Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 29, 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 Bæfers 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.


Today's Cartoon: So is that you depicted in today's cartoon?

Carolyn Hax: I don't think so. Let me look ...


Visitors to the Delivery Room: A friend of mine was in a similar posiition to today's writer whose sister-in-law wanted to crash her delivery, except that it was her mother who insisited on coming. While she did tell her mother that it wasn't going to happen, she also did something about it --she didn't call her mother until it was too late to show up. Since having a baby isn't like a matinee, and there isn't a schedule as to when it will happen, she was in some control.

Carolyn Hax: True. I'm going to underscore your point, though, that she told her mother no beforehand. Not calling just because you want to duck a confrontation shouldn't be your first resort.


Carolyn Hax: That couldn't be less me in the cartoon. Are we talking about the one with the priest-and-a-rabbi joke?


Wonderful guy but: What's the proper response to a late night drunken call from boyfriend visiting a city two time zones away? And how should I respond when he says he doesn't remember making the call?

Carolyn Hax: 1. "I'm hanging up now, good bye."

2. "Have you ever blacked out from drinking before?" You probably already know, though, if he's working on a problem.


Tucson, Ariz.: I know you are going to get this question a lot, but where the heck are this week's columns? I found the new page.... You know, the one with everything up to Sunday. It's updated now. Sorry bout that, we've been having some publishing problems: Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax: Thanks everybody for your patience.


Waldorf, Md.: Really just curious -- so many advice columnist questions seem to be limited to 2-3 people, like "my girlfriend and I," or "my boyfriend, his mother, and I..." with the occasional "me and my group of friends." I don't see a lot of complex questions from a descriptive standpoint, though obviously, the emotional issues are complex.

Anyway, I wondered if sometimes you read an involved question and think -- "whoa, more than four characters -- better not go with this."

Carolyn Hax: That has happened, yes. But more often, I think even problems with a big cast of characters are really about 1 to 3 key players. A group isn't so much a group as an interconnected set of 1-on-1 relationships.


Washington, D.C.: A suggestion... Because some of the early chat postings relate to Friday's column, is there any chance you can include a link to your Friday column at the beginning of each chat? It would make it easier to pick up on all the references for those that missed the column that morning, or for those who catch up with the chat later in the week and forget the column content. You rock! Thanks. Can do.

Carolyn Hax: Technically, it is Liz who rocks. Thanks for the suggestion.


Delivery Room Horrors: Who crashes childbirth? The sense of entitlement behind that is absolutely breathtaking. ("Hi, don't mind me, here, staring at your private bodily parts, as you writhe in agony, panting and sweating. Dorito?")

One additional thought, though. If dearest husband is half-heartedly advocating for his pushy sis, might it be possible that this is his passive aggressive way of pointing out to his beloved that he's miffed about the presence of her sister at said Joyous Event?

Either that or he's just a conciliatory creampuff. Ugh.

Carolyn Hax: That's the lesser ugh of the two possibilities, I think--better a C.C. than coward with strong opinions. But horrifying as it is, your thought might be an accurate one. That poor baby.


Cartoon: I think the cartoon the poster was referring to was with pregnant wife talking to her husband (relating to the sister-in-law wanting to be present during delivery question).

Carolyn Hax: Oh right, duh. 0427 too close to 0429 for these eyes.

That one is even less me than the one that couldn't be any less me. I'd say the proportions were close, but she'd need much bigger upper arms to be me.


Delivery Room: For anyone facing that uninvited guest dillema, don't forget to make the nurses work for you in this regard. My sister is a Labor and Delivery nurse and sees this ALL the time. She tells the moms she doesn't mind being the bad guy at all, and will shoo out anyone the mom doesn't want.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, and bonus points for your sister. That's along the same lines as my suggesting she talk to her OB or midwife. People who work in delivery rooms understand their role is more than just medical. At least the good ones do.


Chicago, Ill.: Yummmm, creampuff...

