Tell Me About It
Friday, October 21, 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.
Left Coast: How does someone go about becoming less self conscious? I've decided that I spend far too much time worrying about what others think about me.
Carolyn Hax: Lessee. You can take note of how much you really care about other people's mistakes/dramas/bad shoe days--I'm guessing not much--and how forgiving you are of people you care about--probably very--and then flip it. I think it's reasonable to assume these "others," whose opinions you fear so much, view you largely the same way you view them.
Sydney, Australia: Dear Carolyn,
I know you must get this question a million times, from a million places around the world -- but how do I go on when I feel like I've lost the love of my life? I chose to walk away after suffering through almost two years of an on/off relationship that was making me increasingly unhappy, because he couldn't offer me a commitment. He wanted the freedom to be able to do as he wanted, while still seeing me. It was the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak. I can't help but feel unloved, and very sad and sore. Please offer me any words of wisdom you have on the subject. I'd be truly grateful for it.
Carolyn Hax: The "love of my life" loves you back. This will not help much at the moment, I imagine, but trust it and give it a chance to work. You had/have these really strong feelings that you can't imagine feeling again, and maybe you won't--which is actually a good thing. Strong, desperate, painful feelings tend to be what you get from off-and-on relationships. Anybody recall that study they did to test how creatures respond to rewards? They gave some monkeys (or rats or some other poor beasts) a constant supply of treats, or treats at regular times, or treats at random--and the creatures who got random, erratic rewards apparently became obsessed with the reward lever. (Details may be off, but I think I got the idea right.)
So, I see in you (and the million others) an obsessed monkey. True love of your life wouldn't feel so ... magnetic? because treat supply will be steady. But it would feel better. Hang in there.
Annoyed: Carolyn, you always answer questions from people who ask the silliest, most ridiculous questions "I'm in a relationship with Mr. Wonderful for four months, how can I find out where it's going?" or "Why do I care so much about what people think of me?" I mean, COME ON, these really the MOST important issues people have? Can't you answer more interesting questions?
By the way... I think the best advice for these folks is "Get a hobby."
Carolyn Hax: Applies here, too, I think.
Vienna, Va.: my boyfriend turns into a complete jerk when he's angry. He doesn't care about anything... and has locked me out of his house at two in the morning going "go sleep in your car for all I care, I just can't stand interacting with you."
He and I've told him he needs to stop, but he just said "i'll consider." He justifies it through saying that I provoke it.
How do I actually get through his thick skull that this is really not OK, in relationships or in life for that matter?
Carolyn Hax: How do I get it through your thick skull that there are other men?
Actually, language like that is probably the last thing you need, since he's already diminishing you (blaming, mistreating, insulting--ie, abusing you) at every opportunity. Please see that anyone who does what he does isn't "a complete jerk when he's angry," he's a person of poor character who shows it when he's in too bad a mood to keep up a decency act. People are who they are at all times, there's no "sometimes he's this, sometimes he's that." That's why the way people behave over time, and when they're angry, sad, stressed, or dealing with subordinates (employees, waiters, kids, animals), is SO SO SO important. It's when you get a chance to see the real thing.
Buffalo, N.Y.: The writer in Wednesday's column (dating an alcoholic) might also benefit from AlAnon, which is for friends and families of alcholics. It's a good place for people to learn about the disease of alcoholism and learn from people who have been down the road she is contemplating.
Carolyn Hax: Thanks--very true. I'm guilty of leaving it out on the assumption that everyone already knows about Al-Anon. Bad Carolyn.
Self-consciousness: It might also be worth remembering that, with the diversity of people (and their opinions) in the world, it is actually impossible to be liked by everyone. (Unless you are just incredibly skilled at pretending to be what other people want, and can change at will, in which case it's not really you they like, but make-believe you, but I am digressing...) Most likely, the people who will think well of you are the ones who have similar values, interests, etc, which are really the ones you care about anyway, right? I mean (to use everyone's ultimate extreme example), if Hitler didn't think too highly of you, would you really care? To use less extreme examples, if you are a Goth type, and someone you know is a khaki type, you obviously have different tastes, so why would you care if khaki-person thinks your purple-black lipstick doesn't really match your blue-black shoes?
