Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 12, 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.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Perhaps a more frivilous question then you are used to, but one that I suspect you would resonate with a lot of people...

Do you tell a close friend when they get a really, really bad haircut? Is the friend thing to point it out? Or, keep your mouth shut? I'm talking really, really bad haircut. And, she seems to be oblivious.

I promise to do whatever you advise.

Carolyn Hax: Really? Say nothing. Neither the truth nor false compliments.


Re Flower giving: From previous chat. Talked to my guy. His words "only girls think it's cool to give guys flowers"

Carolyn Hax: This girl knows actual guys who have enjoyed getting flowers. Which is why this girl hates generalizations.

At least you know not to give your guy flowers.


Washington, D.C.: So my baby sis makes more money than me -- and its infuriating. Not because she doesn't deserve it, but because I've worked my butt off and am still getting paid peanuts. I hate being envious. Can you beat it outta me?

Carolyn Hax: Can't reach. But I will say, the people who make more money than you do are: standing behind you in the checkout line, sitting next to you on the Metro, waiting on you in (some) restaurants, selling you stuff, etc. How is your sister any different from the rest of them? Isn't it unfair/myopic to make her the object of your fury?

You've made a series of decisions in your life--what to study and how hard, where to work and how hard and on what, what to read, what to wear, whom to ask for guidance, so on. If you're angry about earning peanuts, direct your energy to those choices to see what you could do differently to earn more. Or, even better, to remind yourself that you made those choices in order to get compensated in ways that aren't monetary--flexible hours, sense of accomplishment, great purpose, great people, whatever--but that were important to you at the time and that may still make your career choice a sound one for you.


Tell me...: when I get a bad haircut!; I think by others' silence the friend would assume they are in agreement with her apparent feeling that it's a fine cut, thus, she might continue to get it shaped that way!; If she KNEW it was bad it might be best not to compound her annoyance, but the fact that she dosen't? Perhaps tactfully point out other cuts when looking at magazines, or coworkers, etc that you think would be "so flattering" on her. But good lord, do something!;

Carolyn Hax: But who says you're a better judge of a haircut than the person who's happy with the "bad" one? That's what stopped me. There are a few friends whose taste I'd trust, but not many.


Birthday land: Last week was my birthday, went out to dinner with my wife daughter and brother. After my wife and I went to rent a movie for later. I picked out three different things I wanted to watch; my wife's reply to all three was "if you rent those I will sit outside while you watch them." So, I chose not to rent them nor anything else (those were the three things I wanted to watch). Anyway, a week later and I'm still feeling really burned by the whole thing. I told her how I felt about it. She responded that I didn't do anything for her birthday. Actually I threw her a small birthday party, when I reminded her of it she accused me of trying to make her feel bad. I dunno, I figure people should defer to you on your birthday because its like your special day, am I expecting too much? Also, I am finding myself being jerkish since then and I don't like it, but like I said I'm still feeling really burned here.

Carolyn Hax: I agree with you on your birthday expectations, but this is bigger than a birthday--this is about spouses who both have their dukes up. What's going on that has you guys keeping score against each other? What's your wife so angry about? Worth a gentle, defenses-down inquiry.


Portland CPA: Please tell Washington, D.C. that they should do taxes for a living -- you find out that nearly everybody makes more money than you do.

Carolyn Hax: And they aren't doing their taxes. Thanks.


Bethesda, Md.: What do you do when you get tired of being single? Do you lower your expectations? (i.e. as long as your core beliefs are in sync, you should deal) Or do you keep waiting for Mr/Ms. Right, fearing that age is catching up with you?

Carolyn Hax: Your homework assignment: Go talk to someone who got tired of being single and lowered his or her expectations. Fair warning, though--it's not pretty.

You are your best company until someone proves otherwise. If you're bored, find new things to do.


Birthday Tapes: But what were the three movies?

Carolyn Hax: ?


Crystal City, Va.: Hi Carolyn!;
Can you help me? I was asked to come up with a good baby shower game that involves men, as well as women. Any suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: "Well-stocked buffet and open bar" is my favorite.


