Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 1, 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.


This Q is driving me crazy!!: Carolyn,

Why, why WHY, does like NO ONE ever give their kids the woman's last name?

I'm not saying everyone should, believe me I think CHOICE is the whole point, but it boggles me that no one ever seems to choose this particular option!

I don't see any reason why not, what do you think?

Carolyn Hax: Habit, simplicity, habit. Who knows. I do know three couples who use the wife's last name.

Does this help? You okay?


Washington, D.C.: It's 12:02. Where ARE you?

Carolyn Hax: On my back with my arms and legs in the air, like a bug.


Raleigh, N.C.: Can you shed some light on your own background that gives you a leg up on others to pontificate to us?

Carolyn Hax: I don't have a leg up. That's the whole point of the column. I'm opining from the position of ordinary person, vs. trained expert.


Apr, IL: This is going to be an April Fool-themed chat, right? Where the questions are ludicrous and everyone is sarcastic? No, just you.

Carolyn Hax: Liz scares me.


Washington, D.C.: Good morning Carolyn. I have a friend who I've known for a long time. We don't see each other very often; we'll usually get together 2-3 times a year to catch up.

I got engaged a few weeks ago. I haven't really been running around announcing it too people (that's just not my style). However, two close friends of decided to throw me an informal "congrats happy hour". Getting to the point: my other friend found out about my engagement for the first time through an invite to this happy hour and now she's upset that I didn't tell her myself first. I starting to feel guilty about this, do I owe her an apology?

Carolyn Hax: Define upset--slightly bruised feelings or a full-blown hissy? In either case, I think an apology would be decent, since it can feel like a real snub to be the last to hear someone's good news. But if she doesn't know you well enough to understand it was an innocent oversight, or if she's not accepting your explanation that it was an innocent oversight, I think it's fair to say this was just your style, not a big statement of any kind.


Carolyn Hax: Speaking of apologies--sorry about having two dead-air spots in the first 15 min. I've now changed my mind about two questions mid-answer. I will try to stop being fickle now.


Leg up: First you have your legs in the air like a bug, then you don't have a leg up on anybody. What gives?

Carolyn Hax: Um ... I'm not sure.


No fooling!: Happy April Fools Day,
But this question is no joke for me. My husband and I are happily married with a five-year-old son. Life is pretty good. We aren't rich but have enough money to get by. We love each other and the kid. So what's the problem. I am yearning for another baby, and my husband is not. I am also at the end of my child bearing years, so this cannot wait a long time. I have been trying to convince my husband that another kid would be a good idea, but he is pretty much set on not wanting one, because it is a lot of work, and we are finally free to do some stuff that cannot be done with wee little babies. So how do I accept this decision, which is wholeheartedly not mine. Obviously, I want to keep my family intact, but feel more resentful of my husband each day.

Carolyn Hax: I think any effort to shut up and deal is going to backfire, so I'd urge openness about the way you're feeling. If you're not up to it or he isn't hearing it or you're afriad you'll make things worse, this is a situation made for marriage counseling. Sorry to pass it off, but this is going to take an ongoing effort, not a switch-flipping.


Eastern Seaboard: Long story short: Have been with boyfriend over two years. We're getting married early next year. Messed up and had a indiscretion with an out-of-town colleague about a year ago. Since then, feel tremendous guilt (boyfriend doesn't know) and it has had a terrible, terrible effect on our sex life. Before it was healthy, spontaneous and often. Now, it's never and I have no desire because I feel so guilty every time. I will not disclose my mistake -- that's my burden to bear, but how do I get past it in the bedroom?

Carolyn Hax: Disclose your mistake. It may be your burden to bear, but you're not carrying it well, and because of that a lot has flopped onto his shoulders. And, worse, he doesn't even know what he's carrying. Yes, it's horrible to hear you've been cheated on, but imagine how horrible it is for him to wonder why you won't even touch him any more. At this point, if I were he, I'd be relieved to hear the "bad" news.


Washington, D.C.: I made a mistake at work today and the guilt is taking away from my enjoyment of today's chat. Can you make me feel better?

Carolyn Hax: Better, I'm not sure, but how about less alone? I thought about taking out the mention of Social Security in my Wednesday column because I knew it was more complicated than I was implying, but I didn't and I've been hearing about it ever since, and I feel terrible that I wasn't more clear, and I now cringe every time I see that column in the subject field in my inbox.