Carolyn Hax: A great point, not only for the self-conscious person, but for the other one who I hope is already off getting a hobby. I'd add only one thing: I believe people deserve more credit than you give them for being able to like people different from them. Goth and Khaki might not want to pencil each other in for lunch, but if they share a cube or something and get to know each other by proximity, they can get along great, just on a foundation of respect for each other's integrity. Assuming they both have integrity.
More generally, I think if your goal is to be liked by the most possible people, the way to achieve it is to be, unapologetically, your true self.
Of course, people who are really, unapologetically, their true selves aren't going to make a goal of getting the most possible people to like them. But you see what I mean. Maybe.
Variable ratio conditioning: That's what you call the random distribution of rewards (or praise or anything else we value). It's the most effective way to train dogs (what I do for a living), for example, once they "get" a behavior and really helps solidify it. Its relationship to human behavior is exactly what you've pointed out, that we make a very, very strong commitment to a behavior (pushing a lever, loving someone) that comes with intermittent rewards because that's the only way we can assure its continuing.
Carolyn Hax: Sounds much better when you say it, thanks.
Chicago, Ill.: Carolyn, apparently I have made it to college still being woefully clueless about the basics of human interaction. I was wondering how a person goes about rejecting someone who hasn't exactly asked anyone out. A guy in my English class frequently tells me he reads my newspaper columns, asks me what I'm doing over the weekend, and tells me I should come see his hockey game or stop by the restaurant where he's a waiter. He's pretty insistent, saying stuff like, "Come on, I read your columns, why won't you come see me play hockey?" It seems like he's interested in me, but I have a hard time believing that because he's really good-looking, and I've never been someone to turn heads. So far I've deflected him, but I don't know how many times I can just tell him I'm busy. Still, it seems presumptuous to say, "I have a boyfriend," or "Sorry, I'm not interested" (both of which are true) when he's never asked me out. This seems like such a dumb question, but I feel like somehow I'm being mean to him by not being more direct.
Carolyn Hax: Well, he's not being direct, either, so if you feel guilty for being the indirect one, don't.
What you do next depends on the guts you can summon. If you find a lot, just say, "Are you flirting with me? I honestly can't tell." If you find only medium guts, ask, "Is this an invitation? I can't tell." and if he says yes, tell him you're sorry, you don't much like hockey.
And if you can't face facing him, you can hide behind somethign and lob a boyfriend grenade. "I'm sorry, I'm not a hockey fan, buy maybe my boyfriend is."
BTW, gotta lose the cute discrimination. Just because he's a handsome athlete doesn't mean he's incapable of having his head turned by anything other than off-the-shelf good looks.
Re: Al-Anon: Does anyone know of any organizations that are like Al-Anon, but are more appropriate for an atheist? I've tried Al-Anon, but I just can't get past the need to believe in a higher power, and I find just going through the motions doesn't help.
Carolyn Hax: I'm throwing this nutward, since I don't have a specific answer for you. My general answer is to call some local substance-abuse treatment programs to ask where they send family members for support and information.
No Name, No State: If someone was sexually molested by their stepparent while growing up, is there a need to ever tell anyone if it's something they prefer to put behind them forever (as much as possible anyway)? I'm not talking about therapy, I mean telling very close friends or a spouse. It's not a betrayal to keep info like this a secret, is it?
Carolyn Hax: From a spouse, yes, it is. While I know a victim of sexual abuse can deal with the abuse and go on to thrive, I don't think it's possible to banish every last trace of sexual abuse from your emotional makeup. The place it's most likely to come to the surface is in your sexual relationship, and that means your spouse is likely to encounter something in you for which s/he deserves an honest explanation.
And even if eeeeevery trace is banished, hypothetically, we've been over this before: S/he deserves to knwo all of you, and by withholding so significant a part of your past, you essentially withhold yourself from your spouse. Not fair.
A very close friend, I can make arguments both ways, but as long as you're not sleeping together, I think you're absolutely entitled to treat this as bygone, and keep it private.
