Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 25, 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.

A transcript follows.

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.


Arlington, Va.: I've recently become a member of the "grown-up" world (within the last year I graduated from college and have begun working).
My question involves guys and sex. In all of my relationships throughout college, I was able to wait to have sex until I was sure the relationship had real potential. Now that I've put my "big girls pants" on, I'd like to know how long I can wait before a guy thinks I'm bizarre for making him wait so long.
Is the four-date rule a reality? Is it easier defined by the time period that I've known them for? Would a guy look at me like I was crazy if I told him I expected to be exclusive (even if after only a couple of weeks) if we are sleeping together?
I met a guy two weeks ago that I really like, but have thus far been avoiding his apartment for this reason. Any suggestions?

-- Wishing I were still in college in Va.

Carolyn Hax: Be just as you were in college. Really.


Oceanside, N.Y.: Hi, Carolyn. I was using my BF's computer, with his permission. For a break I decided to play a game of free cell. When I checked the stats, I learned that he has played over 17,000 games in the "year or so" he's had his computer. Apparently he didn't realize you could check or clear stats. This sort of freaks me out, as it translates into 40-50 games a day. Do I make some lighthearted comment, or just ignore it? Even if it helps focus your mind or makes you concentrate, two justifications I've heard for computer games, that's an awful lot of wasted time.

P.S. In case you were wondering, I play a game or two at a time, maybe 10 total in a week.

Carolyn Hax: That is an awful lot of wasted time. What you do with this information is your decision, but please don't make a "lighthearted comment" unless you feel lighthearted and would like to comment. If you have something to say to him, then say it.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

Can you or the peanuts shed some light on a woman's sex drive after having a baby? My wife had our baby eight months ago, and her sex drive is just not there. She says it's not an issue of lack of sleep or being over-stressed -- it is as if her sex drive went into hibernation. Is this normal eight months removed from birth?

We are fortunate to have a great network of friends and family who help us out with baby care, and I'm actively helping out when not at work. If we weren't getting enough sleep or had a baby that's a handful I'd completely understand the lack of interest, but since this isn't the case I'm a bit befuddled.

Carolyn Hax: It would take a lot of peanuts to light this topic completely, because not only is every woman's body different, every pregnancy is different. That means one woman could lose her sex drive completely for a month, another completely for a year or more, another only when she's exhausted (not that there's any practical difference between her and the preceding two ...), and another could get a little hormonal kick from breastfeeding. And, again, the same woman could experience one of these in one pregnancy, and one or more of the others in another.

So, to answer your question, yes, this is normal, or at least one version of normal. And it's not you, and it's no reason to be befuddled. Keep doing everything that you're doing to help out, and, if you're not doing it already, work in a date night so that you and your wife can remind yourselves, often, that you were a couple before you were parents. This might not lead to, y'know, hmm-hmm, but it's keep alive the feelings that will make her want her sex drive back, which will ensure that, as soon as it's back, you'll be the first to know.

BTW, two more things -- that you and she can talk about this without huffiness, shame, etc, is the most important thing right now, but if your wife is still feeling bad about it, she should talk to her OB-GYN for reassurance. You can go along, too.


Date Routine: Is this what society has come to? Sex is now a function of how many dates someone has gone on?

Carolyn Hax: Is this what this chat has come to? One question is now a reflection of all society?


Re: Today's column: How often do you think "don't want to cause a scene" actually means "I don't want to be forced to explain my actions to the person those actions are affecting?"

Carolyn Hax: Roughly 10 out of 10.


Washington, D.C.: For you and the peanuts: Any good suggestions for a birthday gift for a very sick (probably terminally ill) friend? We're having a party before he goes back into the hospital, so I was thinking a book or DVD -- something he can take with him ... but a DVD seems impersonal and I don't know where to begin with books. Hoping you guys may have some more creative ideas. Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Maybe get all the party guests to pitch in for a hospital basket -- books, dvds, magazines, stuff to decorate the room (framed snapshots, potted plant, silly stuff). You guys are cool to be rallying like this -- I'm sure the gift is secondary, distantly so.


re: Arlington, Va.: Arlington made me want to bang my head on my desk! There is no need to make such generalizations about anything in life (e.g. when it's the "right" time to go to his apartment, to get married, to have kids, etc.)

