Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 5, 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.


Washington, D.C.: I am married to a Republican. I am heartsick over the election. I find myself in a situation where I really want to have a comforting full-belly dinner and put on my PJs, but in order to do this, I have to cook dinner for a Republican. This is kind of funny, in a way, to be conflicted over this. He is my husband and I love him. I can't believe I'm actually considering this a conflict. But looking at him puts a lump in my throat. It's not as much of a wallow when the enemy is sitting next to you, unable to understand the depth of your despair.

I wonder if one day I'll end up like Laura Bush, swallowing my disappointment in an ever-more-conservative man, taking massive amounts of tranquilizers, and chain smoking on the roof of my house.

Carolyn Hax: May I join you? Sounds better than crying, which was my answer to all this. (Husband is solidly to my left, though, so I feel only half of your pain.)


Burke, Va.: OK, about that lap dance question from
last week's chat ...

Are you seriously contending that there's not a significant difference between viewing a stripper on a stage, and having someone's naked butt grinding against your crotch? Wow.

I would think once you've gone from voyeurism to extended physical contact, that's a whole new ball game.

You do know what a "lap dance" is?

Carolyn Hax: Are you talking to me or to the person who posted that contention? Please don't mistake that for my opinion.

Remember, I'm fragile (see above).


Laura Bush: Laura chain smokes on the roof of the White House?

Carolyn Hax: The smoking got your attention, not the tranquilizers?

I believe the parallel was in watching one's husband grow more conservative over time, and that any implication that LB self-medicates in any way was purely accidental.


NYC: Hi Carolyn, I feel there may be mutual attraction between myself and a colleague but also sense reticience given the politics of our jobs. Luckily, I'm moving on to a new job soon, so, is there a way or a signal I can give to let this person know of my interest?

I don't to want to make a big deal of it, especially if he doesn't feel the same, and this way if things don't work out I can get over it since we've always been friends first and foremost.

Thanks much!

Carolyn Hax: After you switch jobs, invite him to lunch?


Carolyn Hax: See, I'm not mellowing with age, I'm getting more radical.


Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,
In your opinion, can career or life coaches offer valuable advice and guidance to those contemplating a major career change (I know my current job/field is sapping my life force, but I am lost as to where to go from here)?
Many thanks.

Carolyn Hax: I've neither used a career/life coach nor do I have knowledge of anyone who has, so take this with NaCl, but ...

I imagine it's kind of like therapy: great if you find a good coach, if you're self-aware enough to be a useful part of the process and if you're open-minded enough to be ready to hear what you're told.

If you're not ready to spend money on this yet and if you're a college graduate, try getting in touch with your school's career office. At least that way you can get an idea of what kind of tools are out there, and get also get started on your thinking.


Land of friendship confusion: I am absolutely baffled by what my ex-boyfriend is saying in what he wants with me for a friendship. From the end of our relationship, I told him I wasn't interested in friendship but he persisted and continued to contact me and ask me how I am doing. He even sent me a birthday card! So after five months of unanswered e-mails by me, I finally thought enough time had passed and I responded with small talk. He seems to only want to talk by email or instant messenger and never calls, and says he has no interest in actually spending time, but wants some sort of a glorified pen pal arrangement. Anyhow, he just started seeing someone and has now decided that it's not appropriate for us to remain in contact while he dates this new girl. I don't understand the whole pen pal arrangement in the first place and the months of demands of friendship only to be shelved the instant he gets a girlfriend. By the way, he was the one who dumped me. What does he have to gain by acting this way? I certainly never had any plans to be his friend but I thought his persistent offers were sincere and now I am totally confused.

Carolyn Hax: He was probably keeping in touch to make himself feel better about the breakup--either to alleviate his guilt, or to persuade himself that something good came of it all, or to help himself feel like a stand-up guy, or whatever--and by communicating only in writing, he could do that from a safe, clinical distance. That's a huge guess, but that's the best I can do from here.

Whatever it is, it's not worth the effort you're putting in to try to figure it out. You're not friends, you were never friends. Sorry you got jerked around, but at least it's over now, whee.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

I just found out i'm pregnant -- YAY! I work in a position which requires me to travel pretty extensively. I've always had a totally irrational fear of flying and have to take tranquilizers when I fly. Here's the deal. Our next big event that will require me to travel (to California) is in early February. I don't want to wait until the last minute to tell my boss that I'm not going to be able to go (doctor does not want me to fly because of the anxiety), but I also don't want to tell anyone that I'm pregnant until I reach three months. Any advice?

