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Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 27, 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.

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Denver, Colo.: Carolyn, Age old question: how do you get a man to be more romantic or romantic at all?! We've been married less than a year and although he was never Mr. hugely romantic, he was just the right amount... then we got married and basically it's turned into a business relationship with the occasional "I love you" thrown in. I don't want to nag or complain -- do you or the 'nuts have any suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: All you can do is tell him, as nicely but directly as you can, how sad you are that this part of your relationship seems to have died. Then you can follow up by providing opportunities for him to be his former self, though I say this with the caveat that if you're becoming your marriage's full-time cruise director, you're only going to alienate him and make yourself really really angry.

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We missed you last week!;: Is everything ok?

Carolyn Hax: Thanks! All's well--one of the little guys kept me up all night and I never got a chance to nap, and I figured you guys probably didn't want advice from someone who was hallucinating. Unless you think I'm onto something.

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Germantown, Md.: My mother, now in her 60s, has made some unfortunate choices in her life. Now again divorced, she has begun amassing cats (way too many cats) and picking fights with the neighbors. I am told that I need to listen to her angry and hostile thoughts so that she can purge them, but to me it sounds more like she's whipping herself into a lather. Any attempt on my part to talk about these issues -- and I'm the only one willing to brave the lioness in her den -- results in her getting really angry. Same with suggesting therapy. I'm the mess cleaner-upper in the family, the crisis-coper, and my spidey senses are tingling. Help? Thoughts from the crowd?

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I'd suggest thoughts from a psychiatrist. If you're the designated crisis manager, you ought to go in to battle prepared, especially if your mom's "unfortunate choices" aren't so much choices as manifestations of some undiagnosed something, which I strongly suspect. You can then learn about that something and address it accordingly, which will make your attempts to clean up after her much more effective.

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Arlington, Va.: I meet lots of great guys and have no trouble getting dates. Recently though, it seems the ones I really like aren't into me, and the ones I am not really into want to be with me. Is this just dumb luck, or is this a pattern? Is it true that we always want what we can't have?

Carolyn Hax: Yes, and if your current misalignment of affection is truly the exception rather than the rule, then most people want what you have. Wait it out, and if you're still waiting a year or so from now, then maybe start to think pattern.

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Washington, D.C.: Hello Carolyn,

I recently found out that my girlfriend was sexually assaulted by a previous boyfriend. She was reticent to tell me this and we're three years into our relationship. I'm glad that she trusted me enough to tell me this and can see why she was afraid of telling me. This revelation didn't change my view of her, in fact, I think it made me love her more.

My question is what do I do with this information? My first two reactions were to find this ex-boyfriend and beat him within an inch of his life and the other was finding out more details to satisfy my morbid curiousity about the circumstances; obviously these are not viable courses of action, and I've managed to surpress them both. I'm afraid to bring it up again in conversation because I don't want to cause her pain, but I'm worried about whether or not she's healed from this incident. Should I try talking to her about it, or just stay silent and wait for her to bring it up again, if ever.

Carolyn Hax: Channel your morbid curiosity into learning more about sexual abuse and its long-term effects on its victims. Then make an informed decision on how to handle your girlfriend's disclosure. In the meantime, though, don't just stay silent; that just leaves the door open for her to think the worst. Tell her you're glad she trusted you, tell her you love her. Then explain that if you aren't saying or doing the right thing, then you want her to say so, because you want nothing more than to support her but you're unsure of yourself and might need some time (and coaching, if she's willing) to get a clue.

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Carolyn Hax: Just make sure when you say this, you don't cross over into making it about you. I.e., explain that you intend to go out and get help understanding it so that it doesn't become her job, on top of everything else, to make you okay with it. This is an important distinction.

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For Germantown: Talk to your mother's regular physician, especially if she has already gotten angry at you/family members for suggesting counselling.

Tell her physician that you are worried about your mother, that she seems to be acting in ways not in her best interest, and that you think she needs to be checked over and perhaps referred to a specialist.

Carolyn Hax: Good suggestion, thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm unclear on where you stand with respect to adults not working. In a past column, you told a man who married his wife thinking that she would always work outside the home, and who had done his long-term financial planning based on that, that he was cruel for not wanting her to stay home with their new baby. Last Wednesday, on the other hand, you smacked around a woman who had always explicitly planned to stay home with her kids. So what's the deal? It's okay for women to decide on the spur of the moment that they want to be supported by someone else, but if they plan for it years in advance, they're looking for a sugar daddy?

