Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 14, 2005 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.


Calling a Spade?: I'm having lunch today with a friend of mine. We used to be close, but I haven't seen her in six months, since she started having an affair. (She's married.) She hasn't told me about this affair, but I know it's happening, because I am also good friends with her new fling. When we set up the lunch, I got the feeling that she wasn't going to acknowledge this affair at all, since she was talking about how happy her and hubbie are. Should I call BS during this lunch, or just smile and nod? I definitely don't want to get in the middle of this.

Carolyn Hax: Then don't call her on the BS. But that also means you kinda aren't friends anymore, meaning you don't call to set up lunches. You can't have it both ways.


Vienna, Va.: Carolyn, I sent you an e-mail a couple days ago. Will you be able to respond to it?

Carolyn Hax: Just by the numbers, very unlikely. It's one of my least favorite aspects of this job.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn

My wife is sometimes harsh in her words and communicates to me in rather blunt terms. A lot of times I admit my feelings do get hurt by her. She apologizes later on and says sorry for hurting me and saying harsh words. Yet the harshness doesn't stop and she starts all over again. Her harshness can be set off by something as simple as me not waking her up so she gets up late for work, and she then blames me in rather harsh tones for not waking her up instead of taking responsibility for her own waking times. Whenever she gets harsh with me I just try to be patient and I don't respond in kind so it won't escalate into a fight. But lately I am getting sick and tired of her unnecessary harshness and am tempted to respond to her in kind which will probably turn into a stupid fight over something stupid and trivial. I have told her many times that her words hurt me, especially at times I'm really not to blame for anything. I am getting tired of her and am finding myself being annoyed and resenting her more and more. What can I do? Is a fight really what is needed for me to effectively stand up for myself or can I do it in a more positive way?


Carolyn Hax: Helloo. You've got a legitimate complaint, clearly, and putting up with the verbal abuse isn't the answer--but "respond in kind" isn't, either. Stand up for yourself quietly but firmly, eg, by saying "When you're ready to be civil to me, I'll be happy to talk to you" before you walk away from the latest barrage. The best way to show that something is unacceptable (and this is--the apologies alone don't cut it, it's a classic abuse cycle) is to stop accepting it. If your setting limits doesn't work, then I'd suggest marriage counseling or, if she refuses, trial separation.


Denver, Colo.: I am in love with two men. One is older, established, loving and intelligent. The other is fun, sweet, innovative and geniune. They both love me. How am I supposed to deal with this? I am so stressed. My heart is being torn and is going to end with someone hurt. I am not cheating on anyone nor would I... please advise me on how to decide.

Carolyn Hax: Break up with both, see whom you miss.


Orlando, Fla.: So, I think I need to divorce my husband, b/c the trust is gone (lied to me numerous times), he's an alcoholic who's unwilling to change, and other problems. However, although I think that my head knows this is over, my heart seems slow to follow.

A lot of these problems were even there early on. I think I have a big problem with going, "if only it weren't for "X", then things would be perfect!" but well, the truth of the matter is, "X" is there, so things aren't perfect, and what makes me keep thinking that "X" will change? My unrealistic hopes seem to spring eternal. (Again, on an emotional level, not an intellectual one). Any advice?

Carolyn Hax: Chart out your path to divorce as a series of small steps, then take the first one and see how you feel. Then the next, etc. Some of those steps will be more like plunges by necessity, but there are still steps nevertheless. And, not to make this a divorce-and-counseling theme day (what would the theme song be for that?), but sounds like a little counseling for you wouldn't hurt, to help you know your own mind a little better, which will then allow you to act with more confidence--however you ultimately choose to act. In fact, your first little step could be a call to Al-Anon; your second, attending a meeting; your third, getting referrals to a private therapist if you feel you need one ...


Madison, Wis.: So the live-in boyfriend and I have planned a much needed week-long Caribbean vacation; I'm really looking forward to it. I found out yesterday he told his friend how much fun it would be if the friend came along. You think I'd be horrified, right? Well, the friend and I are good friends too and at first I was angry but after about 10 minutes I thought, "hey, that'd be fun!"