Carolyn Hax: Hm. Not doing anything for me. A cannoli, maybe, and you'd have something.


Silver Spring, Md.: Carolyn,

I'm currently on a mutually-agreed-upon "break" from my long time boyfriend. The point is to figure out if we want to continue this relationship for the long term or go our separate ways. What's your take on breaks? Can they ever be useful? I agreed to this. I think it's a good idea (in theory), but how should I deal with the jealousy I feel about him seeing other people?

Carolyn Hax: They're only as useful as you make them. How's that for obnoxious advice.

Even more obnoxious, every one of your rotten feelings right now is a chance to make the break useful. You're jealous, angry, skeptical. So. Why? Do you feel like you were pressured into it? Do you feel he misrepresented what he really wanted to get you to agree to it? Do you feel like he's using it as a fool-around-free card? Did you have anything to figure out, or were you happy with him? Does his having doubts change your mind about whether he's right for you? All kinds of stuff to get your mind (and stomach) churning.

And if at some point you just get sick of churning, you can use the temporary break to try on the idea of permanent severence.


Bethesda, Md.: Having been at one, soon to be two, births with my wife I'm wondering why anyone not the parent would want to be there? I stayed up all night with no food under extreme stress dealing with all kinds of stuff ending in the operating room at 7:23 a.m. If it's not my kid then call me when it's over and everybody's clean. Truth be told, the whole thing sucked but I got a great baby.

Carolyn Hax: Hm. I would be there in a second if a friend or sibling asked me to. Why any mother would ask, though, is a mystery to me, to be honest, though I do appreciate intellectually that some women find the presence of a midwife-type very comforting. (Apparently research has shown that the births go better when there's a dedicated mommy tender/coach, like a midwife or close friend or relative.) Seems to me you'd either need an inattentive daddy whom the mom felt she couldn't count on, or a super-evolved daddy who could include a third party as part of the team. Obviously with single moms this is more of an issue.

Wow that took forever for me to articulate and I still don't think I got it right. Sorry.


Washington, D.C.: Speaking of uninvited guests... why do so many people think it's kosher to bring a date to a wedding when the invitate is addressed the them alone? I am starting to get RSVPs and I'm shocked at how many people are trying to bring a guest. Although nothing beats the woman I didn't invite who let it be known to a mutual friend that she wants to come and "would even be willing to fly cross-country for it." Wow, thanks!

Where does this notion that weddings are just an excuse for the guests to take a date out for a free meal come from?

Carolyn Hax: I think the correct opening is, "Speaking of outsize senses of entitlement ..." I can't even pretend to know the why, but with each passing year I'm more sure of the why not. People who feel life owes them something are more work to be around then they're worth, and people who feel they owe something to life are more worth to be around than they are work. I might even use this to replace my cat people and dog people paradigm.


Providence: I have begun dating a guy who I really like -- we've been friends for years. The problem -- he's not a good kisser. Is it rude to give someone kissing pointers?

Carolyn Hax: Rude is in the eye of the beholder, but I can't see how it wouldn't be embarrassing. Still, since the alternative is probably to break up with him, I suppose it's worth a try.


Snap me out of it, please: I just can't get it together today at work. It's Friday, it's grey, and I'm stuck in a massive federal building that hasn't been renovated since the 1940s. I have tons of work to do and zero energy. Help!

Also, whatever happened to Poobah? Did I forget the URL or is it down? That was one of my great break-taking activities once upon a time... Boohbah!

Carolyn Hax: Another person successfully helped! Nice to be confident of at least one per Friday.


Alexandria, Va.: I have been dating my boyfriend for five months now and he has been hinting that he wants us to get married. If he asked, I would say yes, but I am worried that other people will think that we are rushing into this. I do love him and want to spend my life with him, but I also think that we should wait until we have been together for a year, (at the least), to get engaged. My question is, how soon is too soon?

