Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 14, 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.


Formerly of College Park, Md.: Unlike most people who lose touch with old college buddies, I lost mine during college -- one after another, my three closest girlfriends just stopped talking to me. I never knew why, and not knowing fueled my imagination into thinking I'd done something terrible... so unforgiveable that if I had any humanity left in me I'd never disturb them again. But I miss them, and now that many years have passed, I think I've got enough courage to write them letters. We all still live in Maryland (which just fuels the tragedy, in my mind) but a letter seems the least invasive way to reach out, given that I might be the last person they ever want to hear from. All I need now is a reality check from you (and some postage): should I write to them, or just leave them alone after all these years? If so, is it okay to aknowledge the emotional distance and say that I'm ready to apologize for anything I may have done, or should I be all breezy and act like I meant to get in touch but I've just been really busy for the past six years?

Carolyn Hax: Do it, but don't be fake-breezy. That just gives them permission to slap their foreheads and not respond. Say what you want to say. Sincerity and humility combined with the (I hope) maturity of a few years should be enough to get you some kind of response from at least one of them, and therefore some satisfaction.

As always, though, "should" draws its power from humanity's better instincts, and therefore is about as dependable as New England weather.


Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: Don't you get tired of writing advice columns? Seems like it would get old.

Carolyn Hax: I think everyone gets tired of anything we have to do every day. That's why we have weekends, vacations, and long-ago jobs cleaning dorm bathrooms that remind us to be grateful for the opportunity to get tired of writing advice columns.


Carolyn Hax: Sorry guys, started an answer and bailed on it.


Appalledland: Hi Carolyn. I want your advice on what to do when you're forced to work with someone who makes you sick. I work in a very prestigious firm for my industry, and senior management recently hired this young thing, clearly for all of the wrong reasons. And they constantly rave about her in front of the rest of us! It's obvious she was hired solely on her looks, but they reward her "efforts" with more responsibility and authority over some us who have been here much longer. I think she knows it too, because she does things to rub it in. She always eats things like pizza and cheeseburgers in front of us, and never worries about her weight. I want to follow her to the bathroom to see if she's bullemic, but I worry about appearing nosy. How do I call her on being so fake and not deserving her place in this company?

Carolyn Hax: Let Young Thing do herself in, if it's true she is getting more responsibility than she's qualified to handle. (I say "if" because your threatened bulimia-safari introduces the possibility that you're more hung up on her looks than management is.) And, in the meantime, either find a way to work with her or polish your resume. She is a co-worker, and unless she's venal or incompetent, she's not your problem.


Multiple choice: I'm confused by one of the multiple choice options you gave in Wednesday's columns:

"This is usually what you get when you shack up with someone as a marriage tryout"

You said that was the incorrect answer, but that it was close. What do you mean? Are you opposed to people living together before marriage? Why?

Carolyn Hax: No, not opposed. It is a terrible idea in some cases, but I wasn't even suggesting this was one of them.

I was saying that the we've-become-roommates-but-I'm-staying-out-of-inertia blahs are endemic to living together. The "without the slap" (or however I put it) just meant that once you remove the nasty tone about shacking up, it does represent what I believe--that this is often what happens when couples cohabitate.


Washington, D.C.: Dear Carolyn,

I need your help in finding some words to use, because I can't keep quiet any longer.

My husband and I are good friends with another couple. The husband travels a lot, and the wife stays home with their three children. The wife has always had a temper, and we often disagree with how she handles the kids -- she loses her temper and yells or gets a little physical. But we've kept quiet, because I know you can't advise people on how to raise their kids without making them angry (and that's worse for everyone). But the other day at a group lunch, seemingly out of the blue, she smacked her infant on his back. Hard. Everyone heard it, and the group fell silent. Then the baby started crying and she scolded him for hitting her (first, apparently). Another woman left the room because she was so stunned. Carolyn, this is a BABY, he doesn't have any control over his arms and legs!

I feel like I have to say something, I'm the closest thing to a friend she has (everyone has pulled away, because her temper has gotten worse since they had kids), and I'm worried about her and the kids. If you could help me figure out what to say to her -- or tell me to butt out, if that's what I should do -- that would help.

Thanks, Stunned

Carolyn Hax: Please call Childhelp USA, 1-800-4-A-CHILD. I could throw out a bunch of other suggestions, but I think the kids need you to do this by the book. Good luck, and please update, if you remember. Thanks.