Carolyn Hax: I'm unclear on what's unclear. One is taking the facts of her life and making a choice, and the other is making a choice and arranging the facts of her life to conform to it. Which would be fine if the choice were to, say, become a doctor and the fact-arranging meant going to med school. But when the facts you're arranging are relationships, that's strictly for domestic mercenaries, who are best found in Wharton novels.

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re: Sugar Daddy rehab: Carolyn,

Thanks for your reminder in your advice to the upwardly mobile woman that you shouldn't marry someone who isn't currently happy with their own life.

I shudder to think that either your correspondent or her fiance harbors the delusion that marriage would change the fights they're currently having about her job angst. Or that getting married would give her the direction or energy to look for a new job/changer her life/make her into a different person.

I was wondering though. If the fiance were to write in, what would you tell him to do?

Carolyn Hax: Hard to say exactly because, apparently, the letter-writer left out some big facts that might make her more sympathetic and her situation more complicated. So that might influence my answer now. But I did advise the guy indirectly in my answer to her: to accept that she's starting from scratch in more ways than just her career, and decide either to be patient and give her time, or admit that this wasn't what he signed up for and leave now instead of torturing her with unfair expectations.

If you were looking for the "Run run run," though, it was never going to be there. Remember, she was self-aware enough to point us all to her own shortcomings. That's a big deal.

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Working or not: You forgot the most import difference between the two questioners: one actually has children, one does not.

Carolyn Hax: I didn't forget it, I referred to it incomprehensibly. Thanks for the Hemingway version.

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Domestic Mercenaries?: the woman in that sugar daddy question did sound bratty, but I don't think having a goal of staying home with kids is any less honorable than becoming a doctor.

Carolyn Hax: I'm going to cry, hard.

What's not honorable is selecting a husband based on his ability to finance your stay-at-home motherhood. Choosing a med school based on its ability to train you to be a doctor, however, enjoys the social acceptance it deserves.

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Green, Grass: How can I overcome my extreme envy and sometimes anger that my boyfriend gets to sleep in, stay up late, do nothing... because he quit his job a month ago. I'm on the 40-hour-a-week schedule and it drives me crazy sometimes. I'm better now than I was the first week, but sometimes this bad feeling still gets a choke-hold on me. And it's not like I don't pay for things so he can still do stuff... so thinking without money he can't have much fun isn't applicable.

Carolyn Hax: So you're working 40 hours a week and supporting him while he takes an indefinite vacation? And he's not rearing children, or addressing a health problem, or keeping house, or paying his own way through a mid-career philosophical crisis?

I believe extreme envy and sometimes anger are appropriate, and are meant to be overcome by your explaining to him that this arrangement is getting rearranged by the end of next week.

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North Carolina: So how did the ALS Gala go? What's the going price for Carolyn and Nick (so we can all save up for next year)

Carolyn Hax: Very successfully, thanks so much for asking. Our going price is $1,100.

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Ann Arbor, Mich. -- Husband hunting: I think you also need to point out that the woman isn't only picking a husband who can support her if she stays home with kids, but a husband who can support her in a particularly upscale lifestyle. After all, she could likely stay home with kids regardless, but one is much harder.

By the way, why are people having a hard time understanding your advice on this one?

Carolyn Hax: Maybe I'm just late to the hallucinating thing.

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One more on sugar daddies: I had a professor in college who used to say: If you marry for money, you do earn it.

He spoke from experience (although he always laughed when he said it).

Carolyn Hax: And he had a killer tan.

Onward.

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Metro Washington, D.C.: My current boyfriend is still in touch with his former girlfriend and sees nothing wrong with it. In fact, he belives it's OK to even see her for lunch. Of course, he says it's all innocent. Why am I so concerned with this? Your thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Because you are in the half of the population that thinks it's unconscionable to keep in touch with a former love, and he is in the half that thinks it's unconscionable to drop a former love just because the romantic feelings are dead.

There is great common ground here that I wish weren't so hard to find: agreement that it's okay unless one of the formers is acting inappropriately enough to put the new mate on the defensive, in which case the ex/friend is cut loose--EXCEPT in the case of a new mate who goes on the defensive on a daily basis over everything. Then the new relationship's got to go.

