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Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 30, 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.

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Oh No!: Carolyn,

I eat liverwurst sandwiches for lunch. Is it me?

Carolyn Hax: Have you been told your lunch is smelly?

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Argh: why does Gene have a search feature for his chats but carolyn does not? please, please, please Chatwoman?

washingotnpost.com: We can arrange a search. No problem.

Carolyn Hax: Seems I'm the extraneous one here. It's a nice feeling. Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

Is it weird that I'm a little sad by ex is getting married? We were together for four years. I ended it when I wanted to marry him and he didn't want to marry me. That was three years ago. We're still good friends. I'm happy for him, but also sad for me. A little. Does this mean that I'm not over him or something? Do I need professional help. Or is this all an OK jumble of emotions?

Carolyn Hax: He didn't want to marry you. He wants to marry someone else. So it has you thinking it was you. I think that's supposed to make you feel bad.

There's killing with kindness, and now wounding with validation. Sorry.

If it helps, your ongoing friendship says he likes you just fine, even loves you, but you two didn't line up right--probably for one or two of a million small reasons that don't matter when it comes to character but matter a lot when it comes to marriage.

Does that help?

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

How would you best deal with a situation where a very good friend is interested in your sister's ex-boyfriend? I want to maintain my friendship, but I have the feeling that I might be stuck in the middle.

Carolyn Hax: Deal with it by noting that this is other people's business. That frees you: 1. from talking about one to the other (e.g., "It's not my relationship so I can only speculate, and I'd rather not speculate"), and 2. from worrying whom to invite where and when. You just go about your business and let them be adults about it all (whether you're all chronological adults or not).

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Solicited Advice: My younger sister has told me that I offer too much unsolicited advice. I think that I'm just making conversation and offering my opinion. How do I recognize when I'm giving unsolicited advice, and how do I stop doing it?

Carolyn Hax: Offering your opinion is not interchangeable with making conversation--especially not when you're talking about personal lives. Try this. When you feel like telling people how you feel about their situations, stop yourself and instead ask these people how -they- feel about their situations. When people want to hear your opinion, they will invite it.

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Washington, D.C.: When people say you should "work on your marriage," at what point do you stop having the SAME conversation over and over? Let's say you're an introvert and your spouse is the opposite. How many times can he tell you that he wants you to be more outgoing, fun, exciting, etc. before finally accepting/resigning himself that this is the way it is? Telling your spouse your needs is important but how about if she can't meet them?

Carolyn Hax: Then I think the introvert needs to say, explicitly, that this is how she is, and she is not changing, and she doesn't want to change because she likes herself as she is, and that if he can't be happy with her this way then maybe it's time for them to talk about a trial separation. Neither of them is served by eternal disappointment in each other; obviously a marriage is a promise, but better to break a promise for the right reasons than to keep it for the wrong ones.

If they do choose to separate, then each gets to see whether the status quo was as bad as they thought, or worse, or so much better than they thought that he can finally lay off the criticism, and they can get back together on happier, more accepting terms.

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Chubbyville: Carolyn, I'm a little overweight and a lot single. Lately, I find that all the single men I come in contact with are looking for the proverbial skinny girl. My mom says that the right guy won't care about my weight, but lately I'm kind of doubtful. Should I lose weight to make myself more appealing to men or listen to my mom and hope that I find a guy who finds cellulite attractive?

Carolyn Hax: So those are my choices--for you to listen to men or listen to your mom?

How bout a third choice: Listen to me! By listening to yourself. This has to be about what -you- want, or it's never going to stick, be it a diet or an attitude. Do you feel as if you take good care of yourself, and if yes, is it enough for you to walk with confidence? And if not, would you like to do better? Can you? How? Why?

I could go on at frothy length about people who demand that their humans fit their preconceived notion of the proper shape, size and color, but the only part of that argument that applies directly to your situation is the difficulty in maintaining your own sense of healthy proportion (literally and, er, figuratively) when it seems as if every voice you hear is telling you something else (a subject on which I disagree somewhat w/Robin Givhan, for the person who asked about the Dove ads a few weeks back).

So, I think you're hearing your voice only faintly at this point, if at all. Find the volume control and crank it.

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Fairfax, Va.: My best friend's husband cheated on her and left her last December. She has been through the wringer on it. She wanted to fix the marriage but he wanted to be with "the other woman." Then he wanted to fix the marriage but she couldn't go through it. Now they are together, trying, but she is miserable. She tries to put a positive spin on it, but I think (and she's said) that she's trying because she feels guilty. She's equated their marriage to a sick dog she's not sure whether to give chemo to or just put down. My question is, what can I and her other friends do to support her? She is killing herself and needs us to be there for her. Thanks for your help.

