Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 13, 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.


Baltimore, Md.: Hi Carolyn,

My older brother passed away a little over two years ago. In the course of meeting new people and making polite conversations with new coworkers, questions about family always arise. They are innocent questions like, I say something about my sister and they say "how many siblings do you have." I have three siblings that are still living. But how do I mention the one who is not? To say that I only have two brothers makes me feel disrespectful as if I'm forgetting his memory, but to say that I have three brothers but one has passed feels like too much information and brings on the unneeded sympathetic noises and looks I'd like to avoid. How do I balance the two?

Carolyn Hax: Very sad, I'm sorry. Say you're one of five kids. That will be true your whole life.


Burtonsville, Md.: Hi Carolyn,

A friend from college invited me to her wedding in California. The invitation was just addressed to me since I'm not married. I told her I would be there, and I am planning to attend, but I would like to take someone with me. The last time we spoke, I didn't have anyone in my life. I started seeing someone a few months ago and would like him to go with me. My friend has planned a weekend full of activities, so it would be nice to be able to take someone with me because I know she'll be incredibly busy with her other friends and family members.

I have to send the RSVP card back to her soon, so I'm trying to figure out if I should just say that I will be attending with a guest, or contact her first about it and hope I don't put her in an awkward situation if she has to say no?


Carolyn Hax: Ack no no no do not take response card matters into your own hands, please. The way to keep someone out of an awkward spot is not to strong-arm her into a worse one.

Call the bride, tell her you'll be traveling with a friend, and that if it wouldn't be burdensome, you'd love to bring him to the wedding, and if it would be burdensome, you'll understand completely and just enjoy the rest of the weekend with him.

Or you just go to the wedding without him. I understand California is a big trip, but there has to be something in it for you if you go solo. Uninterrupted reading time.


Summerville, S.C.: Hi Carolyn! This is for the woman last week who wrote about wanting to be involved with kids, even though she had decided not to have any of her own: consider hosting an exchange student!

Happy Friday!

Carolyn Hax: That's a really cool idea (though it brings the husband into it, which means it might be better for someone else in a similar situation ...). Thanks.


Washington, D.C.: About two years ago I lent a good friend, who was out of work, a significant amount of money. At the time I had the money and she was in desperation mode, so I was happy to help her. I assumed I would be paid back as soon as she found a job. Unfortuntely she has had trouble finding steady work and has only paid back about $300 so far. I don't know how to bring this up to her since she is always strapped for cash. I am wondering if I will ever see it repaid. Now I am trying to save to buy a house and could use the funds. Needless to say this is putting a strain on our friendship. Should I speak to her about it or let it drop? I would hate to make things uncomfortable between us.

Carolyn Hax: I think you either have to let it drop as long as her finding steady work is a problem, or you have to approach it realistically--meaning even if she does make an effort now to pay you back, the best you can hope for is some small installments that probably won't help you with the house savings as much as you'd like.

And if you choose this letter route, you have to ask nicely, by explaining that you inderstand she would have paid you back immediately if she could have, and that you feel torn about adding another struggle when she's already struggling, but that you now have your own need for the money--so is there any arrangement that would make you both happy?

Before you go ... you say you would hate to make things uncomfortable between you, but does that mean preserving the friendship is more important than filling your savings account? That's the decision you have to make--which matters more. Or, specifically, how much you're willing to sacrifice for each.


Feeling Lost: Hi Carolyn --

How do you deal with a parent that may be going bankrupt, is clearly depressed and not communicating any of this? My mom and I aren't very close, but she is selling her house because she can't afford it anymore (to the point where she may be defaulting on her mortgage), has maxed out credit cards that she is not repaying, and has MAJOR issues with her family that are all finally starting to bubble to the surface. Her best friend told me that she was contemplating suicide earlier in the spring, and has since been put on anti-depressants, but no therapy. I feel totally lost and overwhelmed and unsure how to deal with this. I know that I should be in therapy, but don't even know how to find some one in D.C. to talk to.