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Washington, D.C.: Happy Friday Everyone! I have a dilemma, not sure if anyone can relate. I am getting ready to go to the beach for a long weekend with my family, boyfriend in tote. Everyone gets along just fine, but my mother and sister are so critical of themselves, even though they are tiny creatures. This always makes me feel like crap, especially because they will kind of look over at me in a sympathetic way as to say "oh honey, you shouldn't worry about that white flab." I don't want it to bother me, but if anyone comments on my weight I don't want to get upset. And my boyfriend is wonderful, he thinks I look great which (he may be lying) but makes me feel great, too.

Carolyn Hax: Everyone gets along just fine, except for that whole psychological warfare thing.

I won't suggest you avoid your family, but do you need to go to the beach with them? If you've thought about it and made the choice that the good of wearing Lycra around them compensates enough for the bad, then I guess all you can do is remind yourself of that choice when they take shots at you. And there's always the device of reminding yourself that this is about their effed up priorities and not your white flab.

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Boston, Mass.: Thanks for the great chats. I could use some words of wisdom... I'm about to make a long distance move to live with my boyfriend of three years. While I'm excited about him, I'm sad to leave my current city for a place where I don't know many people and where job prospects aren't too great. How can I keep my spirits up, and not let a tough transition hurt our relationship?

Carolyn Hax: Hm. I think the trick is to get as comfortable as you can with the idea of letting things play out and seeing what it all tells you--about where you're moving, about yourself, about the guy, about the relationship. That said, it couldn't hurt to line up a few structured outlets for yourself that don't involve your boyfriend, like a volunteer gig or a part-time job or a club or a class or a team or whatever suits your interests. Getting into a funk and depending on someone completely can suck the romance out of a relationship like little else can.

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Ex-girlfriends with lunch benefits...: Don't forget, if the boyfriend on this case is keeping the ex away from his current girlfriend, it does call into question his label of "just friends." Nothing fuels jealousy like guarding your "private time" with a friend/ex. I'm friends with some exes, and make sure to include my current SO in my outings, after all, we really are just friends, and someone who I like as a friend is also someone my SO usually likes, too. I bring mine, the exes bring their girlfriends, we all hang out drinking beer and playing horseshoes. Puts everyone at ease... So if the guy is refusing to enlarge his circle of "friends" to inlcude both new and old SOs, then I say the new one should pack her beer and iron pegs and move on.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, it's definitely something I'd file under "inappropriate."

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Washington, D.C.: I'm pregnant, and I find that people offer unsolicited, strong opinions all the time. Usually they're trying to be supportive of whatever I'd just stated, but it still rubs me the wrong way. Example:

"Are you going to find out the sex?"

"No, we're going to wait."

"Good. I think it's terrible when people find out ahead of time."

What I want to say is that's it's really up to each couple, and to mind your own business -- I don't find it terrible if someone else wants to know early.

I realize I'm not asking this very eloquently, but what's a nice, non-MYOB way to say MYOB? I get this kind of response on everything ranging from maternity fashions to whether or not a parent should stay at home after the birth.

Carolyn Hax: "Eh, to each is own." Nice way to say, "The only people I judge are people who feel the need to judge."

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Laurel, Md.: Hi, My boyfriend and I broke up last week. This is my first real break-up, in the sense that we had been in this relationship for the last five years and were very close to each other. I'm trying to go about it as maturedly as possible and trying to be calm. But the problem is that I have not been able to concentrate on my work. In a week, I have done about as much work as would do in a day. I'm starting to feel guilty about it but can't get myself to concentrate. Could you give me some tips on how to deal with this.

Carolyn Hax: Tips! I can do tips. I think. Try scheduling your grief. Stupid as that sounds, grieving isn't entirely dissimilar from being tired or burned out or stressed by a project. In all cases you end up too tired and eotional and preoccupied to concentrate, so it can help to delineate work time abnd you time, work time and you time, work time and you time. Work for 50 minutes, walk and stretch for 10, or whatever combination you can get away with/adapt to. And really concentrate on using each type of time for its purpose.

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Arlington, Va.: I gained a lot of weight a few years ago from anti-depressants. I'm now working on taking off about 25 pounds, which is a slow process. How do I deal with a mother who says things in her fake sweet voice like, "Have you gotten on your scale recently? I'm surprised how much I weigh and need to cut down. We all need to cut down." This is the woman who told me I was fat when I wore a size 5. She is no longer directly attacking me but taking this "we're all in this together" approach. She doesn't know about my meds, but thought I was depressed as a child because it was my personality.

Carolyn Hax: I hope you're dealing with that mother in the talk therapy you've scheduled to treat your depression in concert with the medication. (And the weight problem with a doctor-sanctioned exercise program, since the most effective treatment for depression is currently believed to be a comination of medication, talk therapy and regular exercise.)