Carolyn Hax: Tell your boss in confidence at a point you feel it's decent to warn him or her that you won't be able to travel. The three-months rule isn't ironclad, in any sense.


Bethesda, Md.: Hi Carolyn,
My husband and I have been happily married for 10 years. Lately I've become acutely aware of the fact that I'm never going to have the excitement of starting a new relationship. It's not that there's anything wrong with our marriage per se, but I do miss that "rush" of mystery and anticipation that you get when you first start dating someone. This is starting to be a pressing issue for me as I'm finding myself attracted to a friend at work. I'm not going to have an affair, but I need some advice on how to deal with the ongoing need for newness while maintaining my marriage over the long term. Your thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Find it in other areas, include your husband where possible. And, avoid work friend where possible. And, remind yourself what's good about what you have.

Virtually everything good demands that we sacrifice something else that's good. Think of, say, starting a family, another one along the same lines as marital comfort vs. new-love excitement: having kids means you give up the freedom to be impulsive; keeping your freedom to be impulsive means you give up having kids. In these or any other either-or decisions, dwelling on the one you gave up accomplishes nothing except to make you miserable.

One exception to this advice: If you try to remind yourself what's good abotu what you have and you come up empty, your crush could be telling you something. But I doubt that's what's happening here, since you're talking only of missing the rush, and not of being forced to reckon with an unhappiness you'd long been denying.


Friendship confusion: Actually, the former boyfriend sounds controlling. Five months of e-mailing after being told she doesn't want contact? He decides the acceptable methods of contact (e-mail, no calls)? Then he decides when contact ends? I think the motives you ascribed him are way too high.

Carolyn Hax: Good point, thanks.


Harrisonburg, Va: Hey Carolyn, quick question. I'm in college and have a friend who goes to another school, but who visits a few times a year, who really likes me. I didn't mind her visiting, but things are getting weird. She has gotten very touchy feely and I don't know how to deal with it, b/c im not a touchy feely person at all. When we are out she will constantly tell me she loves me, slap my butt in front of my friends, hug me nonstop and even try to kiss me, and when I am sitting next to her she will rub my back ... ewww. Aside from keeping a good distance away from her, I don't know to stop her without it being akward. I'm a girl and she has a boyfriend btw. Is there anyway to politely tell her to stop it? Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Telling her that her touching makes you feel uncomfortable is perfectly polite. It will be awkward, but awkward has to be better than creeped out. Besides, you didn't say once that -you- liked -her-. Maybe your speaking up will prove to be more than the friendship can withstand, but that doesn't sound like it would be the worst thing.


As a boss ...: I would really appreciate it if an employee would let me know now that he/she had a condition that wouldn't let them do something in early February. (Like travel ...) That's not too far away, especially given the time off for the holidays, etc. I don't know what field the pregnant woman works in, or how much prep time is needed to get ready for whatever event. Just my $.02.

Carolyn Hax: Appreciated, thanks.


Freedom to be Impulsive: Regarding giving up the freedom to be impulsive in order to have kids -- if this is a conscious choice (one that I've been struggling with) why do so many mothers seem so downtrodden? Especially of young kids. I 'want' to want to have kids, and I'm married and 31, guess I should figure this out, but I still have some uncertainty about what I'll be giving up. So I've been paying attention to how other people my age are coping with their new families, and they are thoroughly depressing. Always tied down and always complaining. Is this how it is for a few years or am I watching the wrong people?

Thank you, love your work.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you!

I'm not sure you're watching the wrong people so much as viewing them through the wrong lens. Children are, quite possibly, the ultimate in delayed gratification. The day-to-day burden of really littles can exhaust you, depress you, make you weepy for the ability to drink one expletiving cup of coffee without interruption. However, the payoffs, when they come, are so huge you quickly can't believe you got so worked up over an expletiving cup of coffee.

So if you're not sure how you'd even define "ready," I'd say ask yourself how you feel about giving up immediate indulgences, temporarily, to make a lifelong emotional investment. Most people I think get to the point where they've been there, done the indulgences and they're ready to start investing. Doesn't mean, though, that they don't miss the indulgences keenly at times.