It does pass. By next chat, you will have come out from under your desk, maybe even have cut eyeholes in the paper bag.


Carolyn Hax: Now that it's on my mind:

If a working spouse dies, the nonworking spouse gets the full benefits. If a working spouse divorces a nonworking spouse, the nonworking spouse is entitled to a share of the working spouse's benefits. But that's assuming people play by the rules in a divorce. The problem I had in mind is when a working spouse leaves a nonworking spouse and then plays dirty. Suing it out of them isn't always as easy as it sounds, especially when you have no resources of your own. Which is why I argued the side of encouraging at least some financial independence for any stay-at-home parents.

Not my clearest effort, that one, like I said.


Reston, Va.: I made a huge mistake at work today, too! How am I dealing? Cheeseburger from Mickey D's. Try it.

Carolyn Hax: Happy April Professional Liability Day.


For No Fooling: This is not a facecious answer. This is what happened with me. I was in the same situation as she, but the loss of my ability to bear children was more definite than "nearing the end of my child bearing years." I had baby fever really bad and my husband is dead set that our little boy be an only child.

We spent a weekend with some friends who had a five-month-old. It was an eye opener. If the baby fussed, wouldn't sleep, needed a diaper change, I didn't have to do anything about it. I realized that we did have much more freedom with our one child and that I wasn't sure I wanted to go through that again, even though I loved caring for my infant son and watching him develop into a person. I began to appreciate the whole "only child" thing and decided it wasn't so bad. Before that I couldn't fathom doing that to my son.

So, now, I'm not sad, I don't feel any animosity towards my husband because it was a change inside me, not something I did to make him happy.

I'm much more content now. And I'm glad I didn't even consider the "advice" of a few close friends to just stop taking birth control (not that it would have helped, but they didn't know that) and get pregnant "by accident."

Just thought I'd share my experience as one way she could look at it.

Carolyn Hax: Excellent. I have three toddlers I could rent out for the cause.

Not to your friends, though. They scare me.


I REALLY hope you post this: I could not disagree with you more -- disclosing is just a way to spread the pain to the other person, especially in the cases of the "one night stand" variety, and PARTICULARLY when there has been a good deal of time passing, and a year qualifies as that, AND when this is not a pattern of behavior by the person but rather an aberration. I wish I had the time to do some research, but I don't, but trust me when I say that I know I can back this up with qualified (psychological) opinion -- I'm recalling from one of several advanced classes of psychology. Confession may be cathartic for the teller, but invariably it causes suffering in the receiver of the news.
I know this opinion will be in opposition to what most people think of as acceptable behavior, and because we're so enamored in the idea of confessing our sins, but I STRONGLY encourage this person to go talk to someone (therapist) about her guilt feelings BEFORE she decides to dump the story on the boyfriend, who then has to deal with feelings about his own self-worth in addition to any feelings of anger and betrayal.

The therapist may very well tell her she needs to "confess," but will give her tools to use if her desire is to save the relationship. She needs to remember that the guilt she's feeling are feelings that belong solely to her at this point, and some feelings are NOT good to share.

Carolyn Hax: I'm happy to post it, thanks. Don't worry about the research, I know what you're saying has good provenance and in fact I agree with it (and, I believe, advise accordingly, but I tend to think case-by-case). But I also think even when a general approach to something makes sense, there can be specific exceptions, and I think the exception here is she has been dumping this guilt all over her BF ever since the infidelity, just without equipping -him- to cope with it.

I like the therapist idea, though. If she can dump her guilt out someplace neutral, that would at least be a start. I'd say "ideal," but there's another side to the affection people feel for confessing. There's also a camp that likes knowing. And, definitely, a camp that would rather not know. Since you can't really know without spilling, it's almost a post-infidelity parlor game--is he a thanks-for-the-honesty guy or a gee-thanks-for-the-crappy-mental-image guy?

Then of course there's the tie to getting caught, that says if there's any chance word'll get out, better he hears it from you.

I'm now remembering why I rarely answer tell-or-not-tell questions.


Arlington, Va.: You advocate some financial independence for non-working spouses in case the working spouse leaves than and then tries to screw them over?

