Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 19, 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.


Amherst, Mass.: Hi Carolyn,
What are your thoughts on friends who use "life has been crazy lately!" as an excuse for not keeping in touch?

I always try my best to keep in touch with people, even though I am as busy as the next person. This excuse feels incredibly phony and condescending to me -- basically a nice way of saying "my time is more valuable than yours" -- though I'm not sure if I am overreacting. Is this excuse just a polite brush-off?

Carolyn Hax: It will be if you keep being so hard on people. In the meantime, it might actually be that they're genuinely overwhelmed and not thinking much about social connections. What do you have to lose by rolling with it?


Washington, D.C. -- Please for today's discussion!: Hey Carolyn,

What to do to stop idealizing an ex-something? I was in this pseudo-relationship for some months, it ended abruptly when I recognized that he did not want to have a relationship and I did. The thing is, I really, really liked him, nothing was wrong with him, except he did not want to have me as his girl friend. Even when I have not contacted him in two months, I feel the strong urge to do so, and see what is he doing, and hear from him…or maybe I am just fooling myself... what do I do??? Do I contact him? And if I don't, how do I do to stop thinking about this dude?

Carolyn Hax: But but--the one thing wrong with him is such a huge thing. Of all the traits your companion might have, I can't imagine any that's more rewarding to be around than a desire to be with you. Maybe fix on that as your ideal?


Washington, DC: Hi Carolyn,

I'm very close to my mom who lives a few states away. She has a habit, though, that drives me crazy. Whenever I have a work-related trip that takes me out of Washington, she is already planning a vacation... in my hotel room. I've had to talk her out of coming to San Diego, Boston and Las Vegas with me. How embarrassing for a 27-year-old professional to have her mom tagging along to a conference.

The pattern continues: I booked a ski trip with 15 friends in Vermont for New Years. She called me yesterday and asked if it was okay if she, my brother and dad also booked a condo at the same resort. I said it wasn't okay and now she is hurt. At the same time, I don't want to feel like every time I go out of town I have to ask her if she wants to go. How can I draw a line in the sand without hurting her feelings all the time?

Carolyn Hax: You can't. Given that her expectations are completely unreasonable--you said it yourself, you're a 27-year-old professional who has her mom tagging along to a conference--she is the one responsible for her own hurt feelings.

Your job is to set limits and stick to them. You have been saying no to her, which is the right thing to do when you don't want her to join you, but I think you need to give her the bigger picture, that by inviting herself to things she's she's putting you in an awkward spot,forcing you to say no to her. Say all the other stuff, too--that you love her and enjoy her company and whatever else applies, but that you need and want to do some things on your own. Say that when you want her to join you you'll invite her. Once you've gotten that established, then you can say, when she invites herself again, just, "Mom, please." I also think it would be cool if you did invite her to things once a year or so.


"Life has been crazy...": But is being offended wrong, when you used to do everything together and just recently, after a hurtful breakup, when you really need your friend, "life has been really crazy" for her?

Carolyn Hax: Not necessarily, but I think you need to be specific: "I've really needed you lately, and it hurts to be brushed off by 'life has been really crazy.'" Then see where her answer takes you from there. Could be she's dissing you, could be she legitimately has things going on in her life that are bigger than your breakup.


Crazy Life: See, I decided years ago that real friends are the ones who know that I take on too much and end up overwhelmed -- and like me anyway. Anyone who held it against me that in the last month I've worked 20-hour days, travelled thousands of miles, struggled to keep up with schoolwork, dealt with a root canal, tried to spend some time with my poor lonely husband, and found zero time for even a fast call or e-mail... would not be a friend.

I did finally dig out from my hole enough last night to call my best friend, who first said "You're alive!" and then said "Let's get dim sum." That I knew she wouldn't go all guilt-trip on me is why I did call her as soon as I found time.

As in so many things, the worth of a friendship should be judged by the quality of the relationship, not the quantity.

