Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 10, 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.

Mail can be directed to Carolyn at .


Carolyn Hax: Hi. I'm here, I just changed my mind on the question I was answering. Hum your favorite on-hold music.


Alexandria, Va.: Carolyn, I'm 30 years old and find myself still basing my life decisions on what my mother would approve of. Problem is, she approves of very little, so I'm constantly burning from her lack of support and guilt from apparantly not doing things correctly and also anger that I can't just let it go and follow my own path. I don't understand why I still need her approval and why her disappointment hurts so much. How do I break this cycle? Do I need therapy to get over my mother?

Carolyn Hax: The question isn't whether you "need" it, it's why you wouldn't try it. You have something gnawing at you that you haven't been able to put to rest on your own. That's a one-sentence description of the best time to try therapy.


Uncomfortable Situation-ville: Hi Carolyn... I am the maid of honor for one of my very best friends. My fiance and I have a lot of activities with my friend, her fiance and her family in the coming months. The problem? When my friend was a kid her father sexually molested her. It happened once, she told her mom, her parents took the whole family to counseling where it was discover that her dad had repressed memories of his own sexual abuse as a young child. He has since gotten more counseling and ever since has been doing his best to be a good dad. It was terrible, terrible thing that happened, but they worked through it as a family.

I made the mistake of telling MY fiance about this whole thing and he totally freaked out and has refused to spend any time with "the child molester". I realize that the major lesson to be learned by this is to keep my big, fat mouth shut... but since I didn't, am I wrong to expect my fiance to get over it and attend these functions with me? I mean it's not like he is going to have to hang out with her dad all by himself... I don't really understand why this is an issue for him, when it's something that has nothing to do with him. Any thoughts on this?

Carolyn Hax: A lot of thoughts, many of the kind I don't like to throw out on the fly, but I do feel strongly that the big-fat-mouth lesson is only one of two major lessons to be learned from this--and it's the lesser of the two. Your fiance is telling you a whole lot about himself right now, and how he's going to act in a difficult situation, and if you don't pay close attention to it BEFORE you marry him you're going to regret it, hard.


Carolyn Hax: And as for the immediate concern, what to do about your fiance and your friend's wedding, explain to him that if he can't understand why you're asking him to follow your lead and behave civilly, at least out of deference to you, then the only thing that makes sense is for you to go alone.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: Hey, Carolyn,

Would you mind outlining why being "friends with benefits" is a bad idea (if it is, but I get the impression that's the case)? I'm in a frienship that could turn into that, and I seem to be missing why it could be a bad thing.


Carolyn Hax: I don't like the "bad" or "good" labels. What I come across most is that FWB arrangements usually involve people who say they can't see why there'd be a problem with it, when the opportunities for (at the two extremes) exploitation and denial (of unrequited love) are staring them right in the face. As long as people are honest with themselves that they're attempting to reduce a potent emotional situation to almost a business arrangement, and that it's highly unlikely to stay within whatever neat boundaries they try to draw for it, and that people are likely to get hurt when it doesn't, then it becomes a matter for adults to decide for themselves.


Wilmington, Del.: Is it a mistake to continue to do nice things for an ex after a fairly amicable breakup (thoughtful gifts or giving them a hand with something when they need it)? Am I just making it harder for myself to move on? (They are already in a new relationship).

Carolyn Hax: I don't know. What are you looking to get out of doing these nice things?


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

Any advice on what to do when you have a different sex drive than your partner? I want sex more often than he does. I obviously don't want him if he's not that into it (we've tried, bad idea) but I'm tired of going to bed frustrated...

Carolyn Hax: How tired of it are you? The what-to-do when you have any unfixable problem is always the same. Is it bad enough for you to want to leave, or can you find a way to live with it?


Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: How can I learn to set boundries with friends? I just had two friends visiting from out of state who stayed with me a week. The prob? They didn't ask, they told me that they were coming after buying the plane tickets. They came home late, didn't let us know what their plans were, didn't go to sleep until way after my husband and I did (one bedroom condo, living room light shines into our bedroom), etc. This isn't the first time something like this has happened, I broke up with my best friend from college after even worse guest violations. Living in the big city I enjoy having guests, but am really starting to not like them for more than a long weekend. How can I tell people this and stand my ground?


