Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 28, 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.


Austin, Tex.: I love reading the column but I wish you weren't always so down on living together before marriage. I am currently living with my boyfriend and it's working out great. We aren't ready to get married yet (busy with work, school, going to a million friends weddings) but we will. In the mean time we were tired of having to spend the night without each other or without our stuff. It has made things easier and better and no more whose place tonight question. Sometimes it's OK to combine your lives and belongings before a ring.

Carolyn Hax: I don't think I was "down on living together" at all. I tried to lay out the argument without picking a side--with the possible exception of supporting people who make a choice, any choice, with their eyes open. Since you think you fit that description, then you're getting no flak from me.


Carolyn Hax: That's got to be some kind of record for me--just backed out of the second question I tried to answer. Sorry.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn. Wedding question. Is it tacky to wear khakis to a wedding? I mean, I'm going to wear a nice shirt, tie and sports coat. The reception is at the Ronald Reagan building and my girlfriend thinks I should wear nice slacks because this is a fancy affair. I like my dockers. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: Not tacky, disrespectful. No, no one's going to point and stare and say, "That guy's wearing khakis," but I think all of us can probably cite a recent situation in which our society's push to go casual has pushed a little too far. People are going all out on this wedding. It won't kill you to wear some nice pants.


Washington, D.C.: But what about the friends who insist that if the abuser needs to be invited to all events leaving me with the option of not attending any events or ignoring my attorney's and counselor's advice to never come in contact with him again. The "friends" are unaware of the level of abuse and I have maintained that it's none of their business.

Carolyn Hax: If you've chosen not to disclose the full reasoning behind your objection to his presence, then you can't expect your friends to include that reasoning into their decisions to invite him.

I'm sympathetic--you want your privacy and you want freedom from your abuser, both perfectly sane things to want. But in your case, unfortunately, having both would require friends who can read your mind (or at least summon the intuition to get close). I also disagree that it's so simply "none of their business." If you're expecting it to be a reason they disassociate themselves from their friend, then it becomes their business.

So you're stuck choosing: your privacy or your events. It's either none of their business and they get to invite whom they please, or you weigh in on whom they invite and you make the reaosn their business.


Plano, Tex.: Hi Carolyn,

I absolutely love your column and chats. I have been seeing a wonderful man for about 10 months. He is perfect for me in every way, but he works atrociously long hours during the week. Because of this, he and I rarely see each other on weeknights, and our relationship is consequently limited to the weekends. I feel as though I have a long-distance relationship without the distance. I love him, and, to be honest, I'm okay with the way things are. I guess what I'm asking is whether you think that this is healthy. If two people love each other, should they make more of an effort to see each other? I'd just like some perspective on our situation. Thank you so much.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you.

If you're honestly happy, then you've found an arrangement that suits both your needs and his, and there's nothing healthier than that. The only potential pitfall would be if your happiness were predicated on your telling yourself--secretly, subconsciously, whatever--that his circumstances will eventually change.


To Austin: What's with needing Carolyn's approval if you're convinced what you're doing is right?

And since when does attending other people's wedding become a reason to not be ready for marriage?

Carolyn Hax: I'd speculate, but my answer isn't the one I'm interested in hearing.


Re: First post: Ugh. I don't know how you can stand it. Doesn't it drive you nuts that people don't take the time to really read and understand your answers? It seems like so many times you get these indignant posts where people read one comment and twist your words to make it seem like you thinks an issue is only black/white without the shades of grey.

Carolyn Hax: I do find that some people can't see my answer past their own personal experience, and then rip me for it. (E.g., I'll discuss possible problems with a letter-writer's marriage, and someone whose wife cheated on him will write in to call me an idiot for not seeing that the writer's spouse is obviously cheating.) And of course my forehead is drawn to the nearest wall. But before I rip them back, I have to be careful to consider how much of my experience blocks my own vision. So, answer is, I guess, I try to be grateful that it keeps me honest.


New Jersey: My fiance has recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and confided that in me. He has since broken our engagement on a whim due to his anger from this condition and I am deeply hurt. He now calls everyday begging forgiveness. I still love him... What do I do?

Carolyn Hax: Get yourself Very Very Informed on bipolar disorder. Try NAMI ( if you want to talk to someone and if you want to be steered to reliable sources, or just spend an afternoon with Google. Obviously any Web forays will give you unfiltered, and therefore not necessarily reliable, information--but it'll arm you with enough info to start asking good questions. I've found also that reading a lot on a topic tends to tell you, through repetition, who the authorities are on a subject.


