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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 15, 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: Washingtonpost.com 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.

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Nick here: Hello everyone. Thank you thank you thank you to those of you who responded to my post in last week's chat.

Zuzu and I are mending nicely. She's getting stronger and I'm getting softer. By the end of her recovery, I should be a lock to win that Pillsbury Dough Boy look-alike contest I entered.

I should have mentioned that this is Zuzu's second TPLO so I'm not entirely a stranger to this -- but where's the sympathy and drama in that? Carolyn handled the first one -- we really did split everything evenly. Some of you were very kind to offer rehab advice, boredom-busting activities, food, tennis, dancing, painting my house. I thank you. And to the woman who offered the thing with the feather boa and the midgets... I'll get back to you.

If you have a dog, give them a squeeze from the Boo. If you have a cat, don't move to Wisconsin. Enjoy the chat. Cheers,

Nick

Carolyn Hax: Nick there. Thanks everybody.

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Going Nuts: Hi Carolyn,
I'm sitting here staring at my computer screen at 12:45 p.m. wondering when the chat will begin.

Then just a few minutes later, I realize: it's still Thursday.

What a week this has been... hope yours was better.

Carolyn Hax: I'm guessing mine was similar, actually--but there have been worse. Speaking of, the babysitter needed the day off today and her sub can't be here till 12:30-1, so if it looks like I took forever to type something really stupid, it's because Gus typed it.

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Arlington, Va.: Re the comment in today's column about getting out of a boring relationship, I agree if you're not married, but how do you go about fixing a boring marriage? Been married almost 20 years, no kids, recently retired. And we just don't seem to have much to say to each other, spend our evenings parked in front of the the TV. He gets jealous if I have lunch or communicate with former colleagues, complains when I organize a social evening, but does nothing himself to plan for any activities.

He says he loves me, and he does do a lot of caring, considerate things, but we're too young (mid-50's) to spend the rest of our lives in this monotonous way. So - now what? I'm not sure if I still love him or not, really. Yet I'd like to make this better before deciding to give up, just not sure how to go about doing that.

Carolyn Hax: Boredom isn't the main problem, it's a symptom of the main problem, which is your husband's resistance to ... what? Change, your independence, you? He could also be depressed, esp given the recent retirement, since that can make people feel suddenly irrelevant instead of suddenly free, as everyone imagines during all those endless workdays. Anyway, I'd take this one to a pro--your husband for a depression screening and both of you to a competent marriage counselor. Just to get you talking.

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Washington, D.C.: What's your take on taking a little time off? In a couple of months I'm going to be leaving a job that has been a tremendous learning experience, but not a great personal one, I'm completely exhausted, am coming out of some hairy family and personal stuff, and my job search thus far hasn't been fruitful. Not hopeless or devastating, just haven't landed one yet and am a wee bit discouraged, but continue to plug away. I have enough savings to get by for a few of months, and can file for unemployment as well. A month or two off to regroup and figure out what to do next sounds almost impossible to pass up, but I worry about how it'll look to prospective employers to have a gap in between jobs. And the lingering effects of the "my job is my life and identity" mindset that I'd like to shed. Have you or any peanuts had experience with taking some time off? Recommend? No? Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: FWIW, I took six months off before coming to washingtonpost.com.

Carolyn Hax: I took 3 or 4 months off before I started my pre-Washington Post job. I think it's a great thing as long as you have some kind of net in case you don't find a job before deplete your savings. Not only will that keep you from taking another not-great job, it'll help you think more clearly during your hiatus, which is the whole point. (My net was teaching a test-prep course. Enough to scrape by on, flexible hours, etc.)

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Olympia, Wash.: Love your column in the local Daily O, and am especially excited to see these chats (been trolling the archives).

I gather that Nick is your ex-husband, but could you elaborate on the rationale for providing him with a sporadic soapbox to your chat-ees?

