Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 28, 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.


Responding to Coming Out: My friend is gay and I think he might come out to me soon. I've known for years, but he's never said it. It's always been the big pink elephant in the room -- and now that we're getting closer, I think he might finally come out to me. Question is, what's the proper response? Act surprised -- "I had no idea!"? Don't act surprised -- "Yeh, I know, and I'm glad you feel you can finally tell me"? "Congratulations!" doesn't seem fitting... Suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: I like B: "Yeh, I know, and I'm glad you feel you can finally tell me." Or, the abridged version, "No s***."


Saving State: Call me a stingy, but I really resent being "invited to a party" only to find out that it's really one of those "parties" where you have to spend money to get out of there. You know the one's -- I don't need to name names.

What's the proper way to decline the invitation, without otherwise distancing yourself from your friends or co-workers?


Carolyn Hax: Etiquette gets a bad rap, but it does us all a huge favor here. Regrets are one-size-fits-all: "I'm sorry, I can't make it, but thank you for the invitation."


Northern Virginia: I just had weight loss surgery. My supervisor was really great about my request for privacy, and so no one knows. But suddenly, Murphy's Law, it seems like there are a ton of work-related food events. I have to attend, but I don't want to explain to everyone why I can only eat a spoonful. What do I do?

Carolyn Hax: "Thanks, I'm not hungry." Feel free to let your face say what you;re really thinking, "This is not an appropriate question." For all those who would ask a person why she's not eating, please take note of the above. (And if you're rationalizing it as a legit concern issue, and you aren't close enough to the person to know all possible hidden answers, like that she just had weight-loss surgery, you're not close enough to ask concern questions. And if it's a fear that the person has an eating disorder, asking why s/he isn't eating isn't the way to save said person from said disorder.) (Hope that covers everything.)


Sensitive State, USA: Carolyn
Please help me, I don't know how to handle my situation. My close friend discovered she was pregnant, she is not married and after a lot of time and energy and tears she decided to terminate the pregnancy. I spent a lot of time with her, supporting her while she was going through this difficult time. Meanwhile, I discover I am pregnant. I am married and very much want this baby. I didn't say anything to her because I didn't want my pregnancy to influence what she was going to do with her own life. What do I do? How do I tell her? How long do I wait? My baby will be born the same time her baby would have been due! I feel so badly, I don't want add to her grief right now.

Carolyn Hax: Tell her you know this is awkward news but that withholding it seems worse than sharing it, and spill. Close friendships withstand this stuff as long as you handle it in a way that makes it clear you weighed her feelings right along with your own.

And since you and I don't have baggage between us--yay! Congratulations.


Formerly from Falls Church, Va.: What if anything should you do or say if you start dating a man and you suspect that he was already dating one or more women? In the past, I have asked but that might not get the truth. I have also said nothing but that doesn't help either. My problem is I don't want to waste my time on these "relationships" because the man always prefers/remains with the original woman so I don't even want to start this.

Carolyn Hax: I'll admit to having nothing to support this but a hunch, but it sounds like you're going into the whole dating thing with your dukes already up. And I believe (also thoroughly unsupported) that having your defenses already in place actually makes you more likely to get into exactly the kind of adversarial, I'd-speak-up-but-then-he'd-just-lie situations you put your dukes up to avoid.

Since you're probably not in this for the irony, you might want to trade in your suspicion/defenses attitude for an awareness/risk one--meaning, you go into it well aware that some people will in fact not be seeing you exclusively, but that you'll have to take that risk and see where things go.

Effectively, there's very little difference between the two, since all you really do is date the guy and get to know him. The two paths diverge when you establish what you're looking for in the getting-to-know part. Defensive stance, you try to figure out if he's seeing other people. Roll-with-it stance, you see what he and your brain and your gut all tell you about him. If you have reason to believe he's a good guy, then trust him to the extent appropriate to how well you know him. (E.g., don't date him exclusively yourself if it's still early, say, or don't sleep with him if you want exclusivity first and you're not sure you have it.) If you have reason to believe he's not a good guy, then don't bother getting hung up on confirming your suspicions, and just stop seeing him.


Silver Spring, Md.: Carolyn,

A friend of one of my best friends has expressed interest in me. My friend has warned that he is a bad news. Do I write him off? Give him a chance? Or would that be an insult to my friend who is just giving me fair warning?