Seattle, Wash.: I think you nicely answered the writer who worried that living together before marriage increased her chance of divorce. But, you might have also mentioned that people who don't cohabitate before marriage for religious/moral reasons are also less likely to divorce for those same reasons, regardless of how happy they are (or aren't) in the marriage.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you. It's true that beliefs are a huge factor in the cohabitation issue, and it's also true I dealt with it implicitly, not explicitly. So here it is in latter form: People who believe in living together before marriage tend to do so as part of a larger view of marriage that is more fluid than the view of those who oppose cohabitation. Again, I'm throwing this out without taking a side. There seems to be a reluctance to say, "I believe in divorce," akin to the reluctance to say, "I believe in abortion." For obvious reasons. But some people take great comfort in having certainties, come what may, and others take great comfort in knowing they have choices, come what may. So, arranged marriages last and people who live together divorce. If anyone tries to tell me that one has better relationships than the other based on either fact, my head will head for that wall.


Seriously Stressed: Have to have some medical tests. Possible outcome very bad. Everyone says very bad outcome unlikely. Terrified. Help!

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry. I don't know if there will be any comfort in this for you--such a personal thing, reassurance--but my mom, who had to cope with a worst-possible outcome of tests, said fear was what -preceded- her news, and what followed it was relief. Not what I'd have expected, certainly, and I don't think she did either. But she said knowing the worst allowed her to start dealing with it, planning for it, prioritizing, which gave her what fear doesn't allow: peace.

Normally my answer to people who fear an uncertain future is to live what they know, and what they know is, at this point, fine. But given what you and my mom have said, I wonder if it might help you to assume the worst and start taking some practical steps toward making your peace.


Eastern Shore: Hi Carolyn: After over a year without a date I actually had a date the other night. He was truly very nice and maybe a little too into me -- he tuned our conversation towards future wants, even about children (which my kids are grown and I'm not considering more children). He didn't totally scare me but this was something very different from what I'm used to. He'd even like to travel with me in the near future because I'll soon be working part-time and I'm not really ready for that. I'm not used to anything like this because most of the men I've dated in the past aren't up front with things they are looking for in a relationship. I'm the type to go out and have a nice time and move slowly -- I know its nice to date someone on the same page and has the same wants, but talking about it all so soon kind of scared me because I've never had that before. Your thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: If you err by trusting your instincts, you lose a guy. If you err by ignoring your instincts, you lose yourself.


For New Jersey Bipolar: I recently got involved with NAMI to talk about my brother who has mental illness. I would highly recommend attending one of their support groups. It has lifted an incredible weight off my shoulders to share my experiences with a group of people that are having similar issues and to hear from them as well.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you.


Ann Arbor, Mich.: For last week's person who wants to be less self-conscious: I used to struggle with an almost paralyzing desire to be liked by eeeeverybody, until I realized that I dislike a whole lot of people. A whole lot. Like, almost everybody. If you really think about it, you probably do, too. So if I don't like them, why on earth should I care if they like me? It's liberating, I swear, and not as Scroogey as it sounds.

Carolyn Hax: I agree. And, it's really really helpful when applied to dating, especially the rejection side of it. When you're lucky if you make a handful of really good friends during, say, the whole of your 20s, why freak out if you don't meet someone you'd mate with for life?


Seattle, Wash.: Hi Carolyn,I am an attractive 29-year-old woman with a graduate degree and a prestigious job in the arts. My significant other also has a graduate degree in finance but he has decided what he'd rather do is handyman work. It appears his father, a successful businessman, has always pushed him and I think this is his way of finally fighting back. He could work anywhere but instead chooses to rake leaves, paint windows, and fix doors, etc... I everything about him except his lack of professional drive which is really disappointing. How do I bring him around without giving him an ultimatum?

Carolyn Hax: Here's your ultimatum: Love him or leave him. He is under no obligation to have professional drive--not to please you, not to please family, not to be a worthy, decent human being.

You're attractive and prestigious. I mean ambitious. You'll have no problem finding someone who values same.

Poor guy is dating his father.


For seriously stressed: This won't necessarily help with lessening the terror, but I'd like to suggest that the person awaiting scary test results to have someone in place for support -- who can remain calm and focused -- when the results come in, no matter what the likelihood of the results. I was able to do this for my sister, who did get the worst-expected diagnosis, a serious and rare cancer. She has a loving husband, but he also pretty much lost it when it came in. I was able to get to her side immediately, and be with her while she was arranging the next step in treatment, which is hard enough to focus on when you've been knocked on your butt with terrifying news. She couldn't think of the questions to ask, so I asked them. She wasn't ready to be aggressive with her requests, so I made them. I like to think it helped.