Carolyn Hax: This is going to be another terribly abstract answer to a terribly concrete problem, but: It's easy for a person to lose sight of who she is through a shneesh storm like this, and so one of the best things her friends can do is keep reminding her of herself. You know what she likes, what makes her laugh, how she relaxes, what drives her--or at least you have an idea, I hope. So, to the extent that she lets you, try to keep her in touch with those things. If she resists, though, don't push; in that case, better to listen and adjust.

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Washington, D.C.: How do you know when you're selling yourself short?

Carolyn Hax: I'd say it's when you feel like people are taking advantage of you and that you deserve better, but I know SO many people who feel that way when in fact they have no concept of how lucky they are. And so they're just making themselves miserable while happiness sits at their feet. So I think it has to be an external and internal test: How satisfied are you with your own circumstances, and how do your circumstances compare with your perceived ideals?

Unfortunately, that has to come with another caveat: By "circumstances," you can't only mean money and house square footage. It's got to be a nonspecific, "How successfully have I found my place in the world," kind of thing. How well have you formed relationships, how well are you tapping your skills, how well are you anticipating your weaknesses, how balanced are your exchanges of giving and receiving, how well are you serving whatever purpose you feel you serve.

I don't get out much, as you can see.

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Silver Spring, Md.: The next time someone says "working hard or hardfly working" to me I'm gonna scream. Why do people like this idiotic phrase?

Carolyn Hax: Do it. Scream. Then see what people say.

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Lack of sex... : My partner and I -- 30 and 27, respectively -- have been together for nine years. I feel incredibly fortunate to have him in my life. However, we don't have sex and it bugs me. My libido has me prone to taking really long showers... We're both too young and love each other way too much to have this "problem." Though if given the choice between him and no sex vs. sex and no him, I'd take the former in a heartbeat. But I can't seem to muster the courage or right moment to say "It bothers me that we both love each other so much and yet we've had sex twice in the year 2005."

Carolyn Hax: It bothers me that you're hanging onto a relationship with someone to whom you don't feel comfortable expressing your feelings.

Please see that there's another dimension to "love each other so much" that you haven't even felt yet.

Plus the whole sex thing. And the you-chose-him-when-you-were-18 thing.

TALK to him.

This defines "selling yourself short," by the way. I guess it's just one of those know-it-when-you-see-it things.

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Screaming at inane phrases: If Silver Spring does scream, can (s)he write back in to tell us all how it went? I'd love to know.

Carolyn Hax: That reminds me--the Novocaine "Twinkle, Twinkle" person wrote back during that chat a few weeks ago, and I don't think I ever posted it. Did I post it?

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Too smart for this?: It happened again this morning. Someone at work told me that I'm "too smart" for my job. I'm the assistant to the big cheese at a large investment bank. I have a degree from a top college and make $30,000 more a year than the person who just told me that I should be doing something else. I take it as an insult -- like they are telling me I have a crappy job. Well, I like my job. I make a ton of money and don't have to worry about making quota or getting fired. But I hear this comment often. I don't know if I should blow it off any more. Am I fooling myself? Should I do some soul-searching? Does everyone else know something I don't?

Carolyn Hax: If you ask me (oh wait, you did), you know something they don't, and that is, being The One in Control is not the only measure of success. It is a given in our culture that every assistant coach is there only as a temporary stop along the way to head coach, and every nurse is a would-be doctor who couldn't handle the material or the pressure, and every reporter wants to take over the paper someday. It's a narrow way to view the world, not to mention utter BS. Success is finding the place that makes you happiest and most productive, be that at the top, in the middle, or somewhere out in the woods 72 miles from the nearest ladder. And those who judge others dimly based only on their own narrow view of the world would be best getting back to their obviously very important work.

And while I'm here: That the person judging you makes less does not make his/her job lesser. Just sayin' (because I know what you were trying to say).

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Carolyn Hax: Eee, sent that off without proofing it. Any really good typos in there?

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For A little overweight and a lot single: Carolyn --

Just a comment for her. She isn't alone. Lots of people (and not just overweight girls!) have problems with people's perceptions of them.

I've been overweight all my life. I've also been active, playing sports and working out for as long as I can remember. I'm strong, and fit and I know that I am healthier than someone who sits on their sofa and is blessed with a functional metabolism. I also have a few health issues that make it very difficult for me to lose weight, so I just try to remember that I'm exercising and moving to keep myself healthy, the number on the scale be damned.

