Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 23, 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.


Herndon, Va.: As a Catholic, I have to disagree somewhat with your response to Weddingsville. My parents also expect me to have a large, family wedding when I get married. A wedding brings two families together, which involves specific religious and cultural traditions they want to honor. These traditions are at least as important, if not more, then my personal preferences.

I don't see her fiances reasons as "mushy, fear-driven pandering" as you suggested, but as a desire to honor his families wishes about an event that''s important to them, too. That carries just as much weight as her wish for a small, simple ceremony. A wedding ceremony that takes into account both families wishes for the day, not just the bride and grooms, would provide a much better start to their union.

Carolyn Hax: I agree with all of that. Well said.

But that's because you have a clear idea of what you want and why. In the case of the letter I published, the groom is like your indecisive son--he knows it means a lot to YOU, but hasn't formed his own opinion. At least, from the information we're given. So until his beliefs form into his beliefs, vs. a vague sense of responsibility for others' beliefs that he wants his nonbelieving in-laws to finance for him, they're filed under mushy, fear driven pandering.


Carolyn Hax: Oh, and hi everybody.


Portland, Ore.: You probably won't answer this, but I am 12 years old. And I want to know what to say when a guys threatens and bugs me.

Carolyn Hax: Hi. I am answering this. Thanks for asking.

When you feel threatened, by anyone, locate the nearest trusted adult (parent, teacher, coach, principal, guidance counselor?) and explain exactly what you're feeling and why. And if you aren't taken seriously by that adult, locate the next closest one and try again. And so on. Don't worry that you might be overreacting or looking or sounding stupid. It is never stupid to trust your instincts and speak up on your own behalf. Please trust me on this, and find that adult, and write back to us to tell us how it went.


Dadsville, Va.: Thanks for all the responses last week, including yours Carolyn.

My wife and I have talked long and hard about what it would mean to have kids, the changes, the fears etc. But it's one thing to talk about something in the abstract and another to deal with the reality. My wife will make an excellent mother and she seems to think I'll be a great dad. And since I consider her an excellent judge of people I guess I have to accept that I will be -- even if the responsibly is a little frightening.

I didn't get to read the chat until later, but it seemed that I might have indirectly started some debate on what it means to be a parent.

For me being a parent is not a 24/7 job for the next 18 years -- but maybe close for a short while.

Both parents need time for themselves and each other. Just as being married doesn't mean I never do anything without my wife, being a parent doesn't mean being with my kid(s -- maybe?) all the time. Kids have to learn to get by in the world without their parents - we can't shield them from everything until we die. To create a fully functioning adult (which is the aim surely?) the good and the bad elements of the world need to be introduced to kids, tweens, teenagers and adolescents in a gradual process.

Carolyn Hax: You're welcome. Thanks for checking back in, and for your sane view on a parent's responsibility. You'd be surprised at how many people disagree, or at least how many wildly different courses of action claim the same philosophical core. But then, I guess that's what last week was about.

Oh, and if you arent' a little frightened by the responsibility of being a parent, you're either cavalier or catatonic. Sounds like you'll be fine. (And when you're feeling least sure of that, think about all the parents you knew about when you were a kid, and how they all managed to make it work somehow. Without car seats, no less.)


Kansas City: When and how is the best time to tell your girlfriend that um you cross dress?

Carolyn Hax: Soon, in men's clothing.


Ultimatumland: Online only please:

So, I've spent two years in a fairly miserable marriage where I was taken for granted. Previous efforts to communicate my unhappiness failed, so I gave my husband an ultimatum: either things get better by the end of the year, or I'm leaving him and going back to my home city.

I know ultimatums aren't the most mature way of doing things, but from previous experience he's the sort of person who needs to be shocked into recognizing a problem. Also, I knew I could only take a few more months of being miserable, and didn't want to have a "secret ultimatum" -- he deserves a chance to do better, rather than me keeping a mental scorecard and bailing without any notice. He has the right to know what's wrong.

So now he's cleaning up his act, which brings me to my question. How do you tell the difference between genuine change and change out of fear? He's very afraid of losing me, and has been bending over backwards to make me happy. How do I know if these changes will stick?

Carolyn Hax: Time. You've gotten what you asked, and now it's your turn to see if that's enough.

If it helps, I don't think I've ever come across an example of insincere change that lasted more than a few flips of the calendar. You'll know soon enough.