I'm sorry to be difficult, but didn't you once write a column on prenuptual agreements that basically contradicted that premise? (Something along the lines of, If you're marrying this person shouldn't you at least be able to trust them to be nice in a divorce?) Have you changed your mind?

Carolyn Hax: No, I haven't, and no need to apologize; it's a fair question. I advocate some financial independence for non-working spouses because life is unpredictable and, by stepping out of the workforce, a non-working spouse does make him- or herself more vulnerable to bad life turns than a working spouse. One of those bad turns can be a spouse screwing you financially, but it's hardly the only possibility.

Then there's also the timing. The prenup issue is one you tackle before you enter a legal bond with the person, and therefore if you don't know the person well enough to have a good idea how s/he'd behave in a divorce, or if you do have an idea and you think s/he'd make it messy, not marrying the person would be a lot sounder (to me, that is) than a prenup.

When you're already married and have kids, it's possible to suspect that you might need to protect yourself, but not be so soured on the marriage that you're ready to take on all the whole nightmare of leaving it.

Gray grayer grayest.


Social Security: If that was your explanation of Social Security, you are still confused. There is no playing by the rules or not in a divorce when it comes to Social Security. You get what you get; the law decides. In particular, you get nothing based on your status as a dependent spouse if you have been married less than 10 years to the person whose record you want to claim against. is a good place to start, Sorry to be harsh, but as a pension expert myself, I cry when I see stuff like this.

Carolyn Hax: No, it's not harsh, please don't cry. The specific case I had in mind was when the working spouse left but didn't initiate proceedings, didn't sign papers, etc. Basically left the person hanging without the legal coverage of a divorce decree. (I didn't see anything about separation agreements online, though even then that in itself is a recourse available to the abandoned spouse only months after the abandonment and after jumping through some legal hoops, depending on state law, right?) Thanks for bringing up the 10-year rule, too--I did know about that and left it out, again, which is why I need to reverse time to take the mention now out of my column and the chat, or eat a cheesburger.


Correcting someone when you knew what they meant: A friend of mine gave me excellent advice once - if a someone mispeaks, but you both knew what she meant, don't correct her. The only purpose for doing so is to make yourself feel superior by making her feel inferior.

Which is why you won't see me writing about the SS thing - don't let 'em get you down. The larger point you made certainly makes sense.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. I appreciate the support, but even more so the chance to post the advice from your friend. I never really got that whole concept until a friend's husband corrected my grammar once when I went over her house for a visit. He made me feel like a real tool. Anyway.


Washington, D.C.: Okay, I wish this was an April Fool's Joke, but alas, it is a an older parent/young adult issue. My mom is a wonderful woman who has a heart of pure gold, has been very good to myself and three older siblings, and has even admitted she was human, did the best she could as a parent and apologized if she ever made us upset as kids. The problem is, that she makes us more upset as adults because of one irritating habit... she burps. Not truck-driver or fratrenity house burps or anything, just public audible burps. Church, restaurant, quiet car on the train, you name it, she burps. She does say excuse me or more often "sorry" because we're catholic after each outburst and that's nice, but not really helping matters. We've asked her to stop and be polite, but she says she can't help it, it's hormonal. I would love some advice on how to approach this with her in a non-confrontational way yet again to encourage her to stop doing it in public as it detracts from other citizen's enjoyment of their dinner, prayer, life in a polite society. Thanks

Carolyn Hax: If she can't help it she can't help it, cheez.

And I can't believe I'm going to do this, but I'm going to step out of my (teeny weeny little) knowledge bounds again and ask if she's had a checkup lately. I just know that when my mom was sick, her control of these things got iffy to nonexistent. Or, you can ask a doctor yourself, or check with a good health information site, to see if her hormone story checks out.

On an up note, maybe this means I can have two cheeseburgers. Plus, I just learned that it's Catholic doctrine to apologize after you burp.


Lanham, Md.: I have no problem with financial independence for spouses, working or not. What struck me about his letter is that ALL of his income was used for joint expenses and none of hers was. In my experience, relationships are a lot smoother when both partners have some discretionary funds.