Just curious -- do people associate him with you and expect to hear from him? Is he wildly popular presence and I'm just a newbie lurker?

I realize that the chats are different from the columns, just not sure about the sidekick element...

Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: The Daily O? Lucky readership.

Nick did a chat of his own a year or so ago, so he and a lot of the online regulars have "met." Plus, he hasn't been out of the house in something like five weeks and he's getting a little squirrelly.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: How much do you think we can separate our geographical location from our personalities? Over the past five years in Los Angeles, I've felt myself changing into someone I'm not thrilled about being. Apart from being a nice diversion, are daily fantasies about moving to some place a little more grounded (and probably switching careers) just a way to escape dealing with personal issues that may be bringing me down here, or is there an argument that I should finally accept that I've done my time here and determined it's not for me?

Carolyn Hax: My question for your questions: Can't you just dislike the place and move?

Maybe your problems will go away when you leave, maybe they won't. But even if they don't, better to take them on while you're living somewhere that suits you better.

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Re: time off: I had my mid-20s breakdown and quit my demanding job. While I was job hunting, I worked for a temp agency. It was decent money, had flexible hours, and let me try out a bunch of different industries.

In interviews, I explained that it wouldn't have been fair to my previous employer to job hunt when I was so needed at the office, and that temping had given me the chance to look around and see what I wanted to do. Just my recommendation.

Carolyn Hax: Perfect, thanks. Unless, when you're ready to leave this job, you job hunt while you're still working. Then you'd better hope the person who hired you isn't writing your rec.

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For the person with the Nick question: You might also want to mention he does the cartoons that accompany your column, it's possible that that person missed that fact.

Carolyn Hax: Gus! No! Mommy's keyboard.

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Wilmington, Del: How long is long enough to wait to get involved with someone who's not yet legally divorced? What if the marriage, in any real sense, has been over for a long time?

Carolyn Hax: My answer was going to be to wait till the marriage is over, in any real sense, so you beat me to it. If you wanted more than that, I'd say it's when neither party is trying anymore to reconcile.

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Really?: Nick is your ex-husband? And, who is ZuZu?

Carolyn Hax: An American Staffordshire terrier with delusions of grandeur.

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Arlington, Va.: Do you think it's possible to be in a bad mood for three years? I've hated law school since I stepped foot inside of it, and now that I'm graduating, I'm scared I've made it a habit to be pessimistic, feel inadequate and assume the worst in people. If a change of atmosphere isn't enough since I'll no longer have to go to school, how do I get rid of this grumpy attitude?

Carolyn Hax: First, stop anticipating your grumpiness. You're bracing yourself for the change of atmosphere not to be enough, instead of celebrating the change of atmosphere. You're getting out! Yay. Repeat as needed.

You're also a perfect theme pawn, in that you're as good a candidate for taking a little time off as I've even seen.

Beyond that, you may need to look a little harder at yourself if you can shake the mood, but I have a feeling it won't come to that.

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Silver Spring, Md.: If sex with the "other woman" is better than sex with the girlfriend, does this necessarily mean that I have stronger feelings for the other woman?

Carolyn Hax: No, it means you have better sex with the "other woman." Either that, or you just get off on being a jerk.

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Alexandria, Va.: To the person wondering about taking some time off between jobs: FWIW, I took three months off after grad school to travel in Europe (sold my car to get the funds, stayed in student hostels, etc.), and it changed my life. I eventually went into a career involving travel abroad that I never would have thought of otherwise. Look at it as an opportunity to do something you've otherwise not had time for, and it can be a very fruitful experience.

Carolyn Hax: Good point, thanks. I just sat around and stewed. But that had its place too, apparently.

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Virginia: Hi Carolyn. Re last week's discussion about the potaholic boyfriends. I finally broke up with mine and have been moving on with my life with no expectations. He's figuring things out on his own and we still talk once or twice a month. Here's the thing though. (Isn't there always a thing?) I miss him; I miss the person he has the potential to be. He knows he has to make changes before we have any chance of getting back together so that isn't part of our discussions now. I guess I'm wondering how long a "sincere and sustained" effort would take before I'd know he's really gotten over his fondness for a certain substance. Any thoughts from you and the peanuts?