Carolyn Hax: Well-put, thanks.

20 hour days? Can't imagine what your productivity was like in hours 18 and 19.


For the 27-year-old professional: Why do you have to tell her every time you're out of town?

Carolyn Hax: They're very close. I don't think it's abnormal, even for people who talk to their parents once every week or two, to say, "I'll be in Boise next Thursday." And 'twould be a shame if she were to deal with the problem by cutting off the information supply line to mommy. That's more of a last resort, I think.


Moms and Conferences: As a 28-year old professional female who recently took my dad along to a conference at an exotic location, I can honestly say that the bonding experience was well worth any embarassment. Actually, everyone loved my dad.

I can see not wanting to bring someone along everytime, but every once in a while it sure is nice to not have to eat breakfast or dinner alone on a work-related trip. In fact, I am trying to convince my mom to come on my next overseas business trip with me.

Carolyn Hax: I agree, both with the occasional parental ride-along and with the "occasional." Thanks. Oh, and, fwiw, I don't think it's embarrassing at all to have a parent along--just to have a parent along Every Time.


Kirkwood, Mo.: Dear Carolyn:

For the first time in my life I'm truly in love with a woman of my dreams. We feel the same way about each other and are throughly enjoying each moment we spend together. However, there is one item that keeps cropping up: at rather inopportune times she brings up sexual acts from her past.

I've told her that it is uncomfortable for me to hear of her escapades and have asked her not to talk about her past. She still periodically brings it up. At times she can be rather graphic. I'm lost as to why she keeps doing this when she knows it bothers me. We have an incredibly active sex life and we have both commented that it's the most fulfilling sex either of us have ever had. I'm just baffled. What does she get out of stating graphic specifics about her past?

Carolyn Hax: Idunno. Is she equally blunt/graphic/comfortable with herself/tone-deaf on other topics? Could be this is just the way she is, and you're noticing it only when it triggers this one sensitivity of yours.

If it is an inconsistency, though, could be an insecurity thing--like she's putting you in your place.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

You are competing today against chats on wine pairings for Turkey day and fashion accessories. Which prompts this peanut to ask, when will we do reindeer poop and fluff?

Carolyn Hax: Good question. 12.10 work for everyone? And more important, which fashion accessories should I pair with turkey?


Re: Moms and Conferences: Yeah, but bringing a parent to a conference is only a workable solution if a parent is content to entertain his or herself during the time the daughter or son has to work. In the case of the original mom in question, I'm not so sure that would happen.

Carolyn Hax: If you think about it, most solutions become workable if one is willing to entertain oneself, and most become unworkable if one isn't.


Life is Crazy -- Last Add: Don't sell short the polite brush-off. It beats the alternative.

Carolyn Hax: True, but it can be hard to tell sometimes if it's the truth or a brush-off. For e.g., I offer my life--crazy like you only read about. Friends don't hear from me much. But I miss them, and hope they let me know when they really need me, and otherwise don't punish me when crazy ends and I come back to the fold. So, anyone who takes my "crazy" as a polite brush-off will be misreading my intent.

I guess the only answer is context. If your friend's life is crazy, it's an explanation. If it's one excuse after another, it's a hint.


Haircuts = girlfriends: OK, I'm a man so this anology may not work too well, but I would like an honest opinion from my friends about everything. Whether it's a bad haircut (from last week's discussion) or a girlfriend who's just in it was what she can get.

After my last girlfriend and I broke up all my friends said, "I always knew she was an opportunistic user." Some even knew from previous experience with this woman. When I asked why they didn't tell me, they said they didn't want to lose my friendship.

Let me state this loud and clear for all your readers to hear, "A FRIEND CANNOT LOSE MY FRIENDSHIP BY TELLING ME THEIR TRUTH!" I can choose to ignore you if I like, but a bad truth is better than a good lie or a lie by omission any day and you will just be a better friend to me!

Thanks I feel better now. Still could use a new girlfriend though.