Carolyn Hax: Depends on your and your friend's definitions of "bad news." If the guy has a well-documented, bad-person type history, then you should heed your friend, not for his/her sake, but your own. If your friend just has scuttlebutt or youthful stupidity or his/her own minor hurt feelings to back up the warning, then you have room to give the guy a chance--but only after you explain your reasoning to the friend. And if the friend was badly burned by this guy, then I think you get into insult territory and you should probably write the guy off out of respect for your friend.

Did I keep all the friends/guys straight?


Burke, Va.: For the first poster with the gay friend: If you know he is close to "confessing," can't you help the guy out and not wait for him to build nerve, write a speech, plan the time, etc.? I volunteer with a group of people who often get together for dinners, movies, etc. While we seldom have heart-to-heart talks, I consider them all good friends. I knew one girl was gay, but she never actually said it. I was orgainzing a get together through e-mail and I said "we will meet here, blah, blah, then go to a movie, blah, blah. If you are seeing anyone -- feel free to bring her along. Blah, blah. There should be 10 of us..." See? I just stuck one little pronoun into the middle of a message. But then she knew that I knew and was totally okay with it.

We never actually discussed my message, but she has felt comfortable bringing her girlfriend with her whenever she feels like it. Remember, it is 10x harder for the gay person to bring it up than it is for you to acknowledge what you already know.

Carolyn Hax: Nicely done, thanks.


For Sensitive State: This happened to me and a friend as well. Keep in mind that even if your friend is gracious and delighted about your pregnancy, you may want to check with her before expecting her to show up at baby showers, birthday parties, and other kid events. Anniversaries are not only for happy occasions.

Carolyn Hax: Same, thanks.


Anonymous: Hi Carolyn,
So I recently got dumped. By e-mail, while I was at work. He's someone I will run into fairly often. He "wants to be friends," but I feel that if he wanted to be friends, he would've handled the situation in a respectful manner. I don't know if I should confront him about how crappy that was, or just let it go, and grin and nod when I see him, because it's not worth it since I at least right now have no interest in being friends with someone who could do that.

Carolyn Hax: Tell him you'll be his friend, but only if you can do it by email.

Just (half-)grin and nod and save the "You know, dumping me by email was crappy" for if and when he next brings up the subject of this friendship. Since it'll probably be never, you'll have made your point with the chilly nods and saved yourself a confrontation (something he can surely respect).


Washington, D.C.: When I was single, my friends would constantly try to fix me up with people at an annoying propensity. Now that I am dating someone and happy (and they are ironically miserable in their relationships) I get a lot of grief for being so attached. What gives?

Carolyn Hax: Friends who are either annoying or do not have enough to do (and therefore annoy others). Eventually they'll either outgrow the propensity or you'll outgrow them.


Denver, Colo.: My mom had a heart attack yesterday. Naturally I was very worried and upset. My boyfriend of over a year decided that he couldn't break his plans to drink with his friends (that he sees 3-4 times a week) to be with me. My mom is going to be just fine. I don't feel the same confidence about my relationship. I have been thinking about ending it for a while though. Should I mention the lack of support or just go with my previous plan and those reasons?

Carolyn Hax: "I've been unsure of things for a while, but thanks to last night I'm now sure." This will sound perverse, but in a way you should be grateful to him. Had he faked it and played the role of the supportive boyfriend, you'd still be thinking about ending it. Because he chose to be true to himself and his desires, you now know for sure he's not the right guy for you. Yay. Great opportunity for you to part ways without acrimony.

Sorry about your scare, and glad your mom's going to be okay.


Huh?: What's a "party" where you have to spend money to get out of there? If it's to buy stuff, doesn't the host tell you up front? My friends always do. Plus, I never feel like I have to buy something before I can leave.

Carolyn Hax: I assumed it was a kind of sales party, and I think the host did disclose upfront, which is why the person wants to decline the invitation. Thanks for pointing out that you don't have to buy anything, b/c you don't.


New England: Is it ok to kidnap the groundhog so that it can't predict anymore winter? If the snow keeps up, I might have to take drastic measures...

Carolyn Hax: Remember, don't kill the messenger. Unless it would make a nice stole.


Washington, D.C.: I've been seeing someone who is much more into me than I am -- I plan things no more than the next few days ahead while she's thinking about what we can do together months in advance, for example. I am trying to decide whether to tell her I want to slow things down or just break it off completely. Either is difficult because we've become intimate. Your thoughts, and any tips on how to phrase it?

Carolyn Hax: Tip no. 1, dumping her after you've slept with her is not the most gracious way to avoid a difficult conversation. If these are your choices, just say what you have to say (next time she mentions your honeymoon travel plans): "I'm sorry, I'm not thinking months in advance here, I'm taking things day-by-day." That way, if/when you figure out you're not that wild about her and therefore it's not fair for you to keep leading her on, she'll at least have had a chance to identify and fix the problem first.