Fairfax, Va.: Carolyn: I want to get your opinion. My wife and I were in a bar last Saturday and a woman groped me as I was returning from a trip to the restroom. My wife got really upset because I didn't tell the woman off and to leave me alone. My wife thinks that I didn't do it because the woman was rather attractive. I tried to explain to her that while I was a bit flattered (I haven't been groped by a strange woman for years), the reason I didn't blow up is I will never see this woman again so why waste the energy. So Carolyn what do you think?

Carolyn Hax: If I were the victim of a drive-by barroom grope, I'd keep driving.

But my hypothetical grope is about as far beside the point as your actual one. What's got your wife feeling so insecure? That's the point. Without dispensing anything that resembles blame, please make an effort to find out.


Cubeville USA: Argh! What can one do about a snarky co-worker who makes evil cutting comments, and then if you take offense, claims that they were "just kidding" and you should have known that? (Making you not only The Insulted but also the Jerk Who Couldn't Take a Joke and Assumed the Worst!) We would complain to management, but this person has had enormous personal problems lately, so no one wants to kick him when he's down. He is basically just a big bully with a bad temper.

Carolyn Hax: The answer to a bully is always the same, in two parts: He's in pain, and he can't pass his pain onto you if you don't let him. Easy to say, tough to do, but it is in your power to decline to take offense. No offense, no payoff for bully.

Maybe when your Abominable Snowmonster's teeth get pulled, he'll feel better and leave you all alone.


Soooo sad....: I'm leaving my 11.5 month old son for four days this week, home three days, then gone five days, then home five days,then home three days. All for work, I'm looking for a faculty position, but I am so bummed. Is he going to forget me?

Carolyn Hax: How easily do you forget your mother?


Somewhere: (Online only) Carolyn, I really respect your advice. Please please answer this. I worked hard for an amazing career opportunity. However, at the time I was extremely depressed and had a lot of internal issues, and once I got the opportunity I turned it down, thinking I wasn't interested. A year later, I was given a second chance, but confusion and depression got in the way again and after much anxiety, I said no. Now, with the clarity of hindsight, I am kicking myself. I'm someone who suffers from tremendous anxiety, and the regret on top of that is debilitating. Can you please offer any words of guidance on how to stop looking back? Something to tell myself, to keep focused on the present and the future would really help. (About the depression -- I've tried therapy to no avail; I'm on medication now and it helps a little.)

Carolyn Hax: I'm going to go out on this limb on tiptoes, but I think it's something worth considering: If this amazing career opportunity (ACO) clashes so dramatically with your mental-slash-emotional state, is it possible this ACO, while amazing, wouldn't be have been amazing for -you-? Obviously I don't know nearly enough about you or your nature or situation to say this about you specifically, but I can say that happiness doesn't seem to correlate well with the "wow" factor of people's jobs, but instead with how well the job suits their nature.

So, it may be that you were clearly qualified and hard-working enoguh for this ACO, on some level you may have realized it wasn't for you.

This whole theory, as it happens, is something that lends itself well to discussion in therapy. I know you said you tried it to no avail, but I have no way of knowing if that conclusion came from one or two so-so sessions with so-so therapists or a lifetime of talented, dedicated therapists who still never made any headway. (Ooh, unintentional pun, which I think I'll leave in.)

Definitely in the first case, and maybe even in the second, this specific issue seems worth another go at it. In a way, you'd be looking back in order to understand yourself, put your doubts to rest and then look ahead because there's nothing left to make you look back. Plus, it's essential that you be in touch with someone regularly over the medication, if you aren't already.


Bummed on leaving baby at home: Could be the baby boy's father too...

Carolyn Hax: True, but:


Less sad.....: Thanks, you're right.

Having a great husband helps. Hats off to fathers who really do at least 50 percent. I'm the luckiest person in the world.

Carolyn Hax: (I got lucky this time, it was a mother.)

Thanks, and happy travels. Maybe you can watch a whole movie, beginning to end, while you're gone. (Sleeping trough all but the first 17 minutes deosn't count.)


Answer to Appalledland...: The NERVE of that witch, eating a cheeseburger in front of Appalled! And never worrying about her weight either, the tramp!

Largely, people rise and fall on their own merits. Admittedly, good looks may be a benefit. But still, the fact that you're cute doesn't mean that you can conduct cataract surgery on someone, or effectively run a project either.

On the bright side, this post made me laugh. Does Appalled realize the irony of her statement, "forced to work with someone who makes you sick," juxtaposed with her burning desire to know if the Young Thang is bulemic?