So does this mean my relationship is doomed? I feel like our family/friends will think we're freaks if we take a tag-a-long with us. And of course I'm wondering why I think I'd have more fun if we take along a third wheel. How weird does that sound to you?

Carolyn Hax: Sounds like the kind of weird that will eventually explain itself (and make you say 15 years later, "I can't believe I didn't see [x]") if you just let it play out. Have fun. Wear at least SPF 30.


Washington, D.C.: A good friend of mine is having a Super Bowl party and she invited my ex-boyfriend. None of his other friends will be there -- just mine. But he is supposedly coming. I didn't think they were even really friends -- she knew him through me. It makes me think she just did it to p--- me off, and it makes me not want to go. What gives? Why do people do this? And if it matters, it's not because he's my ex-boyfriend. It's because he's my ex-boyfriend because he was a jerk to me and I broke up with him because he was a jerk. I just don't really like him and don't want to be in the same room with him, but it feels like not going to the party would be like giving up my claim on my friends.

Carolyn Hax: This is a good friend? Ask why she did it. Not dukes up, just, "I know you know he hurt me, so I'm curious." Could be she ran into him in Safeway and blurted it before she knew what she was doing or [other innocent eff-up here]. If nothing else, she should know you're upset about it.

As for having to be there with the guy, don't, not if you don't want to. There's no law that says you have to elevate it to the surrendering of your friends to him; it could just be you're surrendering one Superbowl party to the greater cause of not having to deal with a jerk.


A-huge-mess-that-I-have-made-ville: Hi Carolyn.

I've seen you give good advice to others, so I thought I'd ask you to look at my stuff as well. About a year ago, I lost touch with almost all of my college friends, when I checked into a mental hospital for the second time that semester, and took a long leave of absence from college.

I'm doing so much better now, and I've built myself back up. My parents say I've come a long way. But the people from college (I finished up away from there) are completely gone from my life. Most or all of it is my fault: I have a lot of difficulty keeping in touch with people, and I still have occasional nightmares about the stupid politics that were going on at the time.

I've only found resolution with a couple people -- the ones that were unkind. (We now just leave each other alone.) But the people who were in the middle and kind to me when I was most likely insufferable, I don't know how to reach out and talk to them now. They were great, and I liked them before then. I had been friends with some of them for years beforehand. Everytime I try to contact them, however, it's like a tempest whips up in my head and I'm trying to talk to them, but I hear all the nastiness that happened around us. Do I just leave these people alone and go on my way with my other friends? Do I try to explain? I'm totally lost here.

Carolyn Hax: I think it would be nice if you could get back in touch with the people who were decent to you to acknowledge their decency, but I also don't think there's any reason for you to push yourself to do it before you're ready. Let it rest for a while.

Or, if this is gnawing at you too much to set aside, you could also venture into explaining yourself by doing it in writing, as if you were e-mailing them--but of course you actually send the e-mail only if you feel really comfortable with what you've said. Write it, store it, let it cool, go back and see how you feel, repeat as necessary.

I think you'll find a way to be comfortable here if you keep two things in mind: There's no pressure but the pressure you've put on yourself, and these are people who have already proven that they're kind and forgiving. Actually, three things--sounds like you're already most of the way out of whatever mess you made.


Arlington, Va.: Hi Carolyn. This is your cartoonist/editor ex-husband, Nick. I'm writing to you because I'm struggling with a drawing - vultures are funny, but eagles are not (this will all make sense when this picture is published a week from now, folks).

But for now, (everyone please insert your soundtrack cd from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" during the following announcement)I would like to extend my very warmest New Year wishes to the bestest, brightest and most loyal Peanut Gallery in the whooole wide world.

Here's to your enjoying a happy, healthy and prosperous new year - and to Carolyn (enough already) wrapping up all this baby-making stuff and finally letting me use the online chats as a dating service.