Carolyn Hax: Maybe it's your haircut.


Richmond, Va.: My closest friend from college is smitten with a player. But he's an honest player! He's admitted that he's sleeping with not just her, but five other women! Oy vay, what to say? I've said nothing so far except, "I hope, hope, hope you're using protection."

Carolyn Hax: What else is there to say? Her life.


Carolyn Hax: I'm still here--just stuck in the neverending answer. Sorry.

To hold you in the meantime, best suggested turkey accessory: leg warmers. Discuss.


State of Bliss?: I'm in grad school and work full time, my boyfriend and I moved in together in July with the intention of getting married when I finish school (in a year or so). Both of us are perfectionists which means that he ends up doing 90 percent of the housework rather than waiting for me to do it (which makes me feel less valued and even less inclined to help since I know it'll get done anyway), and spends many nights alone while I'm in class, or doing school work. The resentment is building for both of us and I'm at a loss for breaking the cycle of him doing everything and me doing less while my grades are also slipping because I feel guilty doing work while he wants to see me. I'm also chronically sleep-deprived and starting to suffer from SAD. Please help!

Many thanks (and Happy Thanksgiving, too!)

Carolyn Hax: Sounds like both of you need two things: 1. to set up a schedule and 2. to break the martyrdom cycle.

2, cont'd: You love people for who they are, not for the quantity of laundry they do, right? So accept that people love you for who you are, and not for the quantity of laundry you do. Now, your love is on a merit system--which means whenever either of you feels insecure, your impulse is to be Wonderful, whether by gathering degrees or working extra or cleaning the house daily or whatever. What you end up doing (unwittingly, I'm sure) is racking up martyr points to show how great and lovable you are, and the minute things get tense you trot out all your points. It's like resentment in a can.

Relax. Parcel out the responsibilities fairly. Neither over- nor under-work at home.

Carolyn Hax: Oh, and get some sleep. And ask the BF to suggest a way that he can get the attention he craves from you without putting you in a corner with your schoolwork. Giving him some control/say in the matter will likely make him less inclined to be emotionally/Cloroxily controlling.


Re:Friends: I have an opposite problem. My bestest friend in the whole world (next to my husband) is just way too social. She's in a committed relationship and she and the s/o invite my husband and me over to their house literally 3-4 times a week -- sometimes more. I'm one of those crazy lifers but because she lives so close to me, I do make an effort to hang out about once a week. Thing is, I think this is a lot of time to hang w/my friend but she makes me feel terribly guilty every time I say no. She says "you always say no when I ask you over". Which is almost true but I'm saying no to three times a week and yes to one a week so I feel like she's being totally unfair. Explained it all to her over and over again and she always says she understands but keeps doing it. It's exhausting!

Carolyn Hax: Then ignore the pouting. Or, take it on:

She: "you always say no when I ask you over."

You: "no, only 3 of the 4 times you invite me."

You can get away with saying all kinds of things if you do it cheerfully.


Leg warmer clarification: Those paper thingies for the turkey or Flashdance-esque fashion item?

Both just get in the way, I think.

Carolyn Hax: I was thinking lavender acrylic.


Carolyn Hax: .2 real answer to a real problem gave its life for that post.


Crazy life, but ...: Would your answer change if you get that excuse from someone you recently slept with? I recently visited with an old friend with whom there has always been sparks. We acted on them, had a great time, then and for the rest of the weekend, and yet, after one short e-mail that "things are crazy at work"... nothing. I'm not expecting much, but a simple phone call might be nice.

Carolyn Hax: True. This is another vote for context. I think you also have to find some serious willpower and not lose your mind waiting to hear from this person--meaning, if you're going to place a what-the-eff phone call after a week or so (this is an old friend, right?), then keep your mind open to the possibility that there's some explanation you didn't consider. Don't just go into it swinging.