Carolyn Hax: Being cute (and/or knowing it, and/or getting senior management all hot and bothered, and/or rubbing both in people's faces) also doesn't mean that you -can't- conduct cataract surgery on someone, or effectively run a project.


Vienna, VA: Peanut suggestion: Young, Fabulous and Depressed should check into health problems that might have been missed with the depression diagnosis.

Hypothyroidism in particular increaases depression and induces confusion, especially under stress, because it already stresses the body when untreated. It also has many other vague physical symptoms such as fatigue, cold intolerance, aches and pains that are also considered to be symptoms of depression.

The confusion bit made me want to speak up in case this wasn't covered. And there's nothing wrong with refusing a job that might upset your health, no matter if it's really kind of cool.

Carolyn Hax: Excellent suggestion, thank you. I've been hearing from readers who have significant health issues that their diagnoses often came after years of frustration and often misdiagnosis. Bipolar patients being treated for depression, hypothyroidism and PCOS patients being treated for nothing and feeling like failures, etc. Get informed, be persistent, pick the right specialist (even if you have to follow a trail of breadcrumbs there), get a second opinion.


Alexandria, Va.: If you have been with your spouse/partner a long time (years) and the romance has dwindled. How do you really get that spark back?

My husband and I still get along great, love each other very much, and are mostly happy, but there is nothing happening in the bedroom. We've tried date nights but haven't really had success because we feel it's so staged and forced. We don't have a good excuse -- we're fairly young, have no kids, aren't under any HUGE stress at work.

Are we doomed to a lousy love-life the rest of our marriage?

Carolyn Hax: I'll say upfront that I don't have an answer for you. What works for one couple won't work for another, and for most couples, little to nothing works. Sux, but, there it is.

I do think, though, that your both wanting this is really important, and promising. (So often one person is just done, and is too turned off even to want to try.) I'd say to go the health-check route, since we're on the subject of thyroid function, but since it's both of you that kind of rules out the medical side.

So. Instead of making dates or setting goals that feel weird and forced, why not just make a point of getting closer. Nice dinner dates, special-occasion theater or pro-sports tickets, a salsa-dancing class. Have -fun-, since so much of that impulse just dies when you're well into a day-to-day life together. In a sense, give up on the sex and go for romance, which not only lends itself to scheduling so much better, but it can, if nothing else, make a sexless phase a bit more entertaining.


Washington, D.C.: I know friendships are supposed to change as you get older, but are they supposed to disappear entirely? My husband and I had a discussion about this the other night; he's 10 years older than I am and says that it's normal to get lonelier as one gets older. Personally, I think he's just making excuses, but I can't help feeling more lonely as I age. I realize circumstances change and it's harder to maintain friendships, but should friendships go away altogether? I just feel depressed thinking about it.

Carolyn Hax: Some people seem to collect friends as they get older, some seem to shed them (willingly or un-), some seem to keep the same warm and devoted core of friends for decades (and I hate them more than Appall-onia hates cheeseburger-chowing hotties).

Not really, but I think you in partciular will get the idea.

One thing I have noticed when I catch up with friends I haven't seen in years--so many of them do their real sharing with people who are close geographically, not emotionally. The couple across the street, the other PTA moms, the book group. And so I wonder if the distinction between the friend-collectors and friend-shedders isn't entirely a matter of social nature, but also part dumb location luck.

Does that make any sense?


Washington, D.C.: What's PCOS?

Carolyn Hax: Polycystic ovarian syndrome.


To Somewhere: I was depressed and lethargic for years until I found out I had food sensitivites and allergies. I feel great when I don't eat the stuff I'm not supposed to. And I feel horrible and hopeless when I do eat the stuff that's bad for me. If you have any other symptoms besides the anxiety and depression, you may want to think about physical problems. Just something to be aware of.

Carolyn Hax: Another good one, thanks.


Why can't I focus?: I know I'm supposed to be working, but I can't stop refreshing the screen, waiting for your next question and response. Now I can't stop googling crock pot recipes. Why can't I focus?

Carolyn Hax: I know I'm supposed to be giving advice, but if you end up trying those crock-pot recipes, would you be willing to send me the ones you like?

I have to think everyone has some out-of-focus days. (Everyone, I hope, but surgeons, air-traffic controllers and Nicole, who cuts my hair.) If your job allows it, sometimes it makes sense not to even try to work, but to take a break and think about other stuff and come back in 30 min to try again.


Re: friends for decades: Huh? Are you saying you don't like keeping the same friends for decades or are just amazed/envious that some people do?