BTW, I think you're right to flag the "always complaining." I mean, we all chose this--some whining is normal, but any more than that and it's time to shut up and take the long view. IMHO.

Complicated topic--hope this helps.


Crappyville: OK, I need some help in interpreting this little gem of a statement:

"I need to do some soul searching as I have in the past few months made a habit of saying things I dont mean to you."

That isn't actually an apology, is it? Wouldn't it only be an apology if the person actually said they regretted saying those things? PLEASE HELP. I am so confused. And angry.

Carolyn Hax: That is not an apology. That is the sound of one shoe dropping.

You are, by the way, free to consider not waiting around for the soul-searcher's verdict.


Phoenix Ariz.: My wife left me for another guy. We have a two-year-old we share pretty much 50-50. My mother is a wonderful grandmother and has tried to stay neutral in all this. In fact my mother is my son's only grandparent and she volunteers to care for my son any time. My soon-to-be ex-wife is now saying that it is not appropriate for my mother be be so involved with my son because my wife fears my mother is "disapproving". Doesn't my mom have certain "rights?"

Carolyn Hax: Not the tack you want to use, even if true. I'd go instead with the fact that she is a great source of love and stability for your son at a time when both of those are essential. Point out too that your mom is acutely aware of the need for love and stability, and is therefore deliberately neutral. Bonus: By saying no one wants to score points at your son's expense, you plant the idea discreetly in her head (I hope) that she should be trying very hard not to try to score points at her son's expense. Sigh. Good luck.


Seattle, Wash.: In the past six months, I got diagnosed with an illness I've had for over 20 years (had been told it was depression; it was actually narcolepsy), got treated, dropped 45 pounds without trying, became a dynamo at work (from being on the verge of getting fired for falling asleep in meetings all the time), and am now able to cope with anything in life. How does one deal with all this good fortune? New shoes?

Carolyn Hax: You have to ask? Congratulations.


Touch Feely: It doesn't have to be such an awkward thing. Just say "I'm not very touchy-feely" next time she gropes you. I don't think most people would get offended by this.

Carolyn Hax: Hmm ... true, but remember this has been going un-commented-upon for some time. Might be (ack) touchy.


Raleigh, N.C.: Hi Carolyn,

I have a friend that has trouble coping with disagreement. She doesn't handle the fact that some things are out of her control, and that she can't always have her way. If somebody disagrees with her, they are wrong, dumb and clearly have something wrong with them. She is prone to great exaggeration of others' faults and tends to brood indeterminately on all slights real and imagined.

How to handle, walk away; shake violently and tell her to get a grip; or try to explain that viewpoints different from hers may still be sincere and valid?

Carolyn Hax: I think you need the full menu here: Some explaining, some walking away, some brushing off with humor, some writing-off of this friendship as anything deeper than a novelty item until she gets the grip/maturity/help she needs, no violent shaking unless she's seen "Airplane!" and would recognize the scene you're re-enacting.


"they're ready to start investing": Carolyn, please clarify that you don't mean having kids is the only way to do this. I know you don't think that!;

Carolyn Hax: Good! Because this chat is already slow enough without ritual over-explainage.


Charlotte, N.C.: Carloyn -

I need a good dose of reality. Been seeing a guy. Everything has been purely blissful. He bailed two months ago saying he was feeling pressured, and then we started hanging pretty regularly about three weeks ago. Everything was great. He told me he couldn't be happier, told me he loves me, told me he loves spending time with me -- but that he can't be in a "relationship" because then he has to worry about how his actions affect me and he doesn't want that. What gives? This guy makes me happier than anyone ever has before and when we're together, everythings great - so please help me understand this male speak. Should I just walk away... crying?

Carolyn Hax: Probably. You seem to want more than he does, so if you can't be with him without getting all full of idears, then you're going to be miserable no matter what relationship-configuration you guys try.


re: Impulsive: I would say she is not ready to have kids if she's checking around at other people to decide what she wants. I think it's a gut thing and you're willing to sacrifice so much to do it when you really want to do it that wondering what you might miss barely rates a glance.

Carolyn Hax: I agree with half of that. I think looking around at others is an early stage of making up your mind, and you do stop looking (anywhere but inside, that is) when you're serious. But I'm not sure what you're sacrificing "barely rates a glance" for everyone.

Still--anticipating the next "But ..."--those sacrifices can be keenly felt and still be worth making and happily made.


Silver Spring, Md.: Carolyn, please help!

My husband and I are having trouble compromising on household chores. He's always willing to do things when I point them out and ask, but he doesn't take initiative on his own. He says our standards are different, that I should learn to tolerate the middle ground. I think our home should always be ready for the unexpected guest; translation -- bed made, no underwear on the floor, cat litter scooped, and no hair on the sink. Am I being unreasonable?

Carolyn Hax: Figure out what he does think is important, and have him do most if not all of it--food shopping, weekly trash-hauling, bill-paying, yard work, all the stuff that isn't day-to-day but that adds up to a full share over time. Then, you do all the little daily cleanups that you think are important.

You are being unreasonable, but not in the way you think. It's unreasonable to ask him to work against his nature and expect that to succeed. Instead, try working with his nature and see what you get.


Washington, D.C.: Today will be the last time i see the girl I've been dating for a month before she moves away, is it wrong of me to add to her already crazy day by telling her I want to keep seeing her or do I just bite my lip and hope she doesn't vanish forever?

Carolyn Hax: If telling her you still want to see her makes her day worse, then you will have saved yourself untold days of wasted lip-biting. Good luck.


Chicago, Ill.: Carolyn,

I know you've said before that cheating on your partner can sometimes be worked out, but that the lying that often goes along with cheating is a deal breaker. Well, I learned a few months ago that my boyfriend of about a year was both cheating and lying throughout our relationship.

He's begged me to give him another chance and is doing everything imaginable to show me that he has realized how wrong he was and how committed he is to repairing the relationship. I have to admit he seems to be giving 100 percent.

So, does the "liars are always liars" rule always hold? Would I be a fool to stick around and give him another chance?

Carolyn Hax: Idunno. Has he said, in a way that makes sense to you, why he cheated and lied and why--ONLY when busted--he wanted you back? Seems to me it would be hard to pull off a credible explanation for all these, and that explanation--not hard work, or groveling, or whatever he's doing now--would be the reason I felt I could trust him again. Or, of course, not.


Crappyville again: Oh both shoes have already dropped. And the roof. That was an "excuse" I received by e-mail for why the person had cheated on his girlfriend with me, and I think was said for her benefit (i.e. "I never meant to tell you for 4+ months that I had strong feelings for you, send you gifts, etc. It was all a big "misunderstanding"...)

Is it best to respond to something like that with both guns firing, so-to-speak, or simply not respond at all?

Carolyn Hax: Neither. Respond by saying to yourself that life just sent you a message--or dropped one on your head, however you want to look at it. Message being, you have spent 4+ months in muck, and now it's time to crawl out of muck and take a long shower and take muck-evasive steps from now on. This takes time, but it's worth it, and besides, there's no quick way to feel better anyway.


For Freedom to be Impulsive: My wife and I just had a baby. Before he was born, I had some vague idea of what it would mean to have a child. You know, you have to feed it, change the diaper, etc.

I had no idea how much work he would take. You know what babies do ? They wake up in the middle of the night, and they want to eat, and they need their diaper changed. They don't wait. You can't tell them you'll get to it eventually. It has to be right then.

And the first night you think, well, this isn't so bad, I can do this. But then they do it again the next night. And the next night. And on and on and on.

And then one night you just start crying because it's 2 a.m., and you're just so tired, but the baby is crying because he wants his diaper changed and he is hungry.

Having a baby is like hitting yourself in the face with a baseball bat. You know that it will hurt. You just can't comprehend how much it will hurt.

With all of that said, there is one difference (before anybody jumps all over me for saying these horrible things about having children) which is that in the midst of the tears at 2 a.m., he stops fussing and looks up at you, and even at 5 weeks old he gets this little smile, and I don't care if it really is just gas that makes him smile, he still smiled at me, and you can't believe how beautiful he is, and then you finish with the diaper, and you go back to just wanting to get some sleep because you're so tired you can't think straight anymore, but 12 hours later I'm still giddy because my son smiled at me.

That's what it means. That's why your friend complains and seems downtrodden.

By the way, the single best gift you can give to your friends who are new parents: tell them you'll come over and make dinner for them.

Carolyn Hax: This is what having nothing to add looks like. Thanks.


Tohcy Feely ick!;: I think this person's "friend" is behaving inappropriately. If it were a guy touching a woman in a way that was uninvited and made her uncomfortable, would anyone hesitate to say she should call him on it? We all have a responsibility to respect boundaries and make sure that friendly physical contact is okay for the other person.

Carolyn Hax: Meaning, we as affection recipients have the responsibility to delineate those boundaries, and that includes saying when we feel uncomfortable. I don't think it's fair to call the friend inappropriate if she hasn't been told that she's making the touch-ee uncomfortable. A wee bit weird, maybe, but not inappropriate.


Washington, D.C.: Dear Carolyn:

I am married to a Democrat, who, unfortunately, lacks the realism and pragmatism to understand that, as distasteful as the results of Tuesday's elections may be, they aren't the end of the world and that all the threats of American culture ending as we know it that came from both sides during the campaigning process were exaggerations designed to scare addle-minded chicken littles into voting for their side. (i.e. no one's taking away your Hummer to feed welfare kids, and (as evidenced by Reagan's "Conservative" Supreme Court appointments) there aren't going to be any monumental shifts in basic personal freedom law that make it illegal for an adult woman to choose to terminate her pregnancy.)

So, how do I get my wife down off the roof and help her understand that this ISN'T the end of the world?

Carolyn Hax: Laura, it's okay, come down from the roof (and here, have a Tic-Tac).


Washington, D.C.: I'm dating a guy who constantly mentions his ex-girlfriends, whether they are relevant to our conversation or not. I told him to stop because I don't care what he bought Mindy or how Renee used to behave; he replied that it shouldn't bother me. Why is he doing this and should I even care?

Carolyn Hax: When you spend a lot of time with certain people, like a girlfriend past or present, or friend, or sibling, or co-worker, it's almost unnatural for them not to pop up in conversation. If it's only exes who pop up, though, then that's suspiciously like shoving them in your face. Why, who knows.

And if he's boring, do his motives even matter?


Re: Chicago, Ill.: He cheated and lied during the FIRST YEAR of their relationship??? Kick him to the curb, baby!

Carolyn Hax: I was about to agree with you, then it occurred to me that the newness of the relationship might lead to the kind of (possibly) plausible explanation I was talking about: He was dating more than one person when they met, he never copped to being non-exclusive and never felt he had to because the new woman never questioned things or said she wanted exclusivity, he wound up in two relationships, treated both as kind of noncommittal and light, and only when busted and faced with losing our fine question-poster did he realize he had not only behaved thoughtlessly, but also developed real feelings for her.

So maybe not everyone would excuse even that, but if all the facts lined up and the emotions made sense, I could see it.


Virginia: is it odd that when "For Freedom to be Impulsive" talked about the baby's gas I kinda got that "awww" feeling and smiled myself?

Carolyn Hax: No! That's why it was such a great post. Real, not Hallmark.


Burlington, Vt.: Carolyn,
Please give me some advice about how to deal with my mom. Whenever she calls me, all she does is complain. She barely inquires about my life. She usually goes on hour-long tangents about how my sister is a disappointment, how she's annoyed with her mother, etc. Often she puts me in the middle of marital squabbles she has with my dad and asks me to take sides. She then asks if she's been a good mother and says how great I've turned out -- all thanks to her!


She calls every Saturday morning and I am starting to want to simply avoid the phone, but I know I can't ignore her. How do I break this pattern and let her know she needs to get a life and also not take credit for me being normal?

Carolyn Hax: Come on, she gets SOME gredit. She is your mother.

And you're her enabler. But we'll get to that.

She probably won't stop complaining, but it's time to try. "So, Mom, what's good about your week so far?" Or, you could try defending your sister and grandmother, or changing the subject, or some combination of both.

What you need to do most, though, is stop granting her the weekly hour to complain. "Mom, I love my sister, let's move on to something else." Or, when she gets rolling, "Oop have to go, Ma, sorry." Or "Sorry, I won't take sides." Or whatever. You have this power. You just need to be willing to risk your status as Perfect Child and become the next part of her life she complains about. That's where you enable her, by currying her favor by indulging her rants.


Carolyn Hax: Must go now, I'm hungry. (I'll let you figure out whether my smile is real or just gas.) Thanks everybody and type to you next Friday.


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