out from someone else. How do I go about telling her?

Carolyn Hax: You just do. There's no way for it not to be awkward--your only choices are to be brave or craven. Good luck!


Re: Pet Peeve: Two words: "How presumptuous." Best when said flatly. Also works when people tell you to "smile!" (my pet peeve).

Carolyn Hax: I love it--but then you have to keep standing there in line. Maybe this is why they have magazine racks.


Vienna, Va.: I don't like my best friend's new girlfriend. Because they're joined at the hip these days, I find myself not attending social events with him when I know she's going to be there. Well, it's more like I'll go to a party with 30 people, but a small affair is intolerable.

I can see the whole "well you're both invited and if you don't come then that's your problem" angle. But I don't see the point in going somewhere if I'm just going to be miserable, plus entertaining notions of sticking my boot up her a** the whole time. And I also feel like my friend isn't even trying to spend any time with me without the girlfriend. What kind of bleep is that?

So, am I a big baby, or what?

Carolyn Hax: Maybe, but one with whom I can sympathize.

Nevertheless, I hope at some point you either find other places to socialize, or get bored enough with hating this beast to be able to start ignoring her and socializing again with your best friend.

Whatever kind of bleep it is, it's common bleep, and it's the rare person who -isn't- affected by it in some way--the noxious co-worker who makes the workdays endless; the friend with terrible taste in mates who ruins your Saturday nights; the doink brother-in-law who makes you dread holidays. The only solutions are to suck it up or make other plans. Either way, again, you become a member of a large and sympathetic club. For what (little) it's worth.


re: "drunken camping trip": I'll go, I'll go!; I can think of nothing better than sitting around a campfire drinking hottie totties and eating smores.

Carolyn Hax: Until the next morning rolls around. But excellent attitude nonetheless, thanks.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn I need your advice.

People seem to always come to me with their problems, situations and issues. When they ask for my advice on how to handle the situation or want to know what I think, I tell them. Usually this advice falls on deaf ears and they go talk to someone else who basically says the same thing I just said or they just do what they wanted to do anyway. Then they come back to me and tell me what happened. When I ask them, isn't it what I just said, their answer is usually something about how I think I am always right. I don't understand what people want from me. I feel like I am wasting my time listening to this stuff and then they don't even listen to me. Why won't people either start listening to me or stop talking to me? I am not the type to be hurt one way or the other.

Carolyn Hax: Then why do you care what they say when they come back to tell you what happened? I'm not saying you're not justified in feeling annoyed, because being sought out for the sole purpose of being ignored can get a pretty old. But your response to them is dangerously close to an "I told you so," which is the hallmark of someone who needs poeple to know s/he was right.

So, your question, what they want from you: They want to hear what they want to hear. When you say something they don't want to hear, they choose not to hear it, which is why they can come back to you with exactly what you said as if you had never said it. Best defense: Laugh. (Inside.)


Bethesda, Md.: My wife just called to tell me she found her wedding ring (which had been my mother's) that had been lost for a week. Martinis tonight! (Just thought I'd share something happy)

Carolyn Hax: Maybe put the ring away before you start pouring.


Silver Spring, Md.: My girlfriend moved in with me in August. I was planning to propose marriage on Thanksgiving (she was unaware.) Last week, she decided to take a job in Europe unexpectedly. What should I do? What does this "say" about our relationship? Should I just cut her loose while she's gone?

Carolyn Hax: I don't know what it "says," so why don't you "ask"? You may hear from her exactly what you suspect, but even that is still better than just assuming something and then using that assumption to justify dumping her in absentia. I mean really. You can't "cut her loose" before she leaves? To her face? That and the unexpected job-taking say more about your relationship than anything--that you guys couldn't hold a conversation if one was handed to you in a bucket.


Hey Carolyn: How did you know about my brother-in-law?

Carolyn Hax: Eerie, isn't it?


Bethesda, Md.: That guy's wife's ring? It was at my place. Oh, yeah. I kid.

Carolyn Hax: Well, though, which is good.


Olney, Md.: Nosy bystanders: I usually will talk to strangers in situations like that, but if the person is inappropriate and makes me uncomfortable, I can muster up a good, puzzled "I'm sorry, but do I know you?" Less sarcastic than "How presumptuous" while still conveying the same basic message.

Carolyn Hax: True true. Thanks.


Fenway, Boston: Hi Carolyn,

I am in a relationship with 25 men. It's gone on forever, and they have broken my heart many times. Last year, I broke up with them, and told myself I wouldn't be sucked in again, as the pain I endured was too great.

But this time seems different. I really think they'll be good to me, but I find myself not being able to trust any of their moves. Everytime they do something positive, I have to tear it down with a thought about how they will just screw it up later that night. How do I learn to let the past go, and learn to trust again?

Please help!

Carolyn Hax: If there's no foundation for trust, then not trusting these men is sensible. The thing to ask yourself is -why- you keep getting sucked in by people you can't trust. The answer, whether you like it or not, is that you get something out of the pain. Maybe admitting that to yourself will be liberating enough for you to enjoy the process a little more.


