Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 18, 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.


Cartoon Question:: Hello - I noticed that you re-used a cartoon in [last] Wednesday's column. I know this because it is one of the many I printed out and have up on my wall. Was it because it was appropriate again or is Nick vacationing? Just curious. Also, any chance a compilation of Nick's cartoons may be included in your upcoming book? (At least I think you have an upcoming book. But if I am wrong and you don't, you should! The last one was great!). Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Hi. This is from last week's chat but I forgot to post it. We did reuse a cartoon, but not because Nick was on vacation. The cartoon for that Wednesday was used for the column the preceding Friday by mistake, so we pulled out an old one for Wednesday that was on a similar subject.


Detroit, Mich.: Is it really wrong of me to give my boyfriend a baby bootie for Christmas to let him know I am expecting if we were planning on expecting anytime soon? I like the idea but am worried he might not... and would prefer a conversation than a bootie.

Carolyn Hax: If you were telling me, you could give me a baby bootie. Since you're telling your husband, you should do it as you think he might prefer.

This being the hypothetical answer.

The practical answer is, if you're pregnant now, then please don't wait till Christmas, and if you aren't, then please don't worry about things like this till you are.


Wow: While the woman in today's column needed your advice, the husband is in need of a butt-kicking. How DARE he leave this decision up to his wife. This is HIS kid. He owes that kid so much more than "oh, since you take care of her most of the time, it's your decision whether she stays or goes". This is HIS KID!!

Carolyn Hax: There were about twice (or a hundred times) as many things to say as there was space to say it in. I just hope they hug this girl at least twice an hour, for no reason other than to hug her.


Jack or Master?: Carolyn -- I've started to realize in the last few years that the phrase "Jack of all trades, master of none" legitimately applies to me. There isn't one thing that I truly know a lot about, but I know a little about a ton of things.

This is starting to make me wonder about everything in my life -- not just my job, but my intellectual abilities, how it affects me socially in terms of conversation, etc. Is this something that many people just have to deal with? It's not like I wish I could be a PhD in __, but I'm starting to wonder if it's an issue I should address in my life. In my late 30s, if that matters. Thanks -- love your columns and view of the world!

Carolyn Hax: Thank you! If I knew the specifics about your situation--what you do with your free time, what your work and sleep habits are like, how well you focus, what your environment was like growing up--I could talk about specific possibilities, everything from your expecting too much of yourself to your having ADD.

Without specifics, I can only throw out general ideas. Brains and temperaments are different, with some suited to people who can stay focused on one thing endlessly, and others suited to people who thrive on speed and change and a million different moving parts. Some people at the extremes have diagnosable conditions, like autism or ADD, but others within the range of normal (and also those who are, say, ADD but undiagnosed) just tend to gravitate to things that suit their wiring. Your Jack-of-all-trades history could be your perfectly normal, perfectly acceptable way of functioning, and if you were to find a job that suits it--reporter, for instance--and to form relationships that accommodate it, you might not be feeling so ... out of place, or whatever it is you're feeling.

Since you -are- to the point of quesitoning your whole life, I would recommend you make an appointment for an evaluation--maybe starting with ADD, but only because there are so many doctors for so many things and a person has to start somewhere.


Detroit Mamma: Yes I am already expecting only he is not my husband. Boyfriend of six years. Living together. The bootie is a cute idea but something inside tells me I will regret the bootie approach if his reaction is not too favorable.

Carolyn Hax: Sorry about that, you did say boyfriend. (Speaking of faulty brain wiring ...) The bootie is a cute idea when Christmas is in less than 24 hours. But Christmas is not in less than 24 hours. Tell him at your first (appropriate) opportunity, and face whatever it is you're trying not to face by stalling for five weeks.


Lansing, Mich.: I think my girlfriend is severely depressed, but she doesn't have health insurance and won't go see a therapist. She has said she's had suicidal thoughts in the past. She frequently talks about what a failure she is, and when I react by telling her that I love her and am proud of her it just makes her more upset. What am I supposed to do/say when she says things like that? More importantly, how can I help her get some help?

