Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 22, 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.


Arlington, Va.: Am I the only one who thought it strange that the 15-year-old girl in Sunday's column was still sharing a room with her twin brother?

Carolyn Hax: If you're the only one, could you please stop emailing me about it every five minutes? Aaaaaaa. I saw it, it got my attention, I thought about it, and I came up with two examples of perfectly normal people who shared a room with an opposite sex sibling till each left for college, and three fairly common and perfectly normal reasons this could happen: outrageously priced real estate; an ailing grandparent coming to live with a family and displacing a kid from his or her room; a family from another culture where this is common. Decided it was too much of a detour to cover all that in print, plus the possible scary explanations, and to what end? "This may be weird, may not be, and if it is, please get help." So, I left alone. Next time I'll just cut it.


Ow: How would you find a good acupuncturist if you've never had acupuncture? I need to do something about this endometriosis before it kills somebody, not necessarily me.

Carolyn Hax: Talk to your OB. And if you get nowhere, talk to another OB.


Asia: Re: the woman who was leery of in-law X-mas vacations.

I had the same problem, and thus, to solve it, moved to Asia (as in the continent) (from the D.C. area).

Now we finally have a decent excuse for not attending these in-law X-mas vacations.

Well, there were other reasons than that for moving to Asia, but seriously, that was one of them.

Carolyn Hax: Unflinching, I like it. Did you take your husband with you?


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

A comment for the person from Virginia who said she broke up with her potaholic boyfriend has been moving on with her life with no expectations but who also said "I miss the person he has the potential to be," and was wondering how much of an effort would demonstrate he is over his addiction. It sounds like she does still have expectations, and it is potentially harmful and disappointing to bet on someone's potential. Not just in this situation, but between any two people when one person is just waiting for the other person to change into something different/improved. What if he takes years to get sober, or what if he never does? FWIW, I would suggest accepting the situation exactly is the way it is today, assume he or the situation may never change, and see if she can be OK with that. I'd hate to see her spend years saying "If only...."

P.S. I lost a parent to ALS, too. Thanks for the plug for the ALS Gala.

Carolyn Hax: You're welcome. Here it is again: The gala is on May 14, at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, and there will be a silent auction, and me, and a great cause. Here's the link, I'm sorry about your loss, and about the nightmare that no doubt preceded it--ALS is a nightmarish disease. Anyway. About the rest of your post, yes, yes, I wish I had flagged that last week. Anytime you say you love somebody's potential, you don't love the person, so get out.


Washington, D.C.: Great column today. Speaking of holidays and in-laws.... My partner and I have holiday travel issues also, although unfortunately a free vacation is never one of the options. My family is in Arizona and my partner's family is in Kansas. We typically travel to visit one family for either Christmas or Thanksgiving and stay here and celebrate the other holiday together. We've been rotating families (i.e. Arizona last Christmas, Kansas the Thansgiving before that). The problem is that my partner really doesn't like visiting her family over the holidays and would prefer to stay here for both holidays. We have very different family backgrounds and she doesn't understand why it's important for me to be with my family over the holidays. I would prefer we spend the holiday together, but would rather go by myself than have her moping around my parents' house. Am I really asking too much that she visit my family with me once every other year? Is this a sign that we are fundamentally incompatible?

Carolyn Hax: I'm not going to get into your fundamentals (is it me, or does that sound dirty)--at least, not of your compatibility. There is however a deeper problem than just the holiday logistics. It sounds like your partner is judging your attachment to your family solely through the lens of her bond to her own family, which is not only unfair, it's pretty childish ("moping around" doesn't help her case). Whether she understands your feelings or not, she still needs to acknowledge and respect them, and see them through your eyes, or at least try, and then compromise with you accordingly. E.g., she says, "great, I'm glad you're close to your family, please go--and in return I ask that you don't make me go with you." Or, she sucks it up and goes with you, and makes a real effort to be pleasant--every other trip. Meaning, once every four years. Or whatever. It wouldn't hurt if you made an effort to draw her out on her discomfort with your family; could be there's something there she's not saying. And of course it's possible that her side of the story differs vastly from yours. And of course it's possible that I've just wasted everyone's time, since she's the one who apparently needs to bend more here and you're the one I'm talking to. But at least it's a set of suggestions you can throw her way, if nothing else to see how she responds.


