Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 4, 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.


Wedding Party: Hi Carolyn

How do you politely turn down a request to be a bridesmaid? This wedding is going to cost a mint, I will likely end up dropping well over a grand, to be in it, and I'd really rather just be a guest. It isn't like I see my friend more than once a year anyway (she's local).


Carolyn Hax: "I'm sorry, I'm flattered but also broke." Maybe it's more information than you'd like to disclose, but it's the truth.


Washington, D.C.: When do you cut off a live-in boyfriend who is not finding a new job after quitting his last. We have know each other for over 10 years and have been living together for three. We dated at the begining and then were friends for years and got back together three years ago. He quit his job in August and has been taking a very lay back approach to looking for a new job or shooting for the moon on jobs he had no experience in. I have tried to be patience but I have been loosing it recently. I have been paying for the rent by myself and I love him and know he frustrated but I think he has to just find somthing. What should I do?

Confused (for online disucssion only)

Carolyn Hax: You cut him off when you don't want to be with him anymore. The specifics may change but that's always the answer, really, unless you have extraordinary circumstances to consider. (E.g., you don't dump your spouse when s/he gets cancer and you don't want to deal.)

Someone on the outside might criticize you for dumping a guy when he's down, but in your case you have a (very) legit complaint--that he's willing to let you pay his rent instead of getting a part-time wage job to tide him over while he looks. That gives you a complaint against his character, which, again, brings us back to its being time to leave when you don't like/want the guy any more.


Flattered But Broke: Actually, she didn't say she was broke, just that the wedding would cost her a lot more than she was willing to spend. "I'm sorry, I'm flattered but really don't have the money to spare" might be more accurate.

Carolyn Hax: Right you are, thanks.


Arlington, Va.: Dear Carolyn,

I've been trying to break up with my long distance lover for the past two weeks, but he's been away on business and out of contact. He likes to text message, but I felt guilty saying something important in such an informal medium. I keep asking him to call, and he promises to, but never follows through (this is part of the reason I'm breaking up with him).

My question on etiquette is: can I break up with him in a voice mail, or should I just stop contact altogether?

Carolyn Hax: You'd feel guilty text-messaging him, so you're going to cut him off without explanation? I think you've crossed a few courtesy wires.

Because he has blown off your attempts to get the message to him properly, you're now free to get the message to him any way you want. But get the message to him somehow. Even people who are begging for a bird-flipping should be handled with respect, if only to teach them what that's about--and I'm still waiting for the person to write in saying, "I'm so glad my ex chose to disappear without explanation instead of breaking up with me, because it really taught me a lesson."


Carolyn Hax: Sorry that took so long--I was reading over my first try, and noticed it was incoherent. And as you know, I prefer to start cleanly and descend into incoherence, as opposed to the reverse.


Bridesmaid, another twist: Carolyn,

What if the reason you don't want to be a bridesmaid is that you dated the groom at one point and still have feelings for him? Is there a way to decline without having to reveal why? Especially to the bride? (I could try the money route, but he has a lot of money, so I'm sure he'd just offer to cover my expenses.)


Carolyn Hax: Assuming everyone knows you and he used to date, I think you'd be okayif you just said, "I'm glad you're fine with it, but I'm still his ex and I feel strongly that I belong in the congregation."


Re: Texty soon-to-be ex-bf: I imagine if you text message him "WE NEED TO TALK" he will respond quickly, and maybe you'll get a phone call in response. Only the really social dense don't know what "We need to talk" means. I had a bad communicating (bad logisitcally, not bad emotionally, although it can eventually amount to the same thing) boyfriend once, so I feel Arlington's pain.

Booooooo to electronic break-ups!; Although it's not the dumper's fault in this case.

Carolyn Hax: Good point, thanks--though if he's dodging because he knows what's coming, then he'll redouble his non-efforts to get in touch. But then she can dump him by carrier pidgeon.


Washington, D.C.: My husband cheated on me and moved out to live with the "other woman." We've recently talked about getting back together, but now he says he can't come home anytime soon because the grandfather of the "other woman" died and he doesn't want to hurt her. Am I being unreasonable in asking him to make his decision on my timetable and not on hers? Why does it seem that breaking up with her is more difficult for him than breaking up with me was?

Carolyn Hax: Now please ask yourself the next question in the series: "What was I smoking when I decided to take this guy back?"


Washington, D.C.: What should I eat for lunch?

Carolyn Hax: I just had a most excellent PBJ. But if you have access to grilled salmon with a butter-based sauce and julienned vegetables, I would go with that.


Arlington, Va.: I recently started a new job, where my department is very clicky. For the first month I invited myself to lunch almost every day, but always had to initiate the conversation or be ignored. Now, since I still never get an invite to lunch, I eat by myself at my desk. I am younger than the rest and pretty young for the company. They are not mean people. I was wondering what is the best way to be included without being seen as the "third wheel?"