Virginia: I could have been the familly-disliking husband from today's column, except I'm the wife. My husband's family treated me very badly through most of the years we were dating, basically up until a few weeks before the wedding. His parents were also pretty abusive of him as a child and teenager, though he is trying to forget about that to have as normal a relationship with them as possible. On top of that, his mother is prone to throwing tantrums when she feels that she isn't the center of attention in the family, and has big dramatic scenes and periods of not speaking to my husband (this happens at least twice a year). Sometimes she will even come over to my house and refuse to speak to me while she's here. At any rate, we don't have them over to the house anymore, and I hate going to see them. My stomach is in knots the whole time, and I can't sleep for days before I know I will have to see them. I can deal on holidays and so forth, but is it really so bad to just tell my husband to go ahead and see them without me the rest of the time? Isn't my mental health worth a little compromise?
Carolyn Hax: I don't think that's bad at all. They mistreated you, so he should be sparing you--frankly, without your having to ask. But those family blind-spots, they can be large ...
I disagree, by the way, that you could have been the family-disliking husband from today--not unless YOU are the one throwing tantrums, not speaking, etc. The thing that distinguished that letter was that the husband would go, but not make the effort to play nice. Either you go and play nice, or you stay home, but no in-between.
re Abuse: Is that step parent in a position to abuse more children? If, so then some one in authority definetly needs to know.
Carolyn Hax: True, thanks.
AlAnon advice: Nothing against being an atheist but he should consider that there are healing benefits to believing in a higher power that have nothing to do with believing in a particular religion. It gives you some coping skills you don't have as an atheist. Prayer, for example, can reduce stress by having a calming effect on your mind. The fellowship of a church gives you a regular group of people to hang out with. Believing in a higher power helps you to feel like you're not alone in your battle with whatever you're stuggling with.
Just playing, no pun intended, the devil's advocate.
Carolyn Hax: I agree about the community aspect, and the potential calming effect of putting your hopes and concerns into words, a la prayer--but how do you believe when you don't believe? To me that's like saying, "I'll feel warmer if I tell myself winter isn't coming."
Rockville, Md.: Re: Atheist and Al-Anon I belonged to an al-anon group with a very active atheist member who pointed out it was important to believe in a higher power not necessarily God. The requirement for a higher power is that's not you. He said for him, the al-anon group was his higher power. The al anon point is that you have to give up the illusion that you are in charge of everything including your loved one's drinking. You don't have to sign on to the Apostle's creed.
Carolyn Hax: Now there we go. Thanks. Believe in winter.
Higher power: I attend al-anon and too have a HUGE problem with "the higher power."
What has helped me is when I read/hear "higher power" I subsitute in my mind my own definition of what my "higher power" is and in a nut shell it means to me be a good person, carma, if you will.
Maybe that will help.
Carolyn Hax: It does, thanks. Believing in God, with an extra O.
To tell or not to tell: I don't think I agree. I was date-raped in high school, and am now 36. I am completely over it and rarely even think about it. It doesn't affect me AT ALL and I never tell significant others about it mainly because it seems like it happened to someone else in another lifetime. I don't care what anyone says, it changes how the other person views you -- either they get freaked out or think I am fragile, or get all angry on my behalf. And I certainly don't need or want that. However, if I had trust issues or other baggage because of it, then I think the significant other deserves to know.
Carolyn Hax: I'm not sure I'd agree with myself, either, if I were given your facts. Abuse by a stepparent is a very different thing from date rape.
Though I don't think I agree with part of the reasoning for not saying anything. Because it's genuinely not significant any more, okay. Because the person would freak or treat me as fragile--I don't like that as a deterrent. If a person responded like that, it's something I'd want to know about -him.- I am suspicious of any kind of you-can't-handle-the-truth withholding.
One Last Thing on the Subject, Please:
Please note that the same applies to AA. Despite popular conceptions, there is NO requirement to believe in God there, and lots of atheists get/stay sober this way. Not to be dramatic, but sometimes lives are on the line, so no one should let them stop them from getting good help.
Carolyn Hax: Done. Thanks.
re: Goth and Khaki: Hi Carolyn!
A little something from the king of irreverant:
"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."
Carolyn Hax: I just read his, "Oh, the Places You'll Go"--that's where you got this, right?--and decided I have no business being in this business. But you all already knew that.
