Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 11, 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.

_____________ Carolyn's running a few minutes late. We should be up and running by 12:10 ET. -- Liz


Arlington, Va.: Hi Carolyn

What are your thoughts on buying a place with a boyfriend without any commitment? I'd like to be engaged by the time we buy, but it's not something I'd like to tell him as an ultimatum because I don't want to force the issue.

Carolyn Hax: Then don't buy. I don't think marriage should be a requirement for buying property, necessarily, but having the same goals as your boyfriend should be. If you're content to buy this house and live happily ever after with him, then, yay. But if you're going into it for a bigger something else, wait for the something else. Otherwise, look a few years ahead, and you're staring at a nasty choice that involves not just emotional ties and disappointment and all that frieght, but also a lot of your money and a legal obligation to provide a lot more of your money.


Carolyn Hax: Oh, and sorry for the late start--a delivery scheduled for 1 to 3 arrived at 11:45. Yes, an installer arrived early. I swear.


Arlington, Va.: Carolyn -- Love the column, read it every week! I have recently met a kind, wonderful guy who I adore, except for one thing. He sends money to his financially inept family on a regular basis. They are very nice people with stable jobs, they just don't know how or where to spend their money, so they are always in the hole. My boyfriend makes a good income, and he is the first in his family to have a Real Career, so I understand the desire to care for them. But the sums he sends them are ridiculous. We have been talking about getting more serious, and if we do I plan to ask him to cut them off. I am not okay with supporting his family's bad habits. I fear this could be a little too much of a powder keg. Advice?


Carolyn Hax: Define "too much." If it's something you don't feel you can stand for, and if it's something he's going to insist upon doing, then, yes, it could blow your relationship apart, but that's a good thing. Better now than after you've bought a house together or had kids who have to listen to the two of you snap at each other.
Since he seems to talk to you about the money he sends, I think you should use the opportunity to speak up now. Don't say he needs to cut them off, because he doesn't; it's his money, his family, his choice. But you should share your opinion of it--that, for example, he's not doing his family any favors by propping up their bad habits. Teach a man to fish and all. You should also say that if you and he ever did get to the point of sharing a future, you'd have a real problem with it, and explain why.
Okay then. Good luck!


Lawyerville: For legal reasons, I would advise most people to be married before they buy property with a significant other. Not that it's a necessity, but it makes things easier if there is an end to the relationship. Yes, morbid, I know. But it's thinking of morbid things that gets me the big bucks.

Carolyn Hax: Me too! Thanks.


Louisville, Ky.: Carolyn,

My girlfriend is warm, smart, funny, and sometimes deeply caring. She is also very attractive, but only when she wants to be. She opts most often for dumpy sweaters and old jeans -- even when going out -- and resents anything resembly cosmetics. I'm not saying I want a Barbie doll, just someone who invests as much time in her appearance as I do in mine. Am I shallow?

Carolyn Hax: No, but you may be courting futility. You can tell her what you told us, though I'd gussy it up a bit--maybe just say that you love it when she dresses up, would she do it more often oh pleeeease--but if that's not her thing, that's not her thing.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn--

I am going to turn 30 in three weeks and I am a little freaked out by this. Okay, really freaked out by this. I am not sure why this milestone is bothering so much. Perhaps, maybe, 30 always seemed to be so old to me. So grown-up. An age where you are supposed to have yourself together. I am none of those things. Of course, when my parents were 30 they had three kids.

Any advice on how to cope?

Carolyn Hax: The way we all do--you just do. And you stop treating a number as if it means something, and instead you look at stuff that does have meaning, like your life and your decisions and whether you're happy with them.
Another useful exercise is to grab our society's youth obsession, wad it up and chuck it. I mean really. The fact that people in their 20s feel pressured to be the next whatever by whenever is epidemic, myopic and, as a bonus, completely counterproductive. Life is long. The right time frame for achieving something is however long it takes you to get there. Unless it's to learn to pick out your own clothes, in which case 32 is a little late.
A little last-week humor there.


Buckeye, Ariz.: "Sometimes deeply caring?" That's funny!