Hugs to all,
Nick and Zuzu (Boo, Budgy, Jibbles, Fuzzmuscle, Mr. Girl...)

Carolyn Hax: Hi Nick, and thanks on behalf of nuts everywhere.

Eagles can be very funny--think of the carved one in the Brandywine.


Super Bowl party - from experience: Even if you don't want to go, at least show up for some brief face time. You'll feel better you weren't chased away and who knows, it may be a good time.

Same thing happened, and my ex bailed once I showed up. I found out later he had invited himself to try and talk to me to pave the way to get back together, but found out from my friends that night that I thought he was a moron.

Carolyn Hax: I've always wanted assassins as friends. Thanks.


Arlington, Va.: My boyfriend and I planned a trip to the Caribbean as well... but we've now broken up but are still going. We both don't want to get back together and are happy with the break-up. However, I can't shake the feeling that this is a bad idea.

Carolyn Hax: Two ways to go with this one: trust your gut and cancel, or cut all expectations loose and go.


Re: Super Bowl: My Take: Washington's "good friend" probably knows she dislikes the ex. Sounds to me like she did it on purpose. Don't give her the satisfaction of knowing she upset you. 1. Go to the party and have a blast, OR 2. Don't go to her party and have yourself a blast somewhere else. It's just one party.

Carolyn Hax: Point taken, but, once again, I think that requires an internal acceptance that there's no friendship here.

Which seems like a pretty harsh alternative to merely showing some vulnerability. So the friend knows you're upset, big whoop. If it gives the friend satisfaction, what kind of sicko is she?


Santa Barbara, Calif.: Billie Jean is not my lover. She's just a girl who say's that I am the one, but the kid is not my son. This made my day.

Carolyn Hax: Speaking of sickos.


Green Bay, Wis.: I met my wife in high school and we have been together more than five years including more than a year of marriage. I have never strayed or cheated before even though I have had many opportunities. Never had a desire to be with anyone else. However, I started talking to a woman recently and have completely fallen for her as her me in a way I never have for anyone before. I do love my wife, we don't have any problems, and I'm sure I could be happy staying with her. I think, though, the other may have stolen my heart. I'm going to have to hurt one, but don't know which. Any ideas?

Carolyn Hax: Unless you're ready to ask your wife for a separation, hurt the new one.


Super Bowl Party: I don't think she should go just to show that she wasn't chased away. Who cares what those people think? She should do what makes her comfortable. She was smart enough to realize that she never wanted to see this "jerk" again and her friend wasn't very sympathetic to this. She should dump the friend and the party and come up with some other fabulous plans.

Carolyn Hax: Or put on some flannel, crack a beer and watch the game by herself--unless you include that in your definition of "fabulous plans," in which case, you're my kind of people.


Re: Uncivil Wife: Carolyn,

While I don't think that's my husband e-mailing you the problem, I can recognize myself in his wife. My husband complains that my tone of voice and body language come across as harsh and "fighting" even when I don't feel harsh or defensive.

There are times when I am frustrated in his general direction but not frustrated with him. Is there a way I can show this better? Is there a way to change this, without necessarily having to become Ms. Saccharine 2005?


Carolyn Hax: If you're spewing frustration--not at him, just at life--on a regular enough basis that your husband is tired of getting hit, the issue isn't about how you show it. Time to find the source and address it, be it job stuff, personal stuff, money stuff, relationship stuff, combination-of-all-four-and-more stuff ...


Washington, D.C.: I am in the very beginning stages of a divorce. My husband cheated on me and, although I was willing to try to work it out, has decided that there is "no point" in trying to work it out. He has taken most of his stuff and is living with the "other woman" in the same neighborhood I live and work in. D.C. is a small town and we travel in very similar circles. And I'm trying to figure out how to deal with that first time I see the two of them out together. Any suggestions? Hurling objects is probably not the way to go...