Re: Washington, D.C. and Annoying Friends: Why do some people act as if that someone else's dating life are their responsibility? It's like those people are judging you as unworthy unless you live your live according to what they want.

Carolyn Hax: Hmmmm I think you're being too specific. People meddle with each other at all levels and in all aspects of life. Sometimes there are judgments attached--makes a person feel better, to see how others live and to find those lives wanting--but often people are just bored. My answer was jokey but I meant it, that these friends have too much time on their hands. Nothing makes your friends' lives run better than having no time to jump in and help run them.


Virginia: Hi Carolyn --
I'm not the most socially cognizant person, and I'm in need of some help. I'm in a grad program with many very attractive women, and occassionally one of them will approach me. I'm pretty shy, so it's hard to engage them much, and I'm typically anxious enough that it doesn't occur to me until later that they might have something slightly more than being friendly in mind. And of course once I've been awkward, they feel rejected never try again.

Any ideas for how to deal with this? (I'm in treatment for depression, but have never been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder or anythign similar.)


Carolyn Hax: When "later" comes and you realize you might have just been hit on, think of a way you can return the favor and approach her--not hit on her, necessarily, since a guy with shaky social receptors has to be Really, Really, Careful about that. Stick to something related to the program. Then, see if she reciprocates next time, and so on. (I'd advise against approaching the same woman more than twice in a row without her having reciprocated, see above reason.) If you do okay at making friends with other men, try to use that same approach with women.

And since you're in treatment for depression, it would make sense for you to ask about the social issues as well, assuming you're comfortable with your doctor/therapist.


Washington, D.C.: Re:Insensitive boyfriend

I was about to question why it's a dealbreaker that the boyfriend did not cancel his plans to stay with his girlfriend after she found out her mom had a heart attack. Then I thought about it and realized, yep, dealbreaker. Just wanted to share a personal growth moment.

Carolyn Hax: Everyone, if you see Washington, D.C., today, give it a hug! [studio applause]


Near compromise in Virginia: Rather than taint the jury pool, I'll just ask: How do you feel about women using hyphenated last names after they marry, as in "Hillary Rodham-Clinton" (I know that's not how she does it but it's an easy example).

OK, I'll taint a little: My fiancee is known by her middle name, but uses her first name for legal things. She doesn't want to give up any of her names, but wants my name as well, which leaves only the dreaded hyphenated married name (since the Form people only allow a first, middle, and last name). I'd prefer that she just keep her maiden (haha) name than go through the rest of her life explaining the hyphen thing. She got mad this morning when I reiterated my position.

What say YOU?!

Carolyn Hax: Unless you find any of it morally offensive, let her do what she wants. Everyone will screw it up regardless of what she chooses.


Anonymous: Why mollycoddle someone who, of her own free will, had an abortion? If she were as sensitive as she's being made out to be, wouldn't she have given the baby up for adoption and a chance for a good life with parents who wanted a child. It's over. She did it and that's that.

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, I've always found life much easier without all those pesky emotional complexities. Just be right about everything and call it a day.


New York: Please help me. I'm about to quit my job. I just can't take it anymore. I was going to quit it anyway in a week and a half but I'm about to scream. Should I do the "right thing" and stay until I had planned or be unusually caution to the wind throwing and just do it now because I'm about to snap?

Carolyn Hax: How badly do you need the week.5's worth of pay? Credit problems will long outlast any soul-sucking. But if you can afford it, buh-bye. Just do it with grace and style, full notice, no whining, and don't steal the stapler.


Re: Saving State: I think what this poster was referring to are events like "birthday dinners" organized by the birthday boy/girl and everyone is expected to pay his or her way. I don't mind when it's one of my close friends, but I have no problem "being busy" if I'm strapped for cash that week.

And I have a question myself dealing with a related issue. Hypothetically, if one was invited to one of these "pay your way birthday gatherings" for the friend of the guy one had been seeing for two months and the guy did the inviting, he's obligated to pay for his guest unless other previous arrangements are discussed, no? Thanks a bunch and have a great weekend!

Carolyn Hax: True, could be a pay-your-own-way party, thanks. Either way, tho, all invitees are free to accept the terms happily or decline without explanation.

If the guy invited you, then he pays, but bring enough to cover just in case he's at lunch right now.