Don't tell me, I already know.: If I have obviously gotten a haircut and I don't ask you about it (and you have nothing nice to say about it), I probably already know it doesn't work on me. When I was in college, I cut my shoulder length hair really short. I looked like a chubby boy and, since there was nothing to do, I just tried to wait it out. If someone would have come up to me and said that my haircut looked bad (or "gee this long hair style would look great on you"), I probably would have slugged them. And any all female jury would have acquitted me of the assault charges.

Carolyn Hax: I didn't realize that was what I was thinking until I read it here. Thanks.


Washington, D.C.: Carlolyn, please help me defeat my inner be--atch. My sister will soon be announcing her divorce, which will be incredibly hard on her young children. Her (many) siblings widely agree that her husband suddenly grew a spine, but her line is "tragic me." The temptation to say, "Hunh, maybe you could have NOT had those affairs," is burning within me. I know that non-judgemental sympathy is called for but "oh man, that's got to be so hard" feels like I'm lying! -- Could you please give me a script?

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I believe non-judgmental sympathy is called for specifically under two circumsances: when the villain already feels regret for what happened, and when the audience isn't privy to enough of the story to judge who the villain really is. If you and your family really and truly don't fit either description, then I don't think an insincere script is the answer. The alternatives probably won't seem much more palatable--complete silence/avoidance, complete speaking of mind, complete non-committal drivel ("So, uh, I guess it's over then ...")--but they have to be better than "Poor you" when you don't feel at all sorry for her. Maybe say things that bypass her emotional state altogether, like, "What can I do to help [young children]?"


Stevensville, Md.: Superficial, and nothing like the serious questions you address: but, for those of us pushing the older end of your readership (those are married with kids), when do adults get over the petty B.S. that we dealt with in high school? My husband and I roll our eyes we when both spot the caller ID and know it is just a "gossip" call. Please. I thought in junior high things would get better. I thought in high school this couldn't last. I was convinced in college this was temporary. I thought when we all had kids that it would all stop. Am I way out of touch? Is this it? Am I unrealistic, or, have I just surrounded myself with people that will never grow up? By the way, five couples, kiddos are all friends.

Carolyn Hax: You have a five-couple group of friends? And your kids are all friends?

Do you realize how many adults who've struggled to form post-school peer friendships would kill for the privilege of screening that gossipy call?

Not to minimize your pain or anything.


Alexandria, Va.: If I'm a 31 year old virgin (by circumstance, not so much choice), do I have a moral obligation to tell the first girl that I sleep with that she's the first?

Carolyn Hax: Nah.


Rather not say, Va.: I'm a college student, and I've been with my girlfriend for a year (it's my first relationship). We've had ups and downs, but I've been really happy overall. Lately, though, things have started to bother me that never really did before.

For instance, my girlfriend and I are good at different things. I do well in academics, but she doesn't enjoy her classes. She struggles most of the time. I try to help her out by proofreading papers and quizzing her before tests, but lately she's been asking for some form of help several times a week. She gets stressed out about even short papers and can't seem to start them unless I give her some input. I started a new job this semester, and I'm taking all upper level courses (read: heavy workload, lots of stress, not enough time). When I talk to her about depending on me less and maybe checking out some campus resources that might help her with work, she gets defensive about her intelligence (she seems to think tutoring is an admission of stupidity) or just gets upset and says "Fine, I won't ask you about anything again." Honestly, I'm starting to get resentful about not being able to just hang out with her without school coming up and about the fact that she seems incapable of doing basic work on her own.

This will probably sound terrible, but I'm also starting to resent the fact that she gets so stressed out and complains about every little thing she has to do. I know everyone needs to vent, but everything "sucks" for her lately. She never seems to learn anything interesting or look forward to anything; she even complains about her extra-curricular activities. I don't think she actually likes doing anything anymore, and I'm wondering what happened to the positive (or at least humorously negative) person I used to know. When I ask what's wrong, she just says she's stressed and doesn't like what she's doing, but that it's "just how it is."