Carolyn Hax: You just tell them and stand your ground. The reason you don't is you're afraid you'll alienate them or they'll give you a hard time, but the alternatives have already happened to you--you lost one friend completely, as bad or worse than alienation, and you had two others drive you nuts, as bad or worse than being given a hard time. So remind yourself how much worse it feels to say nothing, and start saying something. They call after buying their tickets: "I wish you'd called before you bought your tickets, we can put you up only for the weekend." Or, "Great, I can't wait to see you, but I can't put you up the whole week any more--our apartment's just too small." I'm giving you phrasing, but the words themselves are beside the point. YOu need to get used to the idea that you're not a monster if you say no.


Child molester: She might also want to acknowledge his feelings. It's not like it's a big surprise to learn that someone may have a hard time adjusting to the fact that "that guy" over there molested a child. Dismissing his reactions is just as telling. I know I would prefer the outrage to the apathy.

Carolyn Hax: Who said anything about apathy? It's a hortrible thing. But it's not his family, it's not his battle to fight, and as entitled as he is to his outrage, his handling of it is poor.


for Uncomfortable Situation-ville: One of my friends parents are divorced and when he was much younger his father physically abused his mom. My friend has rebuilt the relationship with his dad, and although it makes me feel uncomfortable to go to any event where his dad might be, I try to ignor it out of respect for my friend and the relationship he is trying to have with his dad.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you for the great example of handling the outrage well.


Charlotte, N.C.: Re: Uncomfortable -- I'd be wondering if my fiance had been sexually abused, as well. That big of a reaction seems like he's projecting his past onto the writer's best friend.

Carolyn Hax: That crossed my mind, but I think it needs to be treated as one of many possibilities. E.g., it could just be he's immature, and so I think it's always a good idea to assume small and then go on to bigger possibilities only if the facts take you there. Thanks for weighing in.


re: Different Drives: Does the same advice apply to married folk? Is it insane to think about leaving an otherwise very nice marriage because of completely different sex drives and therefore a "passionless" marriage? My nagging thought is that as we get older, the sex thing will diminish in importance. So I should hang on?

Carolyn Hax: I wish I had an answer for you, but one person is reading your question and shouting, "Yes, go!" at the computer screen, and someone else is reading it and shouting, "Stay, the importance of sex does diminish!," and a third is thinking, "I can believe people take their vows so lightly," and another is saying, "Man she's slow."

So, the same advice does apply to married folk. It's just that there may be more items to divide up into pros and cons, and more people's happiness to consider than your own and your partner's.


Rochester Hills, Mich.: The father molested his daughter, thereby taking away her innocence forever and you decide to attack the friend's fiance for being outraged? Sorry, but I would think most America would have the same reaction. This girl was SEXUALLY ASSAULTED, I would certainly feel uncomfortable being in the presence of a sex offender. I guess you dont feel that way.

Carolyn Hax: I guess you feel better being self-righteous? Of course anyone would feel uncomfortable. But with the offender taking responsibility and getting treatment, and his wife responding instantly to the daughter's complaints, and the wife and daughter--ie, the secondary and primary victims--choosing to stand by the father as he deals with his problem, and with the daughter--ie, the primary victim--asking her friend to respect her family's decisions, then my place as the date of the friend and therefore COMPLETELY EFFING IRRELEVENT BYSTANDER would be either to shut up and respect the decisions of the people who's place it was to make these decisions--and behave like a civil adult--or politely excuse myself from the event in question.

I mean really.


For Sex Drive: "The what-to-do when you have any unfixable problem is always the same. Is it bad enough for you to want to leave, or can you find a way to live with it?"

Are you sure that this is an unfixable problem? For instance, have you tried wearing something other than baggy flannel pajamas to bed?

Carolyn Hax: I took from the question that it was something they'd tried to address, but if I took incorrectly it's important to have this out there, thanks. Both parties do need to make an effort, every last effort, especially when a life pledge is on the line.

