Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 1, 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.


Carolyn Hax: Hi guys. Something weird just happened with the question I was trying to answer. Need to investigate for a sec ...


Boston, Mass.: Dear Carolyn,

I've never really dated anyone, and I'm really too old for it (27 years old!). One reason is that, when I was younger, I was overweight -- but I lost it almost four years ago, and have kept myself in very good shape since. I'm also doing fine professionally -- while I'm never going to be rich, I make enough money to live decently. I think my work is important and I'm proud of it. All told, I'm pretty happy.

But I just can't seem to figure out how to get started. Most women my age, frankly, don't want to take a 27-year-old out on his first date. Obviously, I don't point this out when I ask a woman on a date -- but once I get past that first step, how do I handle the fact that I don't know anything about all this relationship stuff? I don't even know how to kiss someone.

Carolyn Hax: 1. There's no "too old." You are who you are, this is what it is.

2. If you don't start now, you will be 28 and going on your first date. Or 29. Or 42. If you see your age as a problem, then please also see it as a problem that isn't going to get any better with time.

3. Instead of worrying that women will dump you for your inexperience, assume it. The first one you kiss may think, wow, this guy kisses like he's never done it before (unlikely, but, for the sake of argument). But when she dumps you for it and you ask another woman out, this time she won't be the first woman you kissed. Eventually--again, assumign all the early ones dump you--there will be a 10th kiss and etc. and you'll have nothing to worry about except what everyone else worries about with this stuff. So just get used to the idea that it's going to take a few tries to get right. Treat it like you're learning to play tennis or something.


Washington, D.C.: I have a bad habit of googling ex-boyfriends. I am very happily newly married. I just have this morbid curiosity. Is that weird?

Carolyn Hax: Do you Google them once a year, or nightly in lieu of dinner with your husband? The weirdness is in the details.


Anywhere at all: Carolyn, let's see, some of my friends have: fooled around while married, started relationships with married people before the divorce, and done other awful things I can't even sum up in short here. So I: wait until I am in the right place after the end of a long term relationship to start a new one, and now the new, serious one is in the ashes. I don't think I am feeling Why Me?, but I am feeling like if you do the right thing, it shouldn't be so bad.

Carolyn Hax: If a scientist tried to peddle a conclusion based on the data you've provided, his or her colleagues would urge a career change. You're talking about a few crappy friends and one crappy relationship. The doing-the-right-thing experiment shows reliable results only over the course of a lifetime, not a decade or year or a week. I know you don't think you are feeling Why me?, but stop asking Why Me? The answer is never a good one.


Wow...: Aren't you supposed to be on vacation?

Carolyn Hax: Yeah. Moronically, I forgot to take myself off the schedule and by the time it occurred to me it felt too late to scratch.


Washington, D.C.: Is it bad that I'm sitting here in my office, crying a little?

Carolyn Hax: It it's one time, no. If it's a regular lunch date, yes. If it's related to the news, I'd offer you a tissue, but I just wept through my last box.


S.S. Scientist: So I have this theory that I'm pretty, but not pretty enough. I mean, take away looks, I really have it going on: smart, witty, great personality; life is all together and all that. So much so, that when I interact with my many male friends, I feel the attraction between us, but also the "ehh... but it's not enough." Not that it's really bothering me or anything (not to the point where I must end the friendship), but I would so love to prove one of my many theories wrong.

Carolyn Hax: I would guess that fewer men are put off by imperfect looks than are put off by a tendency to anticipate, overanalyze and then pigeonhole their behavior.

_______________________'s Dilemma: Long time reader, first time writer.

So I have this friend who's planning on getting married at the end of summer. The thing is, she was engaged about a year ago and getting ready to married (to a different guy) around the same time. I didn't really feel too confident about that relationship because they seemed to rush into things rather quickly. Low and behold, the engagement broke and they went their seperate ways. To my surprise, about a month later, my friend gets engaged to the current guy. Just this week, I recieved an RSVP in the mail for the wedding and I've been sitting on it. Should I go, even though I have reservations about the whole relationship or should I stay home and be a really crappy friend? The day the wedding is on is usually a day that I have a whole lot of stuff to do anyways, but should I even make the effort?

Carolyn Hax: Different question, similar answer--I'd rather hang with someone who marries impulsively than judges smugly. She's probably making a mess of it all, sure, but unless you're clairvoyant you have no way of knowing they aren't destined for a rollicking, great-grandkid-infested 60th anniversary party. If you like this friend, go. If you don't like this friend, stay home and do your laundry.


Somewhere in New Jersey: (online only please) I went in on a summer beach house with a group of 11 others, male and female, all in our late 20s, early 30s. I didn't know most of the people in the house going into it, so I have met a lot of new, nice people. (Good thing!) I have also developed feelings for one of the guys in the house (Could be a good thing!).