Carolyn Hax: I know there are peanuts out there who can speak to this specifically, but generally I'll say that you usually just know. You see something just click in the person. Also generally, and also unfortunately, people who kick a substance abuse problem often relapse at least once before that click.

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New York, N.Y.: I'm involved with someone who's not legally divorced. We've been together for three years. He hasn't been with his wife in more than four years (they haven't even lived in the same town for years), but they remained married for immigration-related issues. I know that it hasn't been a real marriage in years, but it still bothers me that he is, technically, someone else's husband. The immigration issues are now over, and he's been talking about getting divorced for months now, but hasn't gotten around to actually doing it. Am I being too sensitive to let this bother me? I know that he will, eventually divorce, but it bugs me that he still hasn't done it yet. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: If you really do "know" that he'll get divorced, then maybe you are being sensitive. But if he's dragging his feet for no reason he's willing to articulate--or even can't articulate, but is at least willing to own ("I know I'm draggig my feet, I'm not even sure why, please be patient with me," etc.)--then I don't think you're wrong to be concerned. Not so much that the marriage isn't really over, but that your relationship hasn't gotten to the point where you can discuss the marriage openly. That's worth bringing up.

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Bethesda, Md.: I've been dating a woman for the past nine years. I want to get engaged, but I'm not sure if she's the right woman. I feel like it's time, and she's been pressuring me, but I'm not sure if I'm ready to settle down for the rest of my life. I'm planning a trip with friends to Las Vegas, and I see it as a perfect opportunity to get that out of my system, and I'll be able to settle down after that. Does this make sense?

Carolyn Hax: Eek, no, it makes diseases. If I'm reading you correctly. And if I misread you and you're just going to bachelor stuff with your pants on, then:

Eek, no, it makes terrible marriages.

She's pressuring you, you're not sure she's the right woman even after you've had nine years to get sure, you "feel like it's time"? Please end this relationship before I give myself a concussion. She's not the one. Do her the kindness of freeing her to meet someone who thinks she's the sun, the moon and the stars. Even sober.

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Washington, D.C.: Is a pot smoker always a substance abuser? What if the person only smokes on weekends or ocassionally after work, has not smoked for long periods of time, etc.? It doesn't really bother me (a non-pot smoker) all that much, but now I'm starting to wonder if it should?

Carolyn Hax: I'm not going to be the arbiter of okay-pot-smoking and not-okay-pot-smoking, because, all together now, it is illegal, but I will say that last week's thread was specifically about someone(s) who needed a couple of bong hits just to face the day. As with legal brain-softeners, there are degrees.

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Skeevy or no?: Hax and peanuts: Does this make you go "ew," or is it just me?

Have had a handful of e-mail exchanges with a guy from an online meeting site. Seemed nice, but then came this remark: "If you haven't had wild crazy kinky sex, might have to do something about that, I don't care what you look like."

This struck me as condescending and gross, but what do you think? I tend to be a prude and so I can't really trust my reaction to determine what's "normal."

Thanx...

Carolyn Hax: It's when you stop trusting your own reactions that the real s--- hits the fan. Condescending and gross it is. Do not second guess.

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Potaholic....: Carolyn is right (of course). I used to be a "potaholic" and I knew the negative effects that it had on my life. I knew that I had to stop getting high in order to get my life together and acheive the things that I had planned for myself (e.i. holding down a job, remembering what I ate for dinner two nights ago, stop watching reruns of "Three's Company")... So I did. I just stopped. I haven't gone back. The best thing to do is to stop hanging out with the people who make your habit easily accessible. Then I stopped smoking cigarettes, which believe it or not is harder... FWIW. In other words, if he really wants to, he will. If not, then sorry to say, he doesn't want to.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, and not just because you agree with me. (My name is Carolyn, and I'm a suckupaholic.)