Carolyn Hax: You want to wait, why--to let the hormones settle before you make any lifelong decisions, or because you're worried that other people will think you're rushing into things? If it's the former, you're right, you're not ready, and if it's the latter, you're right, you're not ready.

The argument for waiting is that it's hard to predict post-adrenaline-rush compatibility when you're in the throes of an adrenaline rush. So, let's define too soon as when it's still exciting enough for you to believe that X annoying trait/habit/quirk isn't going to be as big a deal as you would have thought before you met this person. How's that.


Uninvited dates to weddings: I agree with you completely that if you're invited alone, you go alone. But I hope you'll agree with me that it's perfectly OK to RSVP your regrets if you don't feel like sitting at a wedding with no one you know.

Carolyn Hax: Of course. But it's perfectly okay to RSVP your regrets, period, whatever the reason, so I hope you're not doing it with a chip on your shoulder. (So hard to tell with so few lines.) For those who do get pissy about it: Just because the bride and groom don't want to celebrate with strangers doesn't mean they're flipping the bird to their single guests. It's just one of two perfectly legit approaches to a wedding. You can make the best of it and talk to new people, or you can pass on the event altogether. Again, just one of two acceptable choices.


Massachussetts: I chimed in on a post a couple of weeks ago with a comment on how I'd gotten over my "baby fever." I mentioned that several very close (and, I'd thought, very ethical) friends had suggested I "forget" to take my birth control pill and get pregnant that way. You said my friends scared you (me too!) with that comment.

Well, apparently they weren't alone, but are just barely in the minority.

Newsweek (5/2/2005, p. 12) posted survey results from different magazines and it states that in a survey done by That's Life magazine "42 percent of women would lie about contraception to get pregnant."

Eeek. How scary is that?

Just thought I'd share.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you, I think. Makes a nice thread-starter with the "perhaps I ought to wait more than five months I you marry someone" post.


Come on now: I can't believe you advised someone to break up with someone based on their not being a good kisser! I mean, how long can you make the list of qualifications for a desirable mate! This is the kind of thing that you can expect to develop over time, and if not, at least the person is probably good at something else to make up for it. Please. I would tell this person -- give it some time, and once you're pretty secure together you'll be able to laugh about it.

Carolyn Hax: Now you come on now (or something): I didn't advise this person to break up, I said the person would probably choose to break up. Just a guess based on anecdotal evidence that people rarely make a long-term go of it when they don't click physically. But if she or you or anyone is confident it's okay, I'm not going to steer otherwise.


Ooohh, I am about to marry an ex bad kisser: I thought about all of the ways to get him to change his methods, tenderly kissing him the way I like to be kissed, being aggressive and controlling the kiss etc. But the best way turned out to be going right out and saying I thought I was a bad kisser, asking how he liked me to do it, and then expressing that if he did, this this and this it would make it easier for me. It worked. The point of my story is, turns out it is not just me that was unsatisfied. We were just not meshing on that level, but once we worked on it, pure bliss!

Carolyn Hax: See? Here at TMAI, we also traffic in hope.


Atlanta, Ga.: Hi,

We have a question which no matter how we phrase it, seems awfully rude but please believe it comes from genuine curiosity rather than a desire to be obnoxious. My friends and I were wondering what qualifies you Carolyn to be dishing out relationship advice? From what we know, you are not a psychiatrist or a trained counselor or therapist AND to top it off you are recently divorced which implies that the common sense you dish out clearly did not lead to a succesful relationship for you. Granted some of your questions are related to issues other than relationships but the majority are about relationships. How does a lady with no training or successful life experience have the gumption to tell others what they should be doing in their efforts to have a happy relationship with a significant other?

Genuinely Puzzled (and a bit admiring of your nerve) Girls in Georgia Are you sure you didn't mean to be obnoxious?

Carolyn Hax: I can't decide. Do I answer this or is that stooping ...

I'm especially fond of the "no ... successful life experience."