Carolyn Hax: How could they not be mean people if they ignore you after you made such a sincere and difficult effort?

But anyway. At this point, I think the best way to be included is to invite yourself occasionally--once every couple of weeks--to avoid looking as you have every right too look (pissed and/or disgusted), and at the same time to make an effort to form office friendships one-on-one with a coworker or two whom you find more interesting or accessible than the others. The way into a clique (if that's what you really want, or if that's what you're stuck with) is one invitation at a time from one person at a time.


E-mail dumping: I once dumped a guy via e-mail, but it wasn't my choice. He kept e-mailing me at work that he knew something was wrong and we needed to talk about it; I said okay, but later in person; he kept nagging; I lost my cool. Then he told everyone I was classless for dumping him over e-mail. So that's on my permanent dating record. What can I do to have it expunged, given that I feel there were extenuating circumstances?

Carolyn Hax: There are permanent dating records? Who keeps them? Are they flammable?

The bigger mark on your record is that you dated the kind of jerk who'd go around trashing you after you broke up with him. But I'm sure you'll live it down eventually and have a productive and fulfilling dating career and many, many dance partners in the community room at the senior center.


Berkeley, Calif.: Is your middle name Anne?

Carolyn Hax: No. Are you wearing a hat?


Arlington, Va. (e-dumper again): Dear Carolyn,

Thanks for responding to my question. You're right (of course). No matter what kind of butt-monkey he's been (and he has) he deserves the kindness of a closing farewell. I guess what I'm worried about it is how much can I say beyond "I'm sorry, but I don't want to be with you anymore" on someone's voice mail?

I don't think he needs to hear a three-minute message of why he's been a bad boyfriend, but I also feel like I'd like to let him know why I'm leaving for my own closure (and I don't think he'll call me to find out after I leave this message).

Thanks again Carolyn!

Carolyn Hax: How bout something along the lines that you tried to do this right but he kept not getting in touch with you, which pretty much encapsulates why you're doing what you're about to do: then say this isn't working and it's time for you both to, in this case, keep going your separate ways.

BTW, if you have the choice, I think it's better in writing/by e-mail than by voice mail.


Silver Spring, Md.: Is it unreasonable for my wife to not allow me to go to a concert because she wants to go but can't because she's pregnant (it's a small venue with way too much smoke)?

Carolyn Hax: Many wives would want you to go, but you didn't marry any of them, so I guess you're staying home. But that's okay, many husbands wouldn't consider going if she couldn't go, too, and she didn't marry any of them, either.

If it makes you feel any better, it could have been worse--she could have said (picture the back of her hand pressed against her forehead): "No no, you go, have fun. I'll just sit home. Alone. In the dark. Doing what's best for our child."


Long distance dumping: OK, this discussion is making me nervous because I have a LDBF whom I can't afford to visit much and mostly we communicate in text, and things are heading to dumpsville. Could we have an official hierarchy, please, from most acceptable to most heinous dump venues? Would be very helpful.

Carolyn Hax: In my opinion (meaning, what I'd want as a dumpee):

Most acceptable: In person.

Acceptable. Over the phone (Not cell, please. "WHAT? YOU"RE BREAKING UP ... ")

Acceptable if there's no other choice, otherwise unacceptably weak: In writing, by e-mail. (Letter would seem the best of the bad choices here except that you may talk on the phone while it's in transit, which demands a weird bit of lying).

Acceptable if you're on an Arctic exploration and your ear would freeze if you called: Text message

Most heinous: Silence.


Somewhere, Over the Rainbow: Carolyn;

Is there any way to keep yourself from developing feelings for people quickly? And by quickly I mean literally within a few hours. This is a pattern which keeps on repeating itself in my life, and so far it has only lead to pain and heartbreak.

Any advice you can provide would be appreciated.

Carolyn Hax: You probably can't stop yourself from developing feelings, but you can remind yourself that they're lusty, not lovey, feelings and that you really ought not operate heavy machinery under their influence.


Re: Berkley, Calif.: It's possible the Berkley also reads Weingarten's chat. It was mentioned on Tuesday that an apparenlty large number of women have the middle name Anne. Weingarten wanted to know if this was true and asked people to write in. Maybe Berkley is doing a little informal research.

Carolyn Hax: Ah. Around here, it's all Mary or Marie.

No word yet on the hat.


RE: Silver spring concert: Is one night out in a smokey venue really going to harm the child? Seriously that is a little overboard. Unless of course she really has a complicated pregnancy and the smoke really would harm the child. Otherwise, you should both go. heck, my mother smoked through all her pregnancies and we all turnd out fine. (she stopped smoking soon after)

I would go to the concert and she can do as she wishes.