I'm also single, but I'm not really bothered by it. I spend a lot of time taking care of myself and giving myself positive reenforcement. The only person you can change is you, your perceptions of how people view you. Not everyone is wants a skinny girl. No everyone wants a chunky one. Or a short one, or a tall one. But you know, those people are going constantly be dissatified anyway, so why let them bring you down.

Just be you. It's harder said than done, I know, but please know you aren't alone. Lots of girls out there deal with this. And we all have our good days and bad days.

So be proud of having a bit of extra, and don't let others tell you what you should be doing. Just take care of yourself and a lot of things will fall into place.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

And thank you, too, for the unintended follow up on a small thread we had going a while back on how lean/fit people should respond to unappreciated remarks that they're "lucky."

They are lucky. They may work hard, too, but there are health and genetic issues that affect how much of the "right" eating and how much exercise one has to do to be lean.

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Need some uplifting -- New Jersey (online only): Just found out this week that husband has been gambling WAY TOO MUCH for several months! Been married 13 years and he's been a good husband and father til now. I'm angry, hurt, depressed, etc., and have no one who I feel comfortable talking to about this... too personal! Hubby is really sorry and started going to Gamblers Anonomous. I want to make things work (we have kids and they adore their daddy) but I am having trouble even being in the same room with him right now and I've been crying to some extent every day. Maybe you or the nuts have some words of encouragement.

Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Two things. He has acknowledged the damage he caused, and is making an effort to address it. That is huge and hopeful and, pending the outcome, may say more good things about him than the gambling said bad.

And: Please consider a few sessions with a professional who has experience counseling families in circumstances similar to yours. Your husband can probably get names at his next meeting. You don't want to sit on this anger, and you don't want to dump it on your husband wholesale.

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District: Is it bad that I initiate all important conversations with my boyfriend post coitus? At that time I am feeling really happy and we are both relaxed and I find that when I bring up something that is bothering me, we discuss the situation in rational terms and come to really good solutions. We have discussed issues in the past outside the bedroom, but things just seem to not get resolved. My friends say that I'm taking advantage of my boyfriends relaxed state to my own advantage. I don't think that I am, but now I'm questioning it and am wondering if the peanuts have any opinions.

Carolyn Hax: Unless your friends are in bed with you, I don't think their opinion on this really matters.

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Baltimore, Md.: re: guys and the weight thing

Carolyn,

As a card-carrying guy, I don't think many of us reasonably expect a girl to be supermodel-rail-thin by any stretch. But, right or wrong, looks do matter to men and probably a little bit more than they matter to women (although it certainly goes both ways and overweight guys are at a disadvantage in the dating game to thin men). I think that it's not the weight per se but what message the extra weight sends, i.e., is she just naturally that way or is it something within her control that she chooses not to deal with because it allows her to avoid intimacy and relationships. At the end of the day, if you're unhappy with how you look and a few days in the gym could cure that, there's nothing wrong or dysfunctional about making yourself feel better.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I think "extra weight," when it reaches a certain point, sends the same health message to women as it does to men. The problems come when you get into the other dating messages that men and women send. For men it's the, "Look, guys, I'm with the hottest girl in the room" message--which women, you're right, just aren't as concerned about sending.

But for that, women have their just-as-crappy message to send: "Look, girls, I'm with the richest/most powerful guy in the room."

And men and women who don't satisfy these cravings, and who suspect they're lonely because of that, have a legitimate complaint. They also should feel relieved that they rule themselves out of such shallow relationships, but finding comfort in that does take some internal, sense-of-self calisthenics.

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For a little overweight...: Carolyn, as a guy, I would say that confidence in oneself is much more important than someone's weight. It carries over so much in your interactions with people. If she feels good about herself, then she should let that shine through -- I guarantee there are plenty of guys out there that find that attractive.

On the flip-side, thin or not-so-thin, if someone feels negatively about themselves then that is really apparent also, and is a huge turn-off. No one wants to talk to someone in a social setting who is putting themselves down or being extremely self-concious. So I guess what I'm saying is she needs to figure out how she feels about herself, get that straight, and then how others feel about her is just going to naturally follow.

Carolyn Hax: So true and--as you know if you've ever been self-conscious and told, "Relax!"--so hard to do. But, maybe there's a point where you read comments like this enough to internalize them. Thanks.

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East Coast: "TALK to him. This defines 'selling yourself short,' by the way. I guess it's just one of those know-it-when-you-see-it things."

What if it's an issue that has been discussed -- exhaustively -- and still led to very minimal sexual intimacy in the history of a multi-year relationship? Is it then just a matter of determining whether I could go on in the future the same way I've been going on for years (taking care of it myself, as it were)?