I kissed him the first weekend, and kissed him again last weekend. We were not falling down drunk, but some alcohol was involved. My problem is that I am interested in him, but I am not sure what his interest is in me -- just to hook up or relationship potential?

We do hang out/talk, etc., all weekend when we are at the beach, but have not spent any time together during the week, outside of the beach house, although I would like to. Should I bring up the subject, or just be more patient and see how things play out?

Thanks -- (sometimes these questions have a way of answering themselves once you type them out. But I would really appreciate your input)

Carolyn Hax: Assume he is a convenient weekend warm fuzzy unless the context starts telling you otherwise. After two weekends (right?), you don't know him well enough to want him to be otherwise.


Washington, D.C.: My boyfriend and I got engaged, and we are very happy. The only problem is that we have had lots of celebrations, and tend to drink lots of champagne and other drinks, get drunk, and fight about the wedding. Simple answer is not to drink as much I guess, but how can I do that when the drinks are flowing? I don't want to turn into Bridezilla after celebrating too much!

Carolyn Hax: You're already Bridezilla if you don't have a "no" switch. Just because you're offered 30 drinks doesn't mean you have to accept them, and just because there are butterflies doesn't mean you have to release them at your reception. I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you were hung over when you wrote this question.


To Boston: I think you're putting this "first date" thing a little too high up on a pedastool. Have you ever... gone out with friends? gone out with coworkers for a drink? You get the idea. It's just another type of social interaction.

As for relationship how-to's? If you enjoy the first date, ask her out again. Repeat as necessary. There is no "right" way to do things or any special formula to follow. Just relax, be yourself, and have fun!

Carolyn Hax: Good 101, thanks.


Google-dom, Ariz.: I Google old boyfriends occasionally, too. And old bosses, coworkers, friends, family, myself, whatever. It's the fascination of the Internet and the wonder of what pops up (especially when I read how well my 18-year-old doppleganger is doing in college in Tennessee). The scary part is seeing what's out there about the REAL me, and how out of date, weird, etc. it is -- puts in perspective anything I read about someone else.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. Definitely useful to Google with a grain of salt.


Bellevue, Wash.: I really think I'm depressed. I feel depressed, hopeless, and blah, and I failed the screening at that Web site you often recommend. It's situational (my younger son is having some significant developmental delays) but also its been going on for quite some time now. I've been seeing a therapist for four years, and she agrees that I'm probably depressed, and seems to be leaving it up to me to decide if I want to go on medication. The problem is that, despite my eagerness to piss off Tom Cruise, I'm really scared of the meds. I think that if I start, I automatically become my mother, who has been on anitdepressants for over 10 years. What I really want is to run away and take a month off (or more) from my family. I don't really know what I'm asking you -- maybe just some input about antidepressants from you and your readers. Thanks Carolyn!

Carolyn Hax: Talk to a doctor, explain what scares you, ask what your options are for avoiding what scares you, find out how slowly you can ease your way into these options and how quickly you can ease your way back out, then talk to another doctor.

Your fear of becoming your mother is irrational; fight it by being faultlessly rational in your efforts to start taking better care of yourself (and, by extension, your son).

Also, don't rule out other steps you can be taking, like getting more exercise, eating healthier foods and respecting your need for sleep, assuming you haven't already tried these. All three, especially the exercise, especially when combined with talk therapy and/or meds, are proven weapons against depression.


Re: Too old to start dating: I think Boston would be surprised by the number of men AND women who haven't dated much, or at all. I can think of three that I know personally, right off the top of my head. And one of them is 34!

Keep the faith, Boston! It's never too late to try something new. The perfect person for you will appreciate the fact that your past experiences (or lack thereof) make you who you are.

Carolyn Hax: Many posts like these, thanks.


K Street, Washington, D.C.: I have a huge crush on the gorgeous blonde intern in my office. I ran into her last Friday night, and was just hooked. She was wearing a white leather miniskirt, and guys were just drooling over her. Yet she was thrilled to see me and we chatted for a good while. I haven't pursued anything because I'm afraid for my position and wouldn't want to lose my job. Am I doing the right thing?

Carolyn Hax: Yes, but not because of your job--because a gorgeous blond intern in a white leather miniskirt can list a hundred people who want to ask her out for being gorgeous, blond, subordinate and enleathered. It would really make you stand out if you were the one who actually grew to like her before you offered yourself.


Hi, new poster here!: Carolyn, can you help me feel better about something I already know the theoretical answer to? I'll try to keep this short.