Arlington, Va.: My best friend in the entire world who also happens to be my roomate is leaving for Texas for another job. Problem is that she is leaving with 4 months still on our lease. I'm desperate and need someone to move in. I'm fine with living with a guy around my age, 23, but my boyfriend isn't. Is he being ridiculous or am I?

Carolyn Hax: He is, unless he's willing to pay that rent for those four months. Though I wouldn't say ridiculous, since there's always a possibility you will fall for the new guy, who knows, bleep happens--instead I'd say he was being presumptuous. It's just not his decision to make for you. He's either got to trust you and shut up, or trust you and shut up. BTW, the departing roommate is really the one who should be paying her rent, if she's on the lease. At least till you get a new roommate/resident stud.


Baltimore, Md.: Hi, Carolyn, Do you work primarily for the people who write in to you, or for the larger audience in the "peanut gallery"? Is your column mostly about advise, entertainment, or something else?

Carolyn Hax: (C) Something else--maintaining finger flexibility. It's about advice, written expressly for and directly to the person who writes in. Anyone else is either a collateral advisee or an invited voyeur, for whom I hope the advice is at least entertaining.


Arlington, Va.: To the letter writer in today's column: If she and the fiance are partaking in any sort of premarital prep (religious or otherwise) they might truly consider bringing up family holiday traditions in this forum. It is a safe place to talk about an issue that can be weirdly emotional. My husband (of nine months) and I found this conversation VERY helpful when building our family traditions...

Carolyn Hax: Good suggestion, thanks.


Re: Arlington, Va.: Carolyn, are you mad? Co-ed roommates always, always hook up. You know, he accidentally walks in on her in the shower, sees her silhouetted form on the shower curtain...then there's a blizzard and the bf can't be there, and someone opens a bottle of wine...things get heated...always.

They never fight about who does the dishes, like normal roommates, or just generally stay out of each other's hair, as non-best-friend co-habitants tend to do. Always, it ends in the innocent and not at all contolling boyfriend getting his heart stomped.

Carolyn Hax: Should we give you a few minutes, cold shower, photo of Elmo? If the only way he avoids getting his heart stomped is to keep other men away from her, he's just going to get his heart stomped anyway, except by her co-worker on that overtime-heavy project, or her lab partner, or her Fed-Ex guy. Just curious, about you and anyone else who subscribes to this and other such Harry-Met-Sallyesque absolutes: Haven't you ever found someone irredeemably unattractive?


RE: "love somebody's potential": I've met someone who recently broke up with a significant other. Is there is a difference between waiting for her to recover from the break-up, taking our dating slowly, until she gets back on her feet - and loving her potential. That is, I think maybe 6 months from now she and I would have a lot of potential. Am I just wasting my time? Should I just walk away and hope that she finds me later? Or can I wait it out for a while?

Carolyn Hax: 1. There is a difference. We were talking about a person's character, not circumstances. You like her now, as is (character). The potential you're talking about is recovery from her prior relationship (circumstances). 2. It's not such a pat thing that people need X amount of time to recover. Sometimes people come out of relationships raring to go again, because they did their arguing and giving up and grieving and self-analyzing and ice-cream-Hoovering and recovering while they were in the process of breaking up. Obviously sometimes they also get blindsided and barely have even started the process six months after the breakup. You need to judge for yourself what's appropriate, from your perspective, then act on it, then give her a chance to tell you what she needs.


Irredeemable lack of attraction : I find a lot of men handsome, but attractive-ness seems to imply some desire rather than just objective appreciation. My husband (of 8 years) is the ONLY man I find attractive, but many men are handsome. My friends think I'm nuts.