London, U.K.: Boyfriend's dog is untrained, uncontrollable and incredibly clingy. By uncontrollable I mean boyfriend doesn't want to hurt poochy's feelings or deal with crying, messes or any other inconvenience. As a result, bedtime either becomes a threesome with pooch snuggled comfortably inside the covers with the both of us OR a nightmare of whining, crying and barking because the dog wants to sleep on the bed, not the doggy bed or the crate. Boyfriend wants me to relax and be patient, but I'm not sure how I, not a dog hater but not a dog lover either, should put up with reasonably and how I can avoid being pushy or preachy. Also, is it a petty reason to break up with someone?

Carolyn Hax: I think it's a fine reason, but not necessarily on its face. The underlying truth here is that your boyfriend is responsible for this dog, this living, sensitive creature, and yet has done nothing to educate himself on how to be a responsible dog owner. An untrained, uncontrollable, clingy dog is a -miserable- dog--even when allowed to sleep on the bed. I won't get into it all, but it's about knowing its place--dogs want an ordered life as a beta to their master's alpha.

If BF is unable to admit his ignorance when it's proven to him (kindly/firmly and all that), then you've got an immature guy on your hands. A good means of pointing out the error of his dog-rearing ways is a book called "Mother Knows Best: The Natural Way to Train Your Dog," by Carol Lea Benjamin. You read it, have him read it, see what happens.


To fenway: They're just not that into you.

Carolyn Hax: But they keep saying they love us!


Comments while standing in line: A cashier at our local grocery store does this for each item she rings up. I can hear her now with her unidentifiable accent "Ooh, turkey, and swiss cheese!;" I've concocted a story in my head that explains that she is a recent immigrant who is practicing her English.

Carolyn Hax: Or she's bored out of her unidentifiably accented mind. Sounds like the kind of quirk you'll miss when she's gone.


Carolyn Hax: Unless she goes to new job at the local pharmacy and continues to announce all your purchases there.


Arlington, Va.: Re: untrained dog. Girlfriend should also take the boyfriend's ability to train a dog as a clue into how he will be as a father. Sounds like this guy will be the father to horrid little children who only have to throw a temper tamtrum to get what they want.

Carolyn Hax: Zackly. Takes maturity/guts to set reasonable limits and enforce them gently. Thanks.


Washington, D.C.: Okay, cheated on my boyfriend because I wasn't happy and just "out there." He found out, I felt terrible. Of course there is a trust issue now, burnt my neck with the curler and he thinks I have been fooling around again. He doesn't believe, I know it takes time to regain trust, and it has been about eight months, what to do?

Carolyn Hax: First, explain why you're back with the BF when you were unhappy enough to cheat. Any chance you're trying to mend things just to make yourself feel better, as if his forgiving you will constitute permission to then forgive yourself?

If you're back with him because you really are happy to be back with him, then, second issue--the only way things are going to work now is if you both understand, and agree on, and fix whatever it was that went wrong enough for you to go out and cheat.

That means you're honest with yourself, you're honest with him, he's honest with himself, and he's honest with you. And after all that honesty, both of you need to be able to let go, genuinely. If one of these five is absent, then you get two things: ongoing suspicions over unfortunate curling-iron incidents, and a lousy prognosis.


Friendship Hell: Hi Carolyn,
My best friend is going to marry one of the dinkiest doinks ever (laundry list of characteristics ranging from calling her stupid and lazy -- which she's not -- to his anger management issues and his inability to be wrong, ever). So bad that whenever I think about their upcoming union I just shake my head and say WHY? However, I can't voice objections because she shares them with him, then he no longer likes the person, and she is no longer supposed to like them (as seen from previous experience). Any mantras?

Carolyn Hax: Your best friend has issues. Your best friend has issues. Your best friend has issues.

Hate the guy all you want, but she's the one who sought him out, which means she's half the problem, which means that even if this engagement breaks, she's going to go out and find the unfindable, an even dinkier doink--unless she gets the help she needs. However you decide to handle this, your strategy has to be based in this truth.

And she does need help, badly--a guy who berates her and flies into rages and isolates her from her friends is an abuser. I mean, really--it would be okay to call her stupid and lazy if she really were stupid and lazy? No no no. Please consider calling her attention to the abuse; you can talk to a counselor about how to approach her by calling 1-800-799-SAFE.


Arlington, Va.: When someone tells me to "smile" I respond with "make me."

Carolyn Hax: See, I'd be so happy I thought of that that I'd smile while I was saying it, which would totally defeat the purpose. If you can pull it off, you're my hero.


Washington, D.C.: Hey Carolyn:

I need your advice. I'm a senior at college, and lately I've been having a really tough time with stress and anxiety. So, I've started going to see our campus therapy service. My question is whether and how to tell my parents and my best friend. I figure that I don't really want to get into it with either of them. But my best friend went through some hard times last year, and she came to me and we talked a lot about it, and I'm afraid she'll feel betrayed if she finds out later that I didn't tell her. I figure my parents might feel upset, too (you know, in the you can't trust us? kind of vein).

What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: You're going to hate me for this, but I think it's something you should talk about with your therapist.