Things will happen when they happen. You'll enter the "grown-up" world when you realize you need to just live your own life -- not look at everyone elses.

Carolyn Hax: No no, we'll have no banging of heads on desks! Walls are so much more gratifying.

Besides, what's the point of being in your early 20s if you aren't generating all sorts of anxieties over things that in a few years you won't even think about often enough to realize they don't matter?

Of course I say this having witnessed someone far closer to 30 than 20 actually say she was making a major, irreversible life decision because it was "age appropriate." That was at least a two-waller. So I'll shut up now with the age generalizations.


Providence, R.I.: A female friend of mine I've known a few years who considers me a "very good friend" told me her boyfriend "has trouble with me spending time alone with other people so I'm distancing people." To me that sounded like a big red flag but she seemed to wish to avoid talking about it.

He is very busy so it's not like she doesn't have free time. and then after putting off getting together for a couple of months. When we finally had plans to have dinner, canceled at the last minute. She emailed "my boyfriend told me to cut off contact with you, and I wish to respect his ideas." I am male, so I'm guessing thats part of the excuse in my case. She left an ex-husband, before I met her, because he couldn't handle her independence after a few years but to me this seems like the same trap. She is usually very intelligent. she is originally from a country which isn't as modern re: gender roles but is a modern professional women escaping that.

I tend to have independent women friends and so this has never happened before. It came close with one friend with a controlling latin husband but in my case she refused to give in. Is this likely the warning sign I think it is re: guy unhealthily isolating a woman. If so any advice you'd give her that might reach her rational side? they may be moving to another city soon, job transfer, and perhaps getting engaged soon.

Carolyn Hax: If I'm advising her, great -- go to, click the links to the Domestic Violence Handbook and start reading. That way you won't just have to take it from me that pressure from a partner to isolate yourself from your friends is a clear and dangerous early step toward abuse.

Since I have a feeling I'm really just talking to you, I'll suggest you read it, too, and hope you can get her attention again long enough to recommend it to her yourself. I'm also going to advise you to be a lot more careful when you toss off comments like "she is usually very intelligent" and "a controlling latin husband." Those cross over from observations to judgments, and they're toxic, especially when you're trying to be on the right side of a control problem.


Sex drive hibernation: After my sister had a baby, her sex drive dipped. Doc tested for low thyroid function. Medication did the trick. Might help the other poster.

Carolyn Hax: And the other posters from a few weeks ago who were in sex-starved marriages. You're right, thank you--low thyroid function is a common culprit and it is believed to be wildly underdiagnosed. However, I think it's also important to point out that sex drive can still be in a post-partum slump with normal thyroid function; wouldn't want all those lonely daddies to get their hopes up too high.


Re: Freecell and "wasted time": This is going to come off like I'm attacking, but that is really and truly not my intention.

But hoo boy -- the girl's using the computer (and thank God this wasn't another "I was using his computer and checked his e-mail" or "I found porn" questions) and came across something that's innocuous. Sure it may be a lot of wasted time. But it's his time. If the guy hasn't been affected adversely, had trouble at work, given her a hard time, or whatever, what difference does it make?

Seriously, in the grand scheme of things, if this is a big worry, then I want her life. Let the guy have his fun and chill. A huge theme that comes across all the time in this chat -- and it's not a criticism of the chat or the advice or any of the peanuts -- is judge, judge, judge. Doesn't that get tiring? What happened to live and let live?

Boy do I need a vacation (sorry) ...

Carolyn Hax: You and me bofe. No need to apologize.