Any thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: A continuation of a thought from last week--the Women's Center in Vienna, Va. (which isn't just for women, I keep forgetting to add), is a great place for you to start b/c they can also help you help your mom.

Also, it sounds like your mom confides in her best friend, at least a little. She's probably a good resource for you when you have names and numbers of people you'd like to encourage your mom to see.

Which brings us to: the limits on what you can do. Your mom is her own person, and even if you were close she would still be the one person ultimately responsible for her actions. This can be the hardest part to reconcile, especially if her actions break your heart.


Spokane, Wash.: What to do when you suspect a good friend is getting married because she wants to "be married" more than she wants to get married to her fiance? What to do when that fiance is also a very close friend? Stay uninvolved (I was the person who introduced them, and have enforced a strict non-involvement policy since then) and assume they're both going in with both eyes open?

FWIW, fiance has undergone a radical personality change since they started dating. Fiancee has remained about the same. Though she's showed signs of bridezilladom.

Thanks, Carolyn!

Carolyn Hax: If the bride opens the door for you, you can ask some leading questions, but otherwise I think you need to let them figure this out for themselves. I've said this before, I think ... at least I seem to recall getting slapped for it ... that even if you're right and this marriage is a bad idea, it's possible they need this marriage and the problems that come with it to wake them up. Obviously, if there were a way to catch people before their mistakes got really huge, wed all do it, and sometimes we have to try. (And sometimes we even succeed.) But ask anyone who's really, genuinely happy, and I think you'll find most of them got that way after at least one tour through hell.


Arlington, Va.: I received an 'invitation' yesterday to a wedding shower for a friend of mine. The shower won't actaully take place -- the invitation simply asks that everyone send the bride a gift, restricting gifts from one of the three wedding registries she completed. This irks me so much I'm thinking of not even going to the wedding. Have you ever heard of anything so obnoxious?

Carolyn Hax: Probably, but this one pushed everything else off my mental radar.


Raleigh, N.C.: Is it wrong of me to get a certain sick satisfaction out of being contrary? I'm planning my wedding, and every time I talk to a certain married friend of mine (let's call her "Sheila"), she gives me her $20 worth. Never mind that I didn't even ask her for two cents... Sheila has always been very girly, fru-fru, and all-around a big fan of tradition. I, on the other hand, am not a stickler for doing things "the way they ought to be done." Sheila honestly seems taken aback that I'm not planning on doing a lot of the "typical" wedding stuff, like: throwing my bouquet (they're going to my mohter's grave), lighting a unity candle (no place for it in my denomination's ceremony), spending thousands of dollars on photography (?), etc. I'm too polite to tell her to kiss my a-- and not push her ideas down my throat. A part of me wants to do everything entirely the opposite of her, if only to show her that she is not the paragon of party planning she assumes she is. Am I being petty?

Carolyn Hax: Only at the very end, but you're petty for the right team, so it's okay.

Kidding, cheez.

There's nothing wrong with feeling the sick satisfaction, but it does get a little juvenile when you go out of your way just to get the sick satisfaction. Plan your wedding, mind yer beeswax, and when Sheila adds her $20, feel free to say, "Sheila Sheila Sheila, surely you know by now that we have completely different tastes in weddings." Say it as many times as necessary, and if you get a sick satisfaction out of saying it VERBATIM every single time, I don't think anyone will judge you too too harshly.