Short answer, though, is that you need to approach them when you're good and ready--and if you're afraid of the way they'll react, consider saying to them upfront, when you do decide to share, that you wish you could have opened up to them sooner but that it was something you had to duke out on your own. Anyone who can't respect that is thinking of him- or herself, not you--and while that still might be hard for you to take, it's nevertheless not your problem.

BTW, good for you for taking on your stress the way you did. Must have been tempting to shove it aside.


Rockville, Md.: When do you apologize for being unbelievably stupidly insensitive, and when do you let it go? I replayed a conversation from last week in my head, and I want to sit in a corner and eat cyanide.

I went to a friend's house for a glass of wine and while we chatted, I complained that my husband was going to be out of town for a few days this week, including on my birthday. I went on for about five minutes about how I hate his business trips, being alone at night and the big empty bed, how hard it is to do the kids' bathtime by myself, blah, blah, blah. My friend smiled and nodded and made sympathetic noises, and then we moved on to other things.

What's the problem, you ask? I went to her house because otherwise she would have had to get a babysitter -- because her husband died two months ago. Her husband died, and I'm whining about mine being gone for four days. Her husband is gone forever, and I'm complaining that mine won't be around on my birthday. How stupid could I be? And she said nothing to me about how ridiculous my complaining must have sounded to her.

Do I apologize to her, even though she was so gracious and made no notice of my insensitivity? Or do I just silently shoot myself every time I think about what an ass I was?

Carolyn Hax: Far better to apologize than to eat cyanide. While you're there, thank her for being so gracious. She sounds like a really good friend.


Re: Friendhsip hell: I dated an abusive guy very similar to the one described, and almost married him. Lots of friends tried to point out what a jerk he was, but I didn't listen. However, the one comment that did get through was when my dad asked me, "If he really loves you, then he wouldn't (FILL IN THE BLANK)." I didn't immediately leave him, but it made me start to head in that direction.

Carolyn Hax: If it worked, I'll post it. Thank you muchly--and congratulations on getting out.


Re: Friendship Hell: In the process of recognizing that I was in an abusive relationship much like your friend's, and then extricating myself from it, I found a book by Patricia Evans called Verbal Abuse to be particularly helpful. You might give her a copy or peruse it yourself to educate yourself on this type abuse before talking to her. She's got a web site as well that's well done and informative. Having information available that reassured me that I was NOT the crazy one made all the difference in the world.

Carolyn Hax: Full title, "The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize it and How to Respond." Haven't read it myself, but I appreciate the mention.


Maryland: What are your thoughts on rebound sex? Just found out my long-term partner was having an affair. Needless to say, I kicked her a-- to the curb. I'm in a rough spot, but improving. I can't help thinking that some hot, meaningless revenge sex would help erase the imagines of the Ex and her new man from my head. Not interested in relationship, just want a little ego boost and some stress relief. Am I asking for trouble?

Carolyn Hax: Well, you'd be using some woman as nothing more than your ego boost and stress relief, which I doubt is something you'll want included in your epitaph.

And, if you think one angry roll is going to erase anything, you need to share whatever you're smoking.

Otherwise, it's a great idea.

Suggestion: Cure stress and ego-bruising by figuring out what went wrong, more or less, and then figuring out how you can prevent it from happening again, to the extent that you can--and then letting it go. It happens. It sux. It's not the undoing of life on earth.


Cyanide, Va.: I lost many immediate family members at a young age. One of the things I still remember most was that my friends would automatically hush up about anything even remotely selfish, negative or sad when I was around them. It was like I had this monopoly on bad stuff. It sucked. I would have liked a friend to forget for a second what I couldn't and talk about their own troubles. Just my $.2.

Carolyn Hax: Excellent point--come by unspeakably, as most excellent points are. Thanks.


Re: Fenway: I know a bunch of guys, who while not perfect all the time, have given me 26 rings over the years. They are the loves of my life.

Carolyn Hax: Lucky you. Can't help but think we'd all be happier if we were so easily bought.

Okay, gotta go rest for my big date Sat. night.

Hoo hoo, ha ha.


On Maryland's question: How do you figure out what happened?

If the other person is telling you that all is ok and fine and great, they want to be with you, they love you, but you find out they were seeking thrills on the side, my reaction is to assume that this person is not trustworthy and to end it. I don't really want to go into a discussion with them of whether they think this is ok behavior or whether they were actually unhappy with things and their actions were a reflection of that... but maybe what you're saying is that I should?

Carolyn Hax: Okay, not leaving, too good a follow-up ?: Even figuring out why you wound up with a dishonest person counts. Even if you say, wow, she was good, I really got suckered--just seeing that can help you put what happened behind you. Or, in less one-sided cases, it is worth knowing that you, say, regularly withheld affection as punishment--just to use a random example--and one time she just lost it and had an angry revenge affair. Whatever. It doesn't have to involve excusing anyone or anything, just understanding.


Oh!;: I'm slow today - I just "got it" that the 25 heart-breakers are my very own Sox. GO SOX!;

Carolyn Hax: No problem, you're welcome whenever you show up.

Now I'm really leaving. Bye all.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company