Sharing the Past: I have also found the love of my life. Like the other poster, the sex we have together is the best either of us has ever experienced.
That said, we both talk about our past. We're both secure enough with ourselves and our relationship to be able to talk about past partners. Maybe you should question WHY hearing about her past bothers you so much if you are both so happy. Her past has brought her to you.
You should embrace it and be grateful for it.

Carolyn Hax: I agree, but with a *

* Past as in this-is-who-I-was-which-explains-who-I-am-now, yes. Past as in this-is-a-graphic-description-of-what-we-did-when-we-got-naked, please no.



When Harry-met-Sally, Va.: Happy Friday/Boozing, Hax!

Boy meets girl, they get along great and become fairly good friends. Girl already has a boyfriend, but the boy is single and starts to like the girl to a point where he would like to date her. Even though girl flirts a lot, she doesn't seem to like the boy in the way the boy likes her, it seems that she only enjoys the "extra" attention the boy provides. If boy has a chat about "his feelings" with the girl, the friendship will probably end, so would it be better for the boy to just walk (and stay) away if he cannot change his current feelings? He'll end up getting hurt anyways. What do you say, Hax?

Carolyn Hax: If you're effectively going to end the friendship either way, you might as well say something first. I mean, who knows.

And let's set the record straight--I never drink till the last half-hour.


Friend in bad relationship: I have a friend (male) in what I'd call an abusive relationship, or at least one filled with emotional manipulation, stalking, not much trust, and cheating. Thing is he's always talking about what a great relationship it is. But most of the time when he talks about her, it is to complain about some major things -- like how she cheated on him. This girl really puts him through the ringer but what gets me is that he allows it by sticking around. He says he loves her and will never be able to get over her. I'm at my wit's end and it's really coming between us.

Before he met this girl, things were fine. I have given up on telling him what I think about it, but whenever he talks about her and complains (which is everytime we speak) I wanna tell him to complain to someone else. If I say that he'll really flip out at me. I don't want to let something ruin our friendship but what do you do when all you can do is stand by and watch someone make such a dumb mistake?

Carolyn Hax: Things were NOT fine before he met this girl--even if it's just that he has a damaged idea of what a good relationship entails. The fact that he'll "flip out" if you're honest with him also says things aren't fine.

Anyway. You should feel free to say to him that you feel he's in an abusive relationship, and that he needs to understand that you can't just tell him what he wants to hear when he complains. If he flips, he flips.

If you want to keep the friendship (he could probably use the support), maybe you can ask if he really wants your opinion, knowing how you feel--or if he's complaining just to vent. If it's the latter, maybe you can agree that you'll indulge him as long as you can before you lose your mind, and he'll agree not to get angry when you lose your mind.


La vita loca: Maybe some of us just aren't phone people. I don't mind catching up with a friend every so often, but people who have expectations that you call them several times a week drive me nuts. Perhaps those on the receiving end of this excuse should look at their behavior, too.

Carolyn Hax: Ooh, thanks for mentioning the phone thing.

--Also Not a Phone Person


Discussing the past: Is this perhaps a way for her to indicate some particular activity she would enjoy with love of life? As in "I remember this wild night where we did it on the car hood... gee, public sex sure is fun dot dot dot?"

Carolyn Hax: Possibly, but given that he has asked her not to reminisce so graphically, I imagine "Let's do it on the car hood" would go over better. Except with the neighbors.


Anywhere, USA: I had to respond to the first question. I have a friend who I am sure would say the same thing to me. Bottom line is, I am not interested in the friendship, so I don't respond to her correspondence. I know of no kind way to end this friendship because I think she's boring and you just can't say so. Sure, I feel guilty and I wish I could say "I don't want to be your friend anymore because you stole money from me", but unfortunately, it's a personality thing and I can't fault her for that. So, maybe that's the writer's problem. It's a personality thing. If her "friends" were interested, they'd call. Brutal, yes, but them's the facts.