Atlanta, Ga.: Dear Carolyn, There's this friend of mine from college that I have kept in touch with only online. Since graduating a couple years ago (actually he graduated two years ahead of me), we chat every so often on AIM. We're both in committed relationships, and we live about 1500 miles apart. A couple years ago, in a chat, he revealed that he had always had feelings for me and that he thought I was a great girl, etc. Obviously nothing was meant to come of it, just kind of a 'hey, how about that' thing, since I had crushed on him years before too. Apparently his girlfriend found the chat on his computer and got mad at him about it, but that was all I heard. Lately, in the last few months I had talked to him less, and yesterday, he just told me bluntly that his girlfriend doesn't like the fact that he talks to me, and he understands, so he thinks we should not talk anymore. Am I wrong to be perturbed about this? I'm not about to go home and cry about it, but I'm kind of upset and annoyed about it. Any thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Wellll ... normally I'd side with the upset and annoyed and banished here, but. If he still has feelings for you, then she has a right to ask him either to break up and chase the feelings, or stop stoking them and commit to the relationship he's in. The latter meaning he stops IMing you.

Just to be clear, since I would be particularly peeved if this advice were coopted by the jealous to justify a ban on all opposite sex friends: If all that were left between you were the cold ashes of a past fire, or if there were never a fire, then I'd say the GF was being an insecure twit.


Sacramento, Calif.: Over the last couple of years, my dad has called me on 3 or 4 occasions to tell me what a disappointment I am, and that I am the reason he has had cardiac problems and the reason his marriage to my mom is in trouble. I am a successful professional 29-year old, and have been married since 6 months after college graduation. My marriage, coupled with the fact that we moved 1000 miles away from my parents, has hurt my dad immeasurably. He had a heart attack when I was in high school but seemed to be doing well until recently. I know him and my mom fight about me a lot, my mom wants to us to be closer while my dad wants nothing to do with me. My mom is aware of his outbursts, and has asked me to be patient with him. She blames the outbursts on his heart problems and the meds he's on. When I've seen him after each of his outbursts he apologizes, but he has said some very very hurtful things. The last time this happenned was the worst, and he said some things I just can't get out of my head. I feel like I can't keep going through these cycles with him, it's too damaging to me even though deep down I know I can't be held responsible for his health or his marriage, but I don't want to cut him out of my life altogether, not knowing how much longer he'll be around. I can't just ignore what he says, either as my mom has asked. Is there any middle ground here?

Carolyn Hax: Yes, and if you were to find it on a map, the pin would be through the office couch cushion of a good family therapist. Daddy has issues. He's taking them out on you, and it's affecting your health. Please sift through the possibilities with someone who can help you retrace your father's behavior, figure out what might be causing it, validate or poke holes in the heart-problem theory, equip you to deal with whatever you find out, and, best of all, help you avoid torturing any kids of your own, if you have them.


Washington, D.C.: It's wedding season, it seems!

So, this question came up at a party:

Is it appropriate to invite one's ex if the fiancee feels uncomfortable with that decision?

Carolyn Hax: The up side of wedding season: three months till football season.

It's inappropriate to marry the fiancee if you two haven't made peace with the ex thing one way or the other. And I don't mean in the relatively puny whether-to-invite sense, I mean in the larger sense--her proper place in your life and milestone celebrations--and the cosmic sense--the proper place for exes in lives in general. If fiancee is worried you still have feelings for your ex, then that's a doozy if she's justified, and a whole different doozy if she's imagining things. Hope it's an open bar.


Looking for Wisdom: Hi Carolyn,

I find myself in a similar position to a writer to which you gave your advice on May 6 about love and hurtful fights. After reading your response to that writer as well the question in today's paper I find myself asking "how do you determine whether or not what I (or the other person) want out of a person/relationship/object is either justifible or not?".

Your advice in today's paper resonates with me: "Be ready to hold out for what you need, able to ask for it when you need it, and willing to walk away when you don't get it."

Carolyn Hax: Should be, "Still looking for wisdom after two attempts." Sorry ... it's a great question, though, so I'll give it a shot.

I think this can be so hard to figure out because there are two types of "justifiable." One is external, where you need to determine if what you're asking is fair to the other person or even feasible.

Feasibility is a little easier, since you have the person's nature and history to help you. Random e.g., are you asking a night person to become a morning person? Have you tried for 5 years (and watched him or her try) to no avail? Then, okay, not feasible.

