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: Washingtonpost.com 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.
Cubicleland, Washingto, D.C.:
Re: today's column in which woman's boyfriend thinks she's cheating. I'm sure you'll hear from many people that this is a classic sign of cheating -- on HIS part. His own betrayal makes him think, if I could do it, so could she! Doesn't really change anything and I think your advice was right on, but just something for her to think about. (If she wants to drive herself more crazy than he's already driving her!)
Carolyn Hax: Hi, and thanks, I have gotten a lot of comments about this guy. I agree with you that cheaters tend to think everyone cheats, or, even broader, liars think everyone lies. But there are enough other possible explanations--say, he was always insecure about this but is only now giving in to it, or he heard a rumor or misunderstood something he witnessed himself, or even that he's got a mental illness that is only now manifesting itself (late teens/twenties are when a lot of these things come out)--that I thought speculating on reasons would distract from the point. Your theory is among the more likely possibilities, certainly.
Newlywed Etiquette Question:
Am I being a jerk if I don't want to go with my husband to visit a friend that's flying into a town about seven hours away from us? (The friend is from the other side of the country.)
Said friend is an a--hat and I have better uses for my vacation days.
Carolyn Hax: Either you and your husband compromise by making part of the seven-hour trip into a mini-vacation for the two of you, or your husband should let you stay home guilt-free.
Hey, who is this Ask Amy person and what happened to Dear Abby?
Carolyn Hax: The Chicago Tribune hired Amy Dickinson to write its daily advice column after Ann Landers died. Readers haven't been happy with Dear Abby lately, so The Post has replaced it with Ask Amy. I'm sure The Post would like to hear what you think about the switch.
Fun or Dangerous?:
I've submitted this a few times, and I'm not trying to be a pest, but I really don't know what to do. My question is, how do you know you have a drinking problem if no one else seems to think you do? I mean, I've always read that the way you know you have a drinking problem is if your drinking is causing you problems, ie. you're missing work, or your loved ones hate you and call you a drunk. But I am holding down a pretty high-pressure job just fine, I don't miss work because of hangovers, and no one is telling me they're worried about me. I drink pretty much every day, and it's not really an option to only drink one; if I have a beer, I'm going to have at least three, and it's likely I'll have as many as eight. I have had up to 6 beers and still felt sober enough to drive. I've never had a DUI, never had anything bad happen, and I don't drink alone (but I have no problem being the only one drinking in a group -- is that the same thing?). But I feel like I'm out of control. Everyone else in my life thinks I'm fun and have a wicked tolerance, that's it. The most anyone will say, when prodded, is, "sure, you could probably stand to slow down a bit." Without someone else telling me that I have a problem, I feel like it's a little premature to be jumping on the oh-my-god-I'm-an-alcoholic bandwagon. I don't want to stop drinking for the rest of my life, and I don't really think I'm an alcoholic. I'd like to slow down, but I can't do it alone. I'm in my 30s, if that makes a difference. It's not like I'm a 20-year-old college kid. I've been drinking for over 15 years at this point. So is there anything out there for folks like me who don't want to go to AA and never drink again, but think they're headed down a dangerous path, even if no one else seems to think so?
Carolyn Hax: If you feel out of control, then you have a problem, and you don't need anyone to confirm this for you. There are AA alternatives out there--Rational Recovery is one I've heard about, though I don't know enough to recommend it myself--and there's also the plain-ol' counseling option. It may be on the expensive side, depending on your choice of therapist and your insurance, but it's an appealing alternative for those with specialized concerns, for those not into the group scene, or for those who'd rather not follow a specific program.
An example of a specialized concern would be your desire to continue to drink in moderation. Some groups would reject that idea out of hand. Rightly, in most cases, since a lot of alcoholics use that as an excuse not to quit. There are obviously exceptions, though. Nice irony--a sign that you probably are one would be that you're willing to give up
Anyway, the important thing is that you do something, and soon.
Ummmmm... whats an a-hat?
Carolyn Hax: It's a way around calling someone an a-hole.
Any tips on how to be more laid back when it comes to dating?
Carolyn Hax: Like your life the way it is sooo much that you aren't worried any more about the outcome.
