Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 29, 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.


Virginia: Boyfriend made interesting comment to me last week about ex-girlfriends. He said he doesn't have any feelings for any of them and isn't friends with hardly any of them because, as he put it, he "wipes the slate clean" when he breaks up with someone. He said he would never consider remaining close friends with an ex (I am with one of mine). I consider him to be pretty loving and kind hearted but there is something cold about that comment and I can't quite put my finger on it. Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Well, it does put exes on the level of used Kleenex, which isn't exactly warm. But the part thast bothers me even more is that he's so closed-minded. I can't trust a guy who hasn't figured out that he doesn't have it all figured out.


Arlington, Va.: Hi Carolyn!

When did it become OK for a boyfriend in a committed relationship who was at a bachelor party to seek out and pay for a completely nude stripper (in Toronto) to give him a lap dance? Although he was honest and told me, I'm crushed.

Carolyn Hax: I don't know that it ever became okay, but I could make the argument that it isn't worth being crushed over. More juvenile than anything else, and his honesty almost negates that ...

But of course that's one person's opinion, and an irrelevant person's at that. If you can't get past crushed, best you can do is explain yourself; since there is a range of reactions here, it's only fair that you let him know yours. Along with why you thought he should have known that before he did what he did.


Washington, D.C.: OK, now I'm completely paranoid, from the first question. I haven't remained close friends with any exes, more as a result of lingering bad feelings, and geographic coincidence (one or both of us moved away). Are people who don't stay friends with exes branded as cold? I always sort of regretted that I didn't keep in touch (but, of course, neither did they), and now I'm worried it's a character flaw. I don't have a set policy against friendships with exes like the boyfriend from the first question, but the dice have never fallen that way for me.

Carolyn Hax: Set policy is what felt wrong to me, as well as the attitude behind it. If it helps, I think a set policy of staying friends with exes is just as funky. Forcing life to fit into one's preconceptions is always a non-starter.


Washington, D.C.: Hello -- I'm interested in hearing from you and the peanuts on this one. I'm interested in a man more than five years younger than me. I'm late 30s and he's early 30s. Any male peanuts willing to give me feedback on whether this is something they would consider doing dating and/or relationship-wise? He seems like a stand up guy; I like him the more we're around each other and I would like to know him better. And, oh yeah -- I have an almost overwhelming urge to kiss his face. I wouldn't just act on that out of the blue though. I'm not secure enough for such rash behavior.

Smoldering Bacon Pants

Carolyn Hax: At your ages, that gap sounds like a blazing non-issue.


Carolyn Hax: Of course there could be hurdles if you have different ideas about what you what and when, children being the most pressing, but you'd have that if the guy were 5 years older, which brings us back to the non-issue thing.


Boston, Mass.: Hey Carolyn,

I'm at a crummy temp job and I am taking a quick 15-minute break to ask why people in cubicles like to listen to radios with lousy reception when it's quite obvious that everyone in the office is going to be able to hear their sorry-a** taste in music. Throw in the singing along to "You make me feel like a natural woman" (when this is a guy) and I just think it takes a leap of sanity. I'm tempted to ask if this guy has shares in Motrin. My head is splitting! (I'm a temp so they guy couldn't care less what I think of his shite taste in music.)

Someone make it stop!

Carolyn Hax: I'll answer, but also disclose first that the thought of a guy in a cubicle singing "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman" to a crackly radio makes me miss working in an office.

Answer: YOU buy shares in Motrin. And some headphones so you can drown out other people's sorry -a** taste in music with your own.


Bachelors: I think it's creepy for guys in a committed relationship (and worse if they are married) to even go to a "bachelor" party. This includes the future groom. Those things have just gotten out of hand. A lot of the "strippers" who come for entertainment end up being more along the line of "hookers." It's horrifying.

Carolyn Hax: Horrifying only when they cross that line; otherwise, they're just rank and tasteless. And sexist and outdated and embarrassing to those who champion them and blah blah blah. So, no, I'm not a fan either. But if I'm in a committed relationship with someone who gets invited to one, I'm not going to put my foot down. I think "trust and shut up" goes farther in the long run.


Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.: Any ideas for how to correct a wicked perfectionistic streak? Lately it's been running my life... I should do this, I should do that, etc.

Carolyn Hax: Answer the following:

Whom are you trying to impress?


I'm not sure there are any (honest) answers to these two questions that can justify an attempt to be perfect.


Stipperville: A stripper is just someone who titilates for money: she isn't after anything in his pants except his wallet. How different is buying a lapdance from paging through Playboy?

My husband went to his friend's bachelor party last week at a topless club and bought a lap dance both for himself and the groom. It doesn't bother me one bit, especially since he came home, snuggled up next to me in bed, and whispered, "They may be pretty, but none of them can hold a candle to you."

Carolyn Hax: This isn't why lap dances aren't worth getting freaked out about. But it is why it's a good thing there are different people for all of us to choose from, and why it's so crucial we don't choose one lightly.


Carolyn Hax: In a few days, Stipperville is going to hate me.


New York, N.Y.: OK, so would you stay married to a man who was verbally abusive to you and your child? Who was emotionally distant? Even if you did sometimes laugh with him and enjoy his company? What if, after enduring this verbal abuse, which was particularly bad in the last few years, you found out he was actually bipolar. And that he wasn't just being a jerk. Now he's being treated, and things are much better, but it's still not perfect. He has his good side, he's working on things, but how can I get past the last few years?

Carolyn Hax: Take care of your child, please.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn, what's a good way to say "thanks" to a girlfriend who forgives you for the occasional totally boneheaded comment? Is posting on a chat you know she reads enough, or should I be thinking flowers here?

Carolyn Hax: Flowers, but only if she likes flowers, and only if they're not just here-take-them-now-let-me-off-the-hook-please apology flowers. Doesn't sound like they are, but I can't resist a public service announcement when given the opportunity. Flowers are best when they just show up for no reason but affection, and when it's not just men buying them for women.

So. Why the boneheaded comments? More important, what'd you say, huh huh?


Lexington, Ky.: You replied, "Take care of your child, please" referring to the woman whose husband had been diagnosed as bipolar. Is that really the message you meant to send to someone who is now presumably seeking treatment for a medical condition?

Carolyn Hax: Yes. It is. The child's emotional health has to take precedence over the adult's emotional health--especially if the verbal abuse and emotional isolation have not stopped completely with the advent of the diagnosis and treatment. Maybe that means staying in the marriage, maybe it doesn't, but, regardless, the mom is responsible for the kid first. I hope even the bipolar parent himself would agree with this.


Colchester, U.K.: I agree that a five-year age difference should not be an issue past roughly the teenage years. But notice that the reason it was probably an issue here is because the MAN is younger. Why do people feel so different about age gaps depending on which sex is older? Like in personal ads: lots of men want someone their age or younger, lots of women want someone their age or older, hardly any vice versas.

Carolyn Hax: Two reasons, neither of which applies in the question in question. One is that men in general mature later, and so the same five-year gap between a 26-y-o woman and a 21-y-o, in many cases, might as well be a 15-year-gap when it comes to life goals. Again, in some cases--"in general" meaning "not everybody so please don't bite my head off thanks."

And the other thing is fertility. Women have a moment, men have forever, both quite logically tend to be attracted to the opposite sex accordingly. "Tend to" means "not everybody so please don't bite my head off thanks."

I could also throw in the part about men's ability to provide growing stronger as they get older, but I'm getting tired of this answer.


Silver Spring, Md.: My boyfriend and I have broken up, but are trying to keep our friendship because we still care for and respect each other very much. It's hard in alot of ways, but neither of us can imagine going through life not knowing how each other is doing and what is going on in each other's lives. Any tips on being able to do this while making the romantic break and moving on? I find it very hard to shift my feelings from romantic back to platonic, but I feel his friendship is a gift in my life and don't want to lost it.