Carolyn Hax: I agree, thanks. I also think the two steps before that have to be for both parties to get any chips off their shoulders, and then to start talking openly to each other about the whole matter. I chose to go after Step 1. The guy struck me as having his dukes up.


Playing by the rules: Does anyone really know how another person will "play" in the event of a divorce? Perfectly sane people can turn ridiculously selfish and spiteful. Best to sign a prenup.

Carolyn Hax: I won't argue with you, but I will propose an exercise. Think of people you know, all kinds--family, friends, exes, currents, officemates--and imagine how they'd behave in the event of a divorce. I'm guessing both that you're able to choose pretty quickly, at least with most people, and that a little more thought will reveal that you have facts supporting your hunch that maybe aren't actual divorce histories but are pretty revealing, like behavior in past breakups or job crises or other negative phases of life. Even just treatment of people over whom they have power.

Having said that, it always annoys me when people announce, "I know s/he'd never [blank]," because you can never KNOW-know. However, our instincts can get us awfully close if we let them.

Another element of the anti-prenup position--money might actually be less important to people than their optimism. As long as it's optimism and not naivete, obviously.


But you were right!: regardless of how much someone "gets" out of a divorce, the person working still "gets" ss benefits and the person not working still does not get ss benefits unless they "get" it from the spouse. better to have your own. why is everyone making such an issue of this?

Carolyn Hax: I started it, about 3700 calories ago.


Washington, D.C.: I have two little kids and no (outside) job and a working spouse who I assume would be fair in a divorce, but I also married him assuming that he would never leave me and I'd never leave him. My earning potential has always been way lower than his and now I'm feeling nervous that I don't have a "divorce screw-over plan." Is this a real oversight on my part?

Carolyn Hax: No, agh, that's not at all what I'd hoped to accomplish here. [Sound of forehead on plaster.] Just that both halves of a stay-home-parent equation need to respect what this very complicated decision involves instead of just reacting to surface stuff.


From No Fooling: Thanks for your answer and the follow-up post. I completely agree with the need to be completely honest with my husband about this, as well as with the poster's thoughts about not wanting to take on all the work that a baby brings. I have considered this and absolutely see my husband's side of the argument, which is why I am reluctant to fight too ferociously on the subject. I remember the sleepless nights and constant barrage of diaper changing. Even so, I yearn for another baby, and for a sibling for my son. I guess this is something we will just have to continue to talk about, and hope that eventually, we come to agreement on the subject, whether that means baby or no baby. Thanks so much!

Carolyn Hax: You and he might also want to talk to only-children. It's not cruelty, it's just different.


Virginia: My sister-in-law had mental health issues growing up, but has been helped enormously by medication and therapy.

Now that she's better, she's turned into an armchair psychiatrist. I have an anxiety disorder because I like organization, all her friends are depressed, etc. She's very open with these opinions, and it drives me nuts. A personality flaw (aka my being a bit of a control freak) is not something that needs medication. Flaws are part of who we are! So far I've tried to pass things it off as jokes ("Maybe they'll have a pill to make Susie more punctual", etc), but I find the whole thing extremely odd and intrusive. Coping suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: Sounds like you're coping fine with the jokes. You can minimize annoying people's effects on you, but you can't make them not be annoying, and so far I've had no luck blinking people away like Jeannie does.


Re: life is unpredictable : No kidding!;

When I married my husband, I could not predict that he would die 12 years later from an inoperable brain tumor. When I decided to stay home to be with the kids, I could not predict that I would need my professional skills before the littlest was in kindergarten.

Thank God I kept my skills sharp by working very part time... It's not so much that the money I brought in was "mine" -- but working gave me self-confidence to get back in the field full-time. And it gave me contacts to use unashamedly to find a great position... people I would not have known or would not have felt comfortable calling otherwise.

Carolyn Hax: This just made me so sad. Thanks for the priceless perspective, though.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,
You once answered a question for me perfectly and really made me think so I hope you can do the same for me again today. I'm in a relationship that is good, sometimes excellent, for me as I am right now. My boyfriend is in love with me, lets me talk through things, and makes me happy. However, I know that in the future, I will be in a different place and do not see myself marrying him for a few reasons (religion, location, etc.). My sister and others often question why I am still with him if I already know that he is not "the one." I think that he still makes me happy, we are growing together and that we still have some fun and good times to have together even if they will not be forever.