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Coping advice needed...: I removed myself from a series of abusive relationships and have received very good behavioral therapy. I am now aware that my parent's relationship is very emotionally abusive, and both of my parents are extremely depressed. My mom is in complete denial about her situation. I have tried to talk to her about her feelings and why she puts up with certain treatments and she just shrugs and tells me that my father will not change. I have suggested that she go to counseling for her depression but she refuses. I know I can't make her do anything, but how do I deal with this? It makes me so sad for her. I was just wondering if there was anyone out there with a similar situation and could provide some insight.

Thanks.

PS I haven't talked to my dad because he won't speak to me…. (we all live in the same house.)

Carolyn Hax: Getting out from under is the best thing you can do for your mom. I know this will sound pat and empty but it's true. Go out, thrive, stay in touch.

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re: Skeevy or no?: Is she joking?!; If that comment from someone she barely knows doesn't send up a red flag, I worry her filter is broken.

Carolyn Hax: She doubts her filter, which produces the same practical result as having a broken one. Think about it--who can't dredge up a memory from younger (read: insecure) days of blocking out that little warning voice, and living to regret it in some way?

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Cubetown, North of Officeville: Here's a mother in law question. My MIL is one of those hypersensitive types where a single cross word will send her into spasms of tears.

Here's an example: A few months ago, she invited a whole bunch of people to an event my husband and I were hosting without asking us first, driving up our expenses and changing the character of the party. I just about had a heart attack. Who on earth invites 10 people to someone else's party? I then calmly told her to please check with us in the future, because what she did wasn't very polite and put us in a difficult situation.

She freaked out and cried, and eventually my husband's whole family ganged up on me and said I should never ever ever talk to her crossly or she will cry. Apparently I should have told my husband, who would have told his dad, who would have told her about it, smelling salts in hand. All of her extra people stayed on the guest list, so she got her way.

I'm directing all issues with her through my husband from now on, because I can't cope with her hypersensitivity. Plus, I think if you cry every time you don't get your way, you get your way more often (aka emotional blackmail).

So is she just that sensitive, or is she manipulative? And how do I deal with her? She is going to be in my life for a very long time, and the current 3 step conflict resolution process isn't practical long-term.

Carolyn Hax: 1. Manipulative. And a few other things I probably shouldn't say about someone I've never met.

2. Her family is a bigger problem than she is, because if a tree whines in a forest and the family doesn't rush in to say, "Awww, there, there," and stroke its bark, then it's just a tree whining in a forest and those never ruin your parties.

2. Deal with her however you need to in order to live with yourself. For example, if you've decided you can't bite your tongue and don't want to provoke the whole family, then you're doing the right thing, speak only through your husband. But if you feel played and you want to draw the line, then you did the right thing when you spoke to the mother after the party debacle. FWIW, I would also, from now on, try to anticipate her so you don't get freaked when she brings 10 uninviteds to your parties. Watch her closely, I'm sure she's got her patterns.

Most important, whatever you do, is to find a way to be of one mind with your husband on this, and to have an agreed-upon way to approach it.

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Arlington, Va.: About every week my father tells me of someone who just died. He associates with much older/elderly people instead of his own age, and goes to a large church. Of course he's going to have heard of somebody who just passed. But why does he fixate on death so much, especially with people he really didn't know? How serious is this?

Carolyn Hax: I can't say just from this, but if he's got other signs of depression, it could be serious. Or he knows a lot of people who have died recently and he doesn't have a whole lot of other new stuff to talk about. It could also be he's keenly aware of his mortality right now, processing it, afraid of it, wanting to talk about it without coming out and saying it. So, let him talk and see where it goes. Also couldn't hurt to balance his exposure to death with some exposure to life. As his kid, you offer a good dose of youth just by doing stuff with him. Keep him company, keep an eye on it.

