Tell Me About It
Friday, June 17, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org .
A transcript follows.
Wondering about Zuzu?: Just wanted an update on how her ACL was healing? Did Nick actually go stark raving mad after being confined with her for weeks on end?
Do you have visitation with her (or perhaps some sort of shared custody arrangement?) As if three toddlers wasn't enough to keep you busy!;
Yes, I realize this question is beyond nosy, yet somehow I'm able to ignore all forms of propriety and am asking anyway....
Carolyn Hax: Zuzu's fine, thanks. Nick was stark raving mad to begin with, so the confinement drove him to near normalcy. He should be back to himself, though, soon.
I've got a bit of a technical problem here, so it might be a couple of minutes before the next post. Sorry.
Washington, D.C.: Two "friends" are giving a going away party for a friend leaving town. They have made it clear that they don't like you. You are friends with the person leaving. Do you go?
Carolyn Hax: Yes, though if my car is going due west at 35 mph, and their car is going east at 40 mph, but they make two 5-min stops to get light beer and ice, I might change my mind because I don't drink light beer.
Depends on how big the party is, how numerous my other opportunities are to say goodbye to this friend, how important it was to my friend that I be there, and whether I had anything to wear.
Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,
Is it a bad idea to try dating again when one still has a crush on one's ex-girlfriend?
I'm still good friends with my ex, although I haven't (and won't) act on my crush because she dumped me.
Carolyn Hax: If you'd be dating for the sake of dating for the sake of erasing the ex, bad idea. If you'd be dating because you found someone you'd like to date, great idea.
Arlington, Va.: I am in a relationship with someone who I was very good friends with for about a year. We have been dating for about the last 2 months. He is currently living with me. Before we were together sexually I knew of his love for strip clubs. He goes there by himself just to have a few drinks. I expressed to him while we were friends that I didn't approve of that. Now that we are together he told me that last night he went out to the strip club for a few drinks. I now feel as if I can't trust him. I don't' understand why he felt the need to go to a strip club if he is in a relationship. Mine you he has also had sexual relations with one of the strippers at the club. I am ready to break it off because I lost the trust. Can you please advise me on what to do? Thank you for your time.
Carolyn Hax: You knew who he was and what his hobby was before you went out with him. Seems to me you have no reason not to trust him because he has remained exactly as advertised.
If you expected him to drop his hobby once you got together, the burden was on you to say so. Having missed that chance to say it before you started sleeping with him, the best you can do now is say it now. He of course is free to say, "Sorry, this is what I do, and I'm not changing it." Then you of course are free to keep seeing him on his terms, or to break up with him.
What you are not free to do, whether you speak up or not, is play the wronged party. Expressing disapproval of his behavior when you're his friend is not the same as articulating that you expect him to stop his behavior when you're his GF. Mind-reading abilities rarely come through for you when you want them to.
Leesburg, Va.: Hi Carolyn, In today's column you mentioned "emotional match" and I was wondering if you could elaborate more on what that means and on how to break that pattern? I'm not as bad as "women A" in the paper but do see a pattern that comes up in my relationships. While the men I choose have not been too bad (cheaters, abusers, etc.) they share common traits (emotionally unavailable, somewhat lazy, a bit irresponsible). Thanks.
Carolyn Hax: It has gone beyond old joke and into eye-rollerdom to use, "Tell me about your childhood," as a reference to therapy, but it pretty well sums up the process of finding out your emotional patterns and changing them. What do your relationships have in common, what do your failures have in common, what do you keep doing despite knowing it's not good for you, what are you hoping to get out of those things, how would you describe your parents' relationship to each other, what was your relationship with each of them, how did you get their attention, how did any siblings fit in with all this, how do these things parallel your relationship and failure and bad-habit stuff as an adult?
I could pose a hundred more of these but you get the idea. We tend to seek comfort in what we know, and sometimes it turns out that what we know isn't really the best thing for us--thus the unhappy patterns like the one you describe. Some classics for the sake of illustration: people who feel they need to be perfect/bring home straight As to be loved; people who need to date the dregs because their own self-image is so low; people who need to be mentored; people who need to play mentor to their little students/projects; people who need to play martyr/superhero and so seek out demanding mates, etc.
Bridesmaid in D.C.: CH:
What do you do when the bride who is your good friend continues to tell you that her parents have contributed no money toward her wedding? She got married last in December, and she is still complaining that the money that her mom promised her that they would give her she still has not received. I feel like telling her that they are not really obligated to give her anything and that she shouldn't buy things that she can't afford then expect her 'rents to cover her.
Are her parents wrong for this? Or should they pay up and are expected to? Or should I just say nothing in awkward silence when she brings it up?
