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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 2, 2005; 12:00 PM

Carolyn takes your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

Appearing every Wednesday and Friday in The Washington Post Style section and in Sunday Source, Tell Me About It offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there -- really recently. Carolyn Hax is a 30-something repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.

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Anxious in Washington, D.C.: Sorry to submit this so early, but I can't concentrate at work because this is weighing on my mind so much. My ex-boyfriend, whom I am still very much love and want to have in my life, was raised by an incredibly abusive father. He has recently cut off contact with the man, and is therapy. Since that time (both while we were dating and after we broke up), I've noticed more and more behaviors that could fall under being emotionally abusive. I looked at the Web site you always provide, peaceathome, and I've found all sorts of things: accusing, blaming, rushing me to make decisions through "guilt trips," always claiming to be right, insisting that statements he makes are "true," shifting responsibility to me (it's my fault that I don't stand up for myself when he gets controlling), etc.

I love this man, and I know that he is a good person. I know that he does not want to turn into his father. Last night we decided not to have any contact for a while... but, well, I care about him, and I want to help if I can. I don't know if he realizes the seriousness that these tendencies, these things that he obviously learned from his father, are taking in his interactions. Would it be at all my place to approach him about it? He already feels horrible that he hurts me at all, and I really don't want to make him feel worse, but I don't want to withold information that he may not see. Is there any universe in which it would be OK for me to share these things with his therapist? I'm guessing not, but I'm feeling really helpless and I don't want to see him turn into someone I know he doesn't want to be.

I'd appreciate any advice you can give... since I think you're going to tell me it's not my place, can you advise as to how to let go and stop feeling so trapped and helpless by the situation?

Carolyn Hax: I'm not going to tell you it's not your place, since it might be, someday.

Someday, meaning, it's not the time. Your emotions are obviously running high right now, and that's not going to produce your clearest thinking, which means you won't have your best judgment. Honor last night's agreement and wait till you aren't so upset. (Good measure of that is when it no longer preoccupies your thoguhs. Coudl be days, weeks, months.) Then think about whether you still want to approach him, and why, and what you plan to say, and what you hope to accomplish.

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Alexandria, Va.: Should I dump a girl I'm kinda bored of now or be nice and wait till after the holidays?

Carolyn Hax: Rare is the occasion when it is "nice" to deceive someone. This isn't one of them.

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Milwaukee, Wis.: My mom says that when I leave home (college, etc), she wants me to either write, call or e-mail her everyday. We don't have that normal mother-daughter relationship, or anything close to it. So, is it wrong for me to think that her request is a little unnecessary??

Carolyn Hax: No, not wrong. And I think it would also be right to believe that mothers who have "normal" relationships with their children don't make requests like that. So, try to think of it in as charitable a light as possible--say, that she does love you and this is her way of trying to show it--and refuse her in as nice a way as you can. Maybe tell her you'd rather let stuff like this develop naturally, and promise her you will keep in touch. (Only if you mean it, though.)

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Re: Today's column (sort of): I just don't get what's so wrong with wanting to date or find a boyfriend.

I'm not a dating virgin, but it's been a few years, and I make the cat joke too because I'm honestly scared that I'll go the rest of my life without being cuddled or kissed or made love to.

I have a good life, a good job, and good friends, but you often dismiss wanting a boyfriend as a character flaw. Why?

Carolyn Hax: Character flaw? No no. There's nothing wrong with wanting a companion. Part of being human.

The mistake, I think, is letting that desire grow into a fear, and also letting that fear (or any fear, for that matter) become the driving force in your decisions, conversations, dreams.

So it's been a few years. That doesn't mean it won't happen (and, obviously, doesn't mean it will, either). It also doesn't mean that you're not having a good life. Like you say. My point is to concentrate on what you do have, not on what you don't. Applies to everything.

Also, I realize with the cat jokes you're just trying to keep your fear to a manageable size, but I think it has the unintended effect of magnifying it, both in your mind and in the eyes of people you talk to, because it keeps the issue at the front of your mind.

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Washington, D.C.: Do I have to reciprocate a Christmas card? Last year I never spoke to an old college friend with whom the friendship was already dying. I got a card from her last December, and even though she wasn't on my list, I quickly sent one along.

I haven't heard from her at all again this year, but want to know if I need to reply should she send another one this time. We really have nothing in common anymore and not enough history to revive this thing. I'd like it to just pass on quietly.

Carolyn Hax: You don't have to reciprocate.

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Phoenix, Ariz. -- Waiting until after the holidays: Waiting till after the holidays to dump someone is a lame idea. It usually gives the other person the illusion that the relationship is more than it is, especially if you plan on attending holiday parties with and getting gifts for her.

And its silly to think that she would not be able to handle it, just because its the holiday season.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. Here's the counterweight:

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Re: Alexandria, Va.: I actually disagree with your advice here, Carolyn. I'm not advocating deceit, but... Four years ago my boyfriend dumped me right before (a) grad school finals, (b) my birthday, (c) Christmas. I was a total wreck throughout the whole thing, and I think it would have been way easier for me to manage that very high-stress time had he waited til after the holidays to do the dumping.

Carolyn Hax: I see your point, but I still don't think the holidays alone qualify for what would be at this point a months' worth of faking it.

Faking it through important exams, okay, I suppose--but it really does depend on the temperament of the dumpee, seriousness and duration of the relationship, and