Why don't you do a daily column? You could fund additional staff with sales of WWCHD? braclets. I would buy 20.
Carolyn Hax: Thanks! I thought about it, but decided I prefer my niche, since I get to spend more time on (and on and on) my questions. The bracelets might be good for my shoe fund, but since CH W probably eat a cookie, eat another cookie, and then blame whatever it is on having three kids under two, I'd still be shopping at DSW.
How can I tactfully deflect questions that will surely come up when my family's business interests have just been sold? I don't want to discuss the sale price or details of the transaction.
Carolyn Hax: "If you don't mind, I'd rather not discuss it."
You are really really really under no obligation to answer nosy questions. None of us is. Really. I swear.
Carolyn, This may be a strange question but I'm hoping you can give me some advice. Several weeks ago I was shopping and got back to my car to find a note under the wiper saying that someone had hit my car. The person left their name and phone number, and when I called, I found out it was a teenager who had hit my car. The mother said they would pay for repairs, I got the estimate and it was $800. I sent it to them, and they sent a check for the full amount.
Here's my dilemma. I'm really grateful to the teenager for leaving the note, obviously, because I won't be paying the $800 for the repair. These days, most people would just drive off without a word. When I spoke to the mother on the phone, I told her I was very grateful that the teen had done the right thing. Should I send the teen a thank-you note or small gift to express my appreciation? I'm afraid that otherwise she will feel she was rewarded for doing the right thing by having to fork over a ton of money. But on the other hand, would it be too weird? What do you think?
Carolyn Hax: Everybody, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think a note would be spectacular of you. I can argue the opposite of the rewarded-for-honesty-with-an-$800-bill, that honesty needs to be its own reward and so recognition from you isn't needed--but **** needed. Any chance for one stranger to show kindness to another stranger, especially a teenage one, sounds good to me.
Re: fun or dangerous: I agree with Carolyn that if you think you have a problem, then you have a problem. I went through something similar (although I don't even drink that often). I went to a therapist (covered by insurance) who specialized in alcohol problems. It's a stereotype that to be an alcoholic, you have to drink all the time and make a mess of your life. In fact, you can be someone who only drinks four times a year and have a problem with it. I encourage you to talk to a professional to find out what's going on -- it doesn't even have to be AA. I didn't go to AA because the program didn't really "jive" with me, but there are lots of other people/programs you can seek as an alternative. I'm still dealing with my problem, but talking about it has sure helped and has uncovered a lot of stuff I didn't know was there -- stuff buried under the onion layers. Good luck!
Carolyn Hax: Thanks for weighing in.
There is a difference between being an "alcoholic" and being an alcohol abuser. This person definitely fits into the latter category -- I think more than five drinks a day for a woman or six for a man? I think a lot of people who went through college in the past 10-15 years don't recognize the difference between just "drinking a lot" and having a problem.
And tell this person to PLEASE quit driving after they have been drinking, even if they think they can handle it.
Carolyn Hax: Right, the car, thanks for catching that.
What's wrong with everyone? Still hungover from New Year's eve? The chat is SO slow today. Come on people.
Carolyn Hax: It's not the people, it's the person. Sorry. I'm trying.
Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.:
I started a new job two weeks ago. Everyone is very nice, but people keep stopping into my office saying (jokingly) "Hey, keep it down in here!" and "Cheer up!" and "Smile!" I have no idea how to respond to these comments. I know my co-workers are just trying to be friendly, but I'm a pretty shy, quiet person and this kind of thing just drives me further into my shell as I think "Am I not being friendly? Should I smile more? Do I seem unhappy to these people?" I talk to people in the hall and try to seem friendly, but I guess it's not enough. How should I respond to these comments, and is there another approach I should take so maybe the comments will stop?
Carolyn Hax: "Not unhappy, just shy." I know being shy means this admitting will be about as easy as eating nails, but maybe the truth will shut them up. Or, better, nudge them to try a better way of reaching out to you. (The while "Smile" thing skeeves me, no matter how well-meaning it might be; "Keep it down in here!" is pretty funny tho.) They may be getting on your nerves but they are trying, which I guess is something.