Carolyn Hax: No, parents aren't obligated to pay for their children's weddings, but to promise money and then not produce it really does suck--and it doesn't suck any less just because she's a bride looking for wedding-cost relief and not a grad student looking for, say, promised reimbursement of living expenses. She spent the money based on the understanding that she had it to spend.
But no matter how justified your friend's frustration may be, whining is never justified. They promised, but they didn't come through. Time to quit and move on already. Which you can say, by the way.
Carolyn Hax: It'll be another minute--more apologies.
He's Just Not That Into You?, AK!: A friend just got the weirdest dump I've heard -- after two months of terrific mutually electric dates, her guy claimed that it was "too good, too perfect" and that he just didn't have the time for a perfect relationship, and broke it off What the Hell? It seems to me, you make time for a perfect relationship. Would you concur that this is likely just an especially aggressive form of "it's not you, it's me"?
Carolyn Hax: Whatever it is, it's something that would have sent the terrific train off the rails sooner or later, and so sooner sounds like a gift to me.
Post-divorce friendship: Can you give any advice on maintaining a friendship with your ex after the divorce? We had an amicable parting, very healthy with a therapist and everything. We've stayed friends and see each other occasionally. But lately I feel that the friendship is very one-sided (as the marriage was) and I don't really know if I want to keep at it, feeling that the support and interest only goes one way. But I value him as a person, and don't want to write him off just because he's not meeting my needs. We said we'd stay friends --but I just don't know if it's possible. Any thoughts?
Carolyn Hax: Seems to me maintaining a post-divorce friendship--or pre-divorce marriage, or friendship for the sake of friendship, or family tie of any sort--relies heavily on your accepting the other person as-is (i.e., not as you want or hope or always imagined him to be), and then deciding honestly what you want of the relationship given its natural limits.
So, you have a guy with whom you will always have to do most of the work. Assume that won't change, and then decide: Do you want this friendship? If the answer is no, then say no, and even say why. And then, in lieu of beating yourself up for breaking another promise, just remind yourself you did your best.
Washington, D.C.: I recently had a miscarriage. I suspected something was wrong, but did not expect it at all. The doctor was very objective, but kind. People around me feel bad for me, but I think that I am not feeling "bad enough" for all the attention I am getting. I wonder whether I am just not "dealing with the pain" the way I should and that it will come back to haunt me later.
Carolyn Hax: This is a lot like the grieving question we had earlier this spring. There's no right or wrong way to grieve. Just as some women feel they know their baby from zygotehood on, others feel like it's just a remote concept that happens to make them crave fettuccini Alfredo, and both are considered normal. It is just as normal for the response to a miscarriage to have the same kind of range. There's also the matter of how well informed you are of the possibility of miscarriage (it's very common), along with the usual suspects--maternal age, time spent trying, one's normal response to stress, all that.
And, all that said, I'm sorry. Hard thing no matter how well you weather it.
For Post-divorce friendship: If there are minor (or major!) kids involved, suck it up.
If there aren't, stop doing all the work. Your doing it prevents him from doing any of it. His pace may be slower than yours -- time to stop and find out.
Carolyn Hax: Great point about the kids, thanks. I just assumed since none were mentioned that there were none involved, which was not a safe assumption.
Re: too good, too perfect: Dealing with perfection is awfully demanding sometimes...And if the guy has other demands (a high powered job,ill parents who need his care, whatever), it may seem too high to achieve.
Carolyn Hax: Ehhhhh, not buying it. A "too perfect" relationship is one that bends and adapts almost effortlessly to accommodate whatever life throws at it, like high-powered jobs and ill parents. The "perfection" you're talking about is the high-maintenance roses-and-chocolate BS.
Washington, D.C.: After being great friends for almost 10 years, I realize I've fallen for said friend. We are both single and I ended a relationship a few months ago when I knew I wanted to be with the friend. He is with someone, but it's on-again, off-again, and currently off. As friends, he's told me plenty of times that he knows he should end it and move on. That is EXACTLY what I want him to do!! Do I let him figure it out on his own, or let him know how I feel and hope he feels the same.
I almost feel like rejection would even be better than this quiet torture. And I'm sick of waiting.
Carolyn Hax: Then say something. I could argue both sides--one, that you want it to be his idea to want you, or the other, that quietly pining isn't the way great friends of 10 years interact. But doing what comes naturally is the best thing for both of you, even if it ultimately doesn't work out. At least then you'll know you gave it your best shot.
Washington, D.C.: For some reason, every time my boyfriend and I have a misunderstanding, I blow it out of proportion and feel weak about our relationship and whether it can survive. He keeps saying I should believe that a miscommunication won't make him love me less, or leave me... but for some reason I just can't. Do you or the peanuts have any advice?