Specifically for the fake sweet voice, I'm partial to, "If you have something to say to me Mom, please say it," but that's only treating the symptom.

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Washington, D.C.: My father is getting remarried (my mom passed away) later this year and I'm not too thrilled -- not the world's biggest fan of his fiancee or the way he's handled everything. It has really strained our already distant relationship. Basically, I'm not looking forward to this wedding very much. So I'm bringing along a friend, who is just a friend -- not my boyfriend -- but am dreading the onslaught of looks and questions from my relatives who are constantly on the prowl for me to "get" a boyfriend. There will be raised eyebrows, "he's a cutie," etc., and I will have to explain that he's just a friend, but then that raises the same "well why don't you have a boyfriend" issues. I really want someone there who's in my corner, so to speak, but I also am dreading having to explain. I feel like it's a lose-lose for me -- go alone and suffer nosiness, or go with friend and suffer nosiness and awkwardness. Any advice on how to deal with the well-intentioned but increasingly annoying (and frankly none of their business) comments from relatives, and also how to fake being happy about this whole wedding thing? Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Back to front: I wouldn't advise faking happiness about the wedding. That just adds to the pile of chips already teetering on your shoulder. Either suck it up and go because it's your father and you'd rather go and preserve the status quo than skip it and make a scene--it is after all one lousy day--with free food!--or, find a way to be genuinely happy for the guy. Try this random selection of rationalizations:

1. It's his life.

2. Be glad she makes him happy.

2a. She's not your first choice but, hey, at least she's his problem not yours.

3. Your mother would have wanted him to get on with his life.

4. Finding someone new doesn't mean he didn't love your mom. 5. He's doing his best.

6. He is who he is, what can you do.

("I'll have a number 2, a number 4, and ... a 5 please, thanks!")

Also, if bringing a crutch is going to add to your stress/chip pile this dramatically, then chuck the crutch already and go alone. You can handle it. (Especially if you give yourself a chance to.)

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Tired and Frustrated: I've just come from another marriage counseling session. Turns out that the woman I married 4 years ago admits she wasn't really herself then and is just now "finding herself" through a local fundamentalist mega-church.

I think we're headed for separation. Sigh - just looking for some kind words from anyone on a depressing day.

Carolyn Hax: When the worst is over, you will be better. I swear.

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Kensington, Md.: To the women who wishes her husband were more romantic.

Reward him with something that he really wants as a reward when he is romantic... men are a lot like Pavlov's dogs... I'm sure you could think of some incentive...

Carolyn Hax: Wait. I don't understand.

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Boca Raton, Fla.: Help me! One of my roommates has become convinced that he and I are "meant to be together." He can't wait until we "make love." I like the guy, but I'm just not interested in him romantically. I have told him time and time again that I don't want to date anyone right now, but nothing seems to get through. Is there any way I can keep him as a friend and get this idea of us together romantically out of his head?

Carolyn Hax: You can explain to me why you want to keep him as a friend when he shows chronic disrespect for your wishes. Be clear--"I don't want to date YOU," since "I don't want to date anyone right now" is just an invitation for him to try later--and then be somewhere else. Seriously, move out. This is not a good situation.

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Orlando, Fla.: Hi Carolyn, I'm about to be engaged and want to avoid the "bridezilla" disease that seems to sweep through during the wedding season. Can you tell me the symptoms of being a bridezilla so I don't turn into one without knowing it? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Any decision you make should either honor your beliefs about marriage or comfort your guests. Beyond that, it's just stress in service of a fairy tale, and no one young enough to expect fairy tales has any business getting married.

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I understand!;: Something he really wants = a plasma tv!; God, Carolyn, you'd think you know this by now.

Carolyn Hax: It's the sleep deprivation! It is!

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Carolyn Hax: Have you ever looked really closely at all those little lines on your hand?

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Arlington, Va.: Handling grief: it is not commonly known that very intense grief (including feeling bad over a breakup, not just death) can only be borne for about 10 minutes. Thus, one way to handle a breakup and still get some work done in the office (or just live) is to Concentrate Very Hard on feeling bad (remember all the great things about him -- whatever it takes) and let yourself feel terrible, cry, anything. After about 10 minutes of this, your body stops feeling so bad, you even feel a kind of catharsis or relief, and for an hour or so you can concentrate on work, or just on not feeling bad.