Past sexual abuse: That's so much drivel about anyone knowing "all" of anyone. That's not possible, and you and Oprah and Dr. Phil and every other popular "advice" experts ought to stop spouting it. AND, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that you aren't a victim of sexual molestation. Sometimes moving past it means letting it GO, and telling someone about it out of some sense of obligation, or worse, on the word that it's the "right thing to do" from someone on an online chat, rather than because you really want to share this and feel safe and comfortable sharing it, is potentially dangerous to the psychological/emotional well being of the victim.
The right answer is, tell if you feel secure and if you, and you alone, have the desire to share this. If you don't want to, DON'T. Believe it or not, you can still have a long and rich relationship with someone. I have -- and after decades with my husband, whom I'm sure I probably don't "know all of", I can guarantee you that it will NEVER be a conversation with us. If this person wanted to share the story, they wouldn't have asked if they HAD to tell. Be a little more intuitive. Why don't you just advise them to talk to a professional and make the decision with the help of a therapist whether or not they "need" to share, should share, or deal with it within themselves, instead of giving them that ridiculous "they deserve to know all of you" silliness?
Carolyn Hax: Obviously, I don't think it's silliness. That this person talk to a therapist about this is an important suggestion and I should have made it, thank you. I also agree that feeling ready to say something is the only right time to say something.
I even agree that knowing "all" of someone is not possible.
But--and thanks for the chance to elaborate--what I mean about "deserves to know all" is that people shouldn't feel the need to consciously, deliberately hold something back. The parts you can never know will happen naturally, by accident, the stuff in each other you never really have occasion to run across. But if you're not talking b/c you don't feel "safe" talking to the person, or you don't think the person can handle it, or you feel more powerful by keeping some thing to yourself, or whatever else drives that conscious decision, then I do think, still, that's a problem.
Oprah and Dr. Phil will have to speak for themselves.
Carolyn Hax: Just remebered I was going to post some suggestions for the career-changer last week. Incoming:
Career: For the person looking for help making career choices: GW University used to have, and may still have (it's been 15 years since I took it) a very good short course -- it's not for credit, and it's open to everyone. Try the Web site under the counseling center?
Carolyn Hax: Thanks.
Choosing new career Direction: : "Targeting the Job You Want"
by Kate Wendleton
WONDERFUL! Used this and decided to open my own buisness. Helped me sort through all the confusion and the should, woulds and coulds. That was five years ago, am very happy with my choice.
Carolyn Hax: Good to know, thanks.
For the 35-year old wanting to change careers: I'm glad you feel that 35 is young enough to change careers because at 32, I'm contemplating it but will have to go back to school and will be almost -- if not -- 40 by the time I hit the new career job market. Really, I'm glad, maybe I shouldn't be scared myself.
Anyway, while I have an idea of what I want to do, the Women's Center in Vienna (and now has an office in D.C.) offers career counseling. I've never used their services, but they are a resource if you need one that would be cheaper than a career coach, I'm sure. In fact, I should use their services, thanks for the inspiration!
And I'd love to hear from Nuts about their career changing experiences and how old they were. Yes, I am very scared of age discrimination.
Carolyn Hax: I think there was one more ...
Santa Fe, NM: Re: Washington, D.C., who doesn't know what to do with his/her life
Headhunters and "career coaches" are a waste of money for you: they focus on people who know what they want to do but need some help in making it happen. You're not there yet.
If you want "conversation," rather than talking to a career counselor, take a workshop on finding the right job for you -- just about any workshop with an experienced instructor will do. Some of it will resonate with you, some won't; but at the end you'll have a better appreciation of what kinds of work attract and repel you, and you can pursue the most interesting leads.
Aptitude tests (often recommended by career counselors) usually don't help much. At this point in life, you probably know what you're good and not good at, and "what you're good at" doesn't necessarily equate to what you SHOULD do. (You know this: presumably you're good at your present job.)
I've read about a zillion books on this topic, and the absolutely best were Barbara Sher's (Wishcraft, I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What It was, Live the Life You Love, etc.). I've never had the opportunity to take a workshop from her, but the exercises in her books are VERY helpful.