To go or not to go?: My wife wants me to go to Ireland during the basketball playoffs. Should I go because it would really make her happy or is it acceptable to decline because I'd rather sit on my couch watching basketball?

Carolyn Hax: You can't go after the playoffs are over?

If not, and if there's no chance she's proposing this for playoff time just to make a point, then I'd take Ireland over NBA, doing vs. spectating. (This from a fan of both sports and couches. As long as we're questioning my bona fides.) Maybe you can get a DVR out of the deal.


Arlington, Va.: Hi: With all of this "delivery" talk, I thought I'd ask to see your opinion of Natural Child birth. Although I'm not pregnant, I've mentioned to friends that this is something that I would consider. They reliped with blank stares followed by laughter. Am I really this insane?

love the chats! Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: No! Not insane. You just have to know yourself to know whether it's realistic (how's your pain tolerance, for example, and how important is this to you), and also know that certainty is anathema to the childbirth process. Some things you can't predict; you can only prepare and try like hell.

But I would have liked to see your friends' faces.


Taking a Break: My husband and I took "a break" in our relationship after we had dated for a year. Only we did not call it a "break" -- we broke up. Nothing seriously wrong, but we had dated a year and didn't feel ready to make the marriage committment, so we broke up. We operated as if it was over, dated other people, etc. until one day he called (after five months apart) to say I was the thing missing in his life. And I knew he was the thing missing in mine. We have been married for 11 years now.

The thing is -- if you treat the time off like it is just a temporary thing; you don't get on with life like you should. Instead of getting on, you are putting everything on hold. You need to believe the relationship is over to figure out how your life is going and what you like and who you like and what makes you happy. Just you. If you find your way back to each other then that would be a beautiful thing. And if you don't, good for you for having the strength to break up.

Carolyn Hax: (applause.)


Arlington, Va.: Here is my question about weddings. Boyfriend of 4.5 years invited to wedding of college friend -- his friend originally, but I became friendly with her. Invitation came to us (we live together) with just his name. Another friend, who got married last summer, was invited with his wife, who has never met the bride. So because I am not Mrs. So and So, I don't get invited. And what really ticks me off is that when boyfriend and I get married, I will be expected to invite this friend with her husband. I say this is flat out rude. Others think I'm getting bent out of shape for nothing.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I agree with you. To exclude a live-in partner is flat-out rude. I hope he declines the invitation. But then you need to do deep breathing exercises and remind yourself that people's stupid-behavior curve is a double bell--one bump for high school/college, and another for their (first, ha ha) wedding.


Re: girls in georgia: How offensive for someone to think that a divorce somehow makes you un"successful." I've never been divorced, but I've never been married either... does that somehow disqualify me from having a normal, happy and successful life?

Sorry... just had to vent.

Carolyn Hax: That's okay, I just had to let you.


Natural childbirth: I am an adoptive mom, so have no first-hand knowledge of natural childbirth. But preparing for NC would seem to me much like preparing for anything else. Circumstances may overtake your plans, but if you have planned you have a better chance of success than if you haven't.

Carolyn Hax: Well said, thanks.

Wow, I really do have no business being here.


Arlington, Va.: Carolyn, I am submitted this early since I may not get a chance to submit it later. My girlfriend and I hit one year of dating recently. I surprised her with a trip to Miami last weekend. She felt like I should have planned the trip better, meaning finding things to do, sort of like creating an itineary. I feel like when the inital surprise is given, then when you get there in this case, then plans should be discussed. I felt like she didn't appreciate things as well as she should have, after all, trips aren't cheap. What is your take on this, do you think I should have planned things better or not?

Carolyn Hax: I don't know because I wasn't there (ticket lost in the mail, perhaps), but I have a really, really, reeeeally hard time sympathizing with someone who accepts a huge, thoughtful gift by complaining it was neither huge nor thoughtful enough. If there aren't other fish in the sea, here's to swimming alone.