The fairness is a little harder because you need outside references, and everyone outside can seem just as nuts as you are or worse, so you kind of have to wing it. But still doable. Another random e.g., you want your partner to contribute more to the household finances. If you're living comfortably but you want more luxuries and you want BF/GF to give up an offbeat, low-paying career for more cash, then that's unfair--putting your happiness above your supposed equal's. If you're broke and bills are piling up and partner won't commit to a steady job because it interferes with his unpaid garage-band gigs, then partner is being unfair by putting own happiness above yours, and you have a right to ask for more help.

So that's the first form of justifiable. Whoo.

Second form is internal. That's about what you need, whether you're being fair to yourself by demanding it or by deciding not to. Say, you want flowers bought for you weekly. Is that fair to ask, in the other sense? No way. But if it makes you happy, and it's a priority, then that justifies your holding out till you find someone who will do that for you.

See? I hope. I'm sure there's more, but this is getting ridiculous.


Washington, D.C.: Hi there, and thanks for taking my question!

My husband is only interested in house finances when he wants something, be it a new part for his computer, a new TV or the newest tech toy. When things are not going well, like when he's out of work, he never asks how we are on cash or how our finaces are holding out.

A few years back, we used to do finances together, but everytime there was a bit of money tucked away, he found a way to spend it, like getting a new game, or loaning it to a friend that never made good on paying it back.

He's started to get interested again, and I'm torn. I know I have no right to demand that I control all of the money, but I can't help but worry that getting him involved is just going to lead to us losing our savings to frivolous toys ... Any words of advice from you or the peanut gallery?

Carolyn Hax: I dunno, sounds like you do have a right to control all the money because he forfeited his right by squandering your savings on toys. What would make it pass the sniff test is an honest understanding between you on this. Unfortunately, if that means you make your finances vulnerable, then you might have to forget to mention a savings cache or two or just keep the account numbers to yourself, but don't worry I hate myself for even typing it. Though I suppose if the money is his as well as yours and all you're doing is protecting it, that doesn't smell as bad as it could ...

Maybe the best thing would be to find a good financial planner who could help you work ethically around your husband's spending habits.

Let's see how long it takes me to regret posting this.


Redmond, Wash.: Carolyn,

My husband of almost five years is pretty wonderful: a great father who treats both me and our two sons (ages 2 and 10 months) well. He started his own law practice just over a year ago, and the cash flow has been spotty. We both expected this, so I've continued working as a CPA to keep us afloat, although I would prefer to stay home with our boys while they're still so young.

My question: how do I control the resentment I feel -- rational or otherwise -- that he isn't pulling his weight financially? This resentment I feel encroaches on other areas of our marriage (i.e., I start to see his mere sitting on the couch as yet another manifestation that he's not working hard enough while I'm working too hard... a familiar complaint, I'm sure). Will it ever be appropriate to suggest he look for a salaried position, if our money situation doesn't improve?

Shame-faced Harridan

Carolyn Hax: Well what do you know, one of my what-is-fair-to-ask e.g.s in (painfully) real life.

Here's the bummer. The perfect time to have this out was when he started his own firm while you already had a small boy and another on the way. It would have been perfectly reasonable for you to say, yay, yes, go for your dream--but please can you suck it up in a salaried job for a few more years, ideally till the kids are in preschool?

Now that that moment has passed, you can still cobble together a reasonable request, you just have to temper it a bit. Say, that you didn't realize how sad you'd be to have to work extra while the kids were young, and that you're wondering if he'd think it's fair to put a time limit on the startup time of his new practice--say, if 18 months from now you still can't cut back your hours to be with the kids, then he applies for salaried work.

