Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 12, 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.

Submit your questions and comments any time before or during today's discussion. Other mail can be directed to Carolyn at .


More first birthday blues: Carolyn, I just sent you a question about getting depressed around my first child's first birthday. After I thought about it, I have just lost my best friend to irreconcilable differences, I am losing a very close friend of mine at work who is moving away, and we just experienced a death in my husband's family. Add to that the stress of weaning my daughter and watching her grow more independent. Is there a point where depression brought on by life's events needs to be treated by a doctor? I can't help but think that I have to do something to get me out of this mood. Talking to my husband and family members help, but I don't want to burden them.

Carolyn Hax: Hi. Sorry you're feeling blue. Just because your depression is (most likely) situational, that doesn't mean it can't also be serious enough to qualify as clinical depression. Been there myself. Please do talk to your doctor about how you're feeling. S/he might prescribe something for you on the spot, but I wouldn't stop there. Also ask for some names of someone, so you have someone to talk to and also to keep a weekly eye on you if you do choose to go the medication route.


Washington, D.C.: My partner of three years went home last week to visit her family and told me that she had dinner with an ex. I trust my partner completely, I'm glad she told me about the dinner, and in general I have no problems with people maintaining reasonable ties to their past. But this girl is clearly still madly in love with my partner, almost to the point of being a stalker (tracking down our phone number every time we move, calling at bizarre hours, etc.) I'm sure there was much wooing and showering of attention/compliments at this dinner. My concern is that my girlfriend agreed to see this person to get that attention because she's not getting enough attention at home. Should I have this conversation with my partner, or should I back off so I don't appear to be jealous or untrusting?

Carolyn Hax: I see all kinds of buried mines in your path if you share your theory on her needing attention, especially since, if you're wrong, you'll likely infuriate her, and if you're right, you'll really infuriate her.

But you'd have a great point if you just said to her that you don't mind her seeing an ex, but you're having a hard time understanding why she'd do something to encourage this one, who has crossed propriety lines in the past. Then listen to her answer.


The Talk: Hi Carolyn,

How soon is too soon for "the talk" when you're dating someone. I've been seeing this guy for over a month, and we go out every weekend, and talk almost every day, so I'm wondering where this is going, but I don't want to ruin anything by asking where it's going too soon. I know I should probably just sit back and relax and not analyze, but I can't help it! Any advice from you or the peanuts?


Carolyn Hax: Sit back and relax and don't analyze.

And if that's impossible, keep yourself occupied by asking yourself where this is going. After all of a month, he shouldn't have an answer for you yet anyway (other than, "I have no effing idea"), and of course neither should you, so you'll have a lot to think about. And while you're thinking, you can let some time pass and let your question answer itself.

Of you can just blurt out, "Where is this going?" since that would just be you, being yourself, and if it ruins everything he wasn't your guy in the first place.


Albuquerque, N.M.: In today's column you addressed, not for the first time, the bad feelings that can surface when a current partner is threatened by a continuing friendship with an ex. Case in point: A woman I was seeing recently ended our relationship because of my close friendship with a woman I once dated -- 25 years ago! There was never (and never would be) a whiff of impropriety. This old, cherished friendship didn't interfere in any fashion (emotionally, in time spent, etc.) My reassurances didn't seem to help. How do you manage something like this? Am I being unrealistic in thinking a long-standing relationship with a woman is no different than a friendship with a man? Love to have your thoughts...

Carolyn Hax: I think I've addressed it about 27,000 times. And about 26,978 of those times I've shared your opinion that a long-standing relationship with a woman is no different from a friendship with a man. (Those 22 exceptions involved clear croissings of lines.) And when I do share that opinion, I always hear from a few people who believe there is never (ever! ever! ever!) such thing as an appropriate relationship with an ex/member of the opposite sex when one is in a committed relationship. So, you found yourself one of those people. Bummer.

But what can you do. Keep living the way you want to live, and befriending whom you want to befriend. If nothing else you'll have good friends, and it'll also be a pretty good date filter.


Re: birthday blues: The sad mom should also be told by her doctor that post-partum depression can also appear in moms when breastfed babies are weaned. (This is a seldomly publicized fact that hit a friend of mine HARD over a year after giving birth as she began to wean.)

Possible PPD can make it even harder to deal with her other situational hardships.

Your advice to her was right on. Just thought I needed to add the bit about PPD.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, I didn't know about the weaning link.


Denver, Colo.: Hi Carolyn,

In regards to your response to the first question about having a hard time and seeing a doctor... I think seeing the counselor and talking about the problems is a great idea. I don't think taking a drug to keep from feeling true emotions of pain is a good idea. It is normal to feel awful when all goes wrong at once. Isn't it better to feel pain as deeply as joy and love? Aren't drugs designed for persons with chemical balances or depression for no reason at all?

Carolyn Hax: Ooh, you are putting words into my mouth (onto my page?). No no no, I am not suggesting and never do suggest that someone "[take] a drug to keep from feeling true emotions."

Three reasons. That's not what antidepressants do, that's not what people should be looking for them to do, and that's a horrible, horrible stereotype of medication that needs to die because it scares people away from medication who could really benefit from it.

(And I'm not even suggesting this person take meds, just that IF her diagnosis leads that way, she should include counseling WITH any meds.)

Depression is a chemical imbalance, and that imbalance can exist for "no reason at all" and it can also be triggered by events, like having everything go wrong at once. Sure, some people can keep functioning through a hellish time. But those people are bummed, they're not clinically depressed.

For those whose hell nudges them into clinical depression, medication becomes a legitimate option and, depending on the severity of the bout and the extent of their inability to function, a responsible one to consider.

And people who choose the medication feel their pain as deeply as anyone. That's a judgement best kept holstered.


Re: Where Is This Going: If she does ask him about where they are going, how is the poster going to respond if he says "I don't know?"

And isn't "I don't know" the most likely response after only a month?

Carolyn Hax: Right. I was hoping that would come across.

Unless his response is, "I don't know, and you're scaring me." She should prepeare herself for that, too.


Washington, D.C.: Regarding opposite sex friends. Okay, what if I'm not against her having male friends, there's just this one friend who is her ex, he was a jerk when they were dating, but she still talks to him and meets him for lunch, etc., now. However, she usually won't tell me, despite my saying I'd rather know so I can get more comfortable with the idea. The hiding it part makes me nervous, plus the fact that she has cheated on guys in the past. Is it totally unreasonable to just wish she'd not spend as much time talking to/meeting up with this particular friend?

Carolyn Hax: Sounds completely reasonable to me. The hiding is BS. That he was a jerk doesn't help, but it's not really relevant; it's her friend and he can be a jerk. But the not-telling part, that's line crossing no. 23.

So while it's not your place to choose her friends for her, it is your place to say that if she can't conduct this friendship out in the open, then you can't trust her, and if you can't trust her, then you can't be together.


Washington, D.C.: Turning 30 is completely messing with my mind. (All those stereotypical midlife crisis movies suddenly make a lot more sense.) Being single (with no prospects) is really weighing on me. My suddenly mediocre job is weighing on me. Not being 20 is weighing on me. Please tell me turning 31 is easier?

Carolyn Hax: It is, unless everything goes to crap and you get into a difficult relationship you dread ending and someone you love love love dies and that mediocre job becomes the one rock you can cling to and you find yourself wondering why you were ever so worked up about one stinkin birthday.

Not that I'd want that for anyone. I'm just saying.

Life gets cranky when you try to live it according to some schedule, like married by 26 and your first million by 30 and whatever else we're supposed to tick off the list. Take this ick feeling as an invitation to scrutinize what you're doing, see what it's all worth to you, and make any changes you've always secretly envisioned and that are in your power to make. Don't be rash or drastic. Just go for open-minded and brave.


Line Number 23?: That's line number 23? What are the top ten lines? Besides "what's your sign?" of course.

Carolyn Hax: No no, sorry, I was referring to the crossed lines in friendships with exes. Where I said I'd talked about the issue 27,000 times ... ? Ringing a bell?


Chicago, Ill.: Carolyn,

Love that chats and the columns. Thank you. Regarding taking medication for depression, or for symptoms that might indicate depression, rather, I agree with you that we should view in the same light as taking antibiotics for infections. That said, American doctors have recognized now that they over-prescribed antibiotics. Might they not also recognize that they over-prescribe drugs for depression and anxiety. Particularly since they prescribe them in about seven times as many cases as European doctors?

Just curious as to your take on this...

Carolyn Hax: Definitely possible that they're being overprescribed. But the remedy for that is better informed doctors and more aware (potential) patients like us. The problem of medicating someone who doesn't really need to be medicated becomes much less of one when patients--say, the woman whose question started this thread--ask their doctors a lot of questions and include a trained psychotherapist in the discussion.


Ithaca, N.Y.: You answer this question all of the time, but I'd like the reassurance. What do you do when you just turned 24, are now two years out of college, and feel like you are constantly stumbling, especially compared to classmates?

Carolyn Hax: Spend some time with people who aren't 24 and college educated and ambitious and American and middle- to upper-middle class. Seriously. Looking at life from at least one different perspective would help a lot, but 10 or 20 different ones would be even better.


Re Chicago, anti-depressants, and statistics: Not true that US docs prescribe mood-altering drugs more than Europeans. The French and the Germans use many, many, many more times the tranquilizers and antidepressants and other mood-altering drugs as Americans. I am a health economist and the numbers are staggering. What in the heck do the French have to be miserable about, when they can to to Paris...

Carolyn Hax: They're rude to themselves?

Thanks for weighing in. I have no idea what the numbers are myself and I obviously can't vouch for you or the other person, but at least this way people will know that they don't know.


Vienna, Va.: Carolyn, Maybe you can help me out with my problem. I recently became a new father/husband and am having problems adapting to my new lifestyle. I'm 27 and my wife is 24. Ever since we've been married we constantly argue over my "bad" habits of going to see my friends after I get out of work. My wife stay's at home and cares for our daughter while I work all day. For me an hour or two of hanging out is refreshing and what I need after a long day before I can go home and begin my responsibilities of being a father. My wife doesn't seem to agree. She feels jealous because my friends are the first people I want to see when I get off work. I feel like when I come straight home I work a 12 hour day because I have to cook (she can't cook) and give her a break from caring for our baby. I understand she's also working by caring for our child but gimme a break! I can't go out to the mall or go shopping when I work or take two naps during my work day! Is there anything I can do to make her understand I need me time besides arguing and making us resent each other?

Breaking the Girl in NOVA

Carolyn Hax: Oh my goodness. After 12 hours away from your family at work, you then spend another hour or two away from your family? Because it's "refreshing"?

I am going to resist screaming and tearing my hair out because you're here, I have your attention, and you're asking, and I don't want to scare you away. But, dude.

You're not single any more, and you're not childless any more, and so you are no longer at the top of your list of people whose needs you must tend to. This is a fundamental truth that you need to accept, right now.

At the top of the list is your little girl. She needs a daddy on weekdays as badly as she needs one on weekends. When you are out of the house for 14 hours, she does not have a daddy on weekdays.

Next on the list is your wife's name, right next to yours. She needs your companionship, your attention, your support. She doesn't need a husband/father who needs a couple of belts with his buddies just to face coming home to her. And she doesn't need to have her life dismissed as easier than yours, when she is "on" 24 hrs a day with the baby, and likely isolated as hell.

Yes, you need your time, too. Once a week with your friends. And she needs a night off, too, once a week with her friends.

And if any of this isn't penetrating--actually, even if it is--please arrange, this weekend, to watch your daughter, solo, for 14 hours straight. Then write back to me and report what it was like.


Rockville, Md.: I am upset with you. In your response to the "Anyone" from this past Wednesday, you referred to the writer as a female. I am guessing that you just assumed it was a female; the mother. Why? It could have just as easily been the father.

Carolyn Hax: Sometimes I know because I see a (real name) signature or an e-mail address. Sometimes I just get an image in my head of the person I'm talking to and don't even realize the sex wasn't actually specified. It's that nagging human thing; I try to cure it but it keeps coming back.


Washington, D.C.: I'm ready for football season. Why isn't it here yet? And do you think losing Ty Law will affect the Patriots' chances of repeating their Super Bowl championship?

Carolyn Hax: 1. It's too hot.

2. It's still baseball season.

3. I'll let you know. We just got some Jets-Pats tickets.


For Vienna: Ach! Carolyn, you misread the question!

8 hour workday + immediate family care = 12 hours straight of "work".

Your thoughts are good, but you went so ballistic over the time that he's not going to take your advice to heart.

Carolyn Hax: Well maybe now he will. Thanks for the catch.

This does mean he can cut the Saturday care session to 10 hours--the workday plus the after-work hangout with friends.

And it does mean the daughter is less daddy deprived, but it also gives me a chance to add what I left out, that a drained, angry mom entering hour 10 of uninterrupted child care needs someone coming in fresh. So, while a dad coming home from work might not be fresh per se, it's still someone who (theoretically at least) will be excited to see the baby and won't have been saying "Bah bah bah bah" all day. Which is why it's so important to wear the mom's role for a day.

And why it's so important not just to accept this new role of father and husband grudgingly, but to celebrate it. Even if you have to teach yourself how to.

Anyway, again, thanks for the catch.


Logan Circle, Washington, D.C.: I have a question about manners. I say on the metro you should give your seat up for the disabled and the elderly. Last time I checked women choose to have babies therefore they aren't disabled. My friend says they should be afforded the courtesy. I think I'm already paying for them and their kids (i.e. school costs, time away from work) If you can't stand don't get pregnant. Who's right?

Carolyn Hax: Try this: Who's kind?


Rockville, Md.: Just saw the post of the dad... I used to be a stay at home mom... but recently I got too tired and my husband got tired of a corporate job, so we switched! And now we're soo understanding of each other. My husband is like man this is sooo much more tiring than it looks, and I go home straight after work to relieve him. He always remembers that going to work can be tiring as well and tries not to ask me to do a lot right when I get home. I think every one should switch roles and everyone will be happy.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. More coming (I think, I saw a bunch on this but need to read them):


12-hour workday: I think the father meant that he was working an 8-hour day and then another 4 hours at home.

Not that him "only" being away for 10 hours would change your answer. At least I hope not.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. MOre:


Anonymous: Great advice to Vienna. Shortly after my husband and I adopted two small girls, I had to go out of town for a two day business trip before starting my life as a stay-at home mom -- when I returned the house was an unbelievable shambles and he said "I promse that if you don't get mad about the way this place looks, I will NEVER ask you what you did all day when you are home with the girls" -- and he never has.

Carolyn Hax: An incidental role-switch that makes a great argument for deliberate ones, thanks. And more:


Breaking that Blockhead: Carolyn,

You were right on in your response to that new dad/husband. Thank you for being so calm in the giving of your advice -- the tone of my response would have differed significantly. Hopefully he will correct himself before his daughter catches on to the fact that her father thinks she's a burden...

Carolyn Hax: That's the saddest part. I hope as she grows he starts to "see" her. Babies can seem like little grubs to people not directly caring for them.

Weirdest part: same words, now described as "calm" and "ballistic." Welcome to my world.

I know, it's not all about me.


Anywhere, USA: Hi Carolyn,

I have a quick "fluffy" question.. I am getting married soon and am having trouble picking a best man. I realize that by far my best friend is my sister. I do have one or two guys who can do it but I am much closer to my sister. Have you ever heard of a female "best man"? I'd be intersted to hear what the peanuts have to say as well.

Thanks a lot!

Carolyn Hax: Yes, GREAT idea, do it. (And tune out people who tell you otherwise.)


Maryland: Wow -- that tirade against the father who wants a little "me" time seemed a little too harsh.

So, he is working to provide an income for the family, needs to come home and cook because his wife "can't" (huh? how about learning?), and isn't entitled to take a break with friends?

He should be able to -- and of course, so should she -- she needs to develop a life outside of him and the kid. He needs to give her time for herself when he is watching the kid, too, of course.

But -- and you might not like this -- I think MANY people would agree that if you are the stay at home parent (mom or dad), part of the deal is keeping house, shopping, cooking, etc.

Carolyn Hax: No, I agree with that part, and that the mom should learn how to assemble a dinner or two on her own. But I don't believe either of these so rigidly that the working parent is obsolved of all household contributions (remember, this is another "been there" for me--actually an "am there"), or that the home parent can't ask for a hand at dinnertime, or that any parent of a new baby needs a prioritized "I prefer my buddies to my wife and baby" break every effing day.


Dad: Carolyn,

Let's not lose sight of the fact that this couple is very young- 24 and 27?!; Come on!; Your advice was right on, but unfortunately, there is an inevitable transitional stage that he's probably going through. He's going to have to grow up, but his feelings are natural.

Carolyn Hax: Yes, they got into this (too) young. But can we reverse it to, "his feelings are natural, but he's going to have to grow up"? Preferably by the beginning of next week.

I regret that last "effing." Exaspiration got the better of me, when I've been trying not to beat this dad over the head.