Carolyn Hax: I was just handed a Leonardo da Veggie bagel with extra sprouts, and I felt the need to share this glee.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn, I found out my husband is having an affair. I have proof but I haven't confronted him yet. I want to, but while we were dating, I cheated on him and he never found out. I want to say something to him, but feel like my past actions are coming back to bite me in the you-know-what. If I confront him, I feel I should be upfront about my past actions. Should I let it go and hope he ends it with her, act like I never knew, and call it even?

Carolyn Hax: I would need to think about this more if I were the one acting on the advice, but my first thought is that your past indiscretion is a powerful reminder that people can screw up, and they can still be good people despite their bad deeds (depending of course on how they choose to handle the bad deed), and your relationships with them can survive as long as any problems that contributed to the indiscretion are both fixable and fixed.

So, in practical terms, that means you tell your husband you know about the affair, and you aren't going to get on a moral high horse because you have your own frailty to admit, and you'd like to use this as a chance to figure out what isn't working between you.

Like I said, I wouldn't go rushing in there without sleeping on this idea for many nights. But there it is.


No Fair Carolyn!: I'm observing Passover, and sick of matzah. I dream of bread, bagels and pasta. And you just gloat about your Leo de Veggie bagel. I'm so jealous, I could burst.

But then my boss would know I'm reading your chat, not working.

Carolyn Hax: It was an unleavened bagel, I swear! At least my jaw suspects it was. The tyrrany of whole grains.

I'm sorry.


Herndon, Va.: Carolyn,

I need help figuring out a tactful way to tell people to mind their business without dragging my dirty laundry all over the place.

My mom died in Dec. 3 from ALS although she had been fighting ovarian cancer for six years. Dad was not supportive at all (downright mean actually) and we believe he was having an affair the last year of my mom's life. He started dating a neighbor that he had been uncomfortably close with two weeks after my mom died. Due to his treatment of my mom, his lies, and his behavior towards my sister and I, we cut off any contact with him. It was the right thing to do for us (constant berating from him) and our families (stressed out wives/moms are not good). I don't question my decision at all. But everyone else does.

We have tried the "It was the right thing for us to do" approach and "really, I don't want to get in to this again, it's personal." But people feel the need to tell us that he's our father and not to close the door on him permanently. I haven't shared all the details of the horrible things he did but it sure gets tempting when I get badgered. But I feel like it would do nothing but make me feel embarrassed for how horrible my father is. At what point am I allowed to just yell "Bug off, this is none of your business". I always try to be polite but it is hard to just move on when people keep bringing it up. Any suggestions on how we could better handle this situation to make it stop happening?

Thanks! (And thanks for your efforts in bringing ALS into the limelight. It is a horrible disease, harder for my mom to deal with than the cancer.)

Carolyn Hax: So, ALS, cancer, and a callous husband. The unfairness in the distribution of life burdens can be breathtaking. I'm glad you and your sister are being so good to her memory--clearly she was rewarded that way.

Anyway. I wish I had some sort of magic solution (early testing on Presumptuous-Jerk B Gone is only just now underway), but your reliance on polite boilerplate is exactly the right thing for this. If the rude people have any social sensors at all, they'll pick up on the fact that they're getting a socially acceptable "Butt out." And if the rude people have no social sensors, you're never going to shut them up anyway, even if you scream, "You know nothing! Shut up! Shut up!"

BTW, if you want to add to your repertoire, try, "Thank you, I'll think about that." Quite the door slammer, especially if you keep walking.


Regarding Affair: I think having an affair and cheating are a little different. She cheated. It sounds like it was a one time thing, she regretted it and committed to her boyfriend, got married. If he is having an affair, he has a whole other relationship with another woman and for some reason, I just find that more serious. Especially since they are married now (as opposed to the cheat while dating thing).