I have a friend who was raped last week. She's going to get counseling, but what can I (and the other friends in whom she confided) do? None of us have been in this situation before and don't want to be the cause of any further pain.
Carolyn Hax: Oh how sad. And maddening. Great that you're all concerned for her, though, which will go a long way--particularly, I hope, in restoring her faith in humankind. As long as you don't avoid her or treat her like a freak, I don't think there's any bad way to show you care about her. Still, two things I'd suggest to help you avoid more pain: Follow her cues, since everyone's different, and talk to a rape counselor yourselves.
To the "Keep it down in there" comments she should just smile and say.."Get used to it... I am ALWAYS this crazy... trust me!" Just a thought.
Carolyn Hax: Good one, thanks.
For Fun or Dangerous:
First I'm a recovering alcoholic. You may not have a problem now but could develop one later. You sound a lot like me. I had a fun drinking career that spanned over 20 years. The last five were pure hell and I'm lucky I didn't lose my job, husband, kids and life. When the drinking takes up way too much time in your life and head it's time to realize you have used up your life's quota. AA worked for me, please keep it in mind. And there are many different types of meetings just like there are all kinds of bars. Don't go to just one and bag it -- you may find a fit. Good luck. And if it helps I don't miss drinking -- my life is so much better now!
Carolyn Hax: Thank you for the reminder that not all meetings are alike. I've often heard the same thing.
I have a question I haven't seen on here before. I'm volunteering to donate my eggs to infertile women and need some excuses because this is obviously something I don't want most people to know. The big explanations are for absences at work, and why I'm suddenly so bloated (major PMS bloating is one of the side effects). Any suggestions? Peanuts? Creative ones are a plus.
Carolyn Hax: For absences: "A minor medical thing, I'm fine."
For the bloating: "Did I just jab my finger in your eye accidentally after you asked me about my bloating? I'm so sorry."
Because people don't really ask about your bloating, right? Right?
Suspicion and jealousy:
How about someone who allows the jealousy of a SO to influence their behavior, i.e., determine which friendships remain active and which ones "wither away", etc. The most extreme action was she actually quit a job (not a career, a job -- they're college students) because her boyfriend was jealous of a coworker who had expressed an interest in her - and who immediately dropped it when told she was involved, so it's not like it was an ongoing flirtation. I think this is heading in a very dangerous direction. And, she's as open to discussing this as you'd expect.
Carolyn Hax: It is heading in a dangerous direction, which is why I wrote that column. There needs to be zero tolerance for ongoing jealousy. It's degrading, insulting, abusive, and, just for grins, completely pointless. Unfortunately, our society finds excuses for it; I'm sure you're friend has told herself that the guy just reeeeally loves her (or that's what he's told her). Since she won't discuss it, there isn't mcuh you can do, but when she complains about specific things you can always say, "You deserve to be treated better than that." Plant the idea.
for the record:
Dangerous/Fun here... thanks for the advice and comments... trying to take it all to heart. but I just wanted to say, I meant "felt sober enough to drive" to mean that I have ~felt~ that way, not that I actually drive on 6 beers; in my book, 2 beers is the limit for driving, no matter how you feel. I'm sane, even if I have skewed limits...
anyway, thanks for the input.
Carolyn Hax: You're welcome, good luck, and thanx for not driving.
My husband of nearly 15 years is someone ruled more by
his emotions than his head, especially when it comes to
our tweenage daughter. He cleans her room when he
knows she can and should. He drives her to school each
day even though it's a 10 minute walk, etc. He admits all
this is wrong, then does it anyway. I go back and forth
between wanting to change this for our daughter's sake,
and just giving in, because I'm sick of being the heavy all
the time. Any advice for me?
Carolyn Hax: Pick your battles. She can still be a good kid if she gets ill-advised room-cleaning and door-to-door livery services from a doting daddy. Just make sure she doesn't get rewarded for actively bad behavior.
Hi Carolyn! I hope you had a wonderful New Years!
Here's my question. I recently found out that my boyfriend of five months is cheating on me. After catching him in a few lies, I decided to check his phone. I know I shouldn't have done it, but I had a feeling something was going on behind my back. Sure enough, I found several text messages to a girl in another state, and they were pretty explicit. Now my boyfriend is going to her state for a "business meeting" next weekend.