Carolyn Hax: If that's another word for lucky, I agree. For what it's worth, I meant (un)attractive the way you mean it. Example, a man, even a handsome one, you could "safely" room with because you find him genial enough but just not emotionally appealing (or physically appealing enough to override the emotional thing).


Chicago, Ill.: I think, perhaps, that the poster who wrote that co-ed roommates always hook up might have intended that we take the post as a joke...

I certainly read it as one.

Carolyn Hax: I read it as joke example and tone, serious point. But that could just have been a casualty of my blazing speed.


Washington, D.C.: I have been in a relationship for 4 + years. We live together and love each other very much, but he is extremely critical of my faults. He never points out my positive attributes (which are abundant if I do say so myself) and focuses on every little thing that is negative. I am sick of being constantly berated. I know this comes from his childhood where his mother constantly put he and his siblings down. He admits to being a jerk sometimes and that he isn't sure why he does it. All the other ducks are in a row as far as our relationship goes. His negative commentary is affecting me alot - do I have any options besides finding greener pastures?

Carolyn Hax: Yes. Browner pastures. Stop making excuses for him ("Oooh, poopy had a bad childhoooooood!) and realize he's an adult who treats you like sh*t. What you do with that is up to you.


Hurtsville, USA: Carolyn, Submitting early because of a blasted meeting!

Do I deserve the hurt feelings I got when I found out some "friends" said some mean things about me, if the way I came across that info was slightly dishonest on my part?

Relations between this group have been admittedly strained the past year by living together, and I could even handle them saying mean things about me that were true (I know I'm not perfect in many ways). But what they said actually isn't, and thus hurts all the more -- like all the faults I do have aren't enough, you have to make up more? I still can't seem to stop myself from thinking I deserve what I'm feeling for being such a snoop.... (and no, that isn't what they said that wasn't true!)

Thanks! A weary nut

Carolyn Hax: People talk about people. A lot of it is crap. Some of it is harmless, some of it isn't. It's best not to know what's said about you and avoid altogether having to decide whether it's harmless or damaging, but since you put yourself in this position, head-in-sand option isn't available. That's your only punishment, tho, for being dishonest. I don't believe in such tidy payback. Next, to help you decide whether your friends are really your friends, I'd look at it this way--is the stuff you found out about the kind of thing you and your friends might have said about someone else? Or is it, genuinely, beyond the pale? If the latter, then, yes, hurt feelings are justified and you need to figure out what to do about these friends, forgive or forget. If you take it objectively and see that it's the kind of thing you're guilty of yourself, though, then it's better to just shake it off (and maybe think twice before you say stuff about other people).


Washington, D.C.: I thought the post about the roommates hooking up was kind of hot. And on a rainy, depressing day, I really appreciated it. Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Glad to help.


Parents: Dad cheated on mom for several years, and mom made the decision to take him back. At the time, I had a really hard time with this, but dad and I finally resolved our issues, and we're even closer now that we've been up-front and he's apologized. Problem is, mom's answer to the situation is to lock him down with constant paranoid phone calls, etc, and she's starting to treat me like the other woman. Dad and I connect much better than mom and I, but he's almost freaked out to talk to me b/c SHE gets so freaked out. Basically makes me resent mom, and the cycle goes 'round. What the heck do I do?

Carolyn Hax: First, I'd take care not to villify mom. It does sound like she's reacting horribly--and, more important for her, counterproductively--but what she's reacting TO could be legitimate. It could be your dad takes his attention outside the marriage as a way of power-tripping your mom: withholding his intimacy from her while flaunting it with someone else, reeling her back in, withholding intimacy, reeling her back in ... it's a classic, really. Not that this is necessarily what your father's doing, just that you should be aware of the possibility, so you don't get used against your mother. Next, I'd reach out to your mom, regardless of what's going on between her and your dad. You worked on your issues with dad, time to work on the ones with mom. May not come to anything, but the effort alone will help, both with your resentment and your mom's unfounded paranoia/founded sense of exclusion. And last, remember your place. You;re the kid. It's not your place to referee their relationship. Keep some distance between you and their mess.


