Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 9, 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 offers 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.


Metro Washington, D.C.: Dear Carolyn, I have a friend who regularly comments how r-u-d-e people are. Just like the behavior of others she's commented about, I (and other friends of ours -- hey, and this friend, too, come to think of it!) have been known to be late, fail to respond timely to an invitation, cut someone off driving, etc.

I think these are the normal facts of life -- if you throw a party, some people will be late and you're just happy they came, if you want to meet someone at 8 p.m., things come up, etc. Now her latest is it's rude not to answer your cell phone if you have one!

I would like to apologize for my transgressions and move on, but her regular barrage of opinions on the matter makes me want to stuff her manners up her a--hat.

Should I just ignore her? I do that most of the time... but she never says anything directly to the person.

Carolyn Hax: Some of those things are normal facts of life, some of them are rude, and some of them are dangerous. (Please don't cut me off on purpose because your time is more important than mine, thanks.)

As it happens, constantly talking behind people's backs about how rude they are without addressing your concerns with them directly also qualifies as rude. Plus, you're her friend and the constant audience to all this complaining. So, please feel it's your place to speak up sometime (when the perceived rudeness isn't rudeness at all, like ignoring a cell call, which in fact is often polite. Ask any doctor or symphony conductor). "Don't you think you're being awfully hard on people?" seems gentle enough. That, or finding a new friend whom you actually like to be around.


Detroit, Mich.: I have a job that involves watching televised sporting events and recording information about what happens. Obviously, for someone who loves sports like I do, it's a great job. But my problem is that I can't seem to get friends and family to understand that it is, in fact, work. How can I make it clear that people can't just show up with a six pack to watch the game with me? And what do I say to people who, when I tell them I can't get together this weekend because I'll be watching football for 12 hours a day, respond, "You can't tear yourself away from the TV to spend time with me?"

Carolyn Hax: 1. "If I brought a sixpack to your office, I don't think you'd be as nice to me."

2. "How many times a day do you stand up during the middle of a meeting and announce you're going to go out for a drink with your friends?"

3. You are never going to be heard by people who choose not to listen. Make your point, then just let them misunderstand and hate you for it.

4. If one were to apply for this job, to whom would one send one's resume? Just hypothetically.


Numb, Reston, Va.: Hi Carolyn,

I read your column religiously. My mouth is numb from the filling of numerous cavities this morning. Can you say something uplifting? A favorite quote? Something that might make me smile (with that half of my face that still moves)?

Carolyn Hax: I believe that even with a mouth that's almost completely numb, you can still sing a pretty intelligible "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." Give it a try and write back. (Extra points if you're in a cubicle.)


Washington, D.C.: I have a wide circle of friends and am happy to introduce people from one group to another. An old friend of mine has made efforts to cultivate her own friendships with everyone I've introduced her to (e-mail, inviting them to parties, etc) to a point where I'm starting to feel like her personal friendship recruitment service without getting much back. And I'll admit some insecurity that they both will like eachother more than me (especially because she's making such a strong outreach effort to them). I feel very eigth grade about this. Advice on ways I can stop feeling insecure? Anything I can say/do to address the resentment I'm feeling towards this friend?

Carolyn Hax: You have a wide circle of friends on your own, she needs to borrow them from you. She will not always have you, but you will. Let her do her thing.

Besides, eventually she will either move away, stay put while you move away, make enough friends not to need to keep calling people, or alienate the new people just as she's alienated you. Things are very unlikely to remain as they are at this moment.


Southern Maryland: Carolyn,

You've said before that therapy is not a weakness. Have you ever heard of the concept of therapy as shameful?

When I was 10, my parents sent me to a child guidance clinic. For some odd reason, the clinic's sessions were during the school day. So for each appointment, my mother had to come and pull me out of class. My classmates naturally wanted to know where I was going, and my parents forbid me from telling the truth. Instead, I was told to say that I was going to "the doctor."

At the time, I wasn't even told why I was being seen at the clinic. I assumed it had to do with being picked on regularly in school. Years later I asked and my parents mumbled something about me having trouble getting along with my classmates.

Carolyn Hax: Mental-health care has been seen as shameful in some circles as recently as, um, now. This is exactly why I keep beating the point that seeking this care is not an admission of weakness.