I know I need to break off this relationship. My question is, should I tell him how I know he's cheating on me?
Carolyn Hax: Thanks! Went to bed at 10:15.
If you're going to tell him you discovered that he's cheating, then I think you have to cop to your means. He could accuse you of being just as underhanded as he, but you're breaking up regardless, so it's a moot point.
New York, N.Y.:
Carolyn -- my boyfriend's mom is a massive loon. She has been married a bunch of times to unsavory men, never inquires about her kids' well-being (instead preferring to discuss her exploits on match.com and at singles clubs), spends her money gambling even when she has two kids in college (on heavy financial aid), and essentially gives my boyfriend zero maternal support, emotionally, financially, and so on.
She has decided she wants to come visit for the weekend. This will entail her and her kleptomaniac fiance, who is addicted to prescription pills and booze, alighting in our teensy apartment. Because she has "no money," we will be required to take her out to dinner, show her the sights, and so forth.
I want to bolt for the weekend but my boyfriend has begged me to stay. He is quite tolerant of his mom despite her foibles, which I respect but don't understand. How do I get through this weekend with my valuables and my sanity intact? Please help me, it's next weekend and I might cry.
Carolyn Hax: Stash all your valuables off-site with a trusted friend, and keep reminding yourself that you're doing this as a gift to your boyfriend, who's the real victim here. I'd also suggest keeping your eyes open. Assuming you have a future in mind with this guy, you can learn a lot about him--good, bad, potentially good, potentially bad, neutral but useful--by watching him closely in his mom's presence.
Hi Carolyn!; Love your column/chat.
I'm a grad student, and after this semester I have one year left in my program. I'm debating whether I should dip into my savings to take a trip to Europe by myself this summer. I'm thinking a month. But then my practical/petrified side says "what will you do by yourself in foreign countries for that long?" and "shouldn't you keep saving for the day your car dies and you need a new one and that $30,000 student loan bill comes due and you're making pennies because the human service field pays so little?"
What do you think?
Carolyn Hax: Hi, and thanks.
Set a budget that leaves you some dead-car cushion, research your trip well before you go, and then go. Go before life gets so complicated that money is the least of your hurdles.
Re: teenager and rewarding :
I agree. When I found a wallet and gave it to the police, I got a note by the owner a week later. It really warmed my heart and made life taste so much better. The teenager know she did something wrong. Being rewarding for the honesty will not encourage her to repeat the wrong.
Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the p.
To Bethesda - Honesty Reward:
There are so few examples of honesty for honesty's sake nowadays, I'd say the card is a very good idea.
Nice, responsible people need to know they are not freaks of nature...even if though we know they are.
Carolyn Hax: I must have read past these before--thanks.
I think your advice is right on, but wouldn't it be so much more fun to pretend to be interested in the meeting, ask a lot of questions ("Will the hotel you're staying in have a pool?"), and watch him dance?
Maybe I'm just bitter.
Carolyn Hax: Not that there's anything wrong with that. She could also "surprise" him by saying she's coming along.
For New York:
If you boyfriend is in college on heavy financial aid, you can plead poverty and avoid taking her to places that cost money. "We don't go out to dinner because we can't afford it" should do the trick. Then cook at home. Take his mom and her fiancé to places that don't cost money.
Carolyn Hax: Even if he isn't in college on heavy financial aid, he can also do what you suggest. I have a hunch he won't, though, and has a way to go before he can set proper limits with her.
Happy New Year. I'll be quick: I'm a woman, late 20s, and my best friend (also a woman) recently broke up with me (for lack of a better term) after almost 10 years of friendship. We were legendarily close. We grew apart, it was mostly my fault, I was devastated. But the damage is done and I have good days and bad days, etc., etc.
My problem is that, well ,I have funky moods. I'm not as much fun as was before this happened, I do kind of want to sulk and be by myself eating ice cream and no one seems to understand this. If I had just had a 10 year romantic relationship end, badly, I'd get a decent amount of sympathy. Hell, some people would be trying to fix me up. I'm not really looking for hand-holding or the shoe-shopping companion equivalent of a blind date or anything. I've got some shoulders to cry on, I'm trying to make lemonade out of lemons.
