Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 26, 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.


USA: I'm going to a wedding this weekend stag and I'm not looking forward to it one bit. Any pointers?

Carolyn Hax: We go through most of life stag. Just do what you would in any other situation--be friendly, be a good sport, and be glad this stag moment will probably have a buffet.


Equalville, USA: Carolyn

Great column and great chats.

Do you believe that women who will not have sex before marriage and men who will not say "I love you" before marriage are too controlling to be in a relationship?


Carolyn Hax: I think that people who will not say "I love you" before marriage are controlling, because it has the bad effect of dangling the partner on a string, and because I can't think of one even half-good reason to insist on such a thing.

I think people who will not have sex before marriage can be controlling, too, but they also can be principled, or religious, or immature and unquestioning adherents to the teaching of some authority figure or another, or rape victims, or scared, or a million other things that, whether you subscribe to them or not yourself, deserve more thoughtful consideration than the "controlling" rubber stamp.


Carolyn Hax: Oh. and thank you. I meant to start with that but got a-rollin'.


Desperate, Conn.: My husband of several years came out to me as gay this week. I knew he was bisexual before we were married and had no problem with it at all. There was no abuse, infidelity, etc., during the marriage. We love each other very much. How do I get over this total feeling of loss? While we will be in each other's lives, I am having a very difficult time with the prospect of the future. Thank you.

Carolyn Hax: One of the hallmarks of loss is the inability to envision your suddenly, almost violently rearranged future. But as you get used to the change you'll start to make out a few key things, and a few more, and one day you'll realize you can see the horizon--and wonder how long it's been in view without your having noticed it.

Emphasis on "as you get used to the change." Give yourself some time to figure things out. That's where the "take each day" and "baby steps" cliches come from; since it takes a while to adjust to big change, the best thing you can do is accept that fact, and set small goals, and have small expectations of yourself, and concentrate on getting yourself through the moment, then the hour, then the day, then the week.

(FWIW--a difficulty envisioning the future is also a hallmark of depression, so if this feeling persists to the point where you're having trouble functioning, please talk to an MD.)


Snarky?: What bothered you so much about today's writer's use of the word "prestigious"?

Carolyn Hax: Because it was so utterly irrelevant. The writer's using it betrayed a preoccupation with appearances, one she had apparently formed into a club and used repeatedly to beat her husband on the head. That's what bothered me so much.


Confused, Washington, D.C.: Are women ever interested in hookups? I know, I know -- you can't generalize. But clearly there is some fundamental difference in male/female lustfulness. Female friend says women are just as horny as men, but also more discriminating in who they sleep with. I mean, once you remove the stigma that sex is somehow immoral... why not hop into bed (in a safe way) with anyone?

Carolyn Hax: I have a pile of emails from single women who have no desire to be coupled but who also have desires, and who are not acting on them because trusting their own sexual judgment is not the same as trusting society not to judge them.

I also have an even bigger pile of emails from women who have hookups.

So, yes, women are interested in hookups.


Carolyn Hax: And if you can patent an effective stigma remover, you'll make billions.


For USA stag: I'm going to a wedding this weekend for a friend who confided in me six months ago that the groom was seeing someone else during their engagement. Did I mention I'm the Maid of Honor? And I have to give a toast?

Carolyn Hax: Just remember to slurp some off the top before you try to lift the glass.


Carolyn Hax: Extra points if you do it audibly, just before you stand up.


Saginaw, Mich.: I've been reading your column and chats since last year. I'm a married man who was flirting with a married woman, who I broke off all contact with in order to work on my marriage.

But I've never been able to get her out of my head. And last week she e-mailed me at work, and all the feelings came back full force. I've resisted calling or seeing her, but it's getting harder. So, slap me, will you?

Carolyn Hax: She cares about herself. If she cared about you, she wouldn't have emailed you.

I'm loath to slap a new reader.


Different Perspective Re: Snarky: The fact that the writer's husband attends a "prestigious" school may mean he's under a lot of stress during school and may be part of the reason he wanted a break during the summer. I still thought your advice was right-on; I just think maybe you over-reacted to her use of vocabulary, which I saw as giving some background to the situation.

Carolyn Hax: I did consider that possibility, but it's one that diminishes the hard work of a student who, for whatever reason, attends a less-than-prestigious grad school. So I got even more peeved. It's a crappy word.


Link Monkey: How come Carolyn's not on the pull-down menu for columnists? Working on getting this fixed right now.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you. And thanks to everybody who has emailed me to ask about it.


For Desperate in Connecticut: There is an organization that may be of help as you sort through your feelings, called the Straight Spouse Network. Google to get their Web site and some articles about their activities. They were in the news when the former (married) governor of New Jersey came out in public. I have a friend now going through a very similar situation, hang in there and very best wishes to you.

Carolyn Hax: I can't vouch, but I can post. Thanks for the suggestion.


Boston, Mass.: Carolyn, what's your beef with online dating? I remember you criticizing it in an earlier chat. Love your work, by the way.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks muchly.

I don't have a beef with it, really; it hasn't done anything to me.

But I do think it lulls a lot of people into the mindset that they can shop for a mate like they do office supplies. You need all the senses you have to read people and eventually find someone compatible, if ever (and even then you can make huge mistakes), and you also need healthy respect for randomness. And a big dose of realism; you're not going to maneuver around any personal hangups by clicking instead of calling.

But if you can go online with your expectations at zero and your computer time (vs out-there-living time) at near zero, have at it.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn -- You have a knack for finding the right questions to ask in difficult situations. What are the questions one should ask oneself or one's significant other before getting married? (other than "will you marry me?")


Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the compliment, but now I have stage fright.


Are you expecting to improve your relationship by getting married? That's the ask-yourself question. Because if you are, it's probably not a good thing.


Stupid mistake, bigger issue?: I threw a magazine at my boyfriend the other night because he was taunting me. I know it was not only rude, but childish, and the worst way I could have communicated with him. I've never hit him before, but have in the past has trouble with being somewhat verbally abusive. I'm working on it and we both now things are so much better now. However, I'm plagued with guilt that I've done damage to him by my words and now he's calling me abusive because of my one fit. I think he might be mostly joking, but it scares me. What are the warning signs on the abuser's side that things might be getting out of control?

I hear myself saying "I'll never do it again, I'm so sorry, I love you, please forgive me." And feel like I'm in a Lifetime made for TV movie.

Carolyn Hax: If you have a history of being "somewhat" verbally abusive and you've escalated to throwing something at him, you are abusive. (That escalation is as big a warning sign as you need.)

And if your "working on it" doesn't include counseling, I question your willingness to admit and confront the problem. It wasn't rude and childish, it was abusive. Apologies aren't going to cut it.

It was abusive.

The guilt feels bad but it's a good sign, one that you know something is wrong. Now go get real help for it. 1-800-799-SAFE can offer you local counseling resources.


Radford, Va.: Carolyn, When do I know to give up trying to get my question answered? I've emailed it to you more than a dozen times since February. It's not a frivolous question -- How do I help a friend who may be an abused husband? I've shortened it twice, in case length was a problem. Am I not getting the hint to just go away?

-- Still Waiting

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry. There are many repeat postings of questions similar to yours, and I almost never answer them because there is no answer to your question. You can't help someone who doesn't let you help. Abuse is particularly frustrating because you're forced to be a spectator when someone is in real danger, but that doesn't change the (non-)answer. (Unless it's child abuse; then you have the phone and the local child services dept.)

If you're ever unsure whether this particular type of futility applies to your own case in particular, that's what the hotlines are for, and why I post the numbers so often. The people who staff them are trained on matters of abuse, and can hear your specifics in a depth not permitted in this format, and make suggestions that apply to your situation.


Manassas, Va.: My mother is terminally ill. She has been for a while, but it is starting to get real. How do I deal with friends when I am just in a hibernating mood? I am not trying to get attention or play a pity card, but sometimes I just am sad and want to be left alone without making it a big deal or about me. Any help on dealing with this difficult, transitional time?