Carolyn Hax: And if this person had any sensitivity to social cues, she probably wouldn't be boring. Catch-22. (And so hard to get rid of once caught.)


For friend with friend in bad relationship: When he complains, ask him what he's doing to fix/solve/etc. the problem.

"She cheats on me."

"I see this bothers you. What are you going to do about it?"

And so on. Sounds like he's handed his destiny over to someone who shouldn't have it, and if he's challenged on what he's doing, maybe he'll eventually grow a spine and do something.

Like quit complaining to his challenging friend. Maybe he'll even start to think.

Carolyn Hax: An optimist! I thought they were extinct.

Good suggestion, thanks.


Washington, D.C.: Just wanted to point out that "La Vita Loca" effectively means "that crazy resume," like one the prospective employer would look at and say, "not a snowball's chance."

Carolyn Hax: Unless I needed a new assitant.


Colchester, U.K.: Once my grandfather wanted to come to a presentation I was giving at an academic conference, and I foolishly gave him the time and place. He sat and nodded through my talk although I'm sure he's too deaf to hear it. When I sat down, he came up and said in what he thought was a discreet voice, "You were so much better than those other idiots!" It must have been audible to half the room.

There are good reasons to keep relatives and professional life separate.

Carolyn Hax: Possibly, but you just gave us a reason to put them together.


Re: Haircuts = Girlfriends: Hi Carolyn,

I just joined your discussion and would like to comment on Haircuts = Girlfriends comment. That may be true for you that you would prefer the truth (or your just fooling yourself) but my experience says otherwise. My family used to be very close. I looked at my brother as my best friend and we hung out together frequently. We also both had a tight relationship with my parents, now I am the only one tight with my parents. My brother married a beeyotch who has done everything in her power to break up our family. We warned him of this prior to marriage, and after marriage she was even more manipulative. So we have given him example after example. She even cussed at my parents and had a temper tantrum of throwing chairs and now my family is in shambles. I no longer talk to him, he only calls my parents when she is not at home, because otherwise it causes fights. So not everyone wants to hear or even see the truth. People want to live in their bliss until they see the problem for themselves.

Carolyn Hax: Awful story, especially because I've heard so many versions of it over the years. I'm sorry.

But people's refusal to hear is not, I don't think, a good reason not to speak. Had you all not warned your brother, the outcome would be just as bad--and you'd all be kicking yourselves for not trying to warn him. You have to try. And then of course you have to back off.

This not-hearing thing goes back to the question about the guy friend with the abusive GF. The same thing in your brother that makes the beeyotch attractive to him is what makes it impossible for him to hear you. He has a different reality viewed through different eyes. It's frustrating and sad and family-rending, but it happens.


Friends in Bad Relationships: What do you do if you've known the friend for years and she always picks the wrong guys and talks about nothing but the relationship (and you don't see her as often when she's in one). To the point where you talk about dating a guy who did nothing but talk about himself, and she says that sucks and then brings the convo back to her!;!; I'm at the point where I'd rather spend time with people who actually have lives and are good listeners and know they aren't the only ones with problems.

Carolyn Hax: Screen her calls for about a month, then tell her life has been crazy.


Carolyn Hax: Reading questions, be with you momentarily (hit a patch of long ones) ...


Singlehood: In the last five years, when it came to my love life, all I have dealt with was immature men, married men who tried to behave as though they were not married, and men who for all intents and purposes were unavailable (emotional, physical, etc.)

In fact, in the last few months I have not seen any men in a romantic nature. So recently, I have gone out on a few dates with men who unfortunately fit in the same above categories.

I don't want to deal with this. I like my life without the stress of their issues and lack of accountability, emotional maturity and responsibilty. I find it so much easier to not date. I find no need to get married (though my mother and friends would argue otherwise). In fact, I cannot picture a permanent man in my life. And for the record, I come from parents with a great marriage.

The only thing I miss is the sex -- but other than that -- is it wrong to feel satisfied with my life without a man?