I'm only 25 and so just sort of taking this relationship as it goes (he is older though but does not pressure me for any further commitment). Is it wrong to date someone you know you will not marry or to stay in a relationship you know may not be your last because it is still good at the moment? How do you know when it is healthy to decide you need to move on so that you don't cause yourself more pain in the future?

Carolyn Hax: Or cause the other person more pain in the future. That to me is the key element to pulling off what you're hoping to pull off, which is a love for love's sake--really, just a specific case of something most people are quite comfortable with, an experience for the experience's sake. What you're doing is the romantic equivalent of an internship, or a vacation, or a Peace Corps stint, but with the crucial difference that you're not in it alone, but with one other person as your equal.

As long as that person is in it for the same things you are, or at least non-delusionally aware of your intentions, then I don't see anything wrong with it. I mean, two people in high school shouldn't go out because they're highly unlikely to get married? Obviously this is harder because you're both older and because you know there's an end, vs. having a pretty good hunch it will end. (Same difference between knowing you're mortal and knowing you have five years to live, which is a huge difference.) But harder doesn't mean it's not worth doing, it just means you need to have your eyes open.


Washington, D.C.: I have been married for a little over a year. In the past year, we have both gained a little weight. Correction, I have gained a little weight (about 10 pounds) and my husband has gained about 30 or 40. I am still attracted to him, I still think he's adorable, but I have these twinges when I look at his belly and think, "Ugh, it can't get any bigger or I'll totally lose it." Aside from the obvious health issues that could arise, I don't want to stop being attracted to him. I have friends who have told me that the first year of marriage is just like this and that you both get skinny again when you stop canoodling at home and eating lamb chops and drinking champagne all the time, but there are enough fat people in the world to make it obvious that some people get skinny again, and some people don't. I just don't want to be married to a fat man. I didn't marry one. I know this sounds totally shallow, but as you said last week, it's important to be with someone you think is hot. And I did, and do currently, think that about him, I'm just starting not to all the time. Is there any way I can bring this up to him without being awful? My father bought my mother appointments with a personal trainer one time for her birthday--experience tells me that this is clearly not the way to go, and also that this is a touchy touchy subject.

Carolyn Hax: It is touchy touchy, but given that you've both gained, you're free to say you're worried by how unhealthy you've both gotten and that you'd like to try to change the household habits, with his help. Because it is going to require a change of habits, and it is going to be really tough if he doesn't help you, and it is going to be a health issue, for both of you, if you don't reverse the trend. Your gain may be much less, but 10 a year will make that a minor distinction less than a decade into this marriage, if you keep it up.


La La Land: I'm getting married in September and need some good Bridezilla stories to keep myself in check. Where are all the crazy brides?

Carolyn Hax: Two words: Bridal expo.


Santa Barbara, Calif.: Hi Carolyn,
I'd love some advice on what to do with tag-a-long in-laws. My husband's parents are wonderful people, but they always want to come with us on vacations, to parties, etc. My husband's family is very close and he and his parents have similar hobbies (boating, camping, etc.), which makes it logical to take vacations together since we like to do the same things. They've done this all their lives (he's 34), but I need some time without them. How do I say no the next time they invite themselves? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: You talk to your husband about this and let him know how you feel and, more important, let him say no. Don't leave out the part where you say they're wonderful people, whatever you do. Good luck ...


Carolyn Hax: Oh look at the time. I have one more thing to add before we go--actually, it's a favor to ask of you, to help me with a favor for my mom.

As many of you know (and, in a way, e-witnessed as I went through it), my mother was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease in January 2001 and died in May 2002. Now, in her memory, I'm helping the D.C.-area chapter of the ALS Association with the ALS Gala 2005, Saturday May 14 at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in D.C. I plan to be there, and I hope at least some of you will be able to join me ( You can also bid online for silent-auction items, or you can do perhaps the biggest favor of all and just read up on ALS ( if you watched the 2004 World Series and have no idea what the "K ALS" was on Curt Schilling's shoe.

I promise I won't beat you over the heads with this, just the occasional reminder, bow, scrape and/or plug. May 14! May 14!

Anyway, thanks for coming today, and type to you next week. (How was my spelling today, by the way?)


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