Carolyn Hax: It is! And I meant to ask what she was the other times, but forgot, durnit. Superficially caring? Profoundly self-absorbed? Overtly hostile?


Re: Shallow guy: Louisville needs to dump his girlfriend so she can find someone who cares about her for her non-superficial qualities. What's Superficial Guy going to do with her if something happens (like illness or an accident) and her looks are disfigured?

A warm, caring, loving personality is a treasure forever and can't be painted on, unlike cosmetics. Superficial Guy should go find himself an arm-candy gal with a snotty, stuck-on-looks personality and let his girlfriend move on to someone who will cherish her for her real beauty, which is inside, does not need cosmetics, and will last forever.

Carolyn Hax: Here I thought I looked like hell today, when in fact I was just blinding people with my inner beauty. -Offending- them with my inner beauty. When this is over, I think I'll go roll in some slush.


How much time does Louisville invest in his appearance?: I'm just wondering.....

Carolyn Hax: He just left to get his back waxed, but maybe he'll write in next week.


St. Paul, Minn.: Carolyn, I am leaving for a trip in a week with some family (yea). However my brother who is not working and broke will be there also. (One of my other siblings bought his air and hotel). We will be in Vegas so I know that what little he does scrape together will be gone in a flash. I am dreading all the hints, tantrums and pouting sessions when he needs money. I can't afford to support his vacation so he won't get any money from me but he will make sure we all know how miserable he is. We planned this long ago and told him to save up, etc. Any suggestions? Should I avoid him, tune him out, tell him to act like the 50-year-old he is?

Thanks for the help.

Carolyn Hax: You're letting him ruin your trip a week before it starts. How you do it is up to you, but find a way to let it go. Ignore him, confront him, laugh at him, pity him, whatever works. Or, hey, trust him to act his age and, if that doesn't happen, trust yourself to act your age by doing your own thing. Remember, it's people like your brother who make you feel proud of yourself and your superior choices in life--specifically, letting yourself get all worked up about people like your brother. So if you can condition yourself to remember on your own, without props, that you're just fine, I think you'll find that your brother will bother you less.


New York, N.Y.: Hi Carolyn,
Love the column! Here's my predicament: I think I'm going to get dumped tonight and I need to prevent it. I've been seeing this guy for three months, almost daily. We spend a ton of time together and always have fun -- he's become one of my best friends (and he says the same). The problem--he's never had a serious girlfriend (he's 27) and apparently doesn't want to start now. He wants to keep our relationship casual (though, how he has time to date other people is beyond me when we spend all our time together)! and I want him to commit to me. Does this sound like a fear that will eventually subside or should I run for the hills?

Carolyn Hax: Or he should. YOU MUST CHILL. You've known this guy three months, not three decades, so enjoy what you have and see where it takes you.
There are exceptions; you do ahve to take care of yourself in the process. If he's taking it in 20 directions at once--or worse, to where he gets to play with you while he shops for someone else--then tell him that you like him a lot and that when he gets his head out of his ***, he can call you.


Appearance: Actually, I'm a woman and to some degree, I think taking care of one's outer appearance matters. I just remember after I got married, I sort of let myself go and then realized maybe others weren't taking me very seriously, plus, I realized my appearance was to the world the reflection of me and how I felt about me, and I started putting more effort in and found a spring in my step that I had lost. Maybe girlfriend just needs to give it a try and she'll like how it makes her feel?

Carolyn Hax: That's the philosophy I would have stated if I weren't so busy being a snot. Thanks!


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn. This is more of an etiquitte question, I think, so your 2 cents would be appreciated.

Recently my car was broken into and a few things were stolen. Of those stolen items were two things I'd borrowed from a friend -- nothing terribly expensive, but still her stuff. Is it my responsibility to replace the items? Granted she was with me when I found my car and said it was okay and I didn't have to worry about replacing them... but what'd be the "right" thing to do in this situation? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: If your friend weren't there and/or didn't absolve you, you'd have to replace the stuff if possible or compensate her if not. Since she has absolved you, you can take her at her word, though you might want to do something nice to show thanks.