Carolyn Hax: Don't force yourself into it if you aren't ready. That's more likely to be its undoing than giving each other some distance until you do feel ready. "Hey, I've got too many feelings to deal with, so if it's all the same to you, I'd rather we try this in a couple of months instead." No biggie. If you're destined to be friends, that is.


Virginia: A few months ago I went through a crisis which affected my friendships and relationships with people. At the time I had a falling out with a group of friends I've known for years. I recently tried to make amends by reaching out to them, explaining that my behavior was due to severe depression and anxiety. During the time I had my crisis I was under tremendous stress and was hospitalized. When I explained all this to them their response was less than understanding -- to the point of being disrespectful which saddens me because I thought these people were my friends who cared about me. Our town is small and I know I'll run into them sooner or later. I brushed them off once before when I wasn't well and now I think, by how they responded, it wasn't such a bad move on my part. My question is: What do I do when I see them? Should I say hello or just look the other way?

Carolyn Hax: A cool hello from the high ground ALWAYS beats looking the other way. So much gutsier.

Sorry about those unforgiving friends.


Denver, Colo.: The third person today just asked me if I was OK. Yes, I'm fine. No, I didn't sleep well last night. Clearly, I look like fecal matter. One woman told suggested I put Preparation H under my eyes because I look "a little puffy." I was doing OK, just tired, but I wish people would stop expressing their concern with how bad I look. Now I'm in a bad mood. Tell me I'm pretty?

Carolyn Hax: Beautiful, especially in this light.

Remember, they're asking because they like you, or else they wouldn't bother. Or they'd say nothing and then compare notes later about how ***tty you look today.


Carolyn Hax: Oh, and if anyone ever catches me putting Preparation H under my eyes, please take it from my hands, gently, and point me toward home. Thanks.


New York: I've been dating a guy for about five months. He met my parents last week and I plan to meet his this weekend. At what point do we discuss where we see this relationship going or what we want out of it?

Carolyn Hax: How bout ... not. Aren't your actions telling you what you need to know, at least for now?


Washington, D.C.: I buy my boyfriend flowers occasionally since there's a guy selling them right outside Metro before I go home in the evening. When riding home, I usually get comments from people like "Those are beautiful, who bought you flowers?" I usually just say "I did," but then they think I'm sad and pathetic for buying myself flowers.

Carolyn Hax: Good! Probably makes them feel better about their own lives, so you're performing a valuable public service.

Just curious, though--what do these people who think you're pathetic do when they pass a florist's display on the street? "Ooh, how pretty! I'd buy them to brighten my kitchen table, but I can't, because I'm female and everyone knows women can only receive flowers as gifts from somebody else."


Fredericksburg, Va.: Hi Carolyn!

I've been married to my husband for 1.5 years, and we dated for six before getting married (not exclusively dating). We both have friends of the opposite sex -- no problems.

However, I recently met a guy who is really fun and turning into a nice friend. While joking around I made the comment that I would date said friend if not for the whole marriage thing. And I told my husband about it (also jokingly and prior to hubby meeting the guy).

I though hubby was fine with it, like he has been with my other friends. But lately he's been needling me ("you're IMing your boyfriend again, aren't you?" type comments), and I don't know how to respond. I feel like I can't even call him on it because he's being so touchy. I have no intention of cheating, and all parties involved know this. I don't want to drop my new friend, either, though.

I feel like I'm in high school. Help?

Carolyn Hax: Sounds like husband is picking up on a vibe that distinguishes new guy from your other guy friends. I am. Even if we're wrong, I think you need to push new guy friend back to arm's length, at minimum, out of respect for your husband.

What makes this different from a your-husband-needs-to-get-over-it situation is his comfort with your other guy friends. When someone who isn't jealous of five guys gets jealous of the sixth, it usually means he has a reason. And, again, even if he's wrong about that reason, his track record of being mellow about those five guys earns him the right to veto the sixth.


Men who can't handle women buying themselves flowers: It's true!; I once dated someone who was upset with me because I would buy myself flowers every week. He said I was usurping his role. That relationship didn't last long...

Carolyn Hax: How did he feel about lap dances?