Wazzington, D.C.: The last couple times I've approached an "attractive" woman at a social event, I have totally gotten the why-are-you-bothering-me Death Stare. After checking to make sure my fly was zipped and I hadn't grown a third head, I moved on. Yet when I approach less "attractive" (well, perfectly attractive to me) women, I get a much friendlier reception.

Not being a hot woman myself, I wonder -- are these ladies so bombarded with men that rudeness is the only defense mechanism? Obviously, generalities suck.... yada yada. But I don't seem to be alone in this -- is there a Beautiful People secret handshake I'm missing?

Carolyn Hax: You're asking the wrong person. (Though I've been told one of my heads has a pretty nice smile.) I don't think rudeness is the only answer to anything, but I also can't imagine it's easy being relentlessly singled out for your looks. Nor do I think a couple of shoot-downs constitute a rule. The only thing I can really take away from your post is that there's really just one effective approach: If you find someone attractive, by your standards and no one elses, then give it a shot and see what happens.


Washington, D.C.: Whoa, whoa. If the shoe was on the other foot, would you suggest a male should look for a roommate, even a female one, and that his girlfriend should understand? I don't buy that for a second. Women get psycho jealous if you look at another woman on the Metro platform, let alone share a house. Please.

Carolyn Hax: And I have been ruthlessly consistent in saying that you should break up with any woman who does this. Please.


Fredericksburg: Dear Carolyn,

Is revealing the number of people you've slept with a necessary condition in a long-term relationship? Recently got engaged, sublimely happy, to an open- minded, honest, all-around wonderful guy. He also was very prudent in his earlier sexual relationships, while I was pretty wild for a few years in college. No lasting ill effects but that wasn't a time I was proud of and I'd rather let bygones be bygones. He has gently given me opportunities to say how many people before but I just didn't want to. Should I? Ought I? This is not so major a thing but sometimes I wonder if he has the right to know. Online only please.

PS: love your take on things, reading your column has made me try to be more forthright when my own friends ask advice.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, I appreciate that. "Necessary condition"? Wow. Both of you should be aware of and comfortable with each other's histories--I'll even go with necessary there--but numbers are just gratuitous information. More important, I'd be wary of anyone who presses you for a number (if that's in fact what he's doing) because it all but declares that the person has a hangup aboutyour past. Anyone comfortable with the idea of "wild" won't care about the specifics. Unless of course you have a really great relationship and you love each other with eyes open to all lumps, bumps and college promiscuities, and you both can laugh about it. But you'd feel comfortable joking about it if that were true, or offering your number without being asked for it, or he'd be able to ask without having to be gentle about it. "So, can I ask how many?" "Yes, but I'm not going to answer." "Fair enough." Last thing, I'm going to make a pitch for being comfortable with your own history. It's a subtle thing, but there is a key difference between "I'm not proud and I'd rather let bygones be bygones" and "It happened, I wish it hadn't, except it made me who I am now." In version 2, there's a little more happiness and acceptance and (big finish ...) conviction that you're worthy of this excellent guy that I sense is missing from your question. Just a hunch based on very little text, but there it is.


Groton, Conn.: Just a comment on the visiting the in laws thread. My cousin is now going through a divorce, and one of the big issues (although not the only one) is her husband's attitude towards her family. He refuses to develop any sort of relationship with them. Not in an abusive "I'm cutting you off from your family" kind of way, but more of a passive aggressive "visit if you want, but I'm not going and if they come here I'll leave town for the weekend." (I hasten to add that they can be annoying, but not unpleasant or abusive.) After a while, it really started to grate on her that he wouldn't make any sort of effort, even when she expressed that it was important to her. And it became sort of indicative of how he valued the things that were important to her.

I guess my point isn't "visit your in-laws or end up in divorce court," but more balance how irritating they really are with the message you're sending to your partner about how his/her priorities play into your own decision making.

Carolyn Hax: Nicely put, thanks. 2 p.m., time to go. No really. Have to end on time today. Thanks for stopping in, and type to you next Friday.


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