McLean, Va.: But the girlfriend doesn't have a self-esteem issue like the boyfriend does! The girlfriend didn't write in with the visual problem, so why does she need to fix something she doesn't feel exist? Pay attention to who wrote the question...

Carolyn Hax: We did. The point was that it's not shallow to put some effort into your appearance, it can actually be envigorating (I'd say empowering but I just ate), and that the girlfriend might actually come to appreciate a nudge away from shlump.
And since we're talking about paying attention, who said the BF has a self-esteem issue? Even if he's fussier than maybe you or I might be, that doesn't necessarily make him insecure.


Cambridge, Mass.: Re: New York, N.Y.

I get freaked out when I read things like "I'm going to be dumped tonight and I must prevent it". People need to realize that most of the time, when your significant other decides that they don't want to date you anymore, it automatically makes it true that you don't want to date them anymore either. As in, you don't want to be with someone that doesn't want to be with you. If they have a great time together, fabulous, but she can't force him to want something he doesn't want. Even if she successfully browbeat him into committing to her, that wouldn't change the fundamental fact that he doesn't want to be with her exclusively.

Carolyn Hax: Freaked out, but quite lucid, thanks.


Richmond, Va.: I don't feel well. Can I go home now?

Carolyn Hax: Of course.


Sitting next to roger rabbit: Hi Carolyn,
I work in a cubicle farm and a new employee moved into the cube next to me about two months ago. He is slowly driving me (and others) insane because literally every five minutes he makes a very loud sighing noise that involves much lip flapping (similar to the way Roger Rabbit says "p" in the world "ppppplease"). Sometimes he has peaked at making this noise three times in one minute! I am in desperate need of a way to tell him to ppppplease stop! Note -- although he is a young 20-something he doesn't seem very interested in getting to know anyone else in the office -- thus making talking to him very difficult!

Carolyn Hax: Oh just tell the poor rabbit! Be merciful, even if comes out as, "AAAAAH stop it! Stop it! Stop it!" He has no idea he's repelling everyone within a 10-cube radius.


Anywhere, USA: Carolyn,

I work in a small-ish professional office with a lot of great people, and one freak. Freak managed to find someone to marry him, who seems to have quite a bit going for her, at least on the surface. Freak demonstrated his freakiness, in part, by telling virtually anyone in the office (who didn't sprint away fast enough) intensely personal, deeply private, and sometimes awkwardly embarassing information about his wife's personal life and business. Sometimes he virtually chases people down to tell them.

As we are generally non-gossipy, this didn't come out in the office for some time. As freak continues to degenerate, I know it's not right to say anything to his wife. However, as I am wincing at the possibility that she does not know what he is evidently telling -everyone- about her, please remind me why it's wrong to tip her off.

And if you're reading this, and nobody likes your husband, please consider that you might want to have a talk with him.

Online only, please.

Carolyn Hax: I don't know--at this point, I think she's better off not knowing. Look at it this way. You are all non-gossipy, therefore all of these embarrassing secrets remain more or less secret, just within wider boundaries than a non-freak would prefer.
If anyone wants to change my mind about this, have at it. I just put myself in the wife's position and can't imagine wanting to know what other people know about me.


Appearance: I think the spirit and intent behind someone trying to "spruce up" their S-O matters a lot. I have had boyfriends comment on my appearnce before and the intent was so different -- for one it was all about him and how "his girlfriend" looked and for the other he was concerned about helping me feel better about myself.

Carolyn Hax: The person matters abundantly, too, on both sides. I can see your second example being offensive to someone, if it's said by someone who tends to patronize, and/or to someone who is already aware of and working hard on some self-esteem issues. And I can see the first being just fine in some cases--a happy, well-balanced couple can get away with one of them saying s/he wants a little arm candy in the deal. That's why I stuck to the "I love it when you dress up." It says you're pretty, you're fine, this is about me.


For sitting next to Roger Rabbit: How about everyone around him start making the same noise all the time. He might not catch on but it would be more fun than just sitting there.

Carolyn Hax: Effing brilliant.