A Hyphenator: I hyphenated my and my husband's last names. When I made that decision, I did it because I was reluctant to let go of my name (which is, I don't care what anybody says, a piece of you and your identity). But I also wanted to incorporate my husband's name.

That said, it is a logistical PITA. It's also longer than I'd like and a mouthful. And I also realize that my name just doesn't matter. It really doesn't. Most people I work with use my original last name anyway. I don't need a last name to tell me I'm married -

Just my $0.02 for the confounced fiance.

Carolyn Hax: I'll have the logistical pita, extra sprouts, mayo.

FWIW--The simplicity of names does start to matter if there are kids involved. Not that it's a huge deal even then, but it's not really fair to saddle them with any more confusion than necessary.


Maryland: Three years ago, husband and I adopted a two-year-old with "special needs" -- lots of love and care required. He has a demanding physical condition, but he is smart as a whip and can overcome his disabilities with lots of work, therapy, etc. But my husband and I opened our love and home knowing this was something we could handle together...

My dear heart was killed in a car crash in September. Now, my family, especially my mother and MIL are saying "told you so" about my son. They tsk-tsk and say he's too much work for one person. My mother even suggested I call the adoption agency to see if they could find another home for them.

Please let me scream at them:


Thank you.

Carolyn Hax: It's the least I can do.

I'm so sorry about your husband.

Do you have support in another form--ie, is there a group or network out there that you can tap into?


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,
I love your column.

Along the lines of it being difficult to come out -- I recently had a life-altering experience where my boyfriend of several years told me he was gay and that he had known the entire time we had been together. He then followed this statement with a proposal saying that we should get married as long as I was understanding as he had no intention of ever coming out to the public or his family. I of course I was NOT willing to go along with this and walked away from the relationship.

This has been so difficult as we had been very close friends for a while before we started dating and he is very eager to continue this friendship. I do not know what to do. I miss him and want to support him but at the same time I am very hurt and confused... any thought?

Thank you so much -- you brighten my Fridays.

Carolyn Hax: You're welcome, thank you for the kind words.

I think, given the size of the ---- pile this guy just dumped in your lap, you need to give yourself permission to take as long as you need to be hurt and confused. If he doesn't like it, then he's thinking of himself, not you, and so don't let him make you feel guilty. If and when you are ready to try to be his friend--and ONLY then--tell him so and see if he's able to reciprocate.


Widowed mom: Parents without Partners. Probably has a web site, national chapters available, do fun things with their kids (ok, they may eye each other, but not the purpose). Parents Without Partners

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, I was hoping someone out there had ideas.


Maryland: If your own mother and mother-in-law are suggesting you get rid of your son because it no longer seems convenient, that speaks volumes about the degree to which they consider your child to be their grandchild. Special needs or no, he's better off without them in his life, and, as hard as it seems, so are you. But -- be the bigger person, and leave the door open. Just don't let them in if they can't accept you.

My heart goes out to you, and thoughts and prayers are with you.

Carolyn Hax: Hard indeed, but I agree, thanks. Especially the part about leaving the door open for when they relocate their humanity.


Rockville, Md.: Isn't it amazing that the two lovely people who adopted the special needs child were raised by such selfish parents?

Carolyn Hax: Some kids mimic their parents' flaws, some go out of their way not to. Awareness is good (That, or a good boarding kindergarten.)


Dumpedville: My boyfriend and best friend of a year and some dumped me to ask out girl in my dorm. (She didn't ask him to -- she's a nice girl, and not, I think, even interested in him.) I've been quite frustrated (and frustrating, I'm sure): he says he wants to be friends, but he blows me off.

What's a girl to do? Both of them are friends with all of my friends. I'm mad and hurt (possibly more than the situation warrants), but don't want to be an a-hat.

Carolyn Hax: He doesn't want to be friends, he wants a get-out-of-guilt-free card. Give it to him. See him as the annoying guy who comes in the same package as your friends, kind of like the orange-marshmallow-filled thing that they always put in a box of otherwise edible chocolates.


Paris, Va.: I've had a lot of problems in my family and now that I'm married and have a great life for myself, I've found that these problems have come back to haunt me. So I decided to just get on with my life and make myself happy and by doing so I have really limited my contact with my family. They put me down a lot and I just don't want to hear it anymore. Certain things they say just hit me so hard and bring up so much old hurt that I don't want to be hurt by anymore. Lately, my mom and siblings have questioned why I'm never around and seem to be either getting upset about that or just happy to have another thing to complain about to me. Do I owe them an explanation? Please answer online today... I've got a family function to go to this weekend, oh boy! Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: If they pick on you, you owe them nothing. You owe yourself a response you can live with, and that can be anything from not going to any more family functions, to full disclosure--"Here is the reason I'm not around much: ..."--to full blow-off--"Thanks, I'll keep your suggestion in mind" (works best when it makes absolutely no sense because they haven't suggested anything).

Since you have chosen to keep some contact, try (try try try) to find something to like about your family. Drop your expectations to zero so they don't disappoint you, and then let yourself be surprised by the things you do like and enjoy abotu them.


Re the moms: The moms may be so grief-stricken, and may love the daughter/daughter-in-law so much, that they're just looking for a way to make her hurt less. Yes, their suggestion is appalling, but how many of us are at our best immediately after such a breathtaking tragedy?

Carolyn Hax: I love your ability to find good in these mothers. In the spirit of my last answer, I will leave it at that.


Geez, I'm scum: I worte in earlier with a stupid boy problem that didn't get answered and then I read about Maryland and her adopted son and I feel like the scum of the earth. Ugghh. Really puts things in perspective.

Carolyn Hax: It does, but it doesn't make you scum. Maryland probably had 147 stupid boy problems leading up to her choice of the boy who became her partner in this amazing act of generosity. We here at Tell Me believe in a holistic approach to stupid problems. Unless the problems or the people are so stupid that they piss us off.


Manassas, Va.: Hi Carolyn,

I thought your reply to the guy with the difficult mom in Wednesday's column was great. I do want to mention one additional thing that came screaming out of the column, to me, that they now have a new child to fight over. I think the wife needs even more support and understanding in light of this situation -- it can strain even the best of relationships.

When you're a new mom, you're exhausted, achy, and your hormones are bringing you to new highs and lows. And for the first time, your life is not about you anymore, and you must deal with the feelings of overprotectiveness and even sometimes fear for your tiny new baby (however rational).

Personally, I had a great relationship with my mother-in-law until she declared my six-week-old daughter "difficult, just like all little girls." It was an offhand comment from a mom of three boys, but I was so angry about it-- criticizing my darling new baby -- that it ruined my relationship with her for the first six months of my daughter's life, or more. My husband was not that helpful because he was expecting me to respond logically, not emotionally.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you for mentioning the hormonal/exhaustion aspect, since it is huge and might be exacerbating all the existing hard feelings the new mom has for the old mother-in-law. However, I don't agree that the wife should be indulged/allowed to snipe at her MIL just because she's a new mom. Yes, it's a hard time, and yes, her physical-emotional state needs to be taken into account, but I don't think she's excused from all rational thought. In this husband's case, he has a right to ask his wife to respond logically; it would simply be wiser if he acknowledged that he was asking a lot of her to try to override her natural burn to protect.


Washington, D.C.: I have dated some people in the past that weren't very good for me. I know in my head that they were bad boys, but my heart still has some feelings for them. Am I nuts or is this okay? I am not going to go back to any of them but I feel dumb for still having feelings for guys who, intellectually, I know are bad choices.

Carolyn Hax: These bad choices are people. No need to dehumanize them, just stick to your decision not to go out with them any more.


Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Carolyn,
In response to today's column here are some thoughts that popped into my head. I think a key part that is being missed is that one person made a promise to a loved one in a committed relationship. That promise was broken. I don't think there should be excuses for broken promises in any committed relationship and therein lies the problem. I don't think the person inquiring is necessarily insecure and jealous, but rather extremely hurt that their significant other cannot focus on being true to their relationship. Instead of spending meaningless time reading/answering the ex's emails, why can't that time be utilized by being together? That extra time and effort can be directed towards making the relationship better and stronger. Bottom line is that the questioner feels uncomfortable with the continued contact between the ex and the significant other. That alone should be acknowledged and honored by all parties involved rather than dismissed as being insecure and jealous.

Carolyn Hax: If someone makes me promise to report my actions to him, then I am calling him insecure. And, I hope, flipping him and his promise the bird. Sorry. I stick to my answer on this one.

Not to get too worked up about it, but the extent to which people excuse possessive and/or isolating behavior as somehow romantic or justified or some other wrongheaded version of same is absolutely shocking to me. "[M]eaningless time reading/answering the ex's emails" should be "time ... utilized by being together"? Holy control freak. You need together time, and you need separate lives, and those separate lives just may include some past loves gone platonic, and I can't believe I'm reduced to having to spell this out. Abuse educations available at


Carolyn Hax: Guess I did get all worked up. Which always makes me hungry, so I'm a-goin' now. Thanks everybody, and what say we do this again next Friday.


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