I Should Smarter than this, too: Dear Carolyn,

I don't want to beat a dead horse, but I am still pondering the whole crummy relationship topic. I've been in a crummy relationship for a while and, though it appears to be finally ending, I just can't seem to let go emotionally. He is critical, self-righteous and socially unacceptable in many ways. And I love him. We are wrong for each other and I am convinced I would lead an unhappy life if I stay with him... WHY IN THE WORLD can't I let go?!

You suggested that there's a need the crummy relationship is fulfilling. That one should find the need, find the souce and fix it. Please elaborate on this. I don't know how to find the need, let alone fix it.

Feeling Crummy

Carolyn Hax: Are you ... the child of a critical and self-righteous parent, and seeking your BF's approval as a proxy for that parent's?

Are you just so used to this kind of treatment that it's your natural comfort zone, even though you "know" it shouldn't be?

Are you the child of an alcoholic?

Do you find yourself collecting broken people and trying to fix them? Is your sense of success or failure as a person closely tied to how each project is going?

Does your ego need for this relationship to appear successful--e.g., because everyone always slams your taste in men and you're sick of being treated like a judgment emergency?

Are you afraid uncritical, well-adjusted people are going to spot you for a freak and want nothing to do with you?

Or, do you find well-adjusted people boring?

Are you critical and self-righteous inside but afraid to be that way in public, so you get a vicarious something from him?

If any of these rings a bell, that's step one. Step two might come naturally as an extension of that eureka moment, but if it doesn't, or if there is no eureka moment, that's where (competent) therapy can save you from a lot of false starts and dead ends.


Trans-partner: My beau told me about his alter-ego on the third date... but I'd had a sneak-preview due to Halloween costume stories.

Sooner is better. Education is excellent. So many points on the spectrum (from kink to gender dysphoria)

Carolyn Hax: A 'nut for every need. Thanks for the mini education. If you will.


Ultimatum: But, isn't that the general problem with ultimatums? You never know if the person is doing X because they want/need to, or if it's only because of the ultimatum. Seems to always make their actions a little hollow.

Carolyn Hax: Righto. But it does seem as if this person knew whom she was dealing with, and that her choices were between leaving or giving the guy one last kick in the butt, which makes an ultimatum a logical, if still not ideal, choice. (For a situation that had no ideal choices left.)


Silver Spring, Md.: I can't find my car keys. Where are they?

Carolyn Hax: Probably right where you left them.


42.72 N, 73.71 W: In your column a few weeks back, you wrote that "textbook passive aggressive is someone who avoids taking a direct stand and instead makes his point through inaction or procrastination." But how do you distinguish between genuine PA and someone who is honestly forgetful, disorganized, overcommitted, lazy, depressed, or some combination?

Carolyn Hax: Question With a Question, CT:

Does it matter which is which, when the end result is the same?


Silver Spring, Md.: My friend's mom hits on me incessantly. How can I politely tell her no while not losing my friend?

Carolyn Hax: Help, we've fallen into a B movie and we can't get up!

Say no politely, and accept that the survival of the friendship may already be out of your hands.


Carolyn Hax: It might also be possible just to pretend the hittings-on aren't really happening. The oh-you're-such-a-kidder approach. But if you've already exhausted that possibility, then we're back to saying no and ducking for cover.


Re: Ultimatimland: I gave my ex-husband the same kind of ultimatim. There was a honeymoon period that was very nice. About a month. Then we were back to the same old thing.

When I told him I was leaving, he said I had never given him any notice that anything was wrong! :::snort::: So I pointed back to the ultimatim and honeymoon period. Sigh.

Carolyn Hax: Yeah. The old I-was-blindsided response. Which may be infuriating at first but is really just sad, because it's true: Had the guy actually heard what you were saying, you wouldn't have felt the need to leave. So it makes you both right at a time when it no longer matters who's right.


Anonymous: I had an ephipany last week that maybe I didn't want to stay in the D.C. area forever and that, in fact, it would be nice to move back to the Boston area where I grew up and I have many friends and family. I broached the subject with the hubby and to my surprise, he's in favor of it. The sticky part is this: his dad is not well. I would never ever expect him to move away from his dad and of course he feels the same way. So now we have this planned move that I'm looking forward to and in order for it to happen, his dad has to die, which would be awful. I feel horribly guilty.