Carolyn Hax: But what do you suggest for this one:


Arlington, Va.: Hi Carolyn,
Love your chat. I have a unique dilemna. I work in an office of all males and notice that they seem to believe that is totally appropriate to walk around burping and farting. Not the silent and deadly type but the hey, I am immature and farted louder than you type. Even my boss does this. How do I get them to realize that this is totally not socially appropriate, let alone, appropriate in a business setting. The snide remarks about it being gross just are not working. No wonder they are all still single!

Carolyn Hax: Apologies to those dining at the cubicle cafe.


Greenbelt, Md.: Carolyn,
When I slip out of bed in the morning and see myself naked in front of my vanity mirror, I think I look pretty good. -

When I come home from work at the end of the day and change my clothes in front of the mirror, I think I look dumpy and fat.

What's that all about?

Carolyn Hax: Well, we do get a little shorter over the course of a day, so I imagine gravity has its ruthless way with flesh as well as bone. Maybe undress somewhere mirrorless. Metro platform, Safeway, neighbor's yard.


For Freak's co-worker: The last time someone told my little group somthing intimate about his SO, I bluntly asked "do you really think that she would want you sharing that with us?" It stopped him in his tracks, and he admitted "probably not." He might have kept "sharing" with others, but he never again did where I could hear him.

Carolyn Hax: Excellent, thanks.


Roger Rabbit:
Oh no!; I just caught myself doing it!;

Carolyn Hax: I did it too.


For the farters and burpers: Tell them if they don't stop, you'll start talking about menstruation, a topic that really seems to freak immature men out.

Carolyn Hax: And mature ones, and some women of both stripes, and any unusually intuitive dogs, and some advice columnists who make the mistake of posting fart questions. I have been duly punished.


re: RR: might it be some sort of involuntary disorder?

Carolyn Hax: Oh goodness I hope not. Perhaps the original poster should just ask nicely if he can please stop.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

I have a very hard situation on my hands and I am lost. My ex boyfriend and I just decided to give it another chance. We have been off and on for about three years and never really put the full effort into a second chance. The problem is he has become very good friends with my sister, which pushed me out of the picture for a while, and I let him know that was part of the problem with our relationship because there was no room for me. They are good enough friends to the point where he thinks she will be upset with the news of us reuniting. Whenever I have gone to her about advice about him she has always told me to look at the big picture and to move on, well I cant see the big picture without him or at least giving it a real try. I was so happy when we decided to try and he said he didn't want to let me go again, but now I have this huge fear of what may happen between myself and my family. Have any advice?

Lost with love


Carolyn Hax: Talk to your sister. There's a lot of weirdness here, and it would take me forever to wend through at all and I'd get it all wrong anyway. Talk to her and try to establish some sort of understanding. Even if it's not an entirely happy understanding, it won't hurt your relationship with the rest of your family anywhere near as much as guessing/dreading/tiptoeing/avoiding/what-iffing would.


Holdingpattern, USA: Hi Carolyn,

Love your chats and columns!

My boyfriend is taking a standardized test for grad school in about a month. Things are not going well between us -- mostly because he never says "I miss you," or "I wish I had more time to spend with you." Maybe silly little words, but I wind up having no idea how I fit into his life.

I've been formulating what I would say if we actually had time to talk (he knows something is up, but he hasn't had time to even face it). Do I wait until after his test to talk with him (to see if his schedule/mood changes), even though it's killing me inside? Or do I say something now and risk distracting him from his studies and also getting a stressed-out response?


Carolyn Hax: Why not try giving up on him, expecting him never to say anything you want, assuming that you don't really fit into his life at all when he's consumed by something else, and then, for the next month, living the life you'd live if you were to break up with him this afternoon. All it is is a change of perspective, so you don't need him to do anything. It's the lemonade you can make out of the lemon of being ignored--you can basically try on the breakup and see which is better, having him in your life and accepting that he can't multitask, or being on your own with the possibility of meeting someone who can be affectionate while busy.


Just curious: What did you have installed?

Carolyn Hax: Range. I prefer a separate cooktop and wall oven setup, but what can you do.


Hello?: Does anyone know where all the cute, single, straight, liberal, nice, men in this city are hiding? Any advice would be much appreciated.....