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Skeevy, again: Hi, it's me again with the filter problem.

You guys seem to be deducing I'm young and insecure. Alas, I'm 40ish, divorced, veteran of many relationships, and still uncertain. So many many people all my life have said "You're such a ridiculous prude! Loosen up!" including the ex-husband, I just don't know what to think anymore.

Carolyn Hax: No no, no age assumptions, my example was just an example of the perils of tuning out one's own voice.

And my advice is the same: If you are a prude, then be a prude. And if you are not happy and you're trying to find a way to be happy, then, okay, examine your prudishness--but don't attempt to throw it off in one grand gesture by accepting some online kinky-sex offer. I've really come to think unhappiness is less often about having traits we need to change than it is about having traits we need to stop fighting and simply accept. And, then, accommodate. For example, do you hate being a prude, or do you hate that you're always being told you're a prude? Maybe you need to button up your collar and say yes, I'm a prude, and I like it that way. And so a good match for you is someone who likes you that way too.

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Tenleytown: Carolyn: Arlington should know that the necrology report is standard issue with parents of a certain age. I have no idea who most of not all of the people are when I hear it each week from my mom, but I listen respectfully and when its over, then the conversation begins.

Carolyn Hax: You just described breakfast with my FIL. Thanks.

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The Great Midwest: Carolyn -- I'm hoping you or one of your readers can help with some suggestions. My son is getting married in August. My future DIL's mother died when she was nine and her beloved stepmother died this past January. No one should lose two mothers in a lifetime. She would like to honor both women in some way at the reception. I wonder if anyone has any ideas that are dignified and appropriate -- nothing sappy or maudlin. I'm not clever or thoughtful enough to think of anything, but we all want to do something. Hope you can help.

Carolyn Hax: Someone sent me a great idea for just this thing, and of course I can't recall it now. Anyone? A toast is the obvious suggestion, and I think perfectly apt.

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Falls Church, Va.: Online only, please. I have a friend (29) who just got out of a long-term, living-together relationship, in part because her boyfriend was an alcoholic who would go on two-day binges and drive drunk. She works in a restaurant with people who are college-aged, and now that she is out on her own she is partying with them a lot. She told me about driving when she shouldn't, drinking so much that she has blocks of time she can't remember, and having unintended sex with a guy she liked -- a guy who flirts with her when he's drunk but wants to be no more than friends when sober. I'm confused by her behavior and worried about her.

Carolyn Hax: Just tell her you're worried about her. And, not to restart the thread from a few weeks ago, be Very Very Careful not to judge her when you talk to her. She knows she's doing awful things without your pointing it out for her.

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Obituaries: I don't know. My parents used to read the obituaries together every morning (dark sense of humor). If someone died on a Saturday morning they would laugh and say, "What a way to spoil a weekend!;" When my dad died (yes, on a Saturday morning), my mom started befriending elderly people and listing who all had died. It was a sign of her severe depression.

Carolyn Hax: But there were other signs, yes? If anybody's not sure, www.depression-screening.org (been a while, hope that link's still around ...). This is a sad story. I think my initial advice is still appropriate, though--dwelling on the obits isn't itself a sign of a probelm, it's a sign that you should look for other signs of a problem. Fair?

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For Great Midwest: My aunt remarried a man who had lost a daughter and they remembered her by having the bride, groom, and their children carry a flower that represented themselves and then put a flower in for the daughter who had died. It was very very moving and a lovely way of remembering her. It was also a great way to symbolize the joining of the two families.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you, another one coming:

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Springfield, Va.: My husband's grandmother had passed away prior to our wedding, and his grandfather was not well enough to make it the wedding. So, to honor the both of them, we dedicated a dance to them at the reception (which also happened to be THEIR favorite song).

Carolyn Hax: Thanks!