Carolyn Hax: -You- see a therapist. Or at least talk to a professional who can advise you on handling a loved one's (possible) depression. You (and so many others) are in a situation that has you in way over your head, starting with your having essentially to diagnose her. She could be severely depressed, but she could also have some other serious illness besides depression that merely shares some of its symptoms. To find someone near you, try, or just call your regular doctor to get the name of a psychiatrist who'd be willing to talk to you for a few minuites, just to get you started.


Virginia: I am really worried about my ex-boyfriend. I broke up with him about 2 1/2 months ago for various reasons (communication issues on my part, anger/maturity issues on his part and a general lack of compatibility) and since then he has remained hostile and angry towards me. I'm really worried about his drinking though. Through mutual friends I have learned that he now spends nearly every night in a bar, drives home drunk and remains very, very angry and hurt about the break-up. Is it my place to intervene or would I just make the situation worse since I seem to be the main source of his pain? We do not speak to each other at this point at all. Help!

Carolyn Hax: You are not the main source of his pain, he is. You're both making the mistake of blaming you for his immaturity, and intervening would merely underscore that.

Meanwhile, I'm worried about him too but I'm really worried about all the innocent people sharing the road with this self-centered, infantile man. Whatever you can do to shame these "mutual friends" into confiscating his keys would be greatly appreciated by Society. Thanks.


Giving him the boot: Detroit could still give her boyfriend a bootie if that's how she'd like to announce her pregnancy to him (and she's a better judge of how that will go over than you or any of us). There's no reason she has to wait until Christmas, though. Just wrap it up today and tell him you've got a surprise gift.

Carolyn Hax: There you go, thanks. Maybe one of those frilly turkey booties.


Anonymous: I know legal issues are the farthest thing from the step-mom's mind, but she and her husband also need to make sure that little girl has citizenship. Contrary to popular belief, kids born overseas don't just get citizenship because one parent is a citizen, particularly if the child was born out of wedlock to a citizen father and non-citizen mother. Not taking care of this could result in a very sad deportation fifteen years from now...

Carolyn Hax: Farthest thing from my mind, too. Thanks.


Midwest city, USA: Carolyn-before you had kids, how did you feel about them? Did you always want to be a mother and want to be one as soon as it was the right time, or was it something you thought you would get to, but you didn't feel the clock/urge at any one point? I ask because I have been married a year, and have never not wanted kids, but just don't feel the materal thing kicking in at all, other than knowing that physcially, I shouldn't wait too much longer. I love children, and can't really imagine anything more important or meaningful than having children, but for some reason, I just don't feel the urge to get pregnant anytime soon. Pregnancy and birth don't scare me, but actually bringing the child home and raising it does. Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: It should scare you. Well, okay, people who aren't scared don't have to feel defective for not being scared, but if being scared means you appreciate the staggering weight of the responsibility you're about to take on, then that's a good thing.

To answer your specific question, I loved kids as an abstract idea, and I was a happy and involved auntie to my sisters' babies, but if there was a toddler in the room, I couldn't get out fast enough. And if there was a kid in my row on an airplane, between the two of us I probably threw the bigger tantrum, though mine just happened to be internal. And I'd go on but you probably get the idea.

In a way, it might be more productive to think in terms of how you'd feel if you -didn't- have kids, since that's something you know. If that version of the future doesn't look appealing to you, then you pretty much have to trust yourself and go for it.


Arlington: Re: step-mom - To figure out the citizenship issue, the easiest place to start is Probably best to contact the US embassy in that country to find out how local laws may affect the child's citizenship too.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks!


Jack here again...: Thanks, Carolyn. I guess I could have given you more detail. I'm definitely sure this isn't an ADD issue, but appreciate how you could go that route. No issue with focusing on anything -- it's more about not feeling like I'm really a "specialist" in anything! I have friends who are lawyers, songwriters, financial whizzes, etc., but I'm really a generalist -- both in career and in life! Maybe that's what it boils down to -- I'm a generalist but not a general? It doesn't weigh on me that I'm some sort of failure -- it's just a weird realization.