The silver lining is, after chemo and radiation, she's cancer-free, and just got her second clean bill of health three months out of treatment.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, that's a great suggestion.


Plano, Texas (again): Thank you for your advice. You're right that I do envision these circumstances changing someday. I mean, if we get married (which we've talked about, although it won't happen anytime soon), then we'd see each other every night, right? For now, it's fine, but is it wrong to think about things changing in the future? I'm just curious. Thanks again for your perspective.

Carolyn Hax: You might be up till 11 every night waiting to see him every night. It's a nice extension of the issue of ambition in a partner--you think you want it, and then you get married/buy a home/have kids/get old and mellow and find yourself alone while your mate is off being ambitious. Not everyone is going to be the same at every phase of life, and no one thing is good or bad for everyone--some people want their spouses to be ambitious, childless, out and about--but people do have a way of foreshadowing how they will be.

In other words, see his priorities for what they are, and project accordingly. Even better--since you're already talking about this stuff, see what he has to say. (Though people are quite capable of promising things they think they want, instead of things they're able to deliver. So, skepticism has its place.)


Re: Eastern Shore: Shouldn't she voice her concerns to guy? If she likes him but thinks that he is moving too fast or thinking too far ahead after one date, why not tell him that? That way she just might get to keep herself and the guy. Call me crazy, but I think that open, honest communication just might be called for in such a situation.

Carolyn Hax: I agree--but I put that under the larger umbrella of trusting her instincts. Respecting her fear can include fleeing from the guy, talking to him openly, saying nothing and waiting to see how things go.


Instincts: "If you err by trusting your instincts, you lose a guy. If you err by ignoring your instincts, you lose yourself."

While that makes some sense to me, it often feels like my instincts regarding people are faulty, like a broken speedomoeter I'm assuming that instincts are learned and not inherent. Is that accurate?

Carolyn Hax: I think that's a few psych degrees over my head, but I believe people have animal instincts that come factory-installed, and also learned reactions, which can be better or worse for what people learn growing up. So, you can have brain chemicals swimming around that affect the former, and messed up parents who affect the latter. And brain-chemical imbalances triggered by life traumas, just to keep things interesting.

Which is why I err on the side of recommending professional help to people who feel (chronically) unable to trust their own instincts. Dig, learn, understand, manage.


Please Help in Maryland!: My brother is going through a rough time. He and his girlfriend recently went through a nasty break-up and almost immediately after that, he lost his job (and health insurance).

Needless to say, he's in a bit of a funk. Is there any free/low-cost counseling available? I think he has a few issues he needs to work through, but one place he called offered him a "bargain" price of $75/hour.

Is there any place out there that can offer help? We've tried the Blue Pages and looking around online, but no luck so far.


Carolyn Hax: Women's center, if he can get past the name. I can e-mail you more names if you email me,


Washington, D.C.: Online only, please

Hi Carolyn, love the chats! You often say that you don't think it's a good idea to live together before getting married. Is this becuase it is so hard to break up if you're living together and therefore people marry who maybe shouldn't or because you actually think that living together makes it less likely that your marriage will be successful? I don't see how the latter can be true, I mean if you love each other and living together works, a marriage can work too. I do agree though that living together is a sign of commitment, and shouldn't just be a way to save on rent. But, I don't necessarily think a ring is necessary, just a mutual desire to get married someday. What do you think? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Too anonymously nonincendiary for print?

I say it's a really bad idea to do it lightly because it's so hard to break up from there that a lot of people who should break up don't, or at least procrastinate doing it, and end up limping along miserably for longer than anyone wants.

I don't say a mutual desire to get married someday is necessarily necessary. (!)

The combination of these two leads me to: Do it when it's the end result both of you want. Not a tryout, the end result. And if you choose to (and are able to) put this end result in writing on a license, so be it.


RE: Seattle: Seattle makes me want to spew my lunch.

Carolyn Hax: I think you misread Seattle's post. Seemed pretty even-handed to me, since it pointed out that people of conservative beliefs will stay married even if unhappy--meaning, they'll register statistically as having a "successful" marriage, even though the marriage can be blissful or wretched. While--to use an intensely personal example--my marriage to Nick registers statistically as a "failure" even though he's among my closest friends.


New York: How do you know when you're ready to get married?

Carolyn Hax: When there's no question you'd still be with this person unmarried. When you'd gladly elope except that it might make your mom sad to miss it. When you're not looking for marriage to change anything about your lives together except your tax-filing status.

I could go on, but wouldn't want to keep you guys waiting for the next question. Snort.