Carolyn Hax: No. Either you're right with yourself, which is something you should never have to apologize for or defend--or you're not right with yourself, and you shouldn't attempt to be in a relationship until you are.


Denver, Colo.: Sad story about the brother and his beyotch, but marrying a chair-thrower doesn't mean he needs his family LESS. I'm the one in my family who married the chair-thrower, so to speak, and yeah you warned him and yeah it was dumb and yeah you were right but he needs you now more than ever and he needs to know that you'll be with him through the likely future divorce! So drop it that he made a mistake and talk to him, also when the beyotch isn't home. He needs his family -- look at his wife!

Carolyn Hax: Excellent point, thanks. Though, unfortunately, sometimes the marrying-badly drama incidentally exposes differences between the fam and the one who split off to marry badly, making it harder to fix than just by calling more.


Vita Loca: "La Vita Loca" does not mean resume, sorry!; Vita means life. I guess the post-er is deriving this from "Curriculum Vitae" which means Summary of, or Course in, My Life. So a c.v. is a life summary. But Vida Loca is NOT a crazy resume.

Carolyn Hax: Wasn't that just a snark about someone's mispelling "vida"?

I suppose I should check the transcript.


Re: Friends in Bad Relationships: It is important to say something, but also be careful and be sure that you are saying it for unselfish reasons. I had a friend who hated my now-husband and would tell me every chance she got. There was finally a big blow out for a number of reasons and we don't talk anymore. In retrospect, I think she was lonely and rather than saying that and asking for me to be more available, she ripped on him.

Carolyn Hax: Also be sure you have good reasons. Ugly, boring, awkward, etc. don't count--speak up only when a mate is bad for someone, and you have facts to back it up. (The unhappiness of the friend/sibling you're trying to warn being one of the most important facts.)


Boston, Mass.: Online only.

Going home Thursday morning, coming back Saturday evening. Parents in a huff because I'm not spending four days with them. They say I might as well not come at all. Too much drama. They expect my presence to alleviate their marital problems. I called their bluff: would love to come, but if they don't want me to, I won't.

They're being silly and unreasonable. I'm sane.


Sheesh, the holidays stress me out.

Carolyn Hax: Here's how it works. You satisfy your conscience by making your best offer, given your limits (time, money, other responsibilities, sanity demands, etc), and it's up to them either to embrace your offer or get huffy.

Traveling Wednesday or Sunday, by the way, is insane.


Curiculuam Vitae Loca: How did this even start?

Carolyn Hax: I ton'd know, bud I regred id indensely.


I'm the chair thrower: Who can't deal with his overbearing parents or creepy little sister. I love him but when they pushed me to the limits of my sanity, i stood up from the dinner table, said "i'm getting the F outta here", pushed my chair too hard and it fell over. Now I'm a beyotch who cussed at the mom and threw a chair. sheesh.

Carolyn Hax: No, you're the daughter-in-law who hates her husband's family, said she was getting the F outta here and got up so roughly she knocked over a chair. If they're that horrible--factually, not just because you don't like them--then you need to work with your husband to find a way to deal with the problem. And if that way involves your being at a table with them occasionally, then you need to suck it up and behave civilly, even when you choose to leave the room in protest.


Vita v. Vida: "Vida" is Spanish, "Vita" is Italian. Both mean life. ("Loca" is Spanish, so "Vida" would be correct unless you're speaking Spantalian or something.)

But when making jokes, anything goes. Carp Diem = "seize the fish" is much funnier than "fish the day" which would be more correct, except that carp isn't even latin for fish.

Whatever. Poop. Er, Reindeer Poop.

Carolyn Hax: I thought it was "Carpe Carp" and Italish. Shows you what I know.

I need to go carpe lunch. Thanks everybody, type to you the Friday after next, and for the love of paper turkey boots, do NOT beat any unpleasant relatives over the head with the drumstick. That leaves you with an impossible act to follow next year.

Hookay bye.


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