But while I get judge-, judge-, judge-fatigue myself (okay irony-watchers, have your fun), and I'm a live-and-let-live groupie, I'm not as put off by this particular questioner as you are. This is her boyfriend, she came upon some information about him that says something about who he is, and so she should give some thought to how she feels about it. Better now than when they've hitched their lives together more permanently, and she wants to get a babysitter /take a break from the renovations/whatever and go out to dinner with him and maybe afterward a long walk, and his idea of relaxing is to sit in front of the computer all night. (Or, from the other side, when he just wants to sit in front of the computer and she's nagging at him to read a book or something she feels is more worthwhile.)


Sick Fiance Update: Am absolutely touched that someone thought to ask how he was doing. He ended up spending the weekend in the hospital with a particularly nasty (as in the Health Department got involved) case of food poisoning and another week recuperating. We keep telling him there are healthier ways to lose 15 lbs ...

Carolyn Hax: Not many faster, though. Thanks for the update, and glad he's feeling better.


c'mon now: you have to -tell- us what the age-appropriate irreversible life decision was!

Carolyn Hax: Having a baby. Poor kid.


Re: Controlling Boyfriend: Are they making any effort to include the boyfriend in their get-togethers? If not, then that could be one of the problems. He could be viewing their time together as dates. Just something to think about.

Carolyn Hax: True, but even if that's the case, it's still out of line (and red-flaggish) to respond by insisting they sever the friendship. That kind of control is never appropriate, never romantic, never good news. It may also not always be an abuse precursor, but it is usually a total-disregard-for-boundaries precursor and always the sign of an insecurity problem (which of course is always a "WHERE WERE YOU AND WHY DIDN'T YOU ANSWER YOUR PHONE"-stupid-fight precursor, and no one needs one of those).


Washington, D.C.: My boyfriend stayed out until 1:00 AM last night and never called me. When I asked him this morning what he did he just said "stuff." Am I paranoid to be so worried about this. All I wanted was a straight answer to ease my mind, but he refuses. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: No, you're not paranoid. But it does matter whether you were worried before last night, or only after. So, interrogation for you: Were you worried because it was late and this wasn't his normal MO and you were afraid he had met with harm? Or were you worried because you wouldn't put it past him to try something on the sly and lie to you about it?

If it's Door No. 1, then say that to him, and point out that you really don't appreciate that his response to your natural concern was to be nonresponsive and rude. And say that you weren't suspicious before, just worried, but given his rudeness you're now going to have to ask him what it is he's trying not to tell you. (Doesn't guarantee you'll get the truth, but if you ask with your dukes down, and make it clear you'd ratehr be dumped than lied to, then you just might score.)

If it's Door No. 2, then realize that nothing he tells you is going to be enough, because you fundamentally don't trust him. And if you fundamentally don't trust him, then it's time for you to figure out what you're still doing in this relationship.

Not your day for straight answers, is it.


Washington, D.C.: I love my girlfriend -- she's funny, sweet and everything else, but ... I'm just not attracted to her physically. I went into this thinking a nice personality is all that's necessary and that superficial things like looks don't matter. Well, they do. Now what? Do I suck it up on the idea that we're all going be wrinkly marshmellows in 20 years? Am I a callous jerk deserving of a brimstone bath? Does it get easier?

Carolyn Hax: Break up. She deserves someone who thinks she's hot. There is nothing more depressing than looking in your partner's eyes and seeing that you're not pretty. Even if she doesn't know, she knows.

You also deserve someone you think is hot, but I'm guessing you'll be quicker to act if you see it as in her best interests.


Hampden, Pa.: To Providence, R.I.: I'm a guy. I was an education major in college, and the majority of my classmates were women. After graduation, I kept in touch with my closer women friends. With only one exception, when they started dating seriously, got engaged, or got married, I heard some variation on "Please don't take this personally, but our friendship makes my boyfriend/fiance/husband uncomfortable. Please don't talk/write any more. Sorry." I had never dated any of these women, and most of the friendships lasted several years after graduation. Eventually, though, I got The Letter, and things came to a close.