Another favorite author is Barbara Winter (Making a Living Without a Job). I've taken her workshops, and they'll turn your entire concept of "job" and "career" on its head -- which is a good thing.
Carolyn Hax: Two more, actually:
Washington, DC: For the person asking: How do I explore finding out what career might be better for me? I read "Do What You Are". This book uses personality to define what jobs you will be good at and love. I thought it was great.
Carolyn Hax: That's it. Thanks all. As always, these are postings, not endorsements, since I can't vouch for any of them personally.
Career Change: NOVA also has a short, 1-credit class on careers. I took this course years ago, but it might be worth a shot.
Carolyn Hax: Okay one more. Tx.
Re: Sydney, Australia: What about when you get constant treats, everything feels relaxed, and then the "love of your life" turns on you in resentment, and in sudden awareness that marriage wasn't right for him, and doesn't even give you to chance to address any of the problems that suddenly are so vivid to him? I didn't feel desperate for five years, but in the past few months, being dumped by someone who had been so devoted to be, I feel desperate, terribly hurt, and foolish, as I was clearly living a lie and oblivious to our problems.
Carolyn Hax: It probably wasn't all you. You probably missed some signals, but he probably also tried really hard not to send any, for fear of having to face what he didn't want to face.
Which, of course, usually comes out as you describe--a sudden burst when it's already beyond fixing. Give some thought to what you might have overlooked, but don't eviscerate yourself looking for every last little clue. You did your best, he presumably did his best, you both made mistakes, now give yourself time to mend. No need to feel foolish.
Spouse of sexual abuse victim: I just have to put my two cents in: my spouse didn't reveal the sexual abuse to me until it came out in some disturbing ways. If I hadn't been told about it, it would have been Splitsville; as it is, I was totally able to understand and accept, and it was a relief for my spouse to be able to share as well.
Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the other side.
I don't want to feel this way anymore: Once a month or so I get so stressed out at work that I start crying. I work in a call center, so usually this means I'm crying on the phone to a customer or co-worker.
The other 20 or so days I am at work in a month's time are fine. It's still a stressful job, but I can handle it and I don't cry.
Right now, though, I'm fighting the tears and I don't know and I don't want to feel this way anymore. What am I supposed to do to control these emotions?
Carolyn Hax: If you are female, is there a chance this is PMS-related? Getting the weepies over stuff you can usually handle sounds textbook to me.
If you are male, I apologize.
And if you are a male reader who intends in any way to use this post as an excuse to say to a weeping female co-worker, "What, are you PMSing or something?" then a pox on you.
At the Bar: Carolyn, might there be another way of reading Wednesday's first letter? What if this is a tee-totaler who can't accept that her boyfriend is a regular drinker? Nothing in the letter said that he couldn't function and she even said that he can be dry for days. Doesn't sound like an alcoholic to me, just someone who enjoys to drink.
Carolyn Hax: Actually, you can be an alcoholic and function. Thus the handy name, functional alcoholic. You're right that there was no smoking bottle, but the giveaway for me was his drinking with clients or "or any random body in close proximity to him." Choosing people based on your common interest in drinking just screams drinking problem to me.
Washington, D.C.: Carolyn --
Re. the person who wrote to protest your "drivel" or some-such, I'd like to add my completely un-asked for two cents. If someone can't write to you with even a modicum of kindness and respect, why not ignore her/him?
I was feeling the "ouch" for you on that one...
Carolyn Hax: Eh. It's an expected part of the job. I ignore most, I post some--usually when they have something useful to say, despite the nastiness, or I think I do.
Lost of posts, by the way, from people weighing in on the share-or-don't-share issue of past abuse. Any interest out there?
For stressed call center worker: If you're sure this is about the stress of your job, get out now! I've been there -- it's not worth it. There's got to be something else you can do.
p.s. I successfully changed careers in my mid-30s. More than anything, you have to believe in yourself and stick to it, since any job search search requires persistence.
Carolyn Hax: Thanks.
Re: I don't want to feel this way anymore: Why do you get to ask if its PMS related, but if a guy asks that, then you seem to imply some maliciousness on his part? Seems like a double standard to me. At least that's how it comes across.