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

I've met the greatest guy! He's smart, funny, attractive, attentive without being overbearing, and I don't think I've ever felt so content with a man. He sends me flowers for no reason at all. But, he's twice my age (I'm 25). Am I being stupid?

Carolyn Hax: Only if you try to decide on your future with him now, instead of waiting to get to know him.


San Francisco, Calif.: Hi Carolyn,
I have a complicated situation. Well over a year ago I cheated on my boyfriend that I have now with my former boyfriend. At the time, my current boyfriend and I had been dating around seven months, and alcholol was involved (not an excuse) and I had to fess up. We got over it, and I love him with all of my heart. My fear is that although it has been a while and we are "over" it, this is going to creep up again later. Am I being paranoid? I guess I feel as if karma is going to get me or something. Am I crazy?

Carolyn Hax: If you've been straight in your handling of the mistake, and straight w/ the boyfriend since, and (flashing yellow lights) straight with yourself since, then I don't see where you're karmically in the red. So, have you been all those things? Then do the BF a favor and get past it.


New Rule: For every time a guy buys a girl flowers for no appearent reason, she owes him a lap dance.

Carolyn Hax: Newer rule: For every time a girl buys a guy flowers for no appearent reason, he owes her a lap dance.


Anonymous: Any ideas on how someone can get out of the mindset that she's not anything anyone would want to date? Because I know that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Part of the problem is that I'm over thirty and have never had a date in my life, except once, to junior prom, with a guy I asked. Now I don't even know if I know HOW to get a date, let alone if anyone would be the slightest bit interested in one with me. Help?

Carolyn Hax: I don't know if people who DO get dates know how to get dates--it just kind of happens. If that's any consolation.

I also believe there are plenty of people who would be happy to date you, but unless I know you that is an empty platitude. It is based, however, on something real that this job reminds me of every day, the fact that so many people want to reach out to so many other people but feel they can't for whatever reason. If that's any consolation.

What to do about it is, first, look around you. Do you have friends? Then you are something someone would date. (And if you don't have friends, start with that, not with dating.) The next step is to force yourself past your own "for whatever reason" reasons. You say you don't know how to go about dating--so, teach yourself. Get involved in some things that are clearly for singles. If you look like a goofball at first, so be it--everyone has to learn this stuff and no one looks smooth through the learning stage. Besides, goofballiness can be really endearing. ITAC.


Lap Dances for Flowers: Ok, I know that was a joke, but I think this point needs to be made anyways:

We don't owe you sexual favors for ANYTHING except other sexual favors. And face it guys, you are seriously in the red on that one already.

Unless, of course you work that deal out with your girlfriend. In which case, I wish more flowers and lap dances for you both.

Carolyn Hax: Rarin'.


This world...: would be so much nicer if "random acts of kindness" included random lap dances on Metro.

Carolyn Hax: Only if the train stopped short.


Washington, D.C.: Hi C.H.
I have a friend who is HIV +. She still dates and has unprotected sex without telling her partners. She has interest in a friend of mine. Should I tell him? I worried.

Carolyn Hax: Ask him for advice on what to do about her recklessness with her HIV. Heh.

Question for you: Why are you still friends with this selfish, dangerous, craven, wholly immoral person? Her behavior is why there's such a thing as ostracism.

BTW, you should get in touch with the CDC--nat'l AIDS hotline is (800) 342 - AIDS (2437)--to find out what they suggest someone in your position should do.


Excuse, ME: but what's ITAC stand for? It Takes A Cheetah? I Talked About Crabs?

Carolyn Hax: It was the third time I would have been writing, "If that's any consolation," but I like your versions better.


For The Dateless: I think "dateless" needs to find things that make him or her happy. Maybe it's foreign films, maybe it's dodgeball, who knows? But I believe that it's easier to get dates when you already know how to make your life joyful. I never got dates until I started trying new things and following my heart's desires. Sounds cheesey, I know, but it works.

Carolyn Hax: And familiar, too--it's what I usually advise, when my head is in its proper place atop my neck. Thanks.