I don't know how old you are now, but it could be your parents were responding to the prevailing view of counseling, which was widely seen as a dirty secret as recently as the '80s. It could also be that they felt it was none of anyone's business, which was legit then and would still be legit now. Just because you want to keep something private doesn't make it shameful.

And, last, it could also have been that your parents were already concerned that kids were picking on you, and didn't want to give them more ammo. I can't think of a parent 20 years ago, now, or 20 years from now who wouldn't want to protect you under those circumstances.

So, if your parents' secretiveness fed into an ongoing misconception that therapy is shameful, then please use these possibilities to give the institution another look.


Grand Rapids, Mich.: Our local paper carries your column, but there's only one letter answered each time. Are you just lazy or are they cheating us out of the full column? If the latter, what can we (or you) do to get us the whole thing? Thanks. You could always just read online: Tell Me About It column archive

Carolyn Hax: I have a word count I have to meet for each column, so if you're getting less, then your local paper is cutting it. The best way to change anything with your local paper is to write a letter to the editor, cc'd to the editor of the section you're writing about.

Or, you could just do what Liz says (since we all do what Liz says), but your local paper might not take to kindly to my advocating that.


Los Angeles, Calif.: Carolyn, I have a friend whose mother is currently quite ill and very possibly near death - which I found out via email. I am notoriously bad at finding the right thing to say at times like these. Any ideas on good phrases, gestures to make? Please help!

Carolyn Hax: If you are close, call and say the friend/family is in your thoughts and is there anything you can do to help, like tend to small errands or bring dinner for everyone. If this is more an acquaintance than a close friend, send a note saying the same.

General note, very few people know the right thing to say at all the right times. That's why it's so important just to show up and show you care.


Fort Worth, Tex.: Carolyn --

My girlfriend was molested at age 14 and has understandable issues with sex. She professes and shows interest, but can't actually go through with it. We're very close emotionally, and agree getting comfortable physically is an important step. What can I do to make her more comfortable?

Carolyn Hax: Listen to her. Follow her lead. Don't push. Do your homework on sexual abuse and its aftereffects. Sincerity on all counts will help her feel safe, and feeling safe is what she's going to need before she's ready to go any further sexually.

And for you, since it's also important for you to take care of yourself: Pay attention also to her way of dealing with her problem. Your patience/sacrifice/hopes should be in proportion to her effort to get better. Meaning, if she has sought counseling and is making progress and communicating with you and etc., then the signs that she'll be able to become a full partner to you are encouraging, and I hope you'll give her all the time she needs. But if she's hiding from or behind this and expecting you to do all the accommodating, then you might have to realize there's a limit to how much better things will get.


Re: Friendship Recruitment Service: Carolyn,

I see some of myself in that poster's comments, and now I'm worried. Is acquiring new friends through your other friends so bad? I have a few close friends who are more outgoing than I am, and when I think about, many of the newer people in my life are introduced to me by my more outgoing friends. I have my own casual friends, too, from work and volunteer activities, but as far as new people in my main social circle, I'm never the one that introduces them to the group. And I do end up being friends with these newer people. I've always thought of it as shyness and didn't realize it might get on people's nerves. Should I give this more thought?

Carolyn Hax: I think a lot of people are on this fine line and suddenly wondering. To me, you cross the line when you reach out pretty much to every person your more outgoing friends introduce to you, or when you reach out without also inviting your recruiters. (Doesn't have to be every time, obviously, but enough so that you avoid the appearance of, "Seeya, sucker, thanks for the new friends.")

I do think recruiters also have to keep things in perspective, and realize it's tough to meet people, and anyone who's good at should feel more lucky than victimized. And understand that some of the people who meet through them will get along better than they ever did with either party. That you can never avoid.


Florida: I also think it's rude not to answer your cell phone if you have one (unless there's something going on like a meeting or something). You choose to give your number out to people... if you don't want people calling you, don't give out your number to them. You also buy a cell phone because of the accessibility it provides.

Perhaps I am slightly jaded regarding this rude behavior, as my "boyfriend" is choosing to break up with me by refusing to answer his cell.

Carolyn Hax: No no no no no. Don't twist kindness and courtesy just because someone's maybe being a jerk to you. If you're not in a position, or even a mood, to to talk to me, please don't pick up your phone. Let me leave my message and go about my day blissfully unaware that I just called at a terrible time. I give out my number, I want people to call, but that doesn't mean I'm making myself available to them every waking minute of my every day. Sometimes I like to drive safely, place an order intelligibly, finish a conversation, drink my coffee in peace.

Now: Stop calling his cell. He should have picked up or called you back, but it's also possible he legitimately couldn't talk or wasn't ready to and then saw you called him 10 times in 8 minutes or whatever and now doesn't want to talk. Childish, a bit, but sympathetically so. He knows you want to talk to him. If he is worth talking to, he will get back to you.


Favorite Columnville: Hey -- just curious... have many of us (besides me) responded with our favorite column for your future book?

Carolyn Hax: So many of you that I haven't been able yet to email you all with my thanks. I was going to say as much at the end today, but you beat me to it. So, thanks!


Detroit, Mich.: Carolyn, today started out great, until one of my clients asked me, "Are you pregnant?" I was completely mortified as I am NOT pregnant, but laughed it off. I know I've gained a lot of weight in the last three months due to medication change but don't feel like explaining it to her. I have to see her again tomorrow and I'm not sure I can keep a stiff upper lip about this, as her comment really made me feel horrible. Any suggestions from you or the peanut gallery on staying professional?

Carolyn Hax: Don't beat yourself up so much. If you say you gained weight, then I believe you, but a lot of styles right now are loose around the waist and really hard to distinguish from maternity. Plus, pregnant women, IMHO, look great in a way that people who are just bummed about putting on extra pounds do not. So, if your medication was going to do a number on you, there wasn't a whole lot you could do about it, so try to take some comfort in its being perceived, at least by this one client, as a happy thing.

This one client, by the way, feels horrible too.


Carolyn Hax: I still have a pulse, I just had a post go flooey on me and it took a while to get it to work.


New England: Carolyn, I'm in my late 20s and just kind of generally uneasy about the direction of my life and the many unknowns. Does it get any easier in your 30s? Your column is my religion, by the way.

Carolyn Hax: No wonder you're uneasy.

It gets easier and harder. If it helps, I'd take 30s any day--but a lot of that comes from a better appreciation for, and attitude toward, unknowns. My 20s attitude was, ooh, unknowns, scary; my 30s epiphany was, yoo-hoo, there is no such thing as a known. (Except the usual death, taxes and highlights are expensive to maintain.)

What's scary to me now is the idea of following some rigid path as a buffer against unknowns. You still have just as many unknowns as before (see above), but you're stuck in something that doesn't suit you. Let your expectations go, follow your nature (within the bounds of law, civic responsibility and good taste), and see what happens.


Portland, Ore.: I'm in my upper 30s and am in great shape. I've always been very involved in sports and outdoor activities and I also eat well, and as a result, I have always been slender. At this point in my life, I am completely sick of hearing people say, "Oh, you're so LUCKY you're thin," especially when I hear it from friends who never exercise. I actually gave a snotty response to a co-worker I barely know today. So what is a polite response to this? I feel offended when people chalk it up to luck (like many, I find going to the gym boring and hard work, but I do it because staying fit is important to me), but I don't want to be snotty either.

Carolyn Hax: "Thanks."

You did this for yourself, so please feel free to keep it that way.


RE: Detroit: I had a coworker make a really good save from a similar comment. She asked if I was the one who just had the baby, and when I laughed shakily and said my baby was 10 years old, she just said, "You know, I thought that couldn't be you. No way you could get back in shape so fast!" We both saved face. Very elegant.

Carolyn Hax: She's my hero.


Boston, Mass.: Hi Carolyn,

I was hoping for advice from you and Zuzu on this one. Yesterday, I found a stray dog on the side of the road. I took her straight to the vet, who told me that she's half-starved and had been beaten but she's basically OK. (Side rant: who would beat a helpless dog?) The dog is absolutely the sweetest girl, and I want to adopt her.

So, it turns out, she's an American Staffordshire Terrier, and the vet said inexperienced dog owners should never, ever have pit bulls. Since I've never had a dog and know nothing about them (the vet had to tell me the breed), I called a few shelters. But it looks horribly bleak -- all the shelters said they either can't take pit bulls in the first place, or have an incredibly hard time placing them and she would probably end up euthanized.

I love this dog, but don't want to give her a bad life because I don't know what I'm doing in raising her. But I can't bear to give her to a shetler after what they told me. None of my friends are able to take her in, either. So, what should I do here? Is there another option I haven't thought of?

Thanks Carolyn

Carolyn Hax: You could talk to a RESPONSIBLE AmStaff breeder or three, whom you can find by asking around, starting with the vet; you could call around RESPONSIBLE obedience schools to see if anyone on staff specializes in this or other strong breeds; you can hit the Internet for breed-specific rescue groups (tho I do wonder if the pit/staffy ones are inundated); you could wait to see what the peanuts say. If you really take this seriously AND have the temperament and circumstances that would allow you to be a firm, responsible, educated dog owner, you could give this dog a good life. But these are ifs best discussed and worked out with people who know what they're doing--and are also able to assess the temperament of the doggie.

Yay for you for sticking with this. Would that we were all so humane and committed.


I thought we were all adults here...: Hi Carolyn,

I just found out that a friend is complaining about me and my ex to other friends - she's letting folks know that she's angry with us. She has yet to say anything at all to me. (Last I heard from her, she was all happy that Ex and I were getting a real friendship sorted out and under way.)

I'm going to call her, and ask what's going on - why is she angry, what have we seemingly done, and why is she telling others and not me/us?

So here's my question: do I call Ex and ask what, if anything, he's heard about this from her? Or do I leave him out of it all until and unless she says something that I think he needs to know? I haven't seen or spoken with her since June, he has - he's related some conversational bits to me. And I think that if she told him she was angry with something the two of us had done he'd've told me. So, do I call and ask him, first, or just call her and let her know that I've been getting an earful from others?

Unfortunately, all this has to happen over the phone because of geography, none of us are within a 2 hour driving range of any of the others; I'm a full day's drive away or I'd be doing this in person.


Carolyn Hax: This is between you and the middle schooler. Next time you talk to the ex, you can mention it.

Or you could just wave your hand and make it all go away. That's the beauty of all those miles.


"Lucky" to be thin: I usually say "Thanks but unfortunately I have to eat right and work out just like everyone else." Said with a laugh and in a tone of voice that hopefully communicates that I don't think I am somehow superior to the other person. Is this appropriate?

Carolyn Hax: I get the thinking behind it, I think--you want to be modest, seem like everybody else? But it's not quite accurate, since some people can eat crap and do nothing and stay lean, and it's not quite necessary.

It's a compliment, so, take the compliment. "Thanks."

And if it's a barbed compliment, all the more reason to take it as a plain compliment. Frustrate the hell out of people.


Portland IS Lucky: Without going into the "why should slenderness be valued so highly" debate, I would just like to point out that I know people who exercise, eat right, and are overweight. Fat happens. If you follow a certain lifestyle to obtain a certian physique, it's still a crapshoot.

Carolyn Hax: Well said, thanks.


Vienna, Va.:

For the Staffordshire Terrier rescuer:

Staffordshire Terrier Club of America Rescue Committee Chairperson

Rachel Kruidenier

27451 WCR # 73

Eaton, CO 80615

Carolyn Hax: Mwa! Thanks.


AmStaff: Hot Water Rescue specializes in the big dogs that shelters euthanize. They are on the web.

Carolyn Hax: Yay yay. Thank you.


To Boston: I'm just reminding people that pit bulls can be wonderful dogs. When I was a little girl I had numerous incidents with dogs while selling Girl Scout Cookies and became terrified of them. The dog that got me over my fear was my aunt's pit bull, who thought she was a lap dog (note: she was also a guard dog) and who was also wonderful with small children. What matters most is the master and how a dog is trained. Incidentally, the second dog I was comfortable around was a Rottweiler.

Carolyn Hax: And of course there's Boo, who's the gentlest creature of all. (Unless an off-leash dog charges her bare-fanged when she's on leash, but that's why you talk to the breeders and take obedience training seriously.)



pit bull: I am the owner of a mixed breed pit bull, took her in as a puppy, didn't know what she was. I grew up with dogs but she has been a challenge. 5 years later we are good and I couldn't imagine life without her. Definately recommend special training, mine is too smart for her own good and we had to work on who was alpha. Now I know her and know what too expect. It can be done and be rewarding but do be careful. Mine doesn't like other dogs, she will not go after them but if they don't leave her alone she will attack and it's scary to see, although she has never hurt one, just bowls them over. I keep her on her lease at all times with a training collar, scary to look at but better than a choker and I am able to maintain control of her at all times. It's work but worth it.