Carolyn Hax: Maybe they don't know where you are.


Bethesda, Md.: So, this person works with a man they hate. Apparently, they cannot even concieve of this man being found attractive by anyone. This poor maligned man doesn't even realize everyone in his office hates him. Sad but OK. How about we deal with things like a grown up and not a tattling five-year-old. Tell the man to his face to stop telling you things you don't want to know. Leave his marriage alone since you clearly don't understand it.

Carolyn Hax: Right you are, thanks for the correction.


For Holding Pattern: Just to add a little to your advice about the girlfriend of the grad school tester. She should consider that if this is how he is during the test prep, it may be how he is during grad school. My best friend is going through this now with her boyfriend. Although they're working it out, it was definitely an eye-opener that looking back, his behavior was consistent throughout the whole process.

Carolyn Hax: Right--and I'll add to your advice, that this is how he'll deal with pressure, period.


Washington, D.C.: HELP!

Fiance just admitted to the hospital with unknown ailment and boss won't let me leave. ACK! What do I do to keep my sanity for the rest of the afternoon?!

Carolyn Hax: Your being at the hospital won't affect the outcome. So, just concentrate your way to the end of the day. Having a job to keep can actually be a comfort, if you let it--it can distract you from the emergency, and not vice-versa. Good luck.


Deep Trouble: I flirted with a guy who I'm not really romantically interested in. He got the wrong idea, and now I'm in hot water. I have to find a nice way to tell him no, even though I've already sort of said yes, but I can't afford to have him think poorly of me because I am a college student looking to land a summer internship and he is my professional mentor. He is smart and successful and handsome. If he were my equal, I would probably be interested in him. I guess that's why I got a little carried away and flirted. But he's 20 years older than me and we are on such unequal footing professionally that romance really wouldn't be appropriate. I told him all this, but he said that it's only inappropriate if he were to take advantage of his position to start a relationship with me. Since I'm the one who started it with my flirting, it would be O.K. Whatever, I'm still not comfortable with this. But I need a stronger and non-offensive way to tell him to back off.

Carolyn Hax: "I know I started it, but I am still not comfortable with it." If that's not good enough, you need a new mentor. There are other internships, other ways to get internships, other things to do in the summer than internships. Don't lose perspective of the various consequences here.


Maryland: So I know this will sounds awfully superficial, but best friend (I thought) chose another friend for maid of honor and I feel so hurt. I haven't said anything to her, nor do I intend to, but with the wedding approaching I am worried that my feelings will become obvious. How do I get over this ridiculousness??

Carolyn Hax: Eh, tell her you feel hurt. Or, don't, like you said, and suck it up on The Day. But I don't think you should necessarily dismiss your feelings as ridiculous. For one thing, I doubt you would question feeling hurt if this were a romantic relationship and you were passed over for someone else. Caring is caring. And, ridiculous better fits the whole idea of lining up one's friends at the altar in order of priority. It's a rotten "tradition" and it can't sputter off into the sunset soon enough.
By the way--at the risk of touching off a frenzy of overanalysis, there's a reason your friend did what she did, and it's not necessarily that she feels closer to this other friend. I'm not going to get into all the possibilities since it's 2:23, but just anecdotally I've seen some amazingly twisted thought processes go into the arrangement of wedding parties. Everything from friend-group politics to dress sizes to calculations of who has more time to devote to Bridezilla. So, while there still might be grounds to be hurt (or annoyed or repulsed), it might not be what you think.


Carolyn Hax: Okay bye. Thanks for joining us on funny-cubicle-noises week. Next week: I don't know. I don't think there's anyplace left to go after that and I-waited-till-marriage-to-become-a-virgin week.


Being at the hospital can affect the outcome: IT DOES AFFECT THE OUTCOME!;

Having someone to advocate for you in a real emergency can help you get treatment.

Too long to explain, but in at least one case a conscious, not-in-pain advocate got a relative the help she needed. She didn't die, which she might have without an advocate.

GO TO THE HOSPITAL. Screw the job.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks--didn't occur to me that he might not be conscious or thinking clearly. If that's the case, then an advocate is essential.


© 2005 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive