Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 18, 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.


Re: Catholic bride in today's column: Carolyn,

Don't you think that maybe the fact that the bride-to-be didn't know her fiance wanted to be married in the church is an indication that maybe she doesn't know him well enough to marry him?

Seems to me that if this is a side of him she didn't know existed, maybe she ought to give herself more time to get to know him before they tie the knot, wherever they tie it.

Carolyn Hax: Hm. I think that happens a lot, but I didn't get that impression with today's letter. Seemed to me like his urge to wed in the church was driven more by nostalgia/tradition/etc. than a previously undetected religious core. And that also happens a lot, but is less indicative of a problem.


Western Mass.: Hi Carolyn,
How does one deal with a constantly bragging friend?
She is the expert on everything. She has an amazing sex life, a high-powered career, is always SO busy, and has tons of money! She loves talking about how smart and successful she is, and I'm getting ready to want to tell her to shove it.

Carolyn Hax: Constantly bragging friend is insecure. Pity has a dampening effect on rage.

Though even if you don't feel like telling her to shove it any more, she will still be boring. This is also a problem in a friend.


A-Hat, Orange County, Calif: The Hax Chat makes it onto The OC!

The Hax Chat original term "A-Hat" was used in the dialogue on last night's show ... in perfect context!

You've hit the big time now.

From, Loyal Peanut

Carolyn Hax: Thank you, L.P., but I don't think "asshat" can trace its origins here. *wistful sigh*


Asshats on The OC: Did anyone else catch Summer calling Seth an asshat on last night's episode of The OC??

Carolyn Hax: Okay, now I know why you all have such problems. OC bad! Bad!


Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.: You often say that a break-up should be done face to face. I disagree. If someone is telling me they no longer want to be with me, I want to be able to hang up the phone and be miserable all by myself. Not have to then sit there and look at that person. I just think it adds to the agony.

Carolyn Hax: I agree with you, except then I don't know what to do with the fact that it would more often be used as a dodge for the dumper than it would a buffer for the dumpee, which doesn't seem fair. When my ship comes in, maybe I'll fund a think tank for dating issues.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

I read your chats and columns regularly. On a number of occassions, I have submitted variations to a question, which still has not been answered. I'd like to know if I should assume that you've read the question and choose not to answer it (in which case, I will stop wasting your time by sending it time and again), or is it that you are so swamped with questions that perhaps you have never gotten to it (in which case, I should continue to send it in with the hopes that maybe one day you'll read it)? Thanks for your comments.

Carolyn Hax: Both are possible. I do try to read all the outtakes after the show and grab questions for the print column, but it could just be your Q isn't print-friendly. So, I won't discourage anyone from re-submitting every week (until you go slowly mad and obviate your original question) but I do ask that you not submit multiple times to one chat. Thanks for asking and sorry for the frustration.


Washington, D.C.: Regarding today's question about a pregnant friend with, um, control issues ... what's a polite way to shut down a constant litany of pregnancy-related complaints (or is it even something one can do)? I have a good, good friend who's happily expecting, but not enjoying pregnancy -- nothing unusual, just the usual unpleasantness. It's not that I'm not sympathetic, it's just that I'm tired of the complaining -- she chose to get pregnant, the stuff she's talking about is pretty much to be expected with pregnancy, and she's not really looking for suggestions to help alleviate symptoms. I want to be around and supportive, but this is really getting on my last nerve. Do I just suck it up for the next couple months?

Carolyn Hax: That's one route. The other is to say -- assuming you've got a history with her that allows for teasing -- "so, how are your lower back, swollen ankles, headaches, indigestion and insomnia doing today?" (Or just, "Bitch bitch bitch bitch bitch -- no, really, how do you feel?" Even better with the proper blah-blah hand signals.) Or, if you've got a really deft touch, you can find a way to point out that this is a really HAPPY occasion and that gee isn't it all GREAT? But I am not deft enough to give you exact words, because people like your friend get on my nerves, too, reason below:


Baby Blues: Hi Carolyn,
please cheer me up. I've been trying to get pregnant for over a year and thought this month was it -- alas, it's not.

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry. There is some joy in trying, I hope? Please let there be. Try thinking of it this way -- you have all this extra love you want to give somebody. That in itself is a great thing. I hope that somebody will be your baby (and it will be, one way or the other, if you're open to other ways), but in the meantime, your partner would probably be overjoyed to have it. And family and friends and community. Hang in there.


Don'tgetitville: Dear Carolyn,
In today's column you told Cleveland to go ahead and drink in front of her pregnant friend who "has chosen not to drink." How unsupportive can one be? Yes, it's rare, but even one drink can damage a fetus. If Cleveland can't do without a drink for a couple hours to spend time with a friend then there are some other serious problems at work. It's not a sacrifice not to drink in front of a friend who's an alcoholic, is it? Then why should it be one to not drink in front of someone who is denying herself a pleasure for the health and well-being of a child who, in a very few years, will be paying Cleveland's SS bennies. Ugh.

Carolyn Hax: Why why why does someone need to sacrifice anything to be "supportive" of someone who chose to have a baby? Hello, it's a happy thing. (Which is why alcoholism comparison = apples + Stoli-oranges.) And to swing your argument the other way, why is it a pregnant woman can't bear watching someone have one stinkin' glass of wine without her? I mean really. How self absorbed can you get.

Do asshats come in maternity sizes?


Arlington, Va.: Do you have any thoughts on the Schiavo case? Who do you think should be able to speak for an incapacitated person?

If something happened to you, would you want Kenny's word to stand, or your dad's?

(No, I'm not related to you)

Carolyn Hax: I'm not going to offer my thoughts specifically on the Schiavo case b/c I haven't read enough about it to feel confident in my opinion. However, I feel very strongly about who speaks for me if I'm ever incapacitated, and that's the person I've designated in my living will and medical directive. Having these things drawn up is SO important. I'd also be happy to have Kenny or my pop speak for me because I've told them myself, and anyone else close to me, exactly what I'd want under those circumstances. Shrinking from these conversations has the potential to put loved ones in terrible positions down the road. Think about it, make up your mind, then tell anyone who'll listen.


Washington: When do you cross the line from being good friends to more than friends? My friend and I spend most of our free tome together (most every weekend and some nights during the week). We talk several times daily, travel together, he even fixes my car. Has that line between friends and dating been crossed?

Carolyn Hax: When he fixes your car, is he naked?

Once you've traveled together enough to say you travel together, you've earned enough relationship miles to ask what the eff's going on.


your kids: Have you also designated who will care for your kids in case of something bad happening?

Carolyn Hax: Yes. And they've asked us please to stop at three.


Drinking in front of an alcoholic: A friend's husband is a recovering binge drinker (variant of alcoholic). He does not drink at all; his wife does in moderation. At dinners at their house, wine and other drinks are always served and I accept, as do other guests. He drinks seltzer. Yikes. Have I been guilty of a faux pas??

Carolyn Hax: No. No no no. They're serving, so of course you can accept. I mean, his wife drinks, so obviously it's okay with him to be in the presence of drinkers. And as far as the etiquette with others, you just have to use common sense. If you have a close friend in a recently launched, active struggle with the bottle, decency says you abstain or at least ask what s/he wants you to do. But with a friend who is many years into the seltzer life, there's nothing inappropriate about having a visible beer.

On the whole, as long as people exercise good taste, there's no reason one person's problem has to become the problem of everyone else in the room. That makes the person with the problem rude.


Silver Spring, Md.: Actually one glass of wine is not going to hurt a fetus. Last time I checked French babies have no higher levels of FAS anyway, but that's another discussion ... I agree that all alcohol does not stop around a pregnant woman, but I'm wondering what you think about husbands. I think that's the one exception -- he shouldn't be drinking around her, especially keeping alcohol in the house, cause that's flaunting it. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: I still think that's a bit much, but it's your house, your marriage. We had a full bar's worth of alcohol around, beer and wine in the fridge and Kenny was welcome to it. Though preferably not all at once. Being pregnant was awesome, worth giving up alcohol for much longer than was necessary, and I still feel like I had the better end of it than any drinkin' daddies do.

I'm not touching the alcohol-effects argument, in case you're wondering, because the science is beyond my ken and the passions are beyond my mood. Though common sense and good judgment seem to do fine in their stead.


Mamaroneck, N.Y.: I'm relatively new to the column but I read it religiously...what is an asshat? I need to know!

Carolyn Hax: It's the headgear of those with their heads up their butts. See what you learn when you hang around here?


New York: Carolyn, I am in love with my best guy friend. We have talked about it and it seems that the feelings are pretty mutual, but due to his being in another state finishing school, we decided we would be better off not pursuing anything for the time being. That said, how do I "get over him"????

Carolyn Hax: Why would you want to? You like him, he likes you -- now go do all the stuff that most people don't do because they're using up all their free time trying to work out their love lives. (The true reason we haven't achieved cold fusion.)


Re: Living wills & kids: Carolyn,

What to do if your sister has designated you as the person to care for her kids if anything happens to her -- and you don't want her kids? There are no other family members and she has no friends close enough to ask this of. I feel like a total schmuck, but her kids are not people I want in my life (they are between ages 10-14) other than as nieces/nephews whom I see on holidays. Am I evil?

Carolyn Hax: Possibly. More important, though, is to hope you're not also unlucky. Remember, these things are verrry rarely necessary, and when they are, you're staring at a bunch of orphaned kids, who I think would stir enough sympathy in you to show a little love.


Alexandria, Va.: Carolyn,

I have been dating a great guy for about eight months now. He's very caring, chivalrous, and does little things to show his affections. I recently realized and told him that I love him. However, in his 35 years of life, he has never been in love with a girlfriend and is not yet in love with me. He's dated several women for one or two years, which I think would be enough time to fall in love. I don't want to wait two or three years just to find out he's still not in love with me, but also love him and don't want to give up on our relationship. Do some people just not have the ability to fall in love?

Carolyn Hax: What is and isn't possible in the population at large doesn't seem productive to me. He's told you something about him that you really should take at face value. Do you think it makes sense, given what you know about him? Will that aspect of his character creep you out, make you feel lonely, drive you nuts?

Or--does it make you want to work harder to win his affection? If that's the case, be very careful -- unless you like being manipulated and teased.

If you're not sure yet, then take your time and find out for yourself. Pay attention to the guy and what his behavior is telling you, and how it makes you feel. And, be careful not to tune it out if it turns out to be something you don't want to hear.


Richmond, Va.: Yo Carolyn!

A co-worker of mine wants to be better friends. Currently we go to the gym together once or twice a week (often with others as well) and I invite her over to my place when hubby and I have a group get-together. She's nice, but a bit whiny and insecure, and talks a lot about her dogs. A lot. (I love dogs, but there are other conversations to be had, too.) I don't make one-on-one time for her -- no desire to, really. I include her in these group things, but she has attached herself to me and hasn't bonded with anyone else. Sometimes she makes comments about how I'm her only friend and she doesn't ever go out and do anything and she wishes she got out more. I feel bad because we are not close, and if I'm really the best friend she has, I think she must be lonely. The comments seem to be fishing for more out of our relationship. I just don't think we click.

Do I have an obligation to make more time for this nice but needy soul? Or perhaps the opposite -- make less time so she won't rely on me for social engagements?

Carolyn Hax: Ouf. How depressing. Just off the cuff, I think you're best serving her by doing exactly what you're doing. Neither more time nor less, neither faking an affection you don't feel nor leaving her out in the cold.


Washington, D.C.: I'm 24. How do I disagree with my mother without setting her off? We generally get along, but lately she seems to be offering up a lot of un-asked for advice, and then taking it really personally when I don't follow it. Example: I have to drive from Washington to Columbia (Md.) to pick up a gift for a friend tomorrow. I mentioned this to Mom. She asked how I was getting there. I said I was taking I-95, and then route 32. She said I should take Route 29 instead. I said I was more familiar with Route 32, so it would be easier to go the way I'd originally planned, even if it took longer. She got all up in arms about my bad time management, and (trying to be helpful) offered to pick up the gift herself. I declined, saying I'd really like to chose the gift personally, since it's for a special occassion. Then she got all offended that I didn't trust her to pick out the gift. But I didn't ask her to do it! I didn't ask her opinion about ANY of it -- I was just telling her what my plans for Saturday were! Overall she's not a judgmental person, but lately stuff like this keeps happening. I say something, she disagrees, and then gets huffy. And I get huffy because I feel like she's calling me incompetant, and it's incredibly rude for one adult to be so opinionated about another adult's life.

I realize she's older, wiser, more experienced, and perhaps her way of doing something WILL be better -- but I'd rather try it my way first. I'm aware this sort of parent/adult child conflict is inevitable, but it's really been depressing lately. I avoid telling her stuff, just so we won't get into a conflict about it.

Carolyn Hax: "Mom, whether I take 29 or 32 is just not that big a deal. Is there something else on your mind?" 1. It's possible there is something else, like she's upset that you're 24 and not her baby any more and she's feeling irrelevant. Or whatever. 2. It's a nice way of saying, hello, whether you take 29 or 32 is not a big deal. 3. It's also a nice way of saying, Mom, I love you but I'm not going to get into the minutiae with you, even if some it does matter.

The problem with your way -- just not telling her stuff -- is that she might get more upset at being shut out, especially if it's true that she's upset about your independence/her irrelevance.

The problem with my way is that she might not go along with the plan and keep harassing you for details and then judging you for them. But even then, the answer isn't to withdraw, but to be more explicit with her that you're 24 and you need to be able to work these things out on your own, which means she needs to give you the freedom to be wrong sometimes.


Washington, D.C.: My colleague just told off our boss and walked. I am waiting 'til the day (soon soon soon I hope) that I land another job so I can do the same. How do I hold on until then?

Carolyn Hax: Live vicariously. Who knows, maybe the walker-off got through to the boss and life is about to get rosy.


Springfield, Va.: The guy who is 35 and has never been in love probably has such unrealistic ideas of what being in love means that no one is ever going to meet his expectations. If after eight months, he's still handing that line to his girlfriend, it's probably time for her to just move on.

Carolyn Hax: Ah, but then she'll pine and wonder, no? Seems like the kind of conclusion one must draw for oneself.


Madison, WI: Hi Carolyn:

What's your fun idea for this girlfriend-less girl who has nothing to do tomorrow night when all of my friends are at a bachelor party?

Carolyn Hax: Go to the movie you've been wanting to see but that no one else would be caught dead going to see.

Or--bath, book, ice cream.

Or--bake, wrap up results to give away.

Or--go to bed early, set alarm for 6 am, make wake-up calls to bachelor-partiers.


New England: I have a guy friend who got dumped about two months ago. He's getting through it. He and I are just friends. I am emphatic about that. Of course we started being physically intimate about a month or so ago. He doesn't want a relationship. I am not looking really.

However, we're great friends, it's comfortable, we take vacations together, we hang out in down time, call, and mutual friends are starting to ask what's up. (We're trying to keep things quiet).

I don't want to assume anything given his current post-breakup status, and the fact I've had my heart broken a few too many times. At the same time, it's comfortable, it's easy, it's nice, it's fun, we're physically compatible and without labels there is no pressure. I don't want to close any doors ... but if I get closer I could get hurt if I start to really FEEL something (fear I might be).

So, let it ride? Or cut off the physical and go back to being friends?

Carolyn Hax: Yoo-hoo, you're already close enough to get hurt. Not to sound too guns-don't-kill-people, but kidding yourself about people is much more likely to hurt you than the people themselves are. Most of us are pretty nice, on balance, and don't go out of our way to cause others pain. It's when people expect things of us that we're in no position to deliver that someone tends to get hurt.

You are telling yourself this is comfortable safe blah blah when you want this guy ... ? Badly? So face that and make your decision accordingly, either to step back, or fess up, or continue on and take your chances.


Colchester, U.K.: Do you think that one of the marks of a good relationship is that you know pretty early on that it's going to work out? In my experience (my own life and watching friends) this is true, but I'm curious if others would agree.

Carolyn Hax: I would agree with the caveat that the "working out" need not be romantic. Couples who work well together are people who get along naturally, talk easily, have unforced interests in common* and seek each other out even when there's no chance of getting naked.

* For some reason, typing this reminded me of that ad where the woman buys a ... judo mag, I think, to get a guy's attention. Like, barf.


ticking clock?: I am almost 40 (well, almost 39) and still don't feel that maternal urge. Is it safe to say I never will?

Carolyn Hax: It might be safe for you to say about you, but not safe for me to say about you.


No love guy: I've been dating a 45-year-old (divorced for 10 years) guy who won't tell me he loves me either ... he says it scares him. We get along wonderfully and all seems to be working well, but ... I'd eventually like a future together but don't know if this is an issue that will eventually resolve itself, or am I just fooling myself?

Carolyn Hax: He's 45, ask him when exactly he plans to grow up. Eesh.


24-year-old adult child again: Thanks for taking the question. I get that the reason she's doing this stuff as a control issue. I just don't see how calling her out on it will make it better. I think she'll just get defensive. And part of it is that I'm being overly sensitive, too. But I wish I could just talk to her about my problems, and have her not take it as an invitation to swoop in and solve them.

Petty but shoe-centric example 2: A while back, I had a black- tie event to go to, and needed to buy shoes. I mentioned I was trying to do it on a budget, but there was a pair I had my eye on that would hopefully go on sale. She starting giving me a rundown of every single shoe sale she'd seen or heard about. I kept telling her I wanted to wait for the pair I liked to go on sale. She kept calling with reports of shoes she could buy for me. It was like she was willfully ignoring that I'd said, "I have this problem solved; I am waiting to take action on it." I eventually bought the shoes for less than $20. When I told her, she was all disappointed and regretful that I hadn't waited, because she found a PERFECT pair that were less than $15. Keeping in mind I'd never seen and possibly would have hated the shoes. And the shoes were in a different state, and would have had to have been shipped or something.

Carolyn Hax: Okay, you're making me want to hurt myself. No more examples, please please.

Put down the need to prove yourself, and back away slowly. When Mama starts in on you, do NOT engage her. "Thanks, Ma, I've got it covered." And when she tries again, "Thanks, Ma, I've got it covered." And when she tries again, "Thanks, Ma, I've got it covered." And when she tries again, "Mom, I'm 24 years old." And when she gets defensive, use the, "Mom, this can't just be about shoes." It'll take a little practice, but you need to learn not to give her any traction. This is not the same thing as calling her out -- what you're really doing, by giving her the opportunity to switch the conversation to things that matter, is refusing to discuss things that don't matter. It works, but only if you resist the temptation to try to win these debates.


Re: New England: "Most of us are pretty nice, on balance, and don't go out of our way to cause others pain. It's when people expect things of us that we're in no position to deliver that someone tends to get hurt."

While I agree with that, I took New England's question as meaning she finds it scary to be vulnerable, not that she's necessarily scared of getting hurt by someone. Does that distinction make sense?

Carolyn Hax: It does, though I don't know that there's a practical difference between the two in this case. She's talking about pulling back from someone/something b/c she might get hurt by that someone/something "if" she started to care. What I was saying is that the starting has started and that she needed to be honest with herself.


Carolyn Hax: Help, I'm stuck in my navel and I can't get out, AAAAHHH


Washington, D.C.: Trying for pregnancy for more than a year isn't fun. After two plus it just gets worse. After three years I told a pregnancy co-worker to shut-up and quit complaining and be happy she's pregnant. She knew I have been trying for a long time and I couldn't take her coming into my office to complain any longer. After tears and hugs we are much better and she keeps her complaining to a minimum around me.

Carolyn Hax: Too bad that's what it took for her to remove her maternity headgear, but, good for you. (And if your quest is ongoing, good luck.)


Fiance in hospital - from last week: Could we get an update? Was everything OK?

Carolyn Hax: If you see this too late, next week? thanks.


Alexandria, Va.: I hope the husband who is considering jeopardizing his new job by going fishing is registering his wife's frustration and puts his marriage first. Similarly the new mom who decided to quit working over her husband's strenuous objections, or wives who stop having sex after they have kids. Once prize catches, many of these folks find themselves "thrown back" in the pond. Signed -- Would Make A Different Choice Today

Carolyn Hax: Okay, but please take the new mom out of that pool. Marching off to work and putting the kid in day care because they had a "deal" is not the answer to that marriage. To have a baby and then insist that no one's feelings are allowed to change is mindlessly rigid in a medium (ie, marriage) in which thoughtfulness and flexibility are essential.


Re: 24-year-dld w/ controlling Mom: I'm engaged to a delightful man and your mother sounds just like my future mother-in-law. I love her dearly, but she has control/boundary issues. The thing to always try to keep in mind while you're telling her that you've got it handled is that she's trying to help. Not necessary, granted, but knowing that her heart is in the right place, will hopefully take some of the sting out of the idea that she doesn't think you can live your own life. She just wants to be a part of it -- not even a part of it, she wants it to be her's too -- thus the boundry issues. My two cents!

Carolyn Hax: Cold, hard currency. Excellent. thank you.


Confused in the District: I hope you take my question. Here is my dilemma. I'm in my mid-20s and I've been dating this guy for about four months now and he is very, very sweet. But we have problems, sexually and communications-wise. To be honest, I don't know that they are going to get any better. I love him, though, and want to see where it goes, since I could never hurt him.

But recently, another guy entered the picture. We talk a lot, and he makes me feel alive, in a way that my boyfriend doesn't. He adores me, the things he says to me are.. he's almost too perfect -- so much so that I'm not sure I trust him. And the more time I spend talking to him, the more I feel as though I'm betraying my current BF. (Yes, I know I have some trust issues with guys).

So I'm not sure what to do. This new guy really likes me (he told me this) and I feel as though I may be missing out on a great opportunity. My friends say I should stick it out with my BF. What do you think? This has been bothering me more than it should.

Carolyn Hax: Sticking with a guy who makes you unhappy is not the way to prevent hurting him.

I'm not saying you should dump Guy 1 for Guy 2, since I don't believe anyone should ever dump one for another, but you need to get Guy 2 and the temptation and danger and whatever else out of the Guy 1 debate. If it's not working with 1, then it's not working, and you need to get out, period.

The cruelty here would be letting the thing with 1 drag on and on while you screen his replacements. I.e., just because 2 might not be good for you (or 3, or 4) doesn't mean that you should stay with 1. Fix the problems with 1, one way or another, and if you choose to break up, only then decide how you feel about 2.


For the mom problem ...: My mom got like that during the change ... we thought she was losing it ... literally. Something to think about. Could just be hormones making her act like a teenager.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks--but I think it's okay to say "menopause."


Carolyn Hax: The judo-mag-ad thing wasn't so bad, but now the association my brain just made has me thinking of the Knights Who Say "Menopause." So I think I need to go. Bye all, thanks, and type to you next Friday.


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