I guess I'm saying that we're comfortable enough to discuss it like adults, but to no mutually beneficial conclusion.

Carolyn Hax: Right. Then you accept it's never going to change, and then choose to take it or leave it.

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For Chubbyville: Life and love are sooooo much more than your size! If YOU are happy with you, someone else will be, too.

I'm way (way) bigger than I should be, finally accepted that about myself instead of feeling bad about it (I'm active and healthy, just active and healthy and fat), and then met a great guy last year. We're now engaged.

And oh, yeah, I'm 48, greying, and my face still breaks out. (Am I the only one in the world getting wrinkles and zits at the same time?)

Like yourself, be the best YOU you can be, and live happily ever after. Nice to have a companion living along side, but I was happy even before I met him.

Carolyn Hax: Brava. Nothing to add.

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Anonymous: So what if Dove features non-traditional models?

I can't applaud Dove for these reasons: as w/ all advertizing, Dove is manipulating their target consumers by preying on their empsychological weaknesses; presenting women in their undies, whether the models are size 0 or 20, is objectifying women all the same; and the bottom-line message is negative -- buy my product because you'd be worse off without it. The Dove ad actually turned me off more than other typical ads. I think the reason why people have welcomed this campaign is the warm-n-fuzzy they get from seeing that cliched "someone they can identify with" -- which every advertiser knows is key.

Carolyn Hax: I agree that it was a business decision, not a valentine. But it's hardly in its own woman-bashing class for selling a product "because you'd be worse off without it." All those skinny female models have been used for years to sell makeup (You're beautiful! Now fix those icky flaws) and those buff male models to sell deodorant (You're beautiful! Now fix those icky flaws). So a company finally decided to suggest, be it cynically or greedily or mercifully or refreshingly or whatever, to try a different take on "You're beautiful!" That's the only variable; the "Now fix those icky flaws" part is the constant and doesn't belong in the debate.

I do hate that I'm basically their shill now, by the way, just for finding this issue interesting.

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Anonymous: Carolyn,

I know it's late, but please answer! I'm pregnant and we're going to be telling our friends soon. However, one of our really good couple friends have been trying for two years to have kids and are now doing IVF. They have had a really rough ride, and I feel really bad for them. How should we tell them so as not to hurt their feelings? Is there something we can say? I don't want to say, "We're pregnant!" just like that, because I don't want them to feel like they have to be happy for us when they're having so much trouble.

I know that you and/or the peanuts can come up with the right words to use, so any help would be appreciated.

Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Something along the lines of, "we're expecting, and beside ourselves, and also aware and sorry that happy news for us migth be difficult news for you guys." I don't know. Maybe peanuts can tell me how that would fly. There's a fine line between being sensitive and being patronizing, so if anything I'd err on the side of trusting the other couple to be able to handle it (without swerving in to complete insensitivity by ignoring the fact that they're struggling).

Maybe even, "We're pregnant! And if you're not happy for us, we'll understand why."

Congratulations, btw.

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The land of not reading people well: "if someone feels negatively about themselves then that is really apparent also, and is a huge turn-off."

How exactly is it apparent? Can anyone describe or articulate this? I don't read people well, and I just realized I cannot tell at all whether a person feels good about themselves. Now I'm curious.

Carolyn Hax: Interesting. I think it's in posture, body language, choice of clothing, choice of companionship, weight (mostly at the extremes), hygiene, naturalness (for lack of a less clunky word) of voice and gestures and laughter (loud fake laughs, dead giveway), I'm sure I'm leaving some out. Not that every one of these always says the same thing--obviously there can be hugely confident people who are so confident they don't give two shneeshes how heavy, stooped and loud they are. But that will come out in the way a person carries him or herself.

I also suspect you sense more than you realize. These arent' always certainties so much as impressions.

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If you're not happy for us???: Oh nonononon

That is awful. Don't say it.

Carolyn Hax: Okay. I mean it in a with-humor kind of way, if that makes a difference, but I suspect it doesn't. Thanks.

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CAVITY GIRL, Reston, Va.: I'm the cavity girl!!! Please post this!!!

I did write back last time but you didn't post it. But I did sing in my cube! It was fabulous.

And ironically, I just had another emergency cavity filled today. I'm 27 and soon I'll need dentures!!!!

Carolyn Hax: Does toothlessness affect one's datability, I wonder?

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Announcing the pregnancy: What about just saying you're pregnant, and seeing how they respond, rather than anticipating their response for them? You can be ready with all the other responses after you gauge how they're taking it. Just like any other conversation, really.