Up until a month ago, I was head over heels for this girl, and I still really love her. I want to make things work, but I can't stand how flat everything has become, and I can't wait forever for things to improve because I find myself resenting the situation more and more. Am I a bad person for wishing she was less dependent on me for help/happiness? Is it just her negativity that's making me so annoyed with things I never was annoyed with before, or is it a sign of something deeper? Can I save this relationship, or is the fact that I feel resentment right now pretty much a doomer?

Please don't print this.

Carolyn Hax: Salvage or doom depends on the outcome of the conversation you're about to have with her to explain that you feel exhausted and resentful of how negative she's become.

Lest you feel like a jerk for kicking her when she's down: The way they deal with stress is one of the most important things you can learn about the people you date. You're learning something about her, and you don't like it--that's not happy news, but it's useful nonetheless. Because you care about her, you should talk to her to give her a chance to see what you see; maybe she'll agree and do something about it. (Another benefit of dating, to learn how we ourselves deal with stress.) And if she reacts by snapping at you harder, the you have an answer you can leave on.


Moral obligation: Hi, I have to disagree with your "nah," not so much that it is a moral obligation, but I believe I'm paraphrasing you, Carolyn, when I say that if you're intimate enough with someone to sleep with them, shouldn't you be intimate enough emotionally to share that? I speak from experience -- I was an old virgin by circumstance and met the most wonderful man. The way he handled that revelation and his subsequent wonderfulness, in that area and others, made me glad that circumstances made him the first -- and only (engaged now). and to "tired of being single," wait, it's worth it!

Carolyn Hax: Oh fine, throw me back in my face.

I'm sticking to the moral-obligation thing, but will qualify from there: If he's in a relationship with this person, he should set aside his awkwardness for the greater cause of intimacy and tell the truth. If he isn't, he should feel free to keep it to himself.



Maryland: Hi, Carolyn

I hope you or the peanuts can give me some guidance here. I have a 14-year-old sister who is 18 years younger than I am. We have a unique relationship and are very (unusually) close. My dad just told me last night that she has confided in him that she thinks she has anorexia (there were a few warning signs this summer, so this wasn't a total shock).

For the last three weeks she has not been eating much at all, and I think she finally scared herself enough to talk to our dad (she is much closer to our dad than to her mom -- her mom is great, it's just a personality thing).

They are doing the right things -- listening to her, not judging, not nagging, getting her into counseling. So, other than loving her like crazy (duh), not nagging her to eat, praying and praying and praying -- what can I do? We are unusually close, she trusts me and listens to me. I have a bit of a unique position as an adult who is not a parent (or even an authority figure for the most part). She lives far away, but I will see her at Thanksgiving.

Ideas? Resources? Advice? I'm just sick with worry.

Carolyn Hax: The greatest reassurance I can provide comes from her--she's the one who did something about it. That's a big deal with any problem, but with an eating disorder, it's huge.

Two good resources are and (two different but related sites). Prepare using these, but also trust your instincts. They sound good.


Alexandria, Va.: Hi Carolyn--

Why is it that everybody in the frickin world expects me to want to have a baby just because I'm over thirty and getting married soon? I mean, really -- in this kind of a world, why is the assumption always "She must be in denial."

Carolyn Hax: I don't know. It's just one of those mysteries. Or, people are bored with their own lives so they're choosing to live yours.


College Student's Girlfriend: Maybe she's depressed?

Carolyn Hax: Could be--and thank you for pointing it out--but if true, it still doesn't explain away stuff like, "she just gets upset and says 'Fine, I won't ask you about anything again.'" There is at minimum some serious immaturity in the mix, and so if he decides he's not keen on subjecting himself to that any further, he shouldn't feel guilty about it.


McLean, Va.: Is it right for my girlfriend to take a vacation without me? We haven't seen each other in eight weeks and she is taking a girlfriend of hers. We have been together for 18 months and have never gone out the D.C./Maryland/Virginia area together

Carolyn Hax: Um, big hole in the story there ... why haven't you seen her for eight weeks?

I'll answer assuming you're just long-distance or have been traveling: Maybe she needs some friend time. Instead of forcing her to defend her choice, try just telling her you miss her and you're hurt she's not going with you. See where the conversation goes.


Okay to keep past scars a secret?: Hi, Carolyn: My boyfriend of nearly two years has a 3-inch scar across his neck, which, frankly, based on the position and size of the scar, looks like someone at some time tried to slit his throat. I asked him about it not long after we first started dating, and he evaded the question, making it clear he didn't want to talk about it. I don't think about it often, but I sometimes catch a glimpse of it and wonder what the story is behind such a big scar. He's told me about some rough patches in his past, back in his "bad boy" days, but over the last several years he has become a different, more spiritual and pacifist person (who meditates, is vegetarian, loves all the earth's people, etc.).

So my question is -- can I ask him about that scar again, or would it be rude since I know that, say, a year and a half ago he didn't want to talk about it? If so, how should I go about asking him? I think that no matter how close a couple is, each person has a right to maintain privacy to a certain extent, but every time I see that scar, I can't help but be reminded that there's something he is keeping from me.

Carolyn Hax: "Would you mind if I asked again how you got that scar? Whenever I notice it, I can't help but be reminded that there's something you're keeping from me." What the hell--you made your case well. Plus, I don't think it's rude, not given the length of time you've been going out.


Thanksgiving: I am about to upset my husband's family because I don't want to cook Thanksgiving dinner this year. For the past three years, I have pretty much done all the work for this holiday. I live in a good meeting point for folks who have to travel, so I was willing to accomadate them in the past. I also invited my family over because they live nearby. My mother and brothers always helped, by cooking, cleaning, etc. My husband's relatives just arrive, eat, make a mess, and leave. We usually host about 6 of them every year. This year, my mother suggested I take a break and we go to my brother's place because he and his wife want to host. I love the idea. But how do I break it to my in-laws who expect to come here?

Carolyn Hax: You just do. Your brother wants to host; there's nothing scandalous or face-slappish about that. I mean, even if the in-laws were great guests, you'd still want to accommodate other would-be hosts occasionally, right?

But you need to break it to them soon so they can make other plans. The later you spring it on them, the more of a slap it becomes.


Maryland: ...and maybe the friend asked your girlfriend to go. And maybe your girlfriend isn't chained to you. And maybe, gasp, she'll allowed to have a life which doesn't include doing all vacations with you.

Sorry -- that one hit a nerve.

Carolyn Hax: No apologies necessary.


Hurting and impatient: Just had a miscarriage, incredibly hurt, disappointed, impatient for the next month or 2 to go by so I can try again. Any advice on how to LIVE my life in the meantime, not just wait for the time to pass?

Oh and do I have to go to a baby shower in a few weeks?

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry, that's awful.

Before you flog yourself for "just waiting for the time to pass," try to remember that this -just- happened. You're going to feel incredibly hurt, disappointed and impatient for a while. You're grieving. It's natural and you're entitled.

As the days pass and you start to get used to the feelings, you'll feel less overwhelmed by them. Slowly you'll have room for other emotions, and it'll start to feel like you're living again. You probably won't even notice the transition. And, you might even want to go to the shower. Odds are excellent that every baby shower has someone in attendance who has been through what you're going through now. No pressure, just another way to look at it. Hang in there.


Vacations: Yes, of course it's okay for her to go on vacations without you! And if you want her to go on a vacation with you, then the two of you should plan one together. That was easy, ask me another.

Carolyn Hax: What's the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?


Re: Okay to keep past scars a secret?: FWIW, I used to work with a lady who had some sort of growth (benign tumor?) that was around the throat area, and when they removed it, it left a HUGE scar that looked like someone had slit her throat (I guess they had, really.)

While that's nothing to be ashamed about, bringing it up to her at the time sort of reinforced the fact that it was still noticable. She went through a long period of turtlenecks before she eventually just became more comfortable about it.

Carolyn Hax: Which is why you pretty much have to go out with a person regularly enough to call it "seeing each other" to be in a position to ask someone something like that. Or, you just have to be really gifted socially--some people can get away with being blunt, they just have the knack. (And if you have to think about it, you probably don't.)


Kentucky: Saw in the Sunday paper my ex-boyfriend's engagement announcement. He dumped me about a year ago, quite suddenly and with very little explanation. It was a shock because we had discussed marriage, etc. How do I get over the blah feeling it is giving me, and the bad feelings I have towards the smiling faces in the picture?

Carolyn Hax: Had you gotten married, the blah feeling would be in your home and indefinite and reversible only by legal action. Probably won't help you much immediately, but maybe in a few more days.


Hmm: Would that be an African or a European Swallow?



Meeting the parents: Carolyn,

Since when did it become no big deal to take a girl home to meet your parents? In my last serious relationship I found out after the fact that when I met his parents for the first time, it was just because he wanted me to come with him on a vacation and we just happened to be passing through. So I asked my new boyfriend about what it means to him because he is taking me home for the first time next weekend he said it means something "between nothing and serious." What the heck does that mean?

Carolyn Hax: It means you need to stop reading things into meeting his parents.


Not to be Petty: But just remember it's okay for YOU to take a vacation without HER as well.

Carolyn Hax: But what if I want to be petty?


Missouri: Downward Spiral and dont know how to get out. Great boyfriend, nice house but I am so unbelievably unfulfilled in my career. I am truly unhappy and cant seem to figure out what to do to get something better. I am bright, have tons of interests but I keep wasting away doing something i hate. Then I blame myself and basically think "well I guess i really am a loser". What is wrong with me? How can I begin to affect some positive change?

Carolyn Hax: Was it last week someone asked about the value of career coaches? Sounds like an idea here. Or the alternative I suggested to that person, your college career office.

Or you could breathe into a brown paper bag. I think the bigger issue is that you're being stupendously hard on yourself. If hating one's career and not knowing what career would be better makes a person a loser, then you're in excellent company with roughly the bulk of humankind. Very few people find the right path on the first try, or even the first several tries. I mean really. Stop freaking out that you're somehow damaged, and use all that spare energy to start taking even the babiest steps toward doing something, even if it's just to ask people whether they like their fields and how it was that they came to choose them. I think you'll find a lot of happy accidents following unhappy starts.


California: My husband and I have been married for a year. We both have close friends, but my friends are mostly single women and his friends are mostly single men, and we have very few friends together (although I like his friends and vice versa). Short of setting up our friends (which I will not do) do you have suggestions for how we can develop friends as a couple?

Carolyn Hax: Why can't you befriend each other's friends? I don't understand.

I also think you can invite a bunch of single friends over without its being a setup.

AND ... since I've so far managed not to answer your actual question ... I think circulating among the people you both already know and like is one way to run across other people you might also like and eventually befriend. (But if only couples need apply, be careful. That's a quick way to devalue single people, which is a quick way to lose the friends you already have.)


Miffed and resentful: Why do you print stupid, senseless stuff like this:
" Hmm: Would that be an African or a European Swallow?


Instead of the perfectly sensible, rather important questions that I have sent in the past? I think that there is something seriously wrong with your filtering system. These posts are not funny and irk people who's questions go unanswered for weeks.

Carolyn Hax: You got miffed and resentful over a post that took less than 5 seconds of my chat time to produce. Please take this as a possible answer to whatever problem you've been sending.


RE: College Student's Girlfriend: To the student with the girlfriend who's negative about everything: don't make the mistake of thinking that you can "save" her from her negativity. It's up to her -- and if her constant negativity is bringing you down, you have to consider if sacrificing yourself is worth it -- it probably won't make her happy anyway. I'm speaking as a husband of a woman who's never happy -- it's not a good place to be.

Carolyn Hax: It can't be. I'm sorry. Thanks for weighing in.


Carolyn Hax: Oh look at the time. Thanks everybody, have a good weekend and type to you, what say ... Friday? (How many Fridays has it been, seriously?)


© 2004 The Washington Post Company