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry. Try, "Thanks, but I'm lying low for a while." No drama there, just fact. If you want, you can also ask that they please be patient and not give up on you. Just understand that you'll be inviting them to call again soon, so don't do it if you also don't want the phone to ring. (In that case, better to tell them you'll call next week, or whatever.)

Sometimes the best way to deal is spend time (as much as you can bear) with your mom, enjoying her and hearing her stories, and even getting to know her better. Hang in there.


Prestigious is a perfect word....: for someone who's awaiting the luxurious gravy train of the well-situated.

Carolyn Hax: To quote whatsisface Johnson in "Blazing Saddles," "Rarin'."


Houston, Tex.: Had a huge blow up with my boyfriend yesterday. Long story short: Soon after I called him my other line rang. I was expecting the call, so I took it. I told him I'd call right back and ended up making it to my spin class before I had a chance to do so. When I got back in the car I had a text message from him saying, "right back?" He was pissed that I didn't call back immediately! We proceeded to have a huge fight -- with him saying that I told him I was going to call back knowing that I had no intention to. It was nothing of the sort, though I can't convince him otherwise. He even demanded an apology. I told him he was insane. Do you think so, too, or do I owe him an apology?

Carolyn Hax: No, not for what he says you did. You did (and still do) owe him an apology for blowing him off, but there's no way you should get into the business of confirming his interpretation of events, falsely, just to end a fight. He either trusts that you made an honest mistake and drops it, or you don't have anything to talk about.

I don't know what you said to him in response to his "right back," so I'm going to leave open the possibility that you helped provoke the resulting huge fight, but just the fact that he didn't assume the harmless case automatically suggests a bigger problem here, whether he got enraged about it or not. There's already plenty out there to get all worked up about before you start assuming the worst, and so being with someone who automatically assumes the worst is going to get way old way fast.

Again, there's the other half of the story I don't know, like whether you've got your dukes up yourself, or whether you're manipulative or deceitful or you routinely leave him hanging or whatever, so all I can do is advise you to put this guy and your interactions with him into a larger context, and think very hard from there.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn. Love your column; you always give great advice, and I can probably guess what you're going to say about my "problem," but here it goes. Got out of my last long-term relationship more than one-and-a-half years ago; he moved on very quickly, which -- amazingly -- didn't kill me. I've been trying to meet someone new, but it's been very hard. I started dating someone recently, but haven't heard from him in about a week, which I'm taking as a bad sign. So my question: how do I shake this feeling that there is either something terribly wrong with me or that I'm doomed to singlehood for infinity? (Perhaps I should add that I'm in my upper 30's and life is otherwise pretty good, but the ego/self-esteem/self-image is a bit sore these days, even though I've accomplished a bunch in the personal growth area since the big breakup).

Carolyn Hax: If there's something terribly wrong with anyone, I'd say it's with someone who believes that all true love is found, ever so conveniently, between the ages of 18 and 35, and (with exceptions that are in the clear minority) between two unattached people who form a compatible breeding pair. I mean really--the tenacity of fairy tales is mind blowing.

We find passion, for a person or hobby or career or calling, whenever we find it, if ever, and the trick both before and after these discoveries is to take whatever we have and don't have and try to live with some kind of grace.

On that count, my guess is you're doing great.


Rar, In: That would be Gabby Johnson, purveyor of old west gibberish.

Carolyn Hax: Right right. Thank you.


Sick Mom: I'm so sorry you're losing your mom.

You know what? It is about you, too. Your mom is dying. You're grieving already. It's okay to feel sorry for yourself and cry. Especially when, odds are, you're trying really hard to be strong for your mom. I know, I was there.

A real friend will understand and let you have your own little pity party for yourself, your family, your mom. Getting it out as it happens helps so much. Keeping it in hurts more and then it probably would take over.

Just something I noticed when I was going through it.

Carolyn Hax: Really well said, thank you.


Springfield, Va.: Carolyn -- you often advise people who might be suffering from depression to speak to an MD. Based on my own experiences, can I suggest that you refer them to a psychiatrist instead? A "family doctor," however well-meaning, is not necessarily qualified to recognize and diagnose the full range of mental disorders. In my case, my MD put me on a typical antidepressant. Only a couple of years later did a psychiatrist diagnose my real problem as bipolar disorder, which requires a completely different treatment regimen. In fact, the antidepressant was aggravating my manic phases, besides contributing to a sudden 40-pound weight gain and a complete loss of libido that has never really come back.

Carolyn Hax: Oh dear, my initial treatment of this is so far back in the past I've lost the full advice to the shorthand. Thanks for catching it.

The full advice is to talk to your regular MD as a first stop in tracking down what is wrong, not as a one-stop prescription dispenser. What an internist is trained to do is direct traffic, in a diagnostic sense. E.g., if you have chronic headaches, do you need an eye doctor, neurologist, ENT, steadier caffeine intake, migraine pills, detox for those nightly benders, or a combination thereof?

So instead of trying to pick one final destination for everyone, I dodge by picking one -starting- destination for everyone.

Thanks again for the chance to explain this.


Re: Houston, Tex.: I don't know, I'd be annoyed, too, if someone said they were going to call me "right back" and went ahead and went to a spinning class without bothering to call -- the writer's exclamation point suggests she thinks her boyfriend was way out of line for that expectation, and I think that's wrong.

Carolyn Hax: Right. Which is why what they both said in the conversation after the snotty text message is so important. In fact, the interrupted conversation matters too. Had it just been howyadoin-type patter, I can see not caring at all (if I were in the BF's shoes) whether the call back came right away or not; people get busy, forget stuff, whatever. If an "Oops, sorry," from her would have fixed it, though, and she refused to give even that, then she was stoking the fire.


Midwest: You know what would be fun: For you to put about 20 questions from the peanuts up before your on-line chat (maybe the week leading up to) and have the peanuts vote as to which ones they would like to hear your advice on? Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Maybe. But then I'd have to work early.

I've actually weighed doing a Weingarten, and updating the transcripts. It really is frustrating to go back into the outtakes three days later and think, ack, I want to answer/highlight/rebut that. Problem is, the time thing again. I barely find time just to read through the outtakes.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn -- I just read today's response. I found myself wondering if you would ever suggest that a man was entitled to a hot meal or a foot rub for doing something so completely mundane and non-heroic as completing a day (or for that matter, a year) worth of work. Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Are we back on this again? I feel like the gilfriend constantly trying to prove to her jealous boyfriend that she's not cheating.

I'm not cheating, okay? Men are good and bad. Women are good and bad. My advice is good and bad. What say we move on.


Falls Church, Va.: So throwing a magazine(!) is abusive? Are you out of your bleeping mind?

Throwing a punch or slapping someone is abusive. Throwing a magazine isn't abusive, except to someone who's too fragile that they fear paper cuts or something.

Please, let's not over react too much, Carolyn.

Carolyn Hax: Throwing anything AT someone, out of anger, is ALWAYS abusive. Please, let's not get so used to people who can't manage their anger that we, what was that great phrase Sen. Moynihan used ... "define deviancy down" I think it was. He didn't use it in this context, but I like it here. You are underreacting, for reasons only you know (with the possible exception of the person on the receiving end of your last tantrum).


Alexandria, Va.: Carolyn,

Your advice to the writer with the sick mother was so great, especially when you advised her to spend as much time as she could with her.

My mother died of ovarian cancer a number of years ago and we were able to spend a lot of time just talking, telling stories, laughing and crying. We were able to tell each other how much we respected each other as women and as mothers and daughters. I look back at those times now and I am so glad that I was able to take the time to say goodbye. Some of the most precious memories I have are of just sitting with my mother and with my then 2-1/2-year-old daughter and realizing how nice it was to have three generations of women together. My mom was a great mother, she taught me many things as I grew up and the last thing she taught all of us was how to die with grace.

Carolyn Hax: My mom died too soon to meet my kids, so I'm going to go cry now. And hug my mother-in-law, who is watching all of them today while I do this, and has to leave. So, bye, thanks, and type to you next Friday.

Oh, and remember the Feast to defeat ALS, Sept. 12., and I'm recruiting walkers for my Walk to D'Feet ALS team Sun. Oct. 23--details next week.

Have a great weekend.


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