Carolyn Hax: Actually, I think you're right--you can't believe that miscommunication won't make him love you less or leave you. Miscommunication is one of the main reasons love fades and people leave each other. As it should be.
There is a cheerful part coming, I promise.
What you need to stop freaking out about is the prospect of a breakup. You guys might break up--in fact, given that all relationships end (breakup or death, pick one) (and yes this is the cheerful part), you probably will have to find a way to let go of this person sooner or later. When we're happy with someone, we all hope it's later, obviously--but we all still have to accept that nothing is certain or guaranteed. And the only way for each of us to do that is to have some faith in our own ability to carry on, and even find happiness, no matter what gets thrown our way.
So that's your homework this weekend. Find a way to see yourself as a resourceful person who has options beyond the boyfriend.
Washington, D.C.: Are there medications that help to increase a woman's sex drive? This seems to be a problem for me and nearly all my married guy friends: Wife eventually loses interest in sex, won't or can't communicate what the problem is, and guy is doomed to a life a celibacy.
Carolyn Hax: I am NOT ANTI-HUSBAND, but, I have to ask.
Do you and nearly all your married guy friends:
-Help around the house?
-By her definition, not yours? Without having to be asked?
-Communicate to your wives what the problem is for you?
-Talk to your wives about other things you might be feeling, that aren't just complaints about her or other items of business about marriage, family and/or home?
-Practice ungrudging, unhurried foreplay?
-On random occasions, treat your wives like the women you fell for and not just the women you married?
The way to a woman's libido is through her mind and heart, which is why the pill people are having such a tough time creating the pink version of Viagra.
Like I sez, I'm not anti-husband, and I have seen plenty of women just shut down on their poor husbands. Nevertheless, an angry wife is still the most common cause I know of a celibate husband (though I continue to hope this is changing as gender roles die their slow and tortured death), so doing the dishes is always a better bet than hitting the pharmacy.
Maryland: A different kind of post-divorce question. My first marriage lasted less than 2 years and involved no children. I just got remarried this year. I am doing some spring cleaning and have found a box of stuff that is from my first marriage. Pictures of the first wedding, anniversary cards, notes, etc. My instinct is to throw this stuff away, but I feel a bit guilty about it. I am not sure why. Thoughts?
Carolyn Hax: I dunno, maybe the box of stuff represents feelings that are in the past but still mean something, and so chucking them doesn't seem appropriate.
At least, not yet. There's nothing that says you have to chuck the box, or decide to hold onto it for all eternity, right this very second. Leave it where it is and see if a better idea comes to you. Maybe sort through it, pull out some of the greatest hits to put in an album or smaller box.
Norfolk, Va.: Carolyn - "Too perfect" is code for, "You're a great girl, I just don't want to be involved with you." Nothing more complicated than that, really.
Carolyn Hax: Which is fine, but code is code for, "I'm not grown-up enough to say what I mean," which is code for, "this relationship wasn't going anywhere," which brings us back to my original answer.
Sex drive: Can you stand a comment from a 50-something woman with a gorgeous, funny, smart, kind husband who DOES treat her like the woman he fell in love with...but who still has trouble with sex drive? Trust me on this, women go weak at the knees at my guy and he's got the personality to match his attractiveness, and I'm not stressed or angry feeling unappreciated. We have no kids, good but unstressful jobs, a nice home, friends, are both in great physical shape. I just don't feel what I did. And I do think it's a chemical thing that comes with nearing menopause, and some women start peri-menopause in their late 30's, early 40's. I'm ready to give the pharmaceutical companies a big high five if they come up with something to help me.
Carolyn Hax: Comment welcome and appreciated, thanks. And I'll add that women who've just had babies, or take the pill, or are depressed, and a few others I'll blow off for speed, also may have chemical libido-killers they can blame.
That's why it's so important to look at the amount of effort going in, by both halves of a couple, before anyone starts pointing fingers or getting angry or even discouraged. You, for example, clearly see this as a problem that you just as clearly want to fix. Often one partner or the other either refuses to try to fix things, or doesn't even see the problem, or is too busy accusing to examine his or her own behavior.
Pregnant friend and I spoke. She told me the name decided on for the baby (sex was already determined). Baby was born. I sent a gift and mentioned the baby's name on the card. I did not know that between my last talk with my friend and the sending of the gift that the parent's changed their minds re: baby's name. No birth announcements were sent out. When parents called to thank me for the gift, they also told me of my mistake on the card and said they knew I didn't know of the name change so not to feel embarrassed. Well, I still feel embarrassed. Should I let this go or send a new card?