Carolyn Hax: Unless you have access to giant pillows, which isn't likely when you're out on the town. Otherwise "Hello [name], hello [name]," with a cordial nod, should make them feel bleepy enough to last them the evening. What can you do. Look at it this way--once you do run into them, you'll be free of the dread of the first time you run into them, which will no doubt prove to have been far worse than the first-running-into itself.


College Park, Md.: Who's Zuzu?

Carolyn Hax: Pit bull, empath, fireplace ornament.


Super Bowl: Cracking open a beer and watching by myself is definitely my way of doing it. Problem is, how do like minded people of this type meet each other?

Carolyn Hax: In line at the beer store?


Houston, Tex.: Hi Carolyn,
I should'a taken up aquasize. Remembering that 12 years ago, my ballet and jazz classes kept me in shape and made me feel graceful. Now though I'm older, 15 pounds heavier, I thought what the heck, and found a studio which has adult classes. The instructor and students are all size zero, not at all worried about spraining an ankle and seem healthily interested in examining their technique in those nasty wall to wall mirrors. I feel like a pig in a tutu. Have you a little kick for me?

Carolyn Hax: 1. People admire a good body image more than they admire a good body (the former being both harder to come by and more enduring).

2. What's the best scene in "Fantasia"?


Washington, D.C.: Where do we meet? Walking down the hall, empty beer bottles in hand, in jammies and animal slippers to the recycling bin.

Carolyn Hax: Perfect, unless the hall is outside your office.


Super Bowl: Wait a minute, if you want to watch it by yourself (which is the only way to do it if your team is playing, other people are too annoying), then why do you want to meet someone? Won't it defeat the purpose?

But, I am such a person. Especially if the Broncos are playing (and yes, I know they won't be this year, or maybe anytime soon again).

Carolyn Hax: For the other 364.8 days. (364.9 if the Broncos are playing.)

What a suffocating relationship that would be, though, either way.


For what its worth...: I had a friend blow me off after being in a mental hospital and it has hurt ever since. Many of your friends probably still want to be friends but theyre waiting for you to make the first move since only you know when you'll be ready. Good luck!;

Carolyn Hax: Worth plenty, thanks. Also, since it did hurt, I hope you finally took the first move upon yourself--could be your friend was too scared or ashamed or whatevered.


Crushes while married?: Can you talk more about that? Do all marriages have moments where one or both people look at someone else and think, damn, I'm really attracted to this new person? Is it a "normal" thing? Is this one of those many things in marriage that people don't talk about, but it happens?

Carolyn Hax: I think it certainly happens; marriage doesn't make you deaf, blind and mute, and there will always be people you find appealing in some way. The trick is to make a healthy choice of spouse to begin with, then make an effort throughout the marriage to keep things healthy, and then, in the event an outside attraction springs up, keep tempting people at arm's length. These are in descending order of importance--so much so that getting the first two right almost makes the third unnecessary.


Uncivil Wife: After you address what the source of your frustration is, please do some soul-searching to find out where you learned along the way that it was ok to take your frustrations out on other people. Just cause you're having a bad day doesn't mean people around you have to.

Carolyn Hax: Well said, thanks.


Washington, D.C.: What is the best way to get over rejection? Knowing that I am amazing is natural enough, but feeling it at this moment is not as easy. Suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: Stop trying to feel it! Really. Why set yourself up to fail. Feel bad for a while, and notice how the bad feeling fades--or even better, don't notice because you've forgotten about it.


Alexandria, Va.: Wow, the chat today makes me glad I've never been married. Everyone is separating/divorcing.


Carolyn Hax: Don't worry, last few weeks have been about everyone's terrible families, and the next few weeks'll be about everyone's catty co-workers, and you probably don't want to be orphaned or unemployed. Questions trigger other, similar questions.


Rosslyn, Va.: Happy Friday afternoon,

Several weeks ago, I was running an hour late to meet people for an event (not social). It was raining and dark, I was lost, I got stressed out. I called my husband repeatedly at home, trying to figure out where I was and where I was supposed to go.