I know that it's strictly anecdotal, but I can't imagine that my experience is all that unusual.

Carolyn Hax: Maybe not all that unusual, but still a bummer and wholly unnecessary. I mean cheez. We all have insecurities, but that's not an excuse to be a slave to them.

Not you, Hampden, I know I'm preaching to the choir here.


Re: Freecel: "Better now than when they've hitched their lives together more permanently, and she wants to get a babysitter /take a break from the renovations/whatever and go out to dinner with him and maybe afterward a long walk, and his idea of relaxing is to sit in front of the computer all night."

Nothing personal, but that's kind of crap. Why is this a big deal if the only sympton of it is a number she ran across on his computer? All is well, relationship is dandy, then she runs across something on his computer and it's suddenly likely that when they get married he's going to neglect the kids to sit in front of the computer?

Dude. You all really do need vacations. If there's nothing else wrong, why is this a deal?

I've always enjoyed your columns and chats, but the theme for several months has been "leave him/her." No sex? Leave him. He doesn't clean? Leave her. He plays Freecel too much? Run!! I know that these can be roots of deeper problems, but why does the first thing suggested always have to be to run?

Carolyn Hax: I didn't tell her to run, I told her to figure out whether it matters to her and why.

And, for the record, "leave him/her" has not been the theme for several months, it has been the theme for eight years.


Washington, D.C.: There's a group of women in my small office who are very snobby and exclusive. They plan things together and then flaunt that other people are not welcome. I feel like I'm back in junior high and even though I'm an adult, I can't help but feel a little shafted and annoyed by this. I hate that it bothers me. What can I do about this?

Carolyn Hax: Be flattered you don't appeal to them? I wish I had more to offer, but that's really the only answer to toxic people -- count yourself lucky that they exclude you/snub you/dumped you/whatevere'd you because it's better than having to be close to them.


Re: Confused, today's column: Carolyn, would your answer have changed if the husband in the question WERE depressed? Because my situation is exactly the same (I'm glad I'm not the only one -- well, not glad, but you know), except for one thing: I can't rule out the possibility that he's depressed. When I ask him, in a kind, caring way, if it's possible that he could be depressed, he either ducks the question, or says, yeah, well, maybe, but ... He would never get counseling for it though because, bottom line, he's not unhappy with the way things are: I'm the one who has the "problem."

Carolyn Hax: Good question, thanks. It would have changed if he were depressed, but only to include the possibility that he would or could change. I.e., he has a treatable illness, therefore he can get treated, and your marriage could return to a state that at least resembles the one you originally signed up for.

This brings up other new twists, though, including yours -- that maybe he doesn't want to change. When that's the case, then you're back to a circumstance that isn't going to get any better for you and so the answer becomes the same as the one in the paper today. If the partner refuses to get treatment, then the act of will would supersede the act of Fate, and the partner would be actively choosing his own needs over the marriage's, as the paper-husband was, and you'd be free (morally speaking) to start looking out for yourself.

Which brings up another of the new twists--an unfortunate circumstance that won't change no matter how badly both of you want to change it. Say, the illness isn't treatable, or doesn't respond to treatment, or there's a permanent disability. Then you're back to the moral rock and hard place, in which your partner would love the marriage to be as promised but s/he was nonetheless stricken by some horrible fate that prevents that, and partner makes all possible efforts to rallly but there's nothing anyone can do, and you'd be pretty selfish to walk in that case.

Just the kind of stuff I should opine about on the fly.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn, you need to change the name of your column from "Tell Me About It" to "Dump Him."

Carolyn Hax: Actually, it would be "Dump Him/Her," and that's so clunky. Maybe a more neutral, "Stop Telling Everyone About It and Effing Break Up Already."