But people who mean well keep prying, or telling me to buck up, or try and call her, or you know "c'est la vie," like this isn't that big a deal. I guess I'm just wondering if there's some sort of way to address this that isn't all drama-queeny, but conveys that this is serious for me and I don't need everyone to talk to me as though she and I fought over a sweater or something. I hope that made sense.
Carolyn Hax: It makes perfect sense, all of it--your situation, and people's responses to it, and your frustration with those responses. I hope my advice will make sense, too: Right as you are about all of it, there's really nothing you can do to fix it. You're grieving. (Legitimately, though legitimacy doesn't matter, since you feel what you feel.) The problem with grief is that, even if people are responding perfectly, you're kind of on your own with it. It's -your- loss, so -you- have to feel it. And get used to it, and make peace with it, and all that. Having people say all the right things may provide a little cushion, but in the end not much.
So when people do come to you with all their unwelcome suggestions, you can be grateful (since they are trying, at least) and non-dramatic and also dismissive by saying, "Thanks, really, I'm fine." Like you said, you've got some shoulders to cry on, so you don't need to correct/educate everyone else.
re: doting daddy:
Sure, she can still be a good kid, but I personally think this is a fight worth having. I know, easy for me to say, not my fight. But. Spoiled kids who have other people clean up after them and cater to their every whim tend to turn into spoiled adults who expect other people to clean up after them and cater to their every whim. They can be good people with good hearts and no desire to hurt anyone, and yet still be incredibly selfish, because they have absolutely no concept of how selfish they actually are. (yeah, I know someone like this). She needs to learn that it is unfair to expect other people to cater to her, without reciprocating in some fashion, or she will have some hard lessons when she starts dealing with adult relationships.
Carolyn Hax: I agree across the board on the perils of spoilage, but, remember, these battles seem to be claiming substantial chunks of the mother's spirit. I know that a mother is going to want the best for her daughter, and that's why I think she needs to hold firm on the really imprtant stuff. But assuming she's got zero support from the husband, she might have to accept that all she can be is warm, firm and consistent, and that her daughter may be in for some hard lessons when she reaches adulthood no matter what--and that, if the worst of it is that she discovers in college or whatever that the world wasn't built to cater to her, the worst might not be so bad.
What I didn't suggest and have now reconsidered is marriage counseling for the parents.
What kind of stigma do you think exists in fast moving, semi conservative Washington, D.C. for young (mid 20s) professional women who get pregnant out of wedlock?
Carolyn Hax: Depends on the crowds they run with.
I also don't think it matters. Mom and baby matter. Stigmatizers can go um judge themselves.
Relationship question of the four-legged variety -- I desperately want a dog, boyfriend does not. We do not live together, but I live in a dog-friendly building while he does not. We've been together for serveral years, and I hope that the relationship will become permanent (boyfriend not so anxious to get engaged). Is it a bad idea to go ahead and adopt a dog without b'friend on board? Or am I being a six-year-old about this whole situation. Thanks!
Carolyn Hax: A dog is a commitment for the lifetime of the dog. Either you are ready to tell the BF there's no future, or you aren't ready for the dog. That's because the alternatives are to give up the dog when you and the BF become permanent (unacceptable) or to foist dog on a co-owner who doesn't want him (unacceptable). Certainly not every pet-and-person situation works out perfectly, but the difference here is that your choices are all foreseeable. To foresee and err anyway is what would push you into 6-ville.
Silver Spring, Md.:
Does your recent advice concerning the sudden termination of a 7-month relationship apply to a significant other's sudden termination of a 4-month relationship? I'm thinking she was young, used to be treated like crap, and got scared because it would have been her first healthy relationship.
Carolyn Hax: I think it's the same thing exactly. (Assuming we're both talking about the same answer.) Since she said it's over, it's over until she says it isn't. Reasons are beside the point. Be a pioneer in not treating her like crap by respecting her ability to make her own decisions.