Carolyn Hax: B) Amazed/envious.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn -- Are there any ALS fundraisers coming up soon? A walk or a dinner where you will auction off time with you? This may have already happened... if so, did the person who won time with you take you to dinner or what? Just curious -- and would like info about future fundraising events. Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Yes, very soon. The D.C. area ALS Association is midway through its schedule of Walks to D'Feet ALS ( D.C.'s is on the 23rd, and while I've left it open past the point of silliness that I might be able to come down this year to participate, it's just not going to work.

Anyone who is interested, please click, walk, donate, pitch in as you can. The hurricanes have created such need that other needs are at risk of not being met.

I do plan to remain active in Association events, and I'll post them as they come up. And, I'm already in the planning stages for next year, when the kids will be a year older and getting away will be a year less difficult. Thanks for asking, and please watch this space.


Washington, D.C.: I'm writing regarding your Wednesday column, and the sibling concerned she might be cheated out of her birthrite by her father's investing.

Anybody wise in the ways of investing might do well to put that wisdom to work amassing one's own small fortune to put one's self outside the need of one's father's largesse. More importantly, any concerns for one's father's wealth disappearing in a bad investment are best expressed as sincere concerns for the father's welfare, not for one's own.

Carolyn Hax: Well said, thanks. I did completely miss the fact that she ought to be more concerned for her parents' financial stability than her stake in it. There's even a selfish reason to be that unselfish, since parents who retire broke can put a lot of pressure on their children's financial stability.


New York, N.Y.: My boyfriend broke up with me about a week ago. I didn't think it was the right decision and still don't. Two days ago, he called me to say that he was having regrets and would like to have a trial separation while he sorts out his feelings. I blew up at him over this, saying that, since we'd already broken up, I didn't really understand why he was calling to break up with me again. Obviously this was just my ego talking and I wish I'd handled this differently. Should I call him to try to reconcile? Or... should I just let it go?

Carolyn Hax: Call him to apologize for behaving immaturely, not to try to reconcile. Tell him you're in a better state to listen now, if he still wants to talk. Then see where the conversation goes from there.


Food Allergies: Is there a test for food allergies, or do you just have to do the whole process-of-elimination route? I sometimes suspect food allergies of being the cause of my fatigue, mental confusion, etc.

Carolyn Hax: Talk to your doctor, and ask if s/he recommends that you see an allergist.

I now suspect I have toddler allergies.


Washington, D.C.: My friend made a comment about my boyfriend and I fighting a lot (in reference to us moving in together, which isn't going to happen because of my own reasons). The way that she said this was rude and critical. I think that she should probably have kept her comment to herself since my relationship with my boyfriend and whether or not I live with him or not is none of her business nor is the arguments that we have. (doesn't everyone have arguements with their sig. other). What would you say that I tell this friend that he comments were rude, catty and just plain unwanted while trying to remain nice even though what I really want to do it tell her to shove it?

Carolyn Hax: Well, it couldn't be that you fight with your boyfriend a lot because you're defensive and angry angry angry.

What you should tell this friend is: "Thanks for having the guts to say something I needed to hear but that you probably knew I wouldn't take well, at all. My boyfriend and I do fight a lot, you're right, and maybe it is time for me to consider that I have a role in that. Thanks for looking out for me."


New Mexico: Need some input on how to confront live-in girlfriend over a bunch of issues. I'm 95 percent sure she is cheating as a bunch of lies were just exposed. Short version: I discovered today she's lied about her employer, which means that all of her "work" functions, including being gone all night multiple times are lies. Also, I used the house phone the other day and when I hit redial, the call went to a hotel less than a mile away. She had to go into "work" for the day. My neighbors across the street also questioned me about a strange guy coming and going at my house, which coincides with when I've been on business travel. I had an idea something was going on before and confronted her with the facts but she denied them up and down. At a minimum, I don't trust her given the lies surrounding her employment and am not sure what to do from here.

Carolyn Hax: Is there any explanation for her behavior that would make you still want to be with her?

In other words, if the hotel and the visits from mystery guy and the employer lie could all be innocently explained by her on-the-sly business selling Tupperware or Pampered Chef or whatever that she started in hopes of raising money so she could surprise you with a down payment on a house for your XXieth birthday (delusional hyperbole for illustration purposes only, please don't try at home), is this the kind of life you want?

Whether she is cheating is irrelevent. She is lying, big and often. What you do next is break up.