Carolyn Hax: If the weepy woman asked a guy directly, and the guy suggested it without defensiveness or snark, then I think a guy could ask the question just as I did. (I.e., if you reproduce the same basic conditions under which I raised the possibility.)
The way I phrased it in my pox-threat had -very- different conditions. That was raising it unsolicited and being snarky about it. A guy who does that is way out of line. A girl would be too, actually. While we're being all gender-neutral and everything.
Hostility or humor?: Suddenly I find all my friends telling me how sarcastic I am in my e-mails and in person.... how can I start to notice this hostility before everyone else, and how does one start to change this behavior? It's such a common form of humor, that I think it's just contagoius.
Carolyn Hax: I don't know that you need to start noticing it "before everyone else." I think it's enough just to start noticing it, to start hearing yourself, so you can judge whether you like what you hear.
If you do, no problem ('cept maybe your choice of friends).
And if you don't, there's a remedy that's almost ridiculously simple. Optimism. Consciously change the way you look at something, by telling yourself, when you see something negative, to look again and see if there isn't a happier explanation for the same thing. That's just as contageous, not to mention a lot more pleasant to be around.
re:gutless columnist: Does she not want to go out with him? Or does the cute thing make her think she can't go out with him... One can say almost anything with a smile and get away with it. She should try it. I would have been such a bad ass in college if I would have known that then.
Carolyn Hax: But that's the tradeoff for getting old and saggy. And there has to be a tradeoff for getting old and saggy.
Re the columnist, I wondered that, too, tho it sounded like she wasn't inetersted. If she is interested, she needs to firgure out what to do with the BF first, before she goes off to explore somethign else.
Carolyn Hax: Sorry guys, my network just went flooey, then came back and tried to act as if nothing had happened. Networks.
Confusion: I think I'm seeing a contradiction. Either that, or I don't get your distinction. Someone who's been sexually abused shouldn't consciously withhold that information from a significant other, but people should consciously withhold other aspects of their sexual history? Like how many sexual partners they've had? Seems to me like both can affect someone's life currently, albeit in different ways. Actually, the one which involved conscious decisions seems to be more integral to who the person is than whether they were victimized by someone else, though how the sexual-abuse victim dealt with that victimization is an important part of who the person is now.
Carolyn Hax: What I think you're missing is my point about sharing "numbers" (gack). That is a useless detail, and people who get hung up on knowing your "number" (gack) should not be indulged. However, if you are willfully withholding some element of your sexual history, be it chosen--including promiscuity or inexperience--or forced, then you are doing yourself and your partner a disservice.
So, practical example. A is pressuring B to share a number. B has had a lively sexual past. B, in my opinion (of course), should be leery of A's fixation, and say so, and also should not be afraid to say, "I've had a lively sexual past." And if A can't handle that, B is well rid of A. And if B is too fearful to face the past honestly, B isn't ready for a serious commitment.
I also think if A and B are mature and good together, the past thing just comes out on its own naturally and this never is really an issue. But I've been told I have unrealistic views on these things.
RE: contagion: "Consciously change the way you look at something, by telling yourself, when you see something negative, to look again and see if there isn't a happier explanation for the same thing."
The success of the Bush presidency in a nutshell.
Carolyn Hax: Thanks. Now I'm depressed.
Los Angeles, Calif.: I also thought the girl rejecting the cute hockey player sounded like maybe she just thought he's out of her league. But anyway, if he's otherwise unoffensive, why not treat his offer as one of friendship? She's in college for heaven's sake; get out, meet new people, go see a hockey game!
Carolyn Hax: There you go, getting all reasonable again. Shneesh.
Carolyn Hax: Okay, Hax, shut up already. Thanks everybody for coming, and type to you next week.
Never too late: Just wanted to jump in with the information that at my law school, we had an Older Students' Caucus. The average age of Caucus members was 62. (And I don't remember any Caucus members dropping out before graduation, although plenty of other folks did.)
IOW, if you'd like to change careers, mid-30s is far from "too late."
Carolyn Hax: Yep. Life is long. Thanks.
Share about sharing, please: Yes, I'm curious what the peanuts are saying. I too was sexually abused as a child. Have shared before with a partner, then really wish that I hadn't. Didn't share with another partner, and was really glad, because he didn't deserve to know that about me. Still not sure what to do about this, because while I've dealt with it, it does affect my relationships....