I've always thought of myself as one of those "cooler heads" that prevail, but at one point, something broke and, I'm ashamed to admit it, I broke down crying while on the phone with him. I apologized for my outburst when I got home that night and he brushed it off, jokingly saying, "I might have to think twice if anyone asks how you respond to stress!" Fine, fine, I can laugh at myself, too.

Ever since then, though, I feel like my credibility with him has been completely shot. Any time I get the least bit flustered, he'll just shake his head with this amused there-she-goes-again! attitude. I suppose I'm just being oversensitive, but it frustrates me when I feel he's being dismissive. Especially since this was just one night out of the four-and-a-half years we've known each other.

Should I bring this up with him or should I just learn to lighten up?

Carolyn Hax: The former if he's really dismissing you/shopping for a new fainting couch, the latter if your sense of self-worth is rooted in appearing invulnerable and you're just having a hard time adjusting to such tangible proof of your own humanity. I can't say which it is without knowing you.

Course, could be both--you have the tough-self-image thing and it's something he was attracted to. If that's the case, you could have a pretty cool conversation how much this has all thrown you off, and how weird you feel, and how annoying you find it when he shakes his head at you, and what he means when he does that, and why, and etc. Assuming, of course, you're both verbal enough and you have that kind of intimacy ... tho this could help you get there if you don't ...


More on Marriage Crushes: But how does one go about making a healthy choice of spouse? I'm serious. I've never been married before -- how does one develop criteria for a healthy choice of spouse without ever having been married?

Carolyn Hax: This is actually coming up in a column soon, so I'm going to be a poohead and not answer here. I will say it starts with, absolutely, nonnegotiably, knowing and liking yourself as-is. Take it from someone who learned that the hard way.


Somewhere in D.C.: When my husband and I first started dating almost four years ago, we knew the relationship was going in a good direction and we shared our baggage early on, which was wonderful, getting it all out in the open and that feeling of trust and intimacy with knowing and being OK with each other's dark secrets was great as we built up our relationship.

Fast forward: We've now been married almost a year and just last week I found out that about 10 years before we met, he had gotten a girl pregnant and she had an abortion. I've managed to forgive him, but I'm having trouble moving on. He says there's no more baggage to share, that's it. But I'm missing some of that trust I thought we had. And while I know his actions were in another place and another time, I still can't help feeling that their decision to abort their baby (my step child, which is a wierd thought) has something to do with my life, too. Throw in the fact that I'm having some health problems and us getting pregnant is going to take some work, and I feel like I'm in quite a pickle.

Is this something time will heal or is there something we can do or talk about or anything to make this better??

Carolyn Hax: I don't know if talking will get you there, but I do think you need to make some sort of peace with it in your own mind, vs. counting on time take care of it (tho time can be valuable in helping you make peace with it, since even terrible news tends to get smaller and smaller as you put more weeks and years behind you; if you have any doubts about that, think about how even the worst atrocities on the news soften with age in your memory).

Since you seem to be seeing this as a trust thing, here's something that might help you with that peace: This wasn't just your husband's "baggage" to share; it was also the woman's private past. I could argue he had a responsibility to her to guard that privacy.

Of course I could be making things worse, but that's how I looked at it. I also think you should be very careful not to take the past out of context, whatever the past issue is. You love him now, and this is all part of what made him who he is. Make sure that factors into your judgment.


Brandywine Apt., Washington, D.C.: There's a carved eagle in the Brandywine? Do tell!

Carolyn Hax: B'wine Museum, up in Chadd's Ford (sp?), PA--sorry, forgot that was a D.C. neighborhood word, too.


Naptown, Md.: Hey Carolyn,

Lazy Friday question: What's the worst (or best) pickup line someone ever used on you. Or you used. I've got one: "Hey Baby, do you dig graves?"