Carolyn Hax: Cool. As long as it isn't bothering you, then this weird realization is probably a happy realization, or at least a happy one waiting to happen. Can't speak for everyone, obviously, but I've found that Great Revelations About Oneself, even of things not so great, come with a wave of relief. Just in the quality of the decisions you make for yourself, there's a marked improvement. Stuff like, "I don't want that promotion, because I'd rather stay in the job I do well."


Boston, Mass.: Hi Carolyn,

I know you get a lot of "my relationship is perfect except for this one thing" questions, but I hope you'll take one more. Everything really is perfect between my girlfriend and myself except for the difference in how we spend money, and I know that that is something that can cause serious problems down the line. I have kids and she has expensive hobbies. We've just started talking marriage but I haven't broached the money question yet because I don't know what is fair. My thought is that all expenses (including for the kids) should come first and then we each would get an equal amount to spend on ourselves each month after all bills are taken care of. But part of me wonders if that is fair to her since they are not her kids, and by marrying me, she would have to cut back on her spending. On the other hand, if she doesn't cut back, I will probably resent that she has money to spend on herself while all of my money goes towards taking care of the family. Yes, I know we need to talk about this, but I wanted to get an idea of how to broach it first.

Please help?

Carolyn Hax: You actually wrote a great opening yourself--"I haven't broached the money question yet because I don't know what is fair." That leaves room for the two of you to decide together what is fair.

What wouldn't be fair: marrying someone who brings to the marriage the attitude that your kids aren't hers. Obviously no one wants the scenario where she steps in as some kind of Instant Mom, but, for your kids' sake (and yours, of course, and hers), you want her to regard you and your kids as her family. And it's through that much more important gateway that you cross over into the household details, including (butnot limited to) allocation of FAMILY money.


RE: Midwest city, USA: I would love to hear from people who didn't have kids. It's so not an acceptible thing to ask people that I don't know well and my friends have kids, but I'm really curious because I don't want kids. Do people generally regret it periodically, but on the balance are they okay with the decision? Do they feel constant pressure from people who assume you're married, you in your 30s (or 40s or whatever), when are the kids coming?

Carolyn Hax: I'll throw it out there for comment.

I can also pass along what childless couples have written to me for years through the column: that most don't regret their decision not to have kids; that when there are regrets, it's usually when one person changes his or her mind and the spouse doesn't (very, very painful when it happens, obviously); and that all of them are seriously sick of being pressured, nagged, lectured, advised, and told that they'll surely change their minds.


From one Jack to Another: I'm a Jack of all Trades too, and it really used to bug me... talented at many things, but not great at any of them, etc. After beating myself up for it for many years wondering what profession I should be in, what hobby I should stick with, I asked myself the following question:

Would I be happier if I were only good at one thing, and no good at anything else, or is my life richer for having more interests and being decent at all of them?

I chose the latter. Sometimes I wish I were amazing at one thing and be known as that-person-who-was-amazing-at-that-one-thing, but I've had so many rich experiences with my strange versatility, that I don't think I'd trade places if given the option.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks--sounds like the wave of relief I was trying to describe. Saying, hey, this is the way I am, and there's a lot to be said for this way.


Laurel, Md.: Hey Carolyn,

My live-in boyfriend about a year has done some really dumb things financially, and it has really upset me and hurt us in the process. For the last four months we have been arguing like cats and dogs because of it, and even though he is trying a bit harder to make it right.. I cant't seem to stop beating him over the head about it. I just feel like it may happen again, and it will never get better? Any advice?

Carolyn Hax: WHY do you feel it may happen again? If he does get it and is trying and has changed, then you need to back off and trust him. If you're seeing actual signs that he doesn't get it or isn't trying hard enough or isn't going to change, then you need to break up with him. Beating him over the head indefinitly is not acceptable. Make up your mind and get on with it.


Enough with the toddler talk: Could this chat not be so kid-centric today?

Carolyn Hax: Okay. Let's make it all about you.


Virginia: I have a few friends that are ex-girlfriends of mine and I feel that whenever I start a new relationship, I should not speak with them for fear the new girl in my life will be jealous. I feel very strongly about it. My friends joke now that when I stop talking to them suddenly, it's because I have a new girlfriend and they won't hear from me until the relationship ends. One of them told me that if I couldn't be her friend all the time, then she wasn't interested but I don't think that's fair.