The problem I see most often with the unequal drive, though, is that the one who has lost interest also has no interest in finding it again. Many just aren't attracted to their partners any more, in flannel or flimsies. Many see a dropoff in sex as a relief instead of a problem. Many hate that a partner has gotten heavy or out of shape or even depressed but aren't willing to say something that hurtful or that would make them seem/feel shallow. Sometimes there's a health issue that could be addressed, but the person isn't willing to admit it even to a doctor. Many, many paths lead to unfixability. Just FWIW.


Re: Rochester Hills: I just love the way people respond to these things, as though there aren't degrees or differences; that a one-time assault by someone who was himself abused as a child, who has since sought treatment, and who has done -- according to the writer -- his very best to atone for his crime against his daughter, and whose wife and spouse have forgiven him, is somehow as deserving of ostracism as the most flagrant, unrepentant, unremorseful, vicious, violent sex offender on earth. I guess I wouldn't be comfortable standing next to anyone who would be so quick to judge, and so unwilling to differentiate between various crimes. Ever hear of judge not, lest ye be judged? Which means you're going to be held to the same yardstick you hold up to others. There are differences, and to be blind to them is to be blind to the full panoply of the human condition.

And yes, what exactly is the interest of the "bystander" in all of this? What are you getting for all this outrage and hatred? What happened to YOU?

Carolyn Hax: Thank you for saying so well what I believe the fiance was saying about himself with his extreme reaction. So many times you guys come up with the fuller explanations I don't have the time or words or presence of mind to write. Bravo.


Baltimore, Md.: Different sex drives - Not to be crude, but if A wants daily and B wants weekly and eveything else is going great - can't A "handle things him/herself" to take up the slack? Now if it more like daily/yearly then there's issues.

Carolyn Hax: Very delicately put, actually. Some people would be fine with your plan, some would find it a lonely life sentence. It always comes back to a deeply personal choice.


Washington, D.C.: Here's a positive story for Friday: Last week, my wife's ex-husband came over to our house and taught my son -- our son -- to play lacrosse. I looked outside and it was just happening.

Carolyn Hax: That you see it as a positive is also a positive, thanks.


re: Different Drives: Being the one who has lost their drive due to stress, work, and general tiredess after a 60 hour work week -- not to mention having to sit on your emotions all week while at work so you don't lose it on an idiot coworker -- maybe it would be nice for the one wanting sex to get the other in the mood via an act of kindness ( e.g. flowers, a nice dinner, a trip without a lot of sleep built in so the drive COMES BACK, etc)

Sorry but not all people just like to drop and hit it! It is important to consider that life changes people and how they relate to one another, so making the extra effort is important, even when you don't want to.

Carolyn Hax: Another good point, thanks--and I'll add only that receptiveness to that kind of extra effort is also important. So many people do a reflexive Heisman when they're tense, and that can really kill the desire to make a big effort again.


Differing Sex Drive: I find that, um, mastering my domain doesn't help my feeling undesired and hence undesirable. In fact, I think this might be the root of many affairs, a need to feel desired and desirable.

Carolyn Hax: Yes. Often it is a mistaken sense--that sexual rejection says you're undesirable, when in fact it could be that you're just fine and your partner is preoccupied, or isn't that physical, or has broken plumbing. But when the net result is that you go through life virtually untouched, the prospect of being touched again can inspire some desperate choices.


Dallas, Tex.: Did you know banging your head against a wall burns 150 calories an hour?

Carolyn Hax: You wouldn't know by looking at me. But then I guess it defeats the purpose when you do it while eating a donut.


What's a Heisman...: ...other than a college football award?

Carolyn Hax: Ever seen the trophy? Guy is holding a football and throwing a stiff-arm (presumably at a defender but maybe at his frustrated wife).


Unrequested mullet: Regarding the conclusion of last week's chat, I'd just like to say that the only thing worse than an unrequested mullet is a requested mullet.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the important distinction.


Carolyn Hax: Sorry for the delay, guys--we've got a screaming situation here (babysitter is in the hospital, usual sub is out of town ...). Will try to be back in 2 min.


Carolyn Hax: Okay, I'm back, but the peace is fragile. Sorry about this.


Falls Chuch, Va.: Where do you find all these female respondents who want more sex than their boyfriends/husbands? Most men don't believe that's a common problem. I wonder if some of these men are much older than their partners.