Washington, D.C. Cubeland: Carolyn, you typed:

And, for the record, "leave him/her" has not been the theme for several months, it has been the theme for eight years.


Carolyn Hax: Humor? That's why I typed it. Why the theme, a million reasons, including that by the time people feel moved to talk to a newspaper about a problem, it tends to be pretty advanced -- but if I had to pick one reason, it would be that someone passed around "relationships are work" Kool-Aid and a few too many people drank it.

They're work in that if your BF cooks for you, you really ought to offer to clean up, or if your GF says you're being short with her lately, you really ought to consider that you might be taking her for granted and not treating her with respect and that neither is okay just because you've been under a lot of pressure at work.

But it should never feel like work to like a person, to please a person, to find ways to communicate with a person; you shouldn't have to alter your fundamental self to accommodate someone's demands; you shouldn't pretend to be anything just to catch someone since succeeding means you get to pretend for the rest of your life; you shouldn't change for someone even if you agree that you need to change, since it'll stick only if you do it for yourself; and you shouldn't have the same fight 47 times and honestly believe the 47th time was the last.

That's why.


Judging vs. Judgment?: I know that most people thinking that "judging" others is wrong. But it seems to me that at some point you have to define some values for yourself and determine, by evaluting people's behavior, that it either conforms to those values or doesn't. Where is the line between "judging" and determining that you don't want to see a person anymore because their behavior violates those values? Case in point: friend was dating married guy. I thought this was sleazy and decided not to be her friend anymore. She said I was judging her and I didn't know the circumstances of his marriage. I said that to the extent he's married, in my judgment, her behavior was unacceptable. So, was I "judging" or using my judgment?

Carolyn Hax: Another good one. I think (in the now 15 seconds I've thought about it) the line between the two is where you put yourself in relation to the other person. If you look at the behavior and say, wow, I don't like/enjoy/trust/understand/agree with that person, you're using your judgment to choose your friends. If you look at the behavior and deem yourself superior, then you're being judgmental.

I'd need at least another 15 seconds of deep thought to make the distinction in a practical sense, since deciding you don't like her based on her behavior (affair) could fit either description. But let's say she ended the affair because she knew it was wrong and couldn't live with it -- then I think dumping her as a friend would be judgmental, vs. using your judgment, b/c then you'd be saying you're better than she is because she demonstrated frailty where you presumably have none.

That means the problem with your friend isn't so much her affair as her defense of her affair -- but either way you're calling her sleazy, when in fact to pass the sniff test you'd have to say her values are fine, they're just not -your- values ... which of course would be BS and she would have license to sever the friendship because she can't abide your BS.



Washington D.C.: How's your NCAA pool looking?

Carolyn Hax: Not bad, more still in than out, and I had Louisville yesterday ... but, alas, my winner is toast and therefore so am I. Mercifully pride is all that's at stake.


Re: Cubeland: You mentioned that it shouldn't be work to communicate. I'm sort of young in this stuff, but in the early years, isn't there some work in learning HOW to communicate? Unless you come from a really awesome family that taught you all that in the first place? I know in my experience, it's something I'm not so good at ... and have to work on, or misunderstandings happen.

Carolyn Hax: Important distinctions there, thanks for the chance to make them: Learning to communicate is work, for most people; most people do at least some of that work from within a relationship, and in fact that's one of the reasons we have relationships, to give a safe-ish place to practice; even people who are good communicators are going to struggles sometimes when they're tired, stressed, torn, embarrassed, angry, unusually emotional, etc. However: If you have other relationships where you communicate comfortably (with friends, say, or family) and your romantic relationship isn't one of them, you're either with the wrong person for the long haul, or too young to be thinking about the long haul. And, however part 2, if you don't have any relationships where you communicate well, that's a cue to work on your communication skills before you commit yourself to a relationship.


New Paltz, N.Y.: To the guy who doesn't find his girlfriend attractive -- as someone who is already at the early stages of "wrinkly marshmellow"-ness, and who's husband still thinks she's hot (and vice versa), let her go. There's someone better for both of you out there.