Meeting with my boss in one hour to discuss reducing my hours so I can work and start going to grad school in a completely different field (this is a huge life change for me). It just struck me that this meeting is a big step and am now starting to panic. Not only am I afraid he will say no but this is the first step to my life change. Any suggestions on how to relax and be cool in this meeting? Thanks!
Carolyn Hax: It is one step, it is not the deciding step. If he says no you can manage, and if he says yes and you go on to change your mind about the life change you can manage. These are not precipitous drops off cliffs.
Go. Go now. I held off on travleing for very similar reasons but finally got talked into a trip abroad. I have been kicking myself for not going sooner ever since.
-Day-dreaming of sitting in a sidewalk cafe in Budapest, drinking a Dreher, and watching the world go by....
Carolyn Hax: Many many posts like these. Thanks.
You slid over the fact that BF is not anxious to get engaged, while she is anxious to get a dog.
Carolyn Hax: On purpose. She didn't give ages, and so it's possible they're 21 or 22 and it's perfectly reasonable that he's not anxious to get engaged even after being with her for several years. Plus, even if the BF isn't long for the scene, I'm concerned about any pet decision that feels impulsive or rushed.
re: Text Message Cheating:
For another perspective: I have a friend with whom, on occasion, will exchange "steamy" text messages to lighten each other's moods. i.e., he called me to complain about a particularly bad day so the next day, I texted "I want your hot, sexy body (imagine the rest)". It cheered him up, gave him a laugh, and made me feel good to know that I cheered up a friend. Since we are both in committed relationships -- with our SO knowing about the messages -- we both view it as a funny thing between friends. Granted, most likely the guy is cheating, but there is always the possibility of a scenario different than the one that she suspects. Go in prepared to do battle, but don't have the guns blazing right off the bat.
Carolyn Hax: The last sentence can apply to almost any confrontation, just as long as you remember to turn your BS meter on before you have someone explain their alternate scenario.
The credibility-clincher to your scenario: Your SO's know you do this.
My best friend is a new mom (kid is 8 months old) and she has turned into a paranoid freak. She is literally locking up every single cabinet in her house -- with keyed locks! She has 11 baby gates partitioning off every room and parts of the open spaces in the house. She is on the strictest baby feeding/sleeping schedule i've ever seen a person on. she simply cannot relax. What can I do to help her? She has the attitude of "when you have a kid you'll understand". I'm the oldest of nine kids so it's not like i've never been around little infants and toddlers before.
Carolyn Hax: When you have a kid you'll understand 1. that you were right, she was being a complete freak and 2. there's no way you could have gotten through to her. Remember, the only people who absolutely CANNOT be told they need to relax are people who need to relax.
For the lady who wants a dog:
My dad adopted a dog from a shelter that does fosterings. So technically he "fostered" the dog for a year before he actually adopted it. But you can get a temporary animal that way and it sounds like that would be perfect for her. She gets an animal to love and if the boyfriend agrees to get engaged then she's not ducking out of an obligation. It sounds like that relationship has other issues anyway so maybe she won't have to give up the dog either.
Carolyn Hax: Nice alternative, thanks. She could also raise a puppy for one of those helping-paw organizations, which need loving, temporary homes for dogs until the dogs are old enough to be trained.
Carolyn Hax: Oh I almost forgot--to the person who wrote in last time about living in my neighborhood. Yes, please say hello when you see me. (Though you might want to email me first to say where you live, since not one sighting I've been asked about has actually been me.)
Oh oh and another thing I've been forgetting, for over a year now: Would the person who sent a post to Nick's chat about his former dog please email me, firstname.lastname@example.org? (And put doggie's name in the subject field so I know who you are.)
That's all the odd business, so off I go. Thanks everybody, happy weekend and type to you next week.
Has your friend actually asked for help. If not, leave her alone. She has her way of dealing with life, and frankly, you are out of line telling her what to do. Leave her alone.
Carolyn Hax: Right you are, but oh the poor kid.
she's my BEST friend. i'm not out of line. i'm trying to HELP her.
Carolyn Hax: The delivery was harsh but I agree with that post. Since you have gotten the "You'll understand when ... " response, you've already made your point to her. That means you need to back off and let her live as she chooses. Even when you're her BEST friend and you're (probably) right.