Carolyn Hax: I don't think -you're- being fair. Not to your friends, since you dump them whenever it suits you to instead of sticking by them; not to your new girlfriends, since you assume upfront that they're jealous and insecure instead of giving them the chance to demonstrate that they're not threatened by your female friends; and not to yourself, since you choose to pander to potential insecurities instead of letting your female friends act as a filter. Since you have these friends, why would you even want to be with someone who gets all insecure and jealous? Have the guts to stand by your choice of friends. If it scares these women off, you're better off.


Arlington, Va. Hi, Carolyn:

After over two years of being single, I am beginning to feel painfully lonely. Up until now, I've been okay with being single. But I've had my hopes raised and then dashed enough times that I'm beginning to get discouraged. How do I balance my self-esteem while still finding the courage to keep looking?

Carolyn Hax: I'm not sure that "keep looking" is the answer, if that's what's dragging you down. Or, to put it another way, if the answer to repeatedly dashed hopes is to use new or creative or artificial means to keep reinflating those hopes. My suggestion would be to start forming new hopes, of the kind you can control. I know that's terribly general and vague, but the specifics have to come from you. The part I can offer is that concrete things make much more satisfying foundations for your choices, decisions and plans. "Find a life partner" is a goal/hope in which you have only so much say, so of course it's going to be frustrating.


T-day: Is it really horrible for me to plan to use drinking as a coping mechanism for dealing with my sister in law next weekend? I say this in jest (about the drinking), as I am determined to get through next weekend without my sister-in-law driving me up a wall (as I have let her do way too many times).

Any advice for dealing with one of the most selfish people on the planet? FWIW, the majority of my family also thinks this gal is a class-A pill, but for the most part, can put up with her better than I have been able to.

Thanks. And happy t-day!

Carolyn Hax: Thanks! Maybe you're onto something already. Whenever we look for things to get angry about, we usually find them, and get good and worked up about it. Why wouldn't the same mechanism work if we were looking for things to howl at? You're joking about it now, so just keep that momentum and keep an eye out for great stories.


Connecticut: Carolyn, I'm dating a women who gets so jealous of other women that I can't even have conversations with other women without getting the third degree from my girlfriend. We're good together in so many other ways, but this dog and pony show is starting to wear on me. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: That this dog and pony show IS the show. It's not going to change, it's not going to get better--and, it's not just about other women. This is an insecure person you're seeing, one who believes she has the right to grill you when you do something she thinks is inappropriate. These two things are problems that will come to bear on the way you (potentially) raise children, deal with your respective families, run a household, handle money, pursue a career, observe holidays, shop for groceries, whatever. Nothing's too small to get caught in this trap.

I'd say to run, but you have to figure that out for yourself. Start by behaving as you see fit, and letting her respond however she chooses to respond. When she has a point, respect that by granting her point and changing your behavior; when she's being unreasonable, stick to your guns and -do not- indulge her. Any relationship that has any hope of being healthy has to survive on these terms.


T-day relative bingo: I read in a magazine once to make up a personalized bingo card to use over the holidays. For example, if Aunt Sally says "So, are you seeing any one yet?", you get to check off a square. Maybe this could help the poster with the selfish sister-in-law keep a sense of humor about everything. You could plan the game ahead of time with friends and whoever gets bingo on turkey day wins. Just don't check off the card at the dinner table in front of the offender. That would just be mean.

Carolyn Hax: But effective, no doubt. Thanks.


Just Float...: I find that watching "Home for the Holidays" is a great prep for dealing with quirky family during the holidays. Reminds me of the humor in being thrown in with a diverse group of people I have to see simply because we're related. It's become a tradition. Holly Hunter's character tells herself to "just float" when things get too nutty. It's great.

Carolyn Hax: My favorite is when she borrows the awful puffy coat and then runs into an old friend.