Carolyn Hax: Very cool if true, thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi! So how do you respond to the question, "Why don't you have a boyfriend?", or "Why has it been so long since you've dated someone?" I usually say something sarcastic, but I don't want to seem bitter and angry... I just haven't found anyone yet.

Carolyn Hax: I'm still looking for the better non-bitter non-comeback than, "If you forgive me for not answering, I'll forgive you for asking." Could be tough to use on the fly, though, in which case a blank stare or your reflexive sarcastic remark seem just fine. The latter especially if it's funny.

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"I want to date, just not you": So what's a kind way to say this? I think a lot of women hide behind the "don't want to date anyone right now" to avoid being hurtful -- been there, done that, and regretted it the minute I became "available."

Carolyn Hax: "Thank you, but I'm not interested." But I'm not convinced everyone has to dispense with all little white lies just because a few people fail to recognize or choose to ignore when they're being told a little white lie. Yes yes yes lying is never the best way to send a message. But most people get it just fine (and appreciate the delicacy) when they're told, "Oh, garsh, I'm busy Friday," and no "... but maybe some other time?" is forthcoming.

It's when a person doesn't get it and starts to pressure you that you HAVE to be very clear--"I do not want to date you"--and at that point being polite about it should be the least of your concerns.

Again, to underscore: Gracious honesty ideal, white lie okay in absence of gracious-honesty skills, unwavering honesty (followed by breaking off of all contact) necessary at first sign that suitor is willfully disregarding previous two.

This is "Gift of Fear" stuff, by the way. Gavin de Becker.

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Grief at Work: Carolyn,

When I went through that, I spent every lunch hour at a neighborhood church sobbing in the corner. Got myself together and went back to work in better shape to focus in the afternoon. It does help to "schedule" grieving time as you suggested. Somehow folks don't seem to mind or bother you if you're crying in a church -- but they do in a lunch room or on the street.

It's hard, but it can be borne as long as you don't suppress the grief. Hugs to the original poster.

Been there

Carolyn Hax: Sorry you had to go through that. I'm grateful, though, for the church suggestion--so simple and makes so much sense.

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re: Why don't you have a boyfriend?: I was always fond of "I guess I'm just not ready for people to start asking me why we're not married yet or why we don't have kids."

Carolyn Hax: Hee hee.

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Handling Grief: Is that 10 minute thing really true? I swear I've been able to last longer than that -- what's the source?

Sorry, just never good at the accepting on faith thing.

Carolyn Hax: I can't vouch for the 10-minute thing (thus the "if true") but I can vouch for the body's difficulty in sustaining intense emotion. That much I already knew.

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Washington, D.C.: My boyfriend of three years (we're early 30s) and I recently broke up. He said he didn't know what he wanted in life, so it wasn't fair for us to be together. Every once in a while we talk, but NEVER about the break. And, he's said he misses me quite a few times. What gives? Is he having second thoughts.

Carolyn Hax: Assume not until he actually says he does. Otherwise you're just fueling your own false hopes. I'm sorry.

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Washington, D.C.: Can you be friends with someone when you have a terrible unrequited crush on them? Or, more accurately, how do you convey to someone that you can't be their friend because it hurts/makes you too insecure to be around them/ drives you crazy to hear anything about their love life/ generally turns you into a 12 year old, without it coming off as manipulative and pathetic? In this case the person already knows about the crush, but perhaps not the intensity. And I have tried being a grown up about the whole thing, but it doesn't work-- can't get over him.

Carolyn Hax: "I'm sorry, I still have feelings for you and it hurts for me to be around you." Anyone who could be so frank would seem more ballsy than pathetic to me.

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Boca Raton, Fla.: Hi Carolyn. PLEASE answer my question about my roommate. I have asked each week for the last three weeks, and the situation is not getting any better. He really wants to be more than friends, and I do NOT. It seems as though we won't even be able to be friends if he doesn't get the idea of us being romantically linked out of his head. I really don't want to move, and he sure as heck won't move as long as I stay. What can I do?

Carolyn Hax: Move. In case it didn't sink in the first time. You're not going to get a perfect outcome here, no matter how badly you want it. You have a problem, so face it.

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1100 bucks!: Wow!

Does that include breakfast, or do you go dutch?

Carolyn Hax: Breakfast included. Belgian waffles! All you can eat! My gratitude again to those who rallied.

That's it fer now. Thanks everybody, and apologies for last week's collapse. Have a great long weekend and type to you next Friday.

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