Dateless: I too was a never-had-a-date person. Still am, I suppose, but am now married. In between was a series of activities with a single friend of the opposite sex, but since I didn't know they were dates, I didn't freak, just had fun.

Carolyn Hax: Ditto, thanks.


East Coast: Does a difference in formal education preclude a successful long-term relationship? I'm in med school (eyeing a joint master's degree); he dropped out of undergrad. He's a motivated and ambitious autodidact, and is doing well financially as a computer consultant. We're in love.

Problem 1: The huge chip on his shoulder (he has admitted rarely feeling "good enough" at work, although he's otherwise confident). Problem 2: My parents are worried that any big perceived gap will give cause for deep resentment later -- on both of our parts. They hold that I should marry an equal in all respects, "education" notwithstanding. Problem 3: I respect their advice. I think of him as my equal, but I also wonder if they're right.

I also wonder if I'm just being elitist. Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Would have answered sooner, but I had to look up autodidact.

If you feel he's not good enough, you guys are doomed.

If he feels he's not good enough, you guys are doomed.

If you guys think pieces of paper determine who is good enough, you guys are doomed.

If your parents are really talking about a "perceived" gap, and not a paper one, then I agree with them, so I guess they're doomed.


Falls Church, Va.: Hi Carolyn,
You're probably going to tell me to mind my own business, but it's worth a shot.

A friend of mine is a fantastic, outgoing, wonderful person. She is a terrific friend and I wish her nothing but the best in life. Unfortunately, she's dating someone who is incredibly boring and is so unworthy of her love! When talk of future plans come up I feel so sad knowing that she is going to be stuck with someone so below her level!

I know I can't do anything to change the situation, but how can I be OK with this and let it go?

Carolyn Hax: If it's just that he's boring, don't stop at minding your own business--be grateful. Usually bad maters pass on the small mistake and go butt-over-teakettle for the colossal mistakes.

Not that I have an opinion on this.

Oh, and if by "unworthy of her love" you mean something she might have overlooked that's both substantive and supportable, you should say something.


Re: HIV: "Why are you still friends with this selfish, dangerous, craven, wholly immoral person?"

I would change the word "person" to "criminal." In some states, doing what that woman does is called attempted homicide.

Carolyn Hax: Wasn't sure what to say about that, since there's a good chance my knowledge of this was obtained from "Law & Order." Plus, also didn't know what the advances in AIDS medication did to the whole homicide angle. Thus the CDC number. I plan to call it myself, in fact--thanks for being the one to put this possibility out there.


Fenway, Boston again: Hi Carolyn,

Thanks for answering my letter last week. Just wanted to give you an update. You were right about my getting something out of the pain. But I'm glad I stuck to my men, because I got the ring they promised me, and now we are linked forever! It's strange, because it happened without all the drama, which makes it feel less real, in a way. I can't quite believe it. But this love is changing from a volatile, tumultous affair, to a mellow yet full bodied relationshiop. And all those people who told me that my men wouldn't step up to the plate are eating those words. Even I have to believe now.

Anyway, just wanted to let you know I'm going to live happily ever after now!

Carolyn Hax: Until April, when the drama beckons again.

It takes a true romantic to be cynical.


Burnout, USA: Hello Carolyn,

Help! Do you or the peanuts have any suggestions for someone that's burned out on the job but needs to get back on their feet ASAP?

(if it matters, I'm a grad student halfway through my six-year program.)


Carolyn Hax: Short answer, since I have to go--take time off if you can, and set up small incremental goals for yourself if you can't. That way you at least give yourself small, regular rewards. Conversely, looking long-range can make burnout feel neverending and therefore hopeless.


AIDS Medication: Just need to get this out -- AIDS is still a fatal disease with no cure. Treatements for HIV-positive people have progressed tremendously but they are still treatments, not cures. I know you didn't mean to imply otherwise, but this needs to be very clear since misperceptions about it are contributing to rising HIV ifection rates in many communities.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you, wouldn't want people to misread what I wrote.


Carolyn Hax: That would be all. Thanks everybody, have a great weekend and type to you next Friday.


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