Re: Arlington: As a perpetually single person who is not too happy about it, my advice to Arlington is to accept his/her plight. Assume that the opposite sex is, for whatever shortsighted reason, completely disinterested in you and that you will die sad and lonely. I realize that it sounds pretty depressing, but it's actually remarkably liberating and frees you to do whatever -you- want without stressing about dating, companionship, sex, etc. Diminished expectations are underrated.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. Makes so much sense. More to come on this:


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

This may be kind of an odd question. I have a good friend who is a single woman in her late 30s who I know would like to find a partner but has somehow just gotten out of the dating groove. Is there any way I can be a good friend and help her get out there and look for someone? I don't want to be all "everyone should be coupled" but I know she'd love to find someone and I think it would be the kind thing to do to gently help her out, just don't know quite how to do so.

Many thanks!

Carolyn Hax: I think "gently help her out" is synonymous with "make her feel defective." The role of friends is to share lives, so share your life with her in whatever way best suits your friendship. That's a great way to be a good friend. And, conveniently, it's also a great way for her to find happiness in the life she's got, as opposed to the one she thinks she should be living or wishes she were living or thinks everyone else thinks she should be living.


No kids and single: Hey, I always thought I'd have kids, be married, etc. I'm now 47, unmarried, don't have a boyfriend, never had kids. And you know, it's OK. Everyone has to make themselves happy or even if they find Mr. Right, if they're not happy inside of themselves it probably won't work. And I have come to realize it's probably a good thing I never had kids. Just do stuff you want to do and stop "looking" for the perfect person. Otherwise you may be wasting your life when you could be having fun instead. Hope this makes sense!

Carolyn Hax: It does, thanks.


Vacation: I'm about to take a vacation to Europe, and instead of looking forward to it, I'm dreading things like the long plane ride and the piles of work that will be waiting for me when I get back from having taken two weeks off. Is there anything I can do to improve my attitude about this?

Carolyn Hax: Take big piles of work to do on the plane?


Washington, D.C.: Do you have any thoughts about appropriate/inappropriate contact with exes when you are seeing someone?

How do you distinguish "jealous and insecure" from "legitimate problem"?

Carolyn Hax: Volume. If you get alarmed by many people all the time, it's you.

If you never get upset and then one person sets off your alarm, then it's not you, it's the ex.

And when it is the ex, and you point out the problem, and you get told it's in your head, then it isn't you or the ex, it's the person you're dating.

Does that work?


St. Paul, Minn.: Any advice for dealing with a friend's manipulative live-in girlfriend? She wronged me and my husband big-time by not letting our friend come to our wedding (she cited some ancient bad blood between her and me, which I thought was over two years ago, when she immediately refused her invitation) so I'm newly disgusted with her and losing respect for him. But even if he makes excuses for her, since he is our friend, shouldn't I just continue to be nice and fair to her? Especially since they too might get married someday?

Carolyn Hax: There's no one answer. Well, actually, it is one answer, but a sliding one. He's your friend, so you suck it up and deal with her because you want to stay friends with him, unless and until it gets so bad you stop wanting to be friends with him, too, since he's the one choosing to be with her, and you grow distant from them both.

Happy Friday!


New York, NY: To Have Kids or Not:

I am 60 years old, and early on, my wife and I decided for a variety of reasons not to have children. I planned to be an opera singer and we were moving from Texas to New York. We discovered that we could never be happy raising kids here (no indictment -- just a preference). We endured some pretty intense pressure from some family early on, but as the years went by, that is one decision that we did not regret. We have enjoyed wonderful relationships with our nieces and nephews, and now that they are having children of their own, it is almost like being a grandparent. It is not a perfect decision. About five years ago, my wife and I divorced, and I found myself looking back at this decision and wondering if I (we) had made a mistake. I really don't think so. I have a wonderful relationship with my siblings and their children and wonderful friends. It can be enough.

Carolyn Hax: Great, honest post, thank you.

I will scan for others on this subject, since many have responded to that question.


Feedback from the Childless: People who opt not to have kids, as Carolyn noted, are generally fine with that decision for the long run. Maybe the occasional "what if" but generally happy, if, true, annoyed by all the "you don't know what you're missing" pressure.