Speaking of exes: Just an anecdote. I recently cancelled dinner plans with an ex because it bothered my husband. The ex had tried to break us up when I was first dating my husband several years ago. I thought this was long in the past, but I mentioned seeing my ex to my husband and saw husband get upset. I told ex I didn't want to make husband uncomfortable. Husband didn't and would never ask me not to see someone because he trusts me.

The other side of all this is that my husband has no problem with my friendships with other exes, and I trust that his issue with this particular ex is legitimate but will probably fade over time.

The ex took it well as well.

I just want to point out that when no one makes black and white demands in a situation, and everyone's looking out for the feelings of the other people involved, things can be fine. And that's when you know you're in the right relationship.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, well said.


Re: Sister as Best Man: I was at a wedding a year ago where the bride and groom both had co-ed bridal parties--it was not only appropriate, it was fantastic. The bride and groom looked so happy to have their closest friends and family surround them, not just the ones who were "the right gender." Go for it, having brothers myself, I can tell you, your sister will be so touched.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. Many more like these, Groom, if it helps with your decision.


Naps: I love the naps comment from the new father. You need naps when you have a new baby because you are up half the night caring for him/her. Heck, I work full-time and STILL take naps with my boys (3 and 5) on the weekend just to catch up on the sleep I miss because of monsters and acccidents and missing mommy. I really try to embrace it, too, becuase in a few years they'll be "too big" to need mommy in the middle of the night.

Carolyn Hax: I'll risk piling on with this one b/c it's so important to include in his thinking. Thanks.


Washington, D.C.: For those on the relationship with the ex...Sandra Day O'Connor and William Rehnquist where exes from law school.

Carolyn Hax: Seriously? I'd never heard this. Anyway, it's not quite like me and Nick, but close.


Feeling Neglected: Dear Carolyn:

My husband and I have been married for over nine years and have a three-and-a-half-year-old son. Before we had our son we had sex quite frequently. Now, however, we haven't had any sex since his conception.

My husband has been very clear that he only wants one child -- we agreed that he would get a vasectomy when our son turned a year old. Well, that was two years ago last February. So, I stayed on the pill until this past March, even though he wouldn't "take a chance" that there might be an accident. In March, sick of resenting him every morning when I took my pill, I went off it. I told him that I was doing so and why.

Last week, I told him again (for the billionth time) that I'm not happy. I miss him. I miss having sex with him. I resent the lack of sex and I resent that he hasn't taken responsibility for his own choice. I also resent that he seems to be perfectly happy taking care of his own needs by himself. It feels like he's cheating me, even if he's not cheating ON me.

He said he'd look into getting a vasectomy, but I'm not seeing any movement on that front.

What should my next move be?

Carolyn Hax: Tell him you're making an appointment, and it's his choice with whom--his urologist or a marriage counselor. I hate to suggest anything so ultimatumish but it's better than three choices: urologist, marriage counselor, attorney.


Huh??: 24 and 27-year-olds are "too young" to have kids? What's the requirement nowadays, an AARP card? Most of the world's people are on their second child by the time they turn 24. Why are Americans so fixated on perpetually delaying the age of maturity?

Carolyn Hax: THEY were too young. Others do just fine, though I still think it's young. Believe me, it's not because I want the age of maturity to keep climbing or that I'm fixated on anything but the piece of leftover birthday cake that's waiting for me when I finish here. It's that parents, with the heavy complicity of government, over the past couple of generations have been gradually shortening leashes on kids, and the result is a lot more people still immature in their early twenties than in past generations. (Inoculation against getting too worked up, there were plenty of red sport cars sold to aging members of the WWII crowd.)

That, and what the rest of the world is doing doesn't help much with faltering young marriages between people who need to grow up.


I am Sandra Day O'Connor's husband: And it is a little-known fact that I made her retire when I learned the Chief Justice was her ex. Honestly. You'd think she'd have told me several years ago.

Carolyn Hax: When a Democrat was in office?


Texas: Hi Carolyn - I got pregnant again when our first little guy, who never slept, was two months old. My husband would come home from work, take our little guy on some outing for a couple of hours while I slept, then come home and we'd cook dinner together. I don't think I would have made it otherwise.

Carolyn Hax: That's really cool.


Carolyn Hax: Not that you wouldn't have made it otherwise. That he did that. Oh you know what I mean.


Carolyn Hax: Gotta run. Thanks everybody, have a great weekend and type to you next Friday.


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