Carolyn Hax: See, it's not just me. Thanks.


Judging vs. Judgment: I think you're dead-on on the superiority angle. The one that always comes to mind for me is a question you once got from someone who was dating a divorced guy and was worried about his character because he'd made a "mistake" in the past. As if choices that are right at the time sometimes don't go bad based on heaven knows how many circumstances. Or the one where the woman was worried because her boyfriend had gotten herpes and he'd made "mistakes" in the past -- like it couldn't have happened if he'd used a condom every single time he'd ever been with someone.

The superiority over frailty and the blind adherence to some unrealistic idea of perfection is judging. Living your life based on what you think is right is using your judgment.

(And whoa Nelly have I read too many of these transcripts or what?)

Carolyn Hax: Yes, you're scaring me.


Carolyn Hax: Sorry for taking so long -- I'm reading and reading, responses to all these big questions that came up today. Another minute while I see if I can post a few ...


Re: Judging: Maybe judging is how you look at others and judgment is how you determine what fits for yourself. For example, the poster was judging her friend for having an affair and because of that she used her judgment to decide that infidelity is not acceptable to her, and thus, her friend is not acceptable. But, few things are rarely that black and white. And, if everyone judged everyone else on their adherence to moral values, no one would have any friends. I think the important thing is, like you said, that the friend recognize her error and frailty, and the poster love and forgive her for that.

Carolyn Hax: But if the friend doesn't recognize her frailty, I don't think anyone would fault her for being upset with her friend and ending the friendship. That's where my nice clean line got all mucky. I want to let it knock around in my head for a while.


Re: Judging vs. Judgement? N.Y., N.Y.: If you can't deal with your friend's choice of relationship and it will affect your friendship with her, then beg off. She is probably already feeling guilty enough without you adding to it for her. I've been the friend of someone dating a married man before and she didn't fall into it lightly, nor did she get out of it without pain, but through it all she didn't need me judging her or sitting in judgement on her life choices. When she asked I shared my opinions but otherwise I tried to be a good friend. And for some people that means ending the friendship.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks--key point, whether you can disagree w/ your cheating friend's choice and still respect her as a friend, or whether the cheating makes you lose all respect for her.


Re: Judging vs. Judgment: Regardless, you choose your friends on how well your morals and their morals overlap. If you want to distance yourself as a result of some circumstance (her affair), then that's your choice whether you're using judgment or being judgmental. What you name it is irrelevant if this is your feeling and choice.

Carolyn Hax: Nice way around the murk, thanks.


Just an anecdote in the judging vein: A friend of mine was getting married to a woman whose parents had been divorced. He was worried she would have a higher likelihood of getting a divorce. The kicker? HE had been divorced.

Carolyn Hax: Maybe it's like obscenity -- can't define it but know it when you see it. Thanky.


Mt. Pleasant: Calling other people "judgemental" is what people do when they know they're doing something wrong and trying to rationalize it. Judging somebody is rational and necessary, though should be done in the context of tolerance and forgiveness, as well.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.


RE: Judging v. Judgement: And what if the activity is something that directly affects you? I.e. your friends are gossips and, although you don't let them tell you stuff about others, they tell others stuff about you. Friendship is over. Judging or judgement?

Carolyn Hax: Both, by my flawed definitions, but certainly you're on the high ground here. People who hurt you consciously aren't your friends.


Portland, Maine: Re: friends who have affairs ... I stupidly had one with a married man when I was 24. My friends stood by me and didn't judge (though I'm sure they thought I was crazy/sleazy). I needed their friendship to help me see that it was wrong. I'm glad they didn't dump me. People do make mistakes, sometimes ... cut friends a little slack unless it's a recurrent sleazy pattern.

Carolyn Hax: That's the last one for now, thanks everybody. Bye-bye, have a great weekend and type to you next week. About, like, hair.


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