Two of my close friends in our big group of friends each decided last fall to tell me they had feelings for me that went beyond friendship, and wondered if I had the same feelings for them, which I didn't. It hurt them, they each handled it differently (one was a gentlemen, the other a jerk), and it took a few months for each of us to get back to a comfortable place, which we really only did about a month ago. So last week, I caught a spark with another friend in our group, and it is mutual, but of course I'm hesitant to act on it in public for fear of hurting what might be still raw feelings in my other two friends. But I don't want to deny myself happiness and fun, because I haven't really dated anyone in a looooooooong time after being majorly hurt in my last relationship, and it's about time for me get back in the game. So how can I start playing again without hurting my friends feelings and feeling guilty about it? Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: If you decide for your own reasons that you want to act on this spark, then act on it out in the open. (Tastefully, of course.) The harshest thing you can do is sneak around with one group member in an attempt to protect the feelings of other, also-ran group members. Treat them with sensitivity, but treat them like adults who can handle the inevitable fact that you aren't going to punish yourself for rejecting them with a vow of eternal celibacy. You are living your life, and so must they. And if you handle it with honesty and thoughtfulness and they still wig, that reflects poorly only on them.


Depressed but no meds: I always felt the same about meds. Scared, afraid that I would have to always depend on them. But after talking to my doctor I decided to try a low dosage med. It was like a light coming on. There are a great many new drugs out there that will help with depression that may not have been around for your mother. Talk to your doctor there is probably a med out there to help you. I am now over my depression and no longer need the drugs.

Hope everything works out for you.

Carolyn Hax: Concisely said, thanks. Meds are right for some, not right for others, but the universally wrong way to decide is by acting on an uninformed prejudice.


Arlington, Va.: What do new moms like to talk about? My sis-in-law doesn't get out much right now, so we seem limited to talking about the baby This is fine by me, but if baby takes up her whole day, does she want to talk about it, too?

Carolyn Hax: I'm to the point where I'll bake cake for the person who will come talk to me about something other than kids. But there have also been times where my exposure to things non-kid have sunk dangerously low and with it my ability to hold non-kid conversations. So, my answer is, either follow your SIL's lead, on the theory that she doesn't get out much right now and can use some conversational slack, or ask her outright if she'd rather you didn't round out her total immersion in baby by making her talk about baby.


Kittyville, USA: So my huge, 20-pound brown tabby has taken to humping my husband while he sleeps. the vet says this is not out of the range of normal behavior for male cats.

Any accompanying music you can suggest? Cat Scratch Fever?

Carolyn Hax: To think I was sad that I had to interrupt my vacation for this.


Weddings: I want to be happy for the couple at all the weddings I attend, but sometimes the displays of grandeur, the gift registries with only really expensive items, etc., get me to the point where I struggle to put on a happy face. Any thoughts? Part of it is that when my wife and I got married we paid for it all ourselves, didn't require anyone to buy a dress or rent a tux, didn't register, etc. But does contrasting my own wedding to others' (only in my head of course) make me smug?

Carolyn Hax: Only if it jumps the mind barrier and comes out of your mouth to anyone but your wife (I'm surprised you've been so restrained; no postgame analysis on the way home, at all?), or comes out as all people who register or rent formalware or celebrate on their parents' tab are somehow morally less pure than you are. That would mean the -only- correct way to get married was your way, which would of course make you horriobly smug. That aside, though, you can certainly witness grotesque weddign excess and safely deem it grotesque and excessive and weddingy. It's the kind of moral line everyone draws every day--say, to tolerate and even celebrate cultural differences, except when they cross over into, say, human sacrifices (seeking shelter in hyperbole here), at which point it's time to deplore them.


Arlington, Va.: Do you think people will believe the ridiculous and uninformed things Tom Cruise has said about psychiatry recently?

Carolyn Hax: Tom Cruise believes them, and while I like to think he's uniquely stupid, I also know that's an optimism not rooted in fact.


Google: Now I feel like a loser. I just googled myself and got zero hits.

Carolyn Hax: Try misspelling your name.


Baby talk: I was once told that I was being rude because I was talking to a new mom and trying not to talk about the baby. I thought I was doing the right thing because I figured she would want to talk about something else, but apparently not. So what's the best way to proceed?

Carolyn Hax: When in doubt, ask.


Arlington, Va.: Silly question here: A coworker, who happens to be a pompous a-- and always trying to correct everyone else, has an "Out of Office" message for his e-mail today. It contains an egregious spelling mistake that clients will see if they send him a message today. Do I send him a message pointing it out (or at least pointing out the presence of spell-check)? It feels like I'm only trying to rub his nose in it since he's so pompous, but at the same time, "immediate assistance" should not be spelled "emmidate assitance" when clients will see it. Do I tell him and risk seeming like I'm gloating over his mistakes or do I let him figure it out himself (if he ever will)?

Carolyn Hax: If there's a chance it will hurt the business--e.g., you are an alliance of professional proofreaders--you tell (just the facts). If there's no chance it will hurt the business, you do not tell.