Carolyn Hax: 'Kay. Here they come:
Reston, Va.: Re discussing sexual abuse, I do think it's important to share that information with a long-term, committed partner. There are myriad ways that such past experiences can emerge in relationships, and it might help the partner to know about it, even if the person who was abused feels like he or she is completely over it. It also might come up in unexpected ways, as it did for me recently, when our doula was interviewing us about past experiences that might come into play during labor, delivery and the postpartum period.
Carolyn Hax: ...
Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,
Another note on "deserves to know" about sexual abuse. Framing the question of whether to disclose or not in this way suggests to me (as a survivor) that the victim is viewed as defective in some way, that the partner will have to compensate for these defects and that the victim should disclose these defects up front rather than wait for the partner to discover them (like buying a house).
In all the years of therapy I had over sexual abuse, no one ever suggested to me that I owed it to partners or potential partners to disclose anything.
And I agree with the other writer that it is a positive sign of trust and closeness when a victim gets to the point of wanting to disclose the past. Unfortunately, responses vary widely. And sometimes we as "victims" don't want to find out what our partner's limitations are in this way.
Thanks for addressing this difficult topic, Carolyn.
Carolyn Hax: You're welcome, and thank you.
Past Sexual Abuse: For the angry person who said the advice was drivel: I am not a victim of sexual abuse, but of physical abuse from my father. I have moved past it and have a good relationship with him now that he's sober. I still feel that it's an important part of who I am that I WANT to share with someone I might spend the rest of my life with.
In fact I've broken up with a person I was dating for a while because they inadvertantly made me feel VERY uncomfortable sharing this with them, and I would need to share it at some point. It's a part of who I am whether I've moved past it or not. And if I keep that secret from someone I'm emotionally intimate with then it makes me a good bit less emotionally intimate with them.
Carolyn Hax: ...
Re: sexual abuse: I dated someone for a year who I suspect was the victim of sexual abuse. He hinted at it when we broke up, but I'd thought it long before. I never asked him to tell me about it, and I understand why he couldn't talk about it. Yet he used it as a way to shut me out and as an excuse why I could never understand him. And it ended up hurting me really badly because I wanted to understand and be there for him. Someone has every right to keep something like that private but they might want to first consider how it will effect the person they don't tell.
Carolyn Hax: ...
Anywhere: I, too, was a victim of sexual abuse from a close relative when I was younger, and here are my thoughts. It has been over 20 years since it happened, and though I am over it and I have let it go, it did profoundly affect me while I was growing up (depression, suicidal). And even though I'm absolutely fabulous today (no hints of it and only think about it neutrally in a blue moon), it seems ridiculous that I would share any other massive experience that has likewise "help make me who I am today" with my spouse but not that.
Carolyn Hax: ...
Re: Knowing all of someone: FWIW, I was raped and molested as a child, and I completely agree with your advice to the person molested by a step-parent. And it strikes me as rude for the woman who disagreed with you to bring up your own childhood sexual trauma/lack of. It's a weird thing to use as a put-down.
Carolyn Hax: Weird, but understandable, thanks.
Re: Oprah and Dr. Phil: I completely agree that there are certain things a spouse should know. I found out, fairly recently, that my grandfather abused my mother while she was growing up. My mother told my father about it who requested that she absolutely forbid either myself or my sister to be alone with our grandfather without another adult present. Frankly, I'm extremely grateful to my mother for her courage to tell my father, her courage to stand up to her mother and father about the whole thing...because otherwise I might be finding myself on a very different side of this conversation.
Carolyn Hax: I think that's it. I hope this helps, and thank you to all who wrote in.
Child of Abuse Victim: I'm biased, but I think it's important for people to know that full disclosure is important because children are at stake...especially if the abuser is still alive and part of the abusee's life.
Carolyn Hax: Oop, one more new point (the response was huge, reading as fast as I can ...) and a good closer:
Re: telling spouse: If you can't tell you spouse about the abuse, you ain't over it.
Telling my boyfriend was the most therapeutic thing that I ever did.
Carolyn Hax: Many thanks.
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