Carolyn Hax: The realistic side of, "It depends on how they're trained." Tx.


Washington, D.C.: I'm the friend that is nice. Always looks out for others. Thinks of everyone else. My problem is that because everyone is so used to be being "perfect," if I slip for whatever reason, there are a few people who can't handle it. I'm in a bad mood today because I keep thinking, people do stupid stuff all the time, why am I the only one who's not allowed (or the only one who notices)?


Carolyn Hax: Two questions. Is it possible your kindness attracts users, and you need to be more careful to whom you choose to give so much? That's the obvious one. Or is it possible you've set such high expectations of yourself that you're overreacting to people's reactions, and perceiving "can't handle it" where really people are reacting okay?

Just a couple of things to think about.


Arlington, Va.: For the person who watches sporting events, I bet you do statistics which require a lot of math skills. Why not tell people you do stats and rarely mention the football?

Carolyn Hax: I suppose. But that seems to me like saying, "New Haven" when you're asked where you went to college, because you don't want to get the high-eyebrows response to "Yale." Better just to say what it is and get the reaction you get.


RE: Doesn't know what to say: I was also unsure of what to say people who were facing the illness or death of a loved one. This summer, I was one of those people. My father passed away and I was blown away by the kindness of our friends and family. My personal bias is that sometimes a phone call can be hard for both parties -- hard to know what to say, may be a bad time -- but I appreciated every one. I have to admit that I really cherished notes and cards that people sent that basically just read, "Thinking of you."

Carolyn Hax: Anything anything anything. Can't say it enough. Can't do it enough, either, since I know I've been guilty myself of disappearing during other people's grief, which is why I have special warm feelings for the people who came through for me during mine but haven't banished those who didn't.


Carolyn Hax: But people who don't answer their cell phones, boy, they are WAY off my list.


Okemos, Mich.: Re: Dogs/Pittbulls Its important for anyone considering an abused animal to be aware that they have special needs and often more challenging dispositions. Reguardless of breeds. I lived with a previously abused dog in college who was a beagle (an otherwise great, friendly bread)- she would snap on a dime for no reason other than she felt like it. If you are considering having kids while you would have the dog please give it careful consideration many people end up putting the dog down because it snaps at a kid being a kid.

Carolyn Hax: Yes yes, very true and important, thanks, especially since this is no beagle. But not all abused dogs do this, so it's important to take the time to find out.


Seattle, Wash.: My husband travels for work and is usually gone 2-4 nights during the week, so I usually save my weekends for plans with friends who want to see both of us, and make plans with friends who only want to see me when he is out of town. In your opinion is this "revolving my life around my man?" (implied co-dependency)

Thanks, Thought I WAS Independent... Sheesh!

Carolyn Hax: So one of these weekdays-only friends took a shot at you? Ignore it. We all do what works.


Worse than not pregnant.: If you think being mistaken for pregnant is bad, about two weeks after I had my son I was walking proudly down the hall at work with him and a coworker (not someone I knew) said "OH! Is this your little grandbaby?" I was speeechless.

Carolyn Hax: Can't top this one. Thanks for appreciating that intense personal pain should never get in the way of a great story.

And speaking of intense personal pain, I'm hungry. Bye, thanks everbuddy and type to you next Friday.

Oh, and somebody asked--yes, still welcoming all votes for favorite past columns, and chat stuff too if you saved it. Thanks again.


Alexandria VA: Hi Carolyn!

I have a question I need some good advice on. I have a friend who lives in Florida with her husband. They have 3 small children together. She is starting to become terrified of the man, he has cheated on her, physically assaulted her (not TOO badly...yet), and seems to have no care of their children's welfare at all. The problem is this - he controls their money, and thus she cannot afford a lawyer. What recourse does she have? She is desperate to leave the guy (he's been determined to have some mental issues by their counselor) but doesn't know how, since she can't afford it. Do you, or anyone else, know how to help her on this? I fear for her safety. Thank you.

Carolyn Hax: Call the hotlines--1-800-799-SAFE and 1-800-656-HOPE, and check ask about local resources, legal, financial and otherwise, available to abused victims and their families. Money control is a standard element of domestic abuse, and so any centers, etc., that are in the business of getting people and kids safely out of these homes are also prepared to handle the money problem. Just make sure you both understand that a domestic abuse situation can get even more dangerous when a person attempts to leave, so no one can afford to get sloppy.


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