Carolyn Hax: Wanna hear overboard? I was going to say "who cares" on the one night of smoke, but then mentally backspaced it because I didn't feel like taking the flak.

Besides, it's possible she's at a point where the smell of smoke makes her queasy.


Silver Spring's concert: Seems to me you ducked that one. How come, in most other situations, you address the controlling behavior of people? Is this an exception because his wife's pregnant?

It's an unreasonable and controlling request. I am female, I do have children, and my husband's not one of them.

The drawback to giving your spouse "permission" to do something is that then they expect the same privilege (power). And then there's that whole joined-at-the-hip thing. Geez, be able to do things separately.

Carolyn Hax: The wife's pregnancy is not the exception per se, but the fact that she has an ongoing (possible) hindrance to getting out and doing stuff with her husband was one reason I didn't side automatically with the husband. (See ... was it today's column? for an idea of how I feel about couples' freeing each other to enjoy a little independence.) If she's morning-sick or uncomfortably large or on doctor's orders to lie low, a good husband--no, a good -friend- --would clear a few things off his schedule to hang out with her at home.

Like I said--and meant, meaning, it wasn't a dodge--the way to be in the right in this situation is for her to grant him freedom to go out and have fun, and for him to feel it's more fun to be home with her during this fleeting stage of their lives.


Washington, D.C.: What do you think about boyfriends (long distance) who regularly hang out at strip clubs "because that's where the friends go?"

Carolyn Hax: I think he has crappy taste in friends and no mind of his own.


Sioux Falls, S.D.: Carolyn,
I have had friends in the past, and have found that after a while I really do not want them in my life any more. I enjoy the company of my husband's friends, but not their wives, who I don't seem to have much in common with. This causes a problem when it's "The Webers want us to go out with them for drinks." The wife and I usually end up sitting and listening to the guys talk. My husband thinks that two women just naturally have oodles to talk about and that I'm being antisocial. What is the secret to snappy patter, meaningless dialogue, and girl talk? I can't seem to get it right.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, your problem is your husband, for using a social playbook from the '50s. All conversations have to divide along sex lines? You can't partake in a general, group discussion of weather, life and weird neighbors like everyone else? Worse, he's using this playbook against you, and judging you flawed. No fair.

Worst of all, though, is that you go along with it--both by sitting mutely while the menfolk talk, and by assuming all women want is "snappy patter, meaningless dialogue, and girl talk." Join in, or start, the conversation you find interesting, with whoever's handy. Surprise yourself.


Fairfax, Va.: "Washington, D.C.: What do you think about boyfriends (long distance) who regularly hang out at strip clubs "because that's where the friends go?"

Carolyn Hax: I think he has crappy taste in friends and no mind of his own. "

And he likes to go to strip clubs.

Carolyn Hax: Oh, right, that too.


A Dark Hole: For most of my adult life, I have been at odds with my family over my "lack of achievement." I haven't continued my education past my bachelor's degree, and my jobs since college have been secretarial/administrative in nature. However, I tend to think I'm doing just fine. At 30, I have a challenging, interesting job as an executive assistant (with a near-six-figure salary), and also have a loving husband and beautiful daughter, as well as several creative, rewarding hobbies. I may not be a CEO or on my way to winning a Nobel prize, but I'm very happy with my current place in life.

Until a couple weeks ago, I interpreted my family members' criticisms as misplaced but well-meaning (constantly asking me about when I was going to get another degree or a "real" job), and responded in kind: that I appreciated their concern, but was happy with where I was.

However, for my 30th birthday, they threw me an "intervention" under the guise of a surprise party, enlisting my unwitting husband as an accomplice. As he thought it was an actual party, he invited lots of our friends and co-workers. When my family members showed up, though, the "intervention" began, during which they all told me what a screw-up and an embarrassment I was. At first, I thought it was something on the order of a roast so I played along, but it soon became clear that they were serious. By this time, my husband and I were both too shocked to stop it.

Anyway, as you might imagine, I'm feeling horribly humiliated and embarrassed -- and angry. I'm also hurt that my family would think so poorly of me, and to make matters worse, I'm questioning whether there might be any truth to their statements.

How do I get back to enjoying my life after something like this? How do I stop feeling crummy about myself? Is there any way to respond to this "intervention" without completely ruining my family relationships, especially my relationship with my parents?

Carolyn Hax: Well I'm speechless. And it's too bad you guys were, too (understandably, though, so don't start beating yourself up for that on top of everything else), because your family deserved to hear the truth about themselves on the spot, a counter-intervention.

They have you questioning yourself, when--all along, but especially now--it is you who should be questioning them. What kind of misplaced priorities, what kind of warped values, do they need to have to shun an intelligent, educated, hard-working, loving, responsible, stable mamber of their own family?

Please use this horror as the slap in the face you needed, finally, to wake you up to the immensity of what you've accomplished for yourself. You've found your own values, and lived by them honorably, despite being up against a constant challenge from those who would diminish you. Hold fast, trust yourself, love yourself, love that family, and pity anyone who can't see the beauty in a life such as yours.


Jacksonville, Fla.: Carolyn,
I am married to an amazing woman-- charming, attractive, fun, makes everyone comfortable, etc. We have been getting together with an old buddy of mine and one of his good friends lately, and it's been great.

Here's the question: my friend's friend has called my wife several times to make plans with us. When she says to get in touch with me, we don't hear from him again. I know it's possible that other things have come up, but I can't help but wonder why the guy doesn't just call me rather than my wife. Am I wrong to be wary of his intentions?

Thanks for your wisdom.

Carolyn Hax: No wisdom, just a nod in agreement that the friend-of-friend is probably trying to pick off your wife. But if that's really what he's up to, he's not only morally reprehensible, he's also a rank amateur. Hello, calling the wife directly? And not the husband? Can you be more obvious?

Anyway, even though you're right to be wary there's really nothing you need to do, since your wife's taking care of it for you. Tho you can say to your friend, "What's with X?" and tell him the story.


Re: Dark Hole: I don't know, sounds an awful lot like one of those "you gotta hear the other side" type stories. One, I question if it actually happened like she said. And two, I can't believe her family is so evil and she so innocent. Like one family story in one billion is that one-sided.

Carolyn Hax: I actually thought of that, and couldn't think of the scenario where a family would be justified in singling out a gainfully employed, married mother who professes to like her life the way it is. Can anyone think of one?

Maybe the answer is in the part about its not happening as she said, but, I don't know, having families register their unhappiness/disappointment with one member is a pretty regular thing in this column--hell, I've seen it plenty myself. So that part isn't so hard to believe. But it's usually in response to that family member's unhappiness, financial struggle, marital problems, health problems, kids who aren't thriving, or of course the all-stars, chronic resistance to marriage or childbearing.

So I guess I'm saying I'd agree with you if I could figure out how to.


Unilateral Interventi, ON: If I were the person who underwent public humiliation from other family members under the guise of an "intervention," I'd be sure to forget their contact information and forget to return their calss and e-mails for a year or two. This is a situation where silence is the most appropriate way to dump someone.

Carolyn Hax: Ah, great job tying that one back in, thanks.


Arlington, Va.: I've just realized that the reason I don't like the new guy in my office is that he laughs at everything. Something about him has been bothering me and I couldn't put my finger on it but now I know!
Me: It's really cold out.
Him: Ha Ha Ha
Me: ???

Carolyn Hax: Maybe he's nervous. Wait till he's the getting-old guy in your office, then be annoyed by it.


Perplexed, Va.: Why is it socially acceptable for an educated man to date uneducated women but not the other way around? I am a dual-degreed woman that really likes a blue collar guy. Friends and family giving me the hairy eyebrow when they find out guy has only high school degree. Why can't they see that the guy makes me laugh, is nice to me and I am really happy with him?

Carolyn Hax: Because you're supposed to take care of the babies while he puts on a gray suit, commutes to the office and makes money handling money. They didn't teach you this in skool?

Ignore them.

Unless ... what they're really telling you is that the relationship is bad, and you're hearing it as a prejudiced response to a degree imbalance. If that's the case, then you need to get the chip off your shoulder and listen.


Laughing all the time: We had a woman in our office who did this, too. She was drunk there a lot, it turned out.

Carolyn Hax: There is that.


New York, N.Y.: Carolyn,

I'm a big fan of strip clubs. And I'm a pretty good guy. But of course, you wouldn't (or try to) understand. But you go right ahead with the judging.

Hope the weather is nice on whatever planet it is that you live on (you know, the one where the genders are the same -- except for shoe shopping, which you happen to like and do actually recognize). Interesting.

Carolyn Hax: Speaking of chips on shoulders.

I hate shoe shopping. I like shoes. Especially when oiled men with fake boobs stuff them in their G-strings and gyrate in my face.

Gotta go. Thanks everybody, and type to you Friday.

Oh, and for the person in a Dark Hole, there's been a real outpouring. If you e-mail me, I can send you a few of the posts.


Washington DC: "Because you're supposed to take care of the babies while he puts on a gray suit, commutes to the office and makes money handling money. They didn't teach you this in skool?"

She didn't seem to think it was a gender issue and rather it was a disparity of education issue. Why must you jump the gun and pretend it is something it is not?

Carolyn Hax: Yoo-hoo: "Why is it socially acceptable for an educated man to date uneducated women but not the other way around?"

Gender issue, her idea.


Carolyn Hax: Speaking of jumping the gun.


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