New Carrolton, Md.: Carolyn,I really need your help finding Arabic domestic violence counseling/legal advice ih D.C. I have been looking on the web and the sites I've found don't seem helpful/appropriate. Please help me! I can't vouch for any of these, but a quick Google search for Arab domestic violence counseling D.C. returned this page -- which lists several organizations in the area: Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights -- Domestic Violence

Carolyn Hax: Thanks Liz. I'd also, once again, suggest the Women's Center, if only so they can refer you. The DC Rape Crisis Center also does good work, and for both to do good work in such a diverse metropolitan area, both have to be ready to address the demands and intricacies of other cultures.


Just curious...: What's your take on "Covenant Marriage"?

Carolyn Hax: I believe all commitment is internal. What you do to formalize it doesn't make it better or worse.


Ack! Last minute panic!: I have to give a speech in front of 75 people tomorrow about my husband (he's being honored and they asked me to talk). I'm not nervous about speaking in public, but I've decided I hate my speech, it's too long, and my husband and I are going through some temporary bumps in our relationship and I really just feel like complaining about him, not praising him. Obviously I won't, but any advice?

Carolyn Hax: On a fresh screen/piece of paper, write down the best thing about your husband. If it's a tie, write down all winners. Then, think of a story that best illustrates that great thing. Work from there.


Re: New York: "You know you're ready to be married when you'd be with this person even unmarried and it won't change anything about your lives together." Then why get married?

I think if you can't just "be together" if you want to be, then it's likely to be more about "being married" than the person(s).

Carolyn Hax: I agree with the second part, which is why I said the thing you quoted.

But that still leaves lots of reasons to marry. (I won't say "good" reasons, because those are in the eye of the beholder.) There are big legal benefits to marrying. It makes things easier if you have kids. It makes your mommy happy. It's our society's way of saying, "We're a unit, treat us as such"--be it by not hitting on us at parties, or by not including one of us while excluding the other from your guest list, or name your silly social shortcut.


Bethesda, Md.: For the person looking for Arabic domestic violence help, there is a South Asian women's resource center called ASHA, Inc. If the issue is wanting to deal with a counselor who understands similar religious/cultural issues they may be of help, or at least have partnerships with similar Arabic organizations.

Carolyn Hax: Great, thanks. (Can't vouch for it myself.)


I'd like to get Married in DC: But, I'm a girl and my girlfriend's a girl. But it might shed some light for people on reasons not to live together. If it is available to you, marriage protects your interests. There are 1,138 federal rights alone that you get when you are married. Included in this is the right to take time off to care for a partner under the Family and Medical Leave Act, tax and social secutiry benefits. But most basically, it allows the law to treat things as "ours" so that if your relationship ends through break up or death, you aren't deprived of the life you have worked for and commited to, even if you can't provide receipts. Don't think that just because you live together that the house or the car is "ours." The law won't see it that way. There's a reason gay people want the right to get married, and it's not for the party.

Carolyn Hax: What she said. Thanks.


I think that 'nut meant the other Seattle...: know, the prestigious one.

Carolyn Hax: Right, right. Hazards of the "search" button. Sorry. As for the group hurl, I'm in.


Alexandria, Va.: Wooooo, halloween! I'm normal this weekend! :]

Carolyn Hax: I'm sure goblins have a support group going by now.


Arlington, Va.: Carolyn, I need an outsider's opinion. My sister, whom I consider one of my best friends, hates my boyfriend of almost one year. She never liked him to begin with, for reasons unknown, but really began her hate campaign when he dumped me out of the blue after three months. We worked things out, got back together a week later and other than the break up, he has been fantastic.

Everyone else in my life has moved passed our break up and accepted him except my sister. I can't even mention his name without her making some snide comment or rolling her eyes, but I'm expected to listen to her drone on and on about her boyfriend. This is really driving a wedge between her and I and I'm not sure what to do. Obviously, both my sister and my boyfriend are incredibly important to me. Your expert opinion? Thank you!!

Carolyn Hax: You really need to call her out. "If you're going to be so nasty about him, then I think you need to explain exactly why, so I can consider it seriously. Otherwise you essentially say you have no reason to hate him, which leaves me no choice but to tune you out."

Saying this does obligate you, though, to consider her compliants seriously. She's one of your best friends, her opinion does matter; open your mind to the possibility that she has a point. (And if it turns out she doesn't, then she doesn't.)


Re: New York: Right; those are good reasons to get married, but they have absolutely nothing to do with love and everything to do with money and image; hence, they strike me as being "ulterior motives" more than about the other person or one's feelings. I'm not articulating it well, but I know what I mean. I'm for just being together if you want or not if you want without all the red tape; otherwise, it's really a business arrangement and/or retirement plan?