Carolyn Hax: It is a common problem. The stereotype that men always want sex more than women do does have a foundation in fact, but there are other facts--that for women attraction has a bigger emotional-to-physical ratio, which means that as the relationship progesses women can start to want more exactly when their men are starting to lose interest (b/c the woman is aging and getting less attractive, or b/c familiarity dampens excitement, or b/c their attraction was about the chase and now the chase is over, or whatever). There are obviously stereotypes in that parenthetical, too, but I list them just as an example of why it's not strange at all that a woman would be the one feeling neglected.


Re: Differing Sex Drive: Are there actually men out there who desire sex LESS than their girlfriends/wives? As a man, I find this almost unbelivable.

FYI: Every real man takes great pride at being able to "deliver the goods" at the drop of a hat.

Carolyn Hax: Funny. See above.


Curiousville: How old are the kids now?

Carolyn Hax: 2, 2 and 1 (28 months x 2 and 13 months, for those who appreciate the distinctions). Usually they're deep into naptime right now--I guess word of our sitterlessness got out.


Baltimore, Md.: "Feeling undesirable"

I had to explain to my wife that saying "Don't touch me -- are you nuts" conveys a VASTLY different meaning than "I would love to except I had a really bad day and am bone-tired so can we take a raincheck."

Carolyn Hax: Sorry you had to explain, but so much better that you did than stalk off in a huff.


Awkward Situation: Carolyn,

I'm coming from the guy's angle similar to the previous molestor question. My girlfriend was date-raped in high school by her best friend's brother. Unfortunately, She never spoke up about it and just let it pass by. I think he was two or three years older. Her and her friend have kept in sparse touch through the years. About 15 years later, this friend called up and said she was having a party. Long story short, it widdled down to that I would love to go to the party and have a good time, but I don't want to talk, acknowledge or be introduced to this guy. She got upset and said she didn't want to make a big deal of it. I know I'm not alone here in this forum, but there are few things worse in this world than rape. Well, I think she conveniently forgot about it and we never went. Thing is, I can't see myself shaking hands with guy. I guess the difference between the two stories is, the father got help for his illness and past trauma, but this guy's actions were never brought to light. How should I react in this situation? On a side note, I feel I am sensitive to this type thing as, even more unfortunate, I have had several girlfriends go through a similar situation. Am I being too pig headed, too?

Carolyn Hax: It sure doesn't sound like it. I think there's also another distinction between the two stories that it's really important to make--that the victim in the wedding story faced her abuse and abuser, and the victim in yours chose to hide from both. That makes it much harder from someone in your position to embrace civility as the best way to support the victim. I think by saying you didn't want to be put in the position of having to be nice to the guy, you were within your rights, though you did put your girlfriend in the position of having to accommodate you, vs take care of herself (even though she's not really taking care of herself, which brings us back to the problem).

I think the ideal reaction here would have been for you to say to your GF that you want to support her but it is a big deal, and that you will follow her every lead except in denying it happened.


Carolyn Hax: I'm going to have to go soon, but I don't want that to be the last word on such a sensitive topic. If there aren't comments I can post to challenge or supplement my answer, we'll pick it up next week (please remind me).


RE: rejection: What to do when one person "persists" in feeling rejected and undesirable? I'm tired of having to explain rationally and nicely, and getting a temporary "I understand," only to repeat this every other time. (Underscore the word "other.") One of us must be doing this wrong.

Carolyn Hax: If the person doesn't in fact understand, saying "I understand" is wrong. However, right and wrong get to be beside the point after a while. Now the point is, you don't line up in this sense, and neither is changing. What to do from here that will keep you from having to keep discussing it?


WDC: There are a few other things worse than rape? Uhhh...has this guy been raped or does he even know the emotional/physical drama of being raped. Very insensitive thing to say online.

Carolyn Hax: I thought he was saying there were "few other things worse than rape." Not A few. Big difference. Let me check.


Carolyn Hax: Yeah, you read it wrong.


Carolyn Hax: Okay I have to run. If anyone wants to reopen that guy's issue next week, please say so--I'm specifically thinking victims who disagree with one or both of us, since that's the viewpoint that's missing (and matters most).

Thanks for your patience everyone and type to you next Friday.


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