Houseguest Hell: Submitting early out of desperation. I agreed to let a close friend stay with me for a few weeks or a little longer while he's in town looking for a job. The problem is that he's been really disrupting my daily routine and talking to him about it hasn't solved the problem. The best example is that one day he re-organized my closet because he thought it needed cleaning and then made fun of me for some stuff he found, not to mention that my things are misplaced. He's broken dishes trying to wash them. He accidentally threw away receipts I need to have to get reimbursed at work because he thought they looked like trash. It's a lot of little things. I really want to help a friend in need but I'm at my wit's end. How can I handle this?

Carolyn Hax: I was about to say "throw him out," but then i noticed that everything you mention ('cept the mocking) could be construed as an attempt to be a good houseguest by helping out around the house. Kind of sad-comic, really. So, try one more time to get him out of your stuff, but this time, after acknowledging his kind efforts to organize you, by presenting a list of very clear rules. (1. Don't touch my stuff. 2. Dont' touch my stuff.)

Then, if he breaks them or any more of your plates, throw him out. (And when you do, maybe he'll run across your receipts.)


Falls Church, Va.: Carolyn: My girlfriend and I are both 20 and spending the summer in different cities. She's always been rather controlling, but this summer separation has really worsened things. She demands that I call her every night, but if I call too late, she gets mad. If I warn her that I'm going out with a friend and won't be able to call till late, she refuses to talk to me for two days and accuses me of wanting to be with my friends more than her. She threatens to break up with me, but then changes her mind. I can't seem to do anything right. My friends say I should dump her, but when we're together at college, it's better between us. What should I do?

Carolyn Hax: It's better at college, why, because her evil twin comes out of her coffin only in months with an R?

Dude. (I think.) You are accepting the unacceptable, and your only justification for it is wishful thinking. She is who she is, near and far, and if you don't like the controlling BS, then don't indulge it. Repeat after me: "I will call when I can and when I want to hear your voice, not when you order me to call." And then back it up. If she refuses to talk to you for two days, she'll have done you a two-day favor. If she has dumps you, she'll have done you an epic favor.

(Tip: She will not dump you. All this BS is part of her elaborate effort to avoid ever having to be alone.)

(Tip 2: If you don't like the way a relationship is going, then you have options besides, "Suffer through it." You can openly refuse to suffer, and then, if things don't improve, you can break up.)


Trapped: Hello Carolyn and peanuts: I need to exit my marriage and soon. Any tips on how to do so? there is no "tangible" -- abuse, serious vices, etc. -- reason but it's all in the gut.

Many thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Explain without blaming, stuff is just stuff, and yours are only half of the feelings involved. (Adjust for children accordingly.) Sigh.


Dating? What's dating?: I never dated. I met people I liked and we did stuff together. Sometimes with friends, sometimes one-on-one. Sometimes the relationships developed into romances. Eventually one led to marriage. Twenty-three years now. But I don't think I ever consiously "went on a date."

Carolyn Hax: Ideal, if you have the social momentum. (Which is why making friends is such a good way to get the momentum going, vs. going out looking to date.) Thanks.


Washington, D.C. : Carolyn,

Just an observation: have we lost the art of conversation? I am reading whether it's right/wrong to talk about the baby/to what extent and am thinking, "are we missing the joy of talking to another person?" I say this not being a parent, but I know that when people call me to talk about anything -- the weather, their kids, whatever -- I am happy. That tends to make me not target a conversation to one topic, as I am good to talk about anything and everything. Am I naive, or just socially inept?

Carolyn Hax: Socially ept, if I had to guess, but not everyone is--and, I think more often, not everyone is comfortable with the not-quite-close-friends, not-quite-coworker, somewhat-but-not-quite obligatory social stuff like visiting a fam member who's home with a new baby. But I think what you suggest is actually a great remedy for just that kind of awkwardness. Go with no greater expextation than to enjoy a person's company. (And then leave when the gaps start to appear between sentences.)


Suburban Chicago, Ill.: Dear Carolyn:

Long time married, happily so -- with three pre teen kids. Have had one "date night" with my wife in the last year, but I get hostility when I suggest we should have a couple of these a month. Babysitter options, both in the family and outside of it, are plentiful.

I think I'm reasonably attractive and pretty good company, and I do help out around the house and with the kids.

I fear I'm starting to lose interest in maintaining the energy in our marriage, and that saddens me. Any suggestions, or am I out of line, given that my wife is naturally occupied with the kids and other life issues. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Back to last week--do you "help out," or are you an equal partner in your home, kids, marriage? Your wife is carrying around something that no date night is going to fix. You need to ask her to talk to you, kindly, humbly, dukes down, and soon.


Carolyn Hax: In honor of my vacation, I'm going to keep this one to two hours. Thanks everybody, happy long weekends to those who have them, and type to you next Friday.


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company