Washington, D.C.: For the person with tremendous anxiety (and depression), worrying over past actions, please don't discount therapy -- just look for a new therapist. I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety/dysthymic (low-level depression) disorder and went to therapy for about 18 months to learn how to handle it. Most anxiety disorders are directly linked to depressive disorders, so you need to treat for both, at the same time. A big portion of my therapy involved learning how to recognize and appropriately evaluate how I actually felt, at the moment I was feeling it. Many anxiety/depressives are incredibly out of touch with their own emotional lives, and often don't recognize feelings when they have them. Or they judge those feelings as bad and block them out, only to dwell on them later. Through therapy, I learned to feel a feeling, determine what would be the best course of action/reaction to take in response, and then make a better decision in the present. If you are experiencing deeper depression and anxiety, you may also need a medication adjustment which deals with both. Some of the prescription meds which deal with depression don't address anxiety, or even make it worse. For me the therapy worked wonders, and I've spent the last five years thinking a lot less about what I "should have done" or "could have done" in the past, and a lot more time simply living in the present and the near future. Now if I could only deal with my D.C. road rage....

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for weighing in.


Totally Unrealistic?: Hi Carolyn, Is this totally unrealistic? I unexpectedly got pregnant (first pregnancy). Before getting pregnant, I scheduled a vacation for my husband and me at a nice beach resort in the Florida Keys. The baby will be due about three weeks before the vacation. Our vacation is pretty much non refundable (we'd lose a BIG deposit). I think it will be fine to just go and take baby with. Hubby thinks we'll be too overwhelmed and thinks we should just cancel and lose the deposit. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: I think you may be too overwhelmed, may not be--but the baby probably will. Babies are inundated with more new sensations than they can handle as it is--thus the all the crying and the need for frequent naps. I'd let the poor little person stay in one place and get used to his/her environment. But, don't take my word for it. Talk to a pediatrician. If you don't have one yet, find one, since you'll need to get to that eventually.

Talk to the resort; they might be willing to work with you a bit.


Carolyn Hax: That took longer because I had to fall on the floor laughing and then get back up again before I could start to type.


Midwest: New York says she doesn't think her boyfriend breaking up with her is the "right decision", and then admits she blew up at him. She sounds a lot like my ex-husband. He was a control freak.

Carolyn Hax: My sympathies.


Washington, D.C.: I've never been happy with what I do for a living. However, I have no idea what I want to do with my life. I figure, I'm 35, and it's not too late to change careers, but have no idea what the destination job is. How do I explore finding out what career might be a better for me? I've tried using Bolles' Parachute book, but I think I need discussion rather than introspection.

Carolyn Hax: If you went to college, a trip back to the career office (even if only by phone) could be worth it. Headhunters can also help, though you might need some idea of where to start. There are such thing as "career coaches," who I bet do a big word-of-mouth business, so ask around. Also, if you have even some vague ideas, consider using community college as a way to explore, at low cost, a semester or two of a career area you have a hunch you might like.

This is a good one for peanuts to assist; since it's late, I'll save anything that comes in and post it next week.


Boston: Is there no Friday column today or can I just not find it? It's been very hard to find your columns online recently. It's there now , and I'm investigating why these aren't automatically updating.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, Liz.

That's it for today. Thanks everybody, and type to you next Friday.


Toddler Allergies: Carolyn,

If you refrain from eating and or inhaling toddlers (yours and others), your symptoms will likely subside.

Carolyn Hax: Good to know, thanks.


Unrealistic - again: You were laughing at my question? Which part?!?

Carolyn Hax: I'll let readers do it for me:


Florida Keys girl: What if your baby is 20 days late?

Carolyn Hax: and ...


re: Key West Trip: I think she should call the resort and let them know that they'd like to get the deposit back or be able to reschedule, but they'll be willing to bring the 3 week old with them if necessary. They might get an upgrade or something for NOT coming.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, Readers.


Baby at Resort - nooooooo!: Please, on behalf of the people who enjoy going to nice beach resorts, do NOT bring a newborn with you. People go to these places to relax, not to hear babies scream at the top of their adorable little lungs.

I love kids, don't get me wrong; I just think that unless you're going to a kid-friendly place, most other fellow vacationers would prefer you left the tyke at home.

Carolyn Hax: Or, to be more clear. Thanks. Really leaving now.


Vacay newborn: The couple that may loose their deposit because of having a newborn could possibly auction it off on ebay. They may not get the full price but they could get some of the money back

Carolyn Hax: For the newborn?


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