Carolyn Hax: Oh my goodness. Not only let this go, but also check your closets for other things you're hanging onto.
Virginia: Oh, please, Carolyn. If you are honest and don't use code, then women flip out and accuse you of being a woman-hater, or an immature child who won't commit, or whatever. Code just is much easier.
Carolyn Hax: No, dating grown women is easier.
If I have plans with my significant other for this weekend, but she hasn't spoken to me in a week due to a prior disagreement, should I not even bother to pursue contact after two times? I can see this becoming an issue down the road if we do work things out: "And on top of everything, you didn't even follow up with me regarding this weekend." But at the same time, I'm would want to simply assume she isn't interested in hanging out when there is a severe lack of communication right now hence the ball is in her court.
Carolyn Hax: Surest way to prevent this from becoming an issue down the road: Do not work things out. The silent treatment is not, and is never, and never will be, an acceptable way to handle a disagreement. You may have been responsible for the initial problem, but from there she took over and declared herself not yet ready to be dated seriously. Oh well. Leave a message for her to say you're assuming the weekend plans are off, and that when she's ready to talk beyond that, she knows where to find you.
The Pill?!!!: The Pill can cause "libido" issues? Seriously?
I had to go on it for medical reasons shortly after I started dating my husband. Sex was a novelty for me before that, so I assumed that I just naturally had the sex drive of your average house plant. I had never been on it before. Now that I have a child, I've gone back on it, and the sex drive has gone pfffft again.
The doc says it could be depression, but I'm not depressed - everything's great - but you mentioned the pill. Not that I can do much about it, but at least I have a reason to look for now.
Carolyn Hax: Don't take my word for it. Ask your doctor about the possibilities and whether a different brand/dosage might help. Remember, though, the pill changes your hormone balance, so mood and libido and weight and etc. changes are always going to be a possibility.
Up North: Carolyn,
My boyfriend and I recently got engaged and I'm freaking out. Before he actually asked me with ring in hand, we had talked about how much we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together and that hasn't changed. The problem is that every time I think of the actual M-word I get panicky. I'm in my 30's and have spent many years on my own so its not really any need to go out and find my place in the world. Is this normal? How do I calm myself down?
Carolyn Hax: Not knowing what it is that has you freaked, I can't say what might calm you down. But I can give you the same answer I gave the divorced memento-chucker-to-be: You don't have to get married right this second, nor do you have to decide to give the ring back. Just live with the idea for a while. It'll help, too, if you can turn the volume down on the voices in your head, both the ones that will try to rationalize why everything is okay, and the ones telling you that something serious is wrong. It's okay just to let the idea sit. It's okay just to let the idea sit.
Arlington, Va.: My boyfriend is taking a week of vacation to go to Pennsylvania and build my parents a $12,000 deck for free. What can I do for him that's equally as generous and thoughtful?
Carolyn Hax: Appreciate that he's taking a week of his own time to do something nice for you. Just keeping that in mind will bear its own fruit.
Besides, the alternative is to try to match his effort, which is really just a happier version of score keeping, which is never really a happy thing. Just see who he is, and love him for it.
Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,
I'm literally ill that because of my husband's job, I have to quit my job and move out of state. How can I preserve my sense of worth when, at 30, I'll have no job, no friends, no contacts, no activities, etc. I know I'll get all those eventually, but what about the first few months?
Carolyn Hax: Your sense of worth is not in your job, friends, contacts, activities, etc. It's in knowing you gathered up your strengths and weaknesses and went out there and found a job, friends, contacts, activities, etc. It's not fun to have to go out and do all that again from scratch, and there may be X factors that keep you from putting together as good a lineup as you did in DC, but you're the same person who did it the first time, so you'll manage.
Washington, D.C.: Hi, I am in a relationship, 3 years, - and for the first year my boyfriend cheated (with several people), I found out a year later - and now its a year after that ....so we have been to couples therapy, and he's not doing it now, nor for the past 2 years - what are your thoughts on that? Also - he was in a relationship with another girl before me, for 10 years, and he cheated on her for 10 years. We are both 30. can someone like that no longer be a cheater?
Carolyn Hax: There are other signs he is a person of quality, or not a person of quality, that have nothing to do with cheating--and are therefore right out in the open for you to see. See them. That's your answer.
Carolyn Hax: Gotta go. Thanks everyone, and type to you next week.
"Helping Around the House": Not to nitpick at semantics, but I think this is part of the problem, that a lot of guys think they're "helping" around the house instead of being equal partners. Which puts the wife in the position of being the the nag or mother, or at least bossy, and no one feels sexy when they're forced into that role.
Carolyn Hax: Point taken. "Pull your weight at home" okay?
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