To make that point even stronger, here's the feedback from a 50-something who doesn't have children, not by choice but by fiat of nature (i.e., can't have them). So I wanted them, couldn't, and you know what? I'm fine with my life, too. I have nieces and nephews, volunteer with a literacy group for children, have a great time when I'm with others' children, but my life is not empty or tragic. I'm happy, well-adjusted, and thrilled for friends and family when they announce the latest pregnancy. Seriously. Life can go on just fine if you opt out of parenthood. And you still get the advantage of all these terrific kids growing up to be terrific adults who will make your life content (love the florist shop owner who knows my favorite flower) or save it (love the parents encouraging interest in the sciences) or otherwise affect it because someone who did or could have kids did such a beautiful job raising them.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you!


No kids: Well, I may not be in the age range the poster wants to hear from, but I'm in my late 30's (husband is in his late 40's), and neither of us has any desire to have children. Sure, we have heard the usual questions from family and friends, but not for quite some time. I think that everyone else has finally realized that having kids just isn't for us. The most important thing is that WE are comfortable with that decision. I really couldn't care less how other people feel about our decision.

Carolyn Hax: That doesn't guarantee others will accept your decision peacefully, but it certainly can't hurt. Thanks.


No boyfriend, no problems: I have been standing on the outside of a relationship for about a year now. I'm ok with it. I have a good job, I just bought a house, I travel, I keep myself busy with sports. However, my friends are constantly giving me the "You'll find a guy" when I complain about a bad date (usually I'm trying to be funny), express I won't be bringing a date to xxx function, etc. What to say to well meaning friends - when maybe I would like a boyfriend, but I'm generally happy with my life, and the constant "he's out there for you" makes me feel like somehow I'm less of a person because I don't have a "better half".

Carolyn Hax: I meant to post this when we were on that thread, to illustrate why I advised against helping friends find mates, gently or otherwise.

In your case, I think you should just come out and say that it's okay, you're just telling a funny story, not fishing for "You'll find a guy" assurances. However, I also think you need to look at the signals you may be giving unintentionally. "I keep myself busy with sports" is the kind of phrasing that says, "I'm in a holding pattern till my life starts"--which invites people to assure you that it's okay, you'll find a guy. Instead, take a cue from all those prior posters--this -is- your life, in full swing. Whether you need to incorporate this in your whole philosophy or just your phrasing, I think doing it will cut down on the, "You'll find a guy" moments.


Chicago: I was recently dumped for another man (after I knew and dated her first). Of course, she said she still "wants to be friends." I believe that line is used to soothe her internal turmoil rather than for my benefit. My new reply was to ask "how do you envision this proposed friendship?" Needless to say, there was alot of silence. Why is this "friends" line used as an escape hatch??

Carolyn Hax: It isn't always one. But whether it's said sincerely or as an escape hatch, I think it means the same thing--"You're a good person and I don't want you to think otherwise just because I, for reasons that have nothing to do with how good a person you are, don't see us mating for life."


Friendship Question: One of my best friend completely ditches me whenever she has a boyfriend. One time, I only talked to her three times during a whole year! When she's single, we hang out all the time. She is currently in a relationship and has totally disappeared on me again. I know I can't change her, but do you have any advice on how I can make peace with this situation for myself?

Carolyn Hax: Tell yourself ... she's a fun person who gets temporarily assigned to your area every once in a while.

Or, she dumps you for boys, but because she's a girl who dumps all her friends for boys, at least you can be assured that, whenever she goes away, it won't be long before she comes back.

Or there's always, it's not personal, it's just (her) business.


Carolyn Hax: That should do it. Thanks everybody, have a great Thanksgiving. There won't be any online discussions next Friday, in observation of National Leftovers Day, so I'll type to you next next Friday.


Regarding Exs...: What is too much volume with the ex? Is coffee okay? A lunch? Both without the current girlfriend? Is it okay to confront the ex?

Carolyn Hax: I mean volume of jealousy, not volume of contact with the ex.

If your partner has a friend who happens to be an ex, then accept it. If they're behaving as more than friends, then talk to your partner. It's actually not as complicated as it feels. And if you're not sure, wait it out till you feel more confident in your judgment.

But don't approach the ex. That's so soap opera--and also beside the point. If there is a problem, it's with your partner.


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