Carolyn Hax: I agree that it's more serious, but that's something they can discuss when it's out in the open. Even as a lesser offense, it locks the high horse in the stable.


Carolyn Hax: Sorry guys, got caught up reading and forgot I actually need to answer some of these. Stay tuned (out) ...


Washington, D.C.: Hi, Carolyn! Wow, the Georgia Girls' question was so rude! It flat-out amazes me that people ask questions like that yet feel compelled to protest that they don't mean to be offensive. Of course they do! If they didn't mean to be offensive and were just genuinely curious, they could have phrased the question a hell of a lot more politely (i.e. "Carolyn, we were wondering how/why you chose to write TMAI. Do you ever feel unqualified to dish out advice on such a wide range of topics?"). But if they meant to show off the bright shiny chips on their shoulders, they should have owned that.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you. I'm not sure I'd say shoulder chips--I'd call them certainties. Which can be much more ... what's the word, damn. Anyway, they can be much meaner.


Another "Fired" dad: I actually made the same decision 15 years ago. And as each milestone came along (marriage, baby one, baby two) I had a few people who would say this was the time to reach out and make "my peace" with him. And I would just say, "Thank you for your opinion" and walk away. The thing is, I have foregiven him. But I also realize he's not a person I want or need in my life. Some people don't understand that parenthood is not a full entitlement to treat your children anyway you want.

Carolyn Hax: An example always helps, thanks.


London, U.K.: Hi Carolyn,

Just wanted to give up some props to Nick on today's cartoon. His best in quite awhile. BTW -- Will there be a Nick book or a new Hax compendium anytime soon?


Carolyn Hax: Thanks, I'll let Nick know.

We'd love for there to be books, but we haven't been able to get past the part about actually having to assemble them. We'll let you know.


Wheaton, MD: Carolyn,

Do you know of any resources for a 21-year-old who realizes that she is stuck in a difficult situation (married to a man she is afraid to leave) and doesn't have the self-esteem to be able to make a decision to change? She wants to change, but she's afraid, and unsure that anyone else will ever want her... She's in school part time, and working full time, without health insurance or money for counseling. Please, if you have resources for her, it would be great!;

Carolyn Hax: The Women's Center, in Vienna, Va. but with satellites, 703-281-2657. (Also on the Web.)


The Burbs, N.Y.: Do you have any suggestions for someone who routinely sabotages herself? When I have an argument with my boyfriend, before I open my mouth I think "now don't be a nag" and I go right ahead and give him hell about something and start a fight. When I eat lunch, I think "don't go to the bodega and have chocolate as you are on a diet" and then I do. When I'm home on the couch, I think "don't go to the store across the street and buy clothes" and I do. So in the end, I have been labeled a "nag," can't lose the last 5 pounds, and am in serious debt. I do it to myself, beat myself up over it, and then do it again. And it's not like I don't have better things to do (I am a teacher in the inner-city, go to graduate school and am training seriously in my sport). How do I control myself?

(Online only please).

P.S. You're awesome.

Carolyn Hax: Try setting limits on yourself that you can actually livw within comfortably. E.g., as long as you ahve a really healthy lunch, you can have one bon bon. When you are home on the couch and feeling the itch to shop, go for a long walk, and upgrade to a run as you get in shape, if you're in good enough health.

And when you're about to nag, ask yourself if this is the boyfriend you really want, if you keep having to ask for things you don't get.

And finally, consider counseling, if the small changes you try have zero effect.


Carolyn Hax: Eek have to go. Thanks everybody, have a great weekend and garsh let's do this again. (How's Friday?)

Oh, and a new development on the ALS Gala front: Nick and I are auctioning ourselves off. Brunch for two with us Sunday morning after the party, May 15. Thanks to all who have responded so far to my shameless begging and etc. Go to to buy tickets, oh pweeeease. (I think there's an auction link there too.)

Okay bye.


Seattle: insidious?

Carolyn Hax: YES. Thank you. Insidious. Gad.


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