Carolyn Hax: Nah. That makes way too much sense.

(Thank you.)

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Boston, Mass.: Carolyn, I had a very close friend in college (roommates for three years and experienced a host of other life changes together) who cut off contact with me about five years ago. To this day, I have no clue why. I miss our friendship very deeply and still think about her all the time. I've hesitated contacting her over the years for fear of further rejection (even have had an e-mail draft in my inbox for about two years). Frankly, at the very least I'm looking for some closure (and optimistically my friend back). Should I risk contacting her again or just try to get over it?

Carolyn Hax: Try. A rejection would just be that, a rejection, a thing over which you have no control. The alternative is to do nothing, which has exactly the same result as the other kind of rejection--still no friend, still no closure--but it would be a result that's in your power to prevent.

And not that you're going to do this, but, just in case: defending yourself against whatever you think she thinks you did wrong isn't likely to break down any walls. Go with an "I just want to understand what happened or what I did wrong" approach. Good luck.

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Maryland: ONLINE ONLY PLEASE. Do you know of any counseling resources in the area or via hotline for teenage fathers and their families(specifically parents)? I can find several for teenage mothers, but does anything exist for the guy and his support network? My parents asked me to find something for my younger brother thinking that as a psychology major I would know where to look, but I'm just not finding anything. All of them are having a rough time dealing with this adoption. Thanks for your help.

Carolyn Hax: Sorry for the long gap--I was hunting for something for you but it's pretty well buried. Off the cuff, I'd say to contact the resources you have for mothers and ask if they know of some for the fathers. (Try the Women's Center, too--703-281-2657.) The people staffing related support services tend to know about each other. Also try people who handle adoptions, even with organizations other than the one that's handling this adoption.

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Carolyn Hax: That's all for today. Thanks everyone, have a great weekend and type to you next Friday.

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Announcing pregnancy: I would say, "This is a little awkward for me, but I want you to hear it from me and not from anyone else..."

Carolyn Hax: Just saw this one--thanks.

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Don't Go!: You just had someone tell you that they are drinking and thinking of suicide, and you'd even bother to respond?

Carolyn Hax: Did I miss something? I didn't see a question like that.

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Rockville: Carolyn! I am eating my reuben and log on and see that a woman has a husband w/ gambling addicton and hope it is not too late to add 2cents to this. My husband's addiction was online pornography at work, I was as upset as she was when I found out, heartbroken and betrayed really. What I did not know was all the lying that had been surrounding it and that continued. I believed he would never touch it again and that he understood how it hurt me and how ugly it made me feel that he couldn't veiw porn in front of me but had to do it in private, plus my own issues abut my body after having two kids. If this woman is a stay at home mom as I was, PLEASE, get a job and start contributing money to your household nad own bank acct. You don't know how well he can be relied upon while (if) he recovers. Also, call someone who treats this addiction and find out what successful addicts who have it in control now have done. It likely will take more than GA, probably therapy. Addictions are powerful things and all bring lying with them. This lady needs to see a counselor to deal with her own sorrow and disappointment with her partner. My husband was sorry, too, but I found out years later he was still doing it at work, lying about money, and on the same day we had a car repossessed and he lost his job. Not to be gloom and doom, but this woman has children whom she must protect as well as herself. Hope I beat the clock..

Carolyn Hax: You did, thanks.

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Arlington, VA: One of the ways you can tell when someone feels bad about themself is when they overcompensate for things in their life - like when they brag about how much money they make, what a great car/house they have, etc. In my book, that's a surefire way to tell if someone is looking for validation from others.

Carolyn Hax: While I'm (still) here--this is a great observation, thanks.

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down in the dumps: Just found out that I didn't get a job I really wanted. Please say something to cheer me up!

Carolyn Hax: A few months before I started this job, I was asked to apply for and then didn't get a job I thought I really wanted.

That can either cheer you up or horrify you.

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It was the one about IVF.: I would have liked if you'd have let people know about how us infertile people are really feeling. Knowing that people understand how much it stinks for us has been the only thing that's helped me. Especially when over a dozen people I know are pregnant.

Carolyn Hax: The suicide one, you mean--was part of the IVF thread? I haven't seen it yet (true of about 80 or 90 percent of the posts; too many to read in 2 hours ... or 3). Anyway, thank you for writing back, and I'll post this so people know to acknowledge those feelings.

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teen fatherhood resources: Try these:

http://www.fatherhoodmd.org/resrces.htm

http://www.dhr.state.md.us/csea/father/father.htm

Carolyn Hax: Can't vouch, but will post, thanks.

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