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Detroit, Mich.: My parents are recently divorced. That I can handle, but what I'm having trouble handling is my mom's constant drama about the man she's dating. They've broken up and gotten back together at least four times. When they're broken up she tells me lots of bad stuff about him, so how am I supposed to be happy when they're back together?

Carolyn Hax: It would probably be easier if you took a couple of steps back and tried not to be anything. It's actually quite normal for a first relationship post-something (breakup, divorce, name your trauma) to be over-the-top emotional. Not always--pleeease let's not perpetuate the all-rebounds-are-bad myth--but often. So, your mom might just need to get some drama out of her system, which will be easier on you if you make a conscious effort not to get rocked by their every little up and down.

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Washington, D.C.: Dear Carolyn,

Please help. I have a boyfriend of eight months who is wonderful in every way, except that he is cheap. Frugality is certainly better than someone who spends with wild abandon. But he knows I am struggling financially right now, and he makes what I suspect is a lot more money than I do. I have issues with money -- my family was broke growing up. I am sensitive about paying my own way and taking care of myself. But once in a while, it would be so nice for him to graciously not let me pay half of the cab fare, or pick up the check, even when it isn't his "turn." I guess the bigger issue is that if dating is a trial run for marriage, I'd like to see that he is someone who will step up for me when I could use a little help, even when that means our resources aren't split 50-50. (And for what its worth, I do seek out economical activities when I plan a date, and I make the effort to make nice dinners at home for him.) How can I start a conversation about this with him and avoid sounding like I expect him to shell out money on my behalf simply because he makes more than I do?

Carolyn Hax: You can just speak your mind, and if he sees that as your fishing in his pockets, you're better off without him. But maybe I'm saying that because I already think you're better off without him, because there's a certain soullessness to being so rigid about money that you actually keep track of whose turn it is to pay and you accept your date's every single offer to pay half the cab fare. But you say he is wonderful, so that means he will be able to handle it when you say you want to talk about money.

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Cleveland, Ohio: Dear Carolyn,

I transplanted from the Baltimore-Washington area to Cleveland for my job after finishing up school.

Being new in town, I turned to the Internet to recreate my dating life. I go through the profiles. When I come across an interesting woman, way more often than not, she will specify a single ethnicity of her date. Usually it's the same ethnicity as her own. I am of "East Indian" descent and while I share things in common with other "East Indians," the ethnicity of my date truly doesn't matter to me.

I can rationalize having a preference to date someone sharing your religion, but ethnicity? Am I wrong to find it a bit close-minded and offensive even? I'm curious to know if this is simply a Cleveland-thing or a case of too much information only revealed through online dating. Thoughts and advice would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,
Rejected transplant

Carolyn Hax: Can't speak of or for Cleveland, but it sounds to me like online dating has people feeling they can order mates a la carte. Which is why I still don't advise online dating. (Unless of course you know upfront how little to expect of it.)

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Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: Dearest C. Hax: Recent infatuation leads me to ponder my getting to know you skills. I've noticed it takes me a month or so to get comfortable enough with people to really be myself around them (not shy, reserved). Any tips on getting over that hump? I truly like this boy and don't want to play coy with him -- suppose I want us to be instantaneous BFF.. am I dreaming that there is anything I can do to speed up the process?

Thanks, Dupont.

Carolyn Hax: No, don't speed, don't speed! Treat your process as if there's a good reason for it, even if you yourself aren't sure what it is. And if you have a moment of preternatural control over your powers of speech, tell the guy this yourself--that you're kind of slow to warm up to people. He can do with this information what he wants, but at least you won't have to worry that he's going to misread your reserve as a lack of interest. (Which of course takes away your fig leaf if turns out he's just not interested, but, then, sometimes people just aren't, right?)

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Carolyn Hax: Sorry guys, I typed up my exit answer and then changed my mind. So I'm just going to bail (and relieve my emergency Guskeeper). Thanks everyone, have a great weekend and type to you next Friday.

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