BUT. Big but. I wouldn't just pop out with this, for a few reasons. One, his happiness might be rooted deeply in this effort, and you have to be really careful you don't squash him like a bug just because you want to be home more. Two, does the newness of his practice give him more time with the kids? Then you'd have to consider why you should be getting that time at home and he should be off breadwinning, since it isn't fair to assume it's your right. Three, there might be a middle solution. Say, you both cut back expenses, or you find a job that pays better and/or allows shorter or more flexible hours, etc.

Meanwhile, resentment is bad enough, but it gets really bitter and ugly when you just let it sit unexpressed. Tell your husband you know he's trying but you're frustrated with the way things are, and ask to talk about possible alternatives to the status quo. Then work your way back to the deadline plan, as a worst case.


Huh?: OK, Carolyn, I usually think your advice is right on ... but I think you should regret advising anyone to essentially steal money from a spouse.

Carolyn Hax: Didn't I say specifically that it was important that it was still his money, just that it was out of his reach? I hope I didn't backspace that sentence.


Buying first home: My wife and I are buying a first home and although we're excited about it, I feel a lot of anxiety about the whole thing. How do you get yourself to emphasize the excitement and de-emphasize the anxiety? And what do you do when both people are feeling stressed about the situation and snap at each other?

Carolyn Hax: When you snap, you apologize.

Then, ideally, you stop snapping, which brings us to your first question. I've found it extremely useful to consider the worst case in a situation like yours (just went through it myself, actually--very bumpy home transaction). Worst case if the sale goes south and it's your fault, you lose your earnest money deposit. Which is just money. Oh well! Worst case if you buy the house at the top of the market and its value depreciates below your loan balance, you work furiously with the bank and, if you fail, worst worst case you lose your house and equity and you rent somewhere and you have each other and your health.

I'm serious, this did actually make me feel better. You have each other and your health, each other and your health, each other and your health. Other things lost, you can recoup or live without.


RE: : Shame-faced Harridan: I am 27 and getting married and my fiance and I have already had a conversation about what this woman is experiencing, sort of. He basically said that he doesnt know if he will ever feel comfortable being the sole breadwinner both financially and psychologically. I understand what he means, in today's economy yada yada, but I could really see myself wanting to stay home with kids, potentially. I think for now we have talked it out as much as possible w/o actually being in the situation. Are we setting ourselves up for fights or being proactive in talking about it here?

Carolyn Hax: Being proactive, I'd say, as long as you're using this advance negotiation time to figure out compromises, vs set yourselves up to dig in and fight when the first kid's already on the way (thereby banking on the fact that neither of you will be willing to dump the other over the issue).

One thing you could do toward a compromise, since you have the advance notice, is start now to position yourself to work at a job/career with flexible, family-friendly hours. There's a reason teaching and nursing have a history of being largely female professions--and now there are so many other ways to work your own hours, or out of the home, or not during summers, whatever, that would make your fiance more comfortable.

BTW, I hope he's gotten and processed the life-is-uncertain memo. There are reasons, rare of course, for him to become a sole breadwinner that have nothing to do with choice. Getting married means that's a risk he has to take on.


Just money?!;: I don't know where live, but where I live, your deposit on a house transfers into your down payment. That's not "just money" to me. I'm glad in your situation you're comfortable looking at a few thousand hard saved dollars as just money.

We had a terrible time buying our house and our only consolation was that since the sellers were the ones with the issues, we'd get our 5% back. I can't imagine if it had been us backing out and not getting our deposit back.

Carolyn Hax: What is it, then, pints of blood? Any lost cash would have been a huge blow, probably preventing us from trying to buy another house for a while. It still wasn't our health, it still wasn't a loved one, it was still just money. Reread what I wrote, please.


Washington, D.C.: I've noticed that a lot of your questions are the same as, or strikingly similar to, questions in Ask Amy. Such as the shower question in today's chat and yesterday's Ask Amy column. What gives?

Carolyn Hax: Just people submitting to both. I don't read Ask Amy, so the questions are new to me. And since all advice-column types are probably looking for similar things, some of the same things are going to get our attention. Whatcanyadoo.