Should I not have brought it up? Should we shelve the discussion? Do I flog myself?

Carolyn Hax: None of the above. Life happens, and that includes death. Every single time, in fact. The more frank you can be about death while also never losing sight of each other's feelings, the better you'll be able to weather it, support each other through it, and make good decisions around it. "It's important that we be here for your dad, and who knows what else can happen, so maybe we should think of Boston as part of a long-term plan." Then see how he feels about that.


Phoenix, Ariz.: Sitting in my home office listening to the carpet cleaner talk to himself... loudly. Now he's singing. How much should I tip?

Carolyn Hax: A lot. A lot plus more if the singing is really bad.


Anywhere, USA: How do you get to the point where you are able to turn the other cheek and be "bigger person", e.g. when an ex is rude with you and always has to have the last word, etc.? I really want to send a scathing response to his email because he thinks that I care way more than I do, but I also just want to move on. I hate the fact that I am even considering emailing him. Any thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: He's pushing your buttons in hope of that exact response from you. Don't give him the satisfaction. He is a big dried puffy dandelion, to which your answer is, whooooooo ...


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

Not too long ago turned I down the offer of a friend to start dating. Am crazy about the person but very unsure of compatibility and am really too preoccupied with other major events in my life to start a relationship right now. Now he's dating someone new and I'm jealous. I didn't want him now anyway for some legit reasons, so why can't I make the jealousy feelings go away? Do I just wait it out until the mention of the new relationship doesn't make me upset? Is there something I can do to speed up this process? Staying preoccupied doesn't seem to help. I have the same reaction every time the relationship comes up. I am not a jealous person generally, which is why i'm aggravated at my response.

Carolyn Hax: Well wait a minute. I know I've been awfully hard on jealousy over the years, and frankly I've meant every word of it. But that doesn't mean every word makes for a complete picture of jealousy. It's like anger--without focus and in excess, it's a problem that needs to be addressed. But when it flares up on occasion and for very specific reasons, it's giving you valuable information about yourself and your surroundings, no different from any other emotion.

When you are crazy about someone, you want it to be mutual. You don't want to watch that someone go off and be crazy about someone else. It's disappointing, painful, disorienting, and it's supposed to make you feel jealous.

So listen to it, and figure out what it's telling you about yourself and your surroundings. You're obviously the only one in a position to call it, but my top two candidates are that you're regretting your decision to postpone him in favor of life events and seeing that feelings should trump schedules; or that you're seeing, live and in stereo, that you made exactly the right decision because he wasn't as crazy about you as you had assumed he was.

If you have to, talk to him to find out. As bluntly as needed to learn what you need to get on with ... whatever.


Bored and unmotivated: I took today off to get some projects done and I'm just sitting on the couch watching reruns. And I like it. But I'm feeling guilty because I have tons of stuff to do. It can wait until tomorrow. It can wait until next year. But next year when I'm still sitting on the couch doing nothing I'm going to whine about not getting anywhere. How do you get/stay motivated? I used to be really active and excited about whatever projects I had going... and now I just want to be entertained.

Carolyn Hax: Declare today as your entertainment day (and tomorrow, too, if you need it) and start a project first thing Sunday. Better to use a day for rest than to squander it denying you need rest.


Arlington, Va.: How important do you think it is to be open about past mental health issues with your significant other? My boyfriend was hosptitalized twice while in college. This was nine years ago, before I knew him. He doesn't want to share the details of why. He's still dealing with depression, but takes meds responsibly and is in therapy. We've been dating for two years and are starting to see a future together. Should I just accept the fact that he doesn't want to talk about it?

Carolyn Hax: Where's a wishy-washy "you know best what you need here" response when I need it?

No. Do not accept that fact. You deserve someone you can love completely, he deserves someone who can love him completely, and neither of you gets that if he withholds an entire swath of himself.

Plus there's the matter of your helping him be well. He needs an informed partner for that.


Ultimatum: Where's the line between ultimatum ("change or else") and full disclosure on deal-breakers ("You have a right to know how serious I think this problem is. It has the potential to drive me away from you")?

Are tehse two things the same?

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, but I vastly prefer the rephrasing. Don't you? Less of a threat and more of a, "Here's something you're entitled to know" (before the freight train comes through the living room." Again, we're talking about a narrowly defined situation where an ulimatum and its gentler siblings are appropriate--so narrowly defined that if it's possible you won't want to stay even if you get what you want, then you have to skip the ultimatum and figure out a plan b.


RE: Friend's Mom: We want to find out how old the questioner is, no? 'Cause if he (or she) is under 18, then this is really creepy and may warrant a phone call to some authority or other.

Carolyn Hax: Let's go with the same trusted-adult plan as explained to the 12-year-old, if the questioner is young-teen-ish or if the questioner is older teens but the situation has the person feeling powerless or threatened.


Re: I should be smarter than this : Not to beat another dead horse, either, but I second your suggestion of therapy. It helps you see the patterns that might not otherwise be visible, or the place in you that somehow finds a crummy relationship satisfying. And so often the "I should be smarter than this" kind of thinking gets in the way of seeking exactly the kind of help we need - because, I think, we confuse the various forms of intelligence. You can be a rocket scientist and still lack some emotional awareness, and the therapy can help develop the latter. The fact is, we focus on educating our kids out the kazoo, but we spare very little time for emotional education, and that's the gap that therapy can fill. We all have blind spots, childhood hurts we carry, patterns we develop early that we can never quite let go of and yet which make us unhappy - and therapy can help. Bottom line: If you're stuck and you can't figure out why, don't assume you're too smart for therapy - brain power doesn't have anything to do with it.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you, thank you. For those still skeptical, but not skeptical of sending a question my way, please realize that both are different branches of the same tree. We're outsiders trying to see something that you may have missed, either because you're standing too close to see it or because your experience never taught you to look for it. I know my complete lack of education, knowledge, training and access to your insurance information makes me the more appealing choice, but a therapist can get into so much that I can't, just by virtue of seeing you, listening to you, asking you questions and repeating all three till you get somewhere.


Santa Monica, Calif.: Hi Carolyn,

(Online only, please).

My husband has weathered a controlling and abusive relationship with his mom for many years. Growing up, he and his three sisters did a lot of eggshell walking.

Now that a wife is on the scene, she's really flipped her lid. The past four years of holidays have been a nightmare because instead of spending the entire time with her we've chosen to split it with my folks as well.

Last Easter, she accused me of being controlling and manipulative. She screamed and cursed at me. My husband laced into her, then left with me.

His dad, his grandfather, and two out of three of his sisters are so under Mamma's spell that they won't have anything to do with him if he "sides with that woman." (moi)

I know he feels terrible over the loss of all of them at once but he's made it clear to everyone that in this case his wife comes first.

After a few months of hysterical e-mails and a couple more months of blessed silence, Mamma has started up again because Turkey Day (you know, when we get together with all of those damn turkeys) is approaching.

We feel so torn. My husband wants to get her to leave us alone. She's getting a little stalkerish - middle of the night sobbing phone calls, drive bys past our house...but he misses the rest of his family.

Sink or swim? What do we do? (Yes, he tried family counseling. It didn't work).

Carolyn Hax: Oh my goodness. He will probably find that the only way to keep from getting sucked into the vortex is to sever his ties completely, but I think anyone who has ever done it--even and maybe especially those who are glad they did it--will agree that you have to exhaust all possible alternatives first. So, the alternative I see is for him to lay out a clear, written, side-with-neither-side plan for the holidays--"we will be here from the Wth to the Xth, and there from the Yth to the Zth"--throw in a "home by ourselves" as needed, without apology--and not stray from it and just let everybody freak.

Of course there will be a point that you get subjected to more venom than you or he should stand for, and if you're already there, then sever. Sad, sad, sad.

Oh, and you should both read "The Gift of Fear" ASAP. Excellent information on, and guidance for responding to, controlling behavior like his mother's.


Chevy Chase, Md.: Alas, you have one advantage over therapists. Should I fill out a federal government employment form, I don't have to tell them that I've asked you for advice, while I am supposed to write down if I've ever seen a psychologist for ANY reason and why.

I am not required to disclose hormonal problems (diabetes), neurological problems, etc. on a job application, but I have to disclose (for instance) that I saw a shrink over divorce problems? Blearggghhh...

Carolyn Hax: You know, I think it's time this requirement saw the light of 2005. How to go about getting something like that wiped out? Obviously it needs to stick around for certain security clearances, but only if it allows for explanation so employers can differentiate between potential instability and grief counseling/situational depression/emotional education-type stuff. I mean cheez.


Mental Health Issues Boyfriend: The standard is, you get hospitalized for mental health issues if you're considered an imminent threat to yourself or others.

Practically speaking, that probably means he either tried to kill himself, or felt bad enough that he thought he might harm himself or somebody else. The poster doesn't say whether it was voluntary or involuntary - which means we don't know whose judgment was involved.

I don't think this fact, without context, is a dealbreaker. But - he can't talk about this significant life event, in any way, nine years later, with the person he's considering spending his entire future with?

Knowing that, how on earth could you feel comfortable that he'd say something to you if the harming self or others feelings came back? Which, statistically speaking, they are likely to do with someone who has already suffered a major depressive episode.

If they haven't already.

Carolyn Hax: I think you covered it all, thanks.


Whoa: I hope you just didn't give the green light to Arlington to browbeat her boyfriend until he reveals the reason for his hospitalizations and therapy. She may certainly deserve full disclosure, but that's a case of when HE'S ready, not when she wants to know, and if that's never, well, perhaps this isn't the relationship for it. He's in therapy - for something that occurred before she was in his life. When he feels safe enough he'll share. She doesn't get to go back to him with "Carolyn says you need to tell me."

Carolyn Hax: You know what, though? If that's her way of dealing, then HE should find that out now. That's the beauty of be-yourself-ism. It includes the way you incorporate outside advice.

Not that I'm trying to absolve myself of responsibility to advise ... responsibly? But your filters and skepticism and judgment need to be in place, too.


Silver Spring, Md.: Must I, for ethical purposes, have in mind affirmative action when selecting members to join my Sunday softball team?

Carolyn Hax: Yes, and it must include other species as well. Just because dogs don't have opposable thumbs doesn't mean they're not entitled to a little romp around the diamond.


Severing ties with mom...: I've pretty much severed all ties with my dad, who has serious untreated mental illness problems and is a very unpleasant person to be with. You said we should exhaust all other options before we do that. I'm not sure that I've exhausted every single option, but I feel pretty confident that all those un-exhausted options would fail. So should I keep trying or give up?

Carolyn Hax: I guess I should have specified feasible options. If in your best judgment an "option" is determined to be a non-starter, then of course you can trust your judgment and not start it. I wouldn't even define it as an option.

You can also trust your judgment and say, "$%^& Carolyn, I'm done." The "should" was intended merely as an inoculation against YOUR feelings of guilt and regret. If you've tried beyond the point of fearing those things, then who cares what I think. And if you're not sure, err on the side of caution (ie, making the effort) till you are.


Hospitals only for Dangerous, States of Mind?: Can't a person be hospitalized for OTHER non-dangerous mental health reasons, e.g. anorexia, crippling depression, substance abuse, other problems that do NOT necessarily mean a judgment was made that they were dangerous to themselves or others (except that, I suppose, any mental health problem is, by definition, "dangerous" to one's health . . .)? The last poster seemed a tad too skittish about mental health treatment that involved hospitalization. Seems to me -- could be almost anything. The partner should still ask, but I don't think we need to scare him/her about the "Danger" question. I think the last poster might be thinking that you're only hospitalized INVOLUNTARILY if you're a danger to yourself or others -- we don't know if this boyfriend was hospitalized involuntarily or not.

Carolyn Hax: I see all those reasons you listed as dangerous, each one a valid threat to life.

What I saw in that post was just that a hospitalization means a Big Deal, and that the future spouse of someone who in the past has wrestled with a Big Deal needs to know what this Deal was, both for the good of the Dealer and for the good of the spouse.

If I misread it, I apologize.


Washington, D.C.: Re: affirmative action softball

What an odd question. Either invite all your friends or invite only friends who are good softball players or if it's some sort of team related to a specific group (work-related, civic organization) ask the members of that group. Why is that so difficult? That's what generic mass e-mails for for.

Carolyn Hax: I read it as, do I need any chicks in the lineup? But that's just because I'm a man-hating biatch with too much audience on my hands.


Kazoo?: I thought we educated our kids out the Wazoo, not the kazoo.

Carolyn Hax: Maybe wazoo is now considered offensive (since it can also be UP the wazoo, and you see where that takes us). Maybe we need to start typing up the w----. Or up the ---oo.


Downside to seeing a shrink: Don't get me started on how seeing a shrink and -- god forbid -- taking antidepressant medication can affect your life. I'm a 40-year-old professional, with a husband and a young daughter, otherwise pretty healthy, but I've been successfully taking Prozac for 10+ years for a stubborn case of depression. But NO ONE -- yes, I've tried every possible avenue -- will sell me disability coverage. I have even tried offering to exclude disability caused by mental illness, but no go. The fact that I take a medication for a mental illness is the only thing these insurance companies care about. I don't know what my family and I will do if I become disabled, and I worry about it every day.

Carolyn Hax: You know, I knew this. And it is so unbelievably wazoo-backward, because it essentially tells people they're a better insurance risk if they leave their mental illnesses undiagnosed and untreated, when even a complete wazoohole knows the exact opposite is true. So. Here's a public service reminder, in the form of affirmation to you, Downside, of what I'm sure you already know: Given your two options, you are, by getting the taboo treatment that precludes insurance, choosing the safer option for your family. Just don't walk under any ladders.

Wasn't Tipper Gore trying to change some of this stuff?


Top Secret security clearance: Just to reassure you and others, you CAN have a top secret security clearance even if you disclose that you have sought mental health treatment. Don't let that government job form scare you away! There are plenty of other things about government employment for that....

Carolyn Hax: Thanks moochly.


Too Serious vs Naive: Affirmative action and softball - I read it as a joke! Color me naive

Carolyn Hax: And here I was answering it seriously. Silly me.


For softball: Actually, you shouldn't use race as any factor (whether affirmative or not). You should consider athletic ability, experience, knowledge, and the ability to catch a ball after 7.5 beverages.

Carolyn Hax: Resolved. Thanks.


To bored and unmotivated: Hey, I know you -- you're the person in my mirror. I know exactly how you feel. I agree with Carolyn on taking it easy, but are you the type of person who has trouble getting out of bed (sleeping in feels sooooooo good!) on the weekends? I'm struggling with the same issues. I think the solution is to set small goals for yourself. For example, tidy your bedroom or living room (don't go overboard and reorganize your sock drawer) so that you can really see and be inspired by the positive impact on your life from the small projects that you're completing. Then you won't feel so overloaded and overwhelmed that you take refuge in relaxation. If you have a bigger project, break it down. I'm trying to start a sideline music business while working full time an hour's drive from where I live. After a couple of months, I have a room in my house reserved for the music room, I have it painted and the furniture re-arranged, and I've started getting some music written. In March, the room was crammed with an extra bed and a bunch of junk. Now I can walk into it, see the fresh paint and uncluttered floor, and it's inspiring me to write music every day (if there's time!). You just have to start small and before you know it, you'll realize your grand scheme. Good luck. (Another tip that's worked for me is brewing a nice pot of coffee every morning!)

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. And it can also help to get your incremental thing out of the way first, and take your flop on the couch as your reward.


Needs Anti-Jealousy Injection: Please flog me so I can stop dwelling on this:

I was just at an engagement party where all the men ran off to play sports and the women sat around and talked. Bleh. Then all the women started comparing engagement rings. Double bleh. Mine is half the size of the bride-to-be's. I hid my left hand in my pocket and then I felt ashamed of myself.

I'm not a materialistic person in any other respect, but this diamond ring thing really gets my knickers twisted. Like I said, please just flog this jealousy out of me or something.

Carolyn Hax: Eh. You had one bad engagement party. Shake it off.


New York, N.Y.: Oooh, I find well adjusted people boring. So what's my eureka moment? What's the significance? I know I should be able to figure that out on my own (I did have a traumatic childhood), but I'm blocked.

Carolyn Hax: The eureka is just that. Stable people bore you. You're attracted to chaos. You go with what you know.

Either that, or the five people you've come across are, in fact, boring. You need to have a large enough statistical sample for the results to mean anything.


St. Louis, Mo.: Carolyn, I recently got a letter (forwarded from several previous addresses) from an old friend from middle school (I'm 29) who wanted to hear how I am doing, etc. While we were friends 16 years ago, I don't especially feel like rekindling the relationship. What are my obligations, if any? Can I ignore this letter? Am I terrible for not wanting to reconnect when she took the trouble to track me down?

Carolyn Hax: Writing back is not a blood vow (which the person may not even want). Say hi back and that you enjoyed the past-blast. Or, put the person on your holiday-card list, insert a handwritten update, and make it a hard-to-misread hello, be it onetime or every December.

Or ignore it, but that just seems sad. Unless she's a known Velcro type.


To Portland, Ore.: I just wanted to add a bit to what you said to the 12-year-old from Portland. She (I'm assuming) should DEFINITELY do just as you told her, but also remember this: The guy who is threatening and bugging you is trying to get a reaction. Certainly tell an adult, but something else she can do while she's waiting for the adults to do something is to ignore the boy. If he doesn't get the reaction he's seeking, he'll move on to someone else.

I was in this exact same situation at that age. A group of boys in my English class were always teasing me, grabbing my behind, and doing whatever they could to bug me. I told my mom, my teacher, and my principal and the boys all got detention, but the pestering didn't stop until I just ignored them.

Three years later when we were all in high school, I became good friends with one of the guys. He confessed that one of the boys had a crush on me and so his friends were teasing us both (I just never noticed).

Carolyn Hax: Ooh, just saw this, thanks.


Modesty CTRL: Dear Carolyn,

I have an etiquette problem (at least that is what I think it is). I do not want to have anyone in the delivery room besides me (obviously), my husband and the medical staff. Moreover, I would rather people not come visit me and the new baby at the hospital. My reason is not that I don't want to share the joy of having a baby, but rather that I am very modest. Friends have asked us to visit them at the hospital, and out of respect, we've gone. Inevitably, the new mama is just learning how to breast feed and so she cannot help but be less modest than perhaps she might otherwise be. Further, she is usually wearing a hospital gown that does not err on the side of modesty. My friends all think I am crazy and want to visit (some have even hinted that they would love to attend the birth!). How can I politely let them know that we will be receiving visitors at home (where I hope to be able to wear something more substantial than a hospital gown and have learned enough about breast feeding that I can do without showing my parts to my friends)? I know it may seem that I am unneccesarily modest, but I just think I won't feel comfortable having visitors when I have to entertain them while sitting in bed. Any advice on a polite way to let people know that we'd love to see them once we arrive home from the hospital would be much appreciated. Thanks -- you rock!

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

This is your and your husband's baby, and if you're modest, you're modest.

But you're not going to get good enough at nursing in 48 hrs to be able to be discreet about it when you get home.

So, a more reliable strategy would be to get comfortable, quickly, with saying, "Okay, everybody to the kitchen/cafeteria, get a snack, time for me to feed the baby." People will (have to) respect that.

And if you still don't want hospital visits, say so. Say you want unbroken time to get used to the baby. (It helps.)

BTW, after you're a delivery-room veteran, pls write back.. I'd love to hear if you're still as modest.


Centreville, Va.: I've been waiting anxiously to join your team for the ALS walk. Are you still organizing one? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: It looks like I have too much going on to make it down there this year, but I am not certain so please watch this space. And please accept my enormous teary gratitude for remembering and being so eager to volunteer. This is going to be a tough season for all charities not related to hurricanes. If it turns out I can't travel, I will be establishing a "virtual" team. The 'Nuts for Every Need, perhaps. And I think we need T-shirts ... again, I'm working on it, so please stay tuned for developments.

Wow, I'm still here. But leaving now. Thank you everyone for being here, have a great weekend, get off the damn couch, but only on Sunday morning, and I'll type to you next week.


"If he doesn't get the reaction he's seeking, he'll move on to someone else": Not necessarily. Or maybe he will move on, but it will take a ridiculously long time. When I was in middle school I tried very hard to ignore my tormentors, not even making eye contact with them or acknowledging their existence, but they persisted ... for THREE YEARS! And then the only reason they stopped is that I went to a different high school and fell in with a group of older students who were above that sort of thing.

Carolyn Hax: Proving reality does in fact suck sometimes, thanks. But I bet you're awfully strong for it now.


Stability = stagnancy: Stable well-adjusted people ARE boring. But so are people who habitually create dramas around themselves without any drive to change that pattern. It's just a different kind of stability.

Who's not boring (I find) are people who maybe ain't perfect but at least we're consciously trying to be better people over time.

Carolyn Hax: Agh! No! That IS stable, or a kind of stable. Being sure enough of self to take emotional chances without fear that your world will collapse.

But I do agree drama is dull.


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