Carolyn Hax: No no no! The person who speaks for you when you're incapacitated is not a retirement plan. It's love and trust and preservation of selfhood, the essence of marriage. Or, couplehood, for the non-believers in marriage. The point is that people often don't realize that certain things we believe are a given with mating aren't a given unless the mating is formalized, and they aren't all about money. That's all. The property a couple owns together goes by another, more common name: home.


Washington, D.C.: Is Hax your real name?

Carolyn Hax: Can you believe it? An aptonym if I've ever seen one.


Seattle, Wash.: I'm the attractive prestigious writer a few of you have ripped. Wow -- you people are mean. What is wrong with wanting your mate to live up to his potential anyway?

Carolyn Hax: What's wrong with wanting him to be happy?

What you're reacting to is readers' disgust, and while it's harsh I don't believe it's misplaced. Love a person for who he is, not what he has on his resume. Be proud you found someone intelligent and goodhearted and courageous enough to live life in his own terms, not ashamed you found someone who refuses to live on society's terms. I could go on, but please try to see what we're seeing. Supporting someone is supporting the whole person, and that includes trusting him to know what makes him happy.

And if it doesn't make him happy, then you can talk about that--not how he'd be happier in some prestigious career track he's apparently already rejected.

And if he's happy but you can't or won't support his choice, then you support him by freeing him to meet someone who will.


Any quick cure for . . .: a misanthrope? what about a misogynyst?

Carolyn Hax: A cave, and ... a cave.


Land of laughs: Maybe Seattle and Plano should switch? Sounds like they each have what the other one wants.

Can you share what Halloween characters will be appearing in your house on this, my favorite holiday?

Carolyn Hax: That is the untapped income potential of this forum--we all throw in our needs and try to find others that match, like a pile of single socks.

Characters in my house (since they've been dressing up all this week): a brown bear, a Pooh bear, a bunny, a hoops player, a two-sizes-too-small cow. Inexplicably, no one will touch the zebra. Jester avoidance is understandable.


HAX: You used the word aptonym. That's a word only Gene can use. I'm calling Gene and tattling on you!

Carolyn Hax: Gene is big on tattling, I'm sure.


Boston, Mass.: I'll back up Seattle. Of course it doesn't sound good to say something she's saying, but I'd be surprised if all these people out there really live the way the talk (type?). It's OK to have lifestyle expectations, and people should be honest about what theirs are. Jumping on the "what someone does doesn't matter bandwagon" isn't such a great idea for someone who doesn't really believe that.

Carolyn Hax: .. which is why I said that if Seattle can't support the handyman decision, it's time to go. The answer is not to push someone to fit your idea of perfect. It's to respect a person's right to choose for himself, and then to choose for yourself whether that person is right. It's the belief that it's your place to rally a guy back to -your- value system that's beyond the pale.


Aptonym?: What does that mean? I couldn't find it in the dictionary I keep at my desk or at

Carolyn Hax: It's a name that's apt--e.g., an advice columnist named Carolyn Writesbadly.


United Kingdom: It's Friday night and when you're alone, reading an online chat from thousands of miles away, all the worries about never having had a boyfriend, not eating right, and just generally not feeling up to snuff socially seems to all jump on me at once.

How do I keep from feeling like a loser in such situations? I am torn between asking about how to find someone to love in this large world or just asking how to cope with the fact that it doesn't always happen for everybody? Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: You kind of said it with "large world." It is, but your piece of it is small, so throw your best into tending it. If to do it right you need to break some bad old habits, then start by tending it in small ways--like, by finding one small way to eat better. (Replacing juice or soda with water is a good one.) It's hard to feel like a loser when you start tending your little piece of the world really well--whether that means being good at your job, or good to your friends, or nice to your dog, or attentive to your hygiene, or smart with your money, or whatever.

People do find themselves alone sometimes, and this is one way to get something out of it--not make the best of it, but really thrive from it.

Thanks for being here, by the way.


What are ya... nuts ?: Its 2:45 p.m.

Carolyn Hax: Eee. You're right.

NOW will you stop complaining that I'm slow (you know who you are)?

(I know who you are, too, and so I'll answer my own question: No.)

Anyway. Bye. Thanks everybody, and type to you next week.

I'd say bye to Liz, but she's already left me, gone to lunch, finished lunch, and flown home for Thanksgiving.


Arlington, VA: wait all those costumes you mentioned.. how many kids do you have?

Carolyn Hax: Lost count.


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