Thanks, but.....: As a perpetual singleton, when I first started reading the discussion it made me depressed because almost all of the questions have to do with weddings or married couples. But by the time I got to the end I was thankful I didn't have any of those problems!;

And yet, while I love the independence that being single affords, sometimes I just feel so....lonely. I have good friends, am doing well in grad school and have a job lined up for when I'm done. But I've never been in love or in a serious relationship. I'm rather shy and most guys don't bother to take the chance to get to know me. The few chances I've had fizzled before they'd barely got started. Any words of wisdom?

Carolyn Hax: Not wisdom, just a suggestion, one that may seem familiar to you since I've said it before. But please don't dismiss it.

You have friends. So, you know how to be social, meet people, have conversations. Men are people. Treat them as people and you'll start to get to know some, and maybe eventually you'll start to like some well enough to date them.

"Eventually" is the operative word there. The way to "treat them as people"--I know, so easy to type but so hard to do--is to accept that you're shy and to find a way to approach men that doesn't ask you to change who you are. You arent' just going to start going up to guys in bars, and that's fine. Instead you need to find ways to see the same men, week in and week out, in an environment that allows you to feel somewhat at ease. A team, a volunteer thing, a class--this is the usual list, but there are endless variations within it that can help you at least broaden your social life. Which, even if it doesn't ... desinglize? you will at least allow you to stop saying, "I'm rather shy and most guys don't bother to take the chance to get to know me," which will give you confidence and ease the loneliness tons.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn, In two sentences, tell me your philosophy for life.

Carolyn Hax: At 2:13, that's just cruel.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn - Playing off an earlier question. I know a couple who when they got married the wife asked that a certain friend not be invited because her husband to be had once cheated on her with said friend. I say this is valid as this friend wasn't a friend to the bride, my boyfriend says if her husband is forgiven, so should be this girl. What say you?

Carolyn Hax: Wish I could see the whole spectrum of gray here, but given what I've been given, the girl doesn't belong at the wedding and my forehead belongs on the plaster. Forgiving him--and forgiving her--is not the same as wanting a reminder of her at the wedding.


Rockville, Md.: For Washington DC and the hubby who likes toys - having been through difficult financial times, I know that it is demoralizing not to feel like you have the right to spend any money. What worked for me was to have a core amount that is required for necessities - mortgage, utilities etc. That comes off the top. Then there are mutually agreed on amounts for savings etc. Then each person has a certain amount over which they have total discretion on how to spend. It is a compromise but everyone has different views on how money "should" be spent.

Carolyn Hax: BUt I think even people with different views could all be happy under your plan--hard to see a flaw in it, for people with or without money problems. Thanks.


Washington, D.C.: How does one deal with gut-wrenching nerves?

After losing a niece to cancer I decided at 32 to go back to school to become a nurse. Now that I have made the decision I am full of doubts. Am I too old? Can I learn all this stuff? What am I doing? Am I crazy?

It will be three years until I graduate and can become a nurse at 35. How do I deal with all the fear? Does it mean I made the wrong decision?

Carolyn Hax: Since this is Other Advice Columns day, sort of, here's one Ann Landers (I think) did really well. To paraphrase--how old will you be in three years if you -don't- go to nursing school?

You're inspired. You're humble. You'll be great. And I'm sorry about your niece--she must have been so young.


Carolyn Hax: Time to ride off into the sunset. Thanks for stopping in, bye, happy weekend, type to you next week ... OH and see you in DC? Please? Some of you? The ALS gala is this weekend, and here's a quickie explanation--my mom died in 2002 of this awful, medieval torture of a disease, and there's no cure right now and barely a way to treat it, and I'd be grateful for help in raising money and awareness, two crucial components to research, which is the crucial component to beating this thing. Tickets and info at

Brunch this Sunday with Nick and me is a silent auction item, and you have to be there to buy us. If you can't make it, just knowing about ALS is a kindness. Thanks.


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