Carolyn Hax: If I did have one, that just erased it.


Carolyn Hax: Back in five--Gus is inconsolable.


Dog Friendly, USA: I love a man who loves dogs. Would I run into Nick and Zuzu at any of our local dog parks?

Carolyn Hax: Yes, but limited time only--she's just in Va. for a visit.


Washington, D.C.: Online only please.

So, my friend is dating my brother... AGAIN! They've broken up a number of times. Oh, and I work with with her, live with him. Possibly I'm going insane. Why am I so angry about this? Well, probably because they lied to me about seeing each other again. And now I can't get over it because I can't get away from them... one or the other (or both!) is always around! Does some one want me to tag along on their vacation?

Carolyn Hax: Nah, all you'd do is vent about your friend and your brother. When's your lease up? I think this is all a cosmic sign.


You asked for this...: But Carolyn, how does one absolutely, nonnegotiably, know and like herself as-is. I don't even know where to start.

Carolyn Hax: I suppose some people break themselves in gently over time, but we hate them so we'll pretend they don't exist. Usually, you get there by having a crisis godawful enough to force you to scrutinize every aspect of your life to see if it's smart, stupid, working, failing, making you miserable, sucking your soul, or just wasting your time in irreplaceable clumps. Then you start admitting what it is about you that's to credit/blame for the above. Then you take this shiny new more realistic sense of your own strengths and weaknesses, and you start using it to make your decisions, instead of using your former standbys like wishful thinking, childhood dreams and societal expectations.


Gaithersburg, Md.: I'm kinda new to this live chat thing... who is Gus?

Carolyn Hax: My 8-month-old. But it would have been funnier if it were, idunno, my stomach, or my shoe rack.


Washington, D.C.: Regarding the woman whose brother is dating her friend: Your answer did not pick up on what seems to be the key point here. Why would they (both of them?) lie to her about dating each other. Are they embarrassed about their relationship? Why? And for that matter, what is wrong with them that they would be in a relationship that they find embarrassing?

Carolyn Hax: It is key, but only to the friend and the brother. To the poster, what matters is getting some air between herself and these people.


Washington, D.C.: Where is the eagle at the B'wine Museum? My husband and I love that place (especially the big pig painting).

Carolyn Hax: Last time I was there, it was in the hallway outside the third-floor gallery--where the Helgas were. But this was years ago.


Marriage crushes: I've been happily married for five years. I get crushes on other guys fairly regularly. Honestly? I enjoy them. No one ever knows about them but I like the little high-schooly butterflies in my stomach feeling when my crush is around. I won't act on them because my husband is da bomb. FWIW, he knows I get crushes but I don't tell him specifically when and who. That would just be mean.

Carolyn Hax: Great stuff, thanks.


Silver Spring, Md.: So Liz, you didn't say whether that was the worst or the best? I'm undecided.

Carolyn Hax: Good catch.


Re: Past Secrets: I guess I'm having a little trouble understanding why this is so upsetting -- not only is there the fact that, as you point out, it wasn't just his secret to share, but there's also the way the whole thing is phrased. Does the writer have a moral objection to abortion, is that the problem? Because, otherwise, I guess I'm having a hard time seeing why this feels like such a betrayal to her - even the non-disclosure doesn't seem like such a huge betrayal to me. I guess I'd ask why she feels so betrayed, and ask what do we owe each other in terms of disclosure? And wonder, as well, what her expectations are in this regard, and if they're realistic?

Carolyn Hax: Useful questions all, tx.


Carolyn Hax: Have to end on time today, regrettably. Thanks everyone, happy weekend, go Pats, type to you Friday.


Past Secrets: This woman who has every single right to her own body decided to have an abortion. None of your business. Your problems conceiving have nothing to do with her. Your "stepchild"? Please. You have no such claim. Had she decided to keep the pregnancy, your husband could very well have turned out completely different and you never would have met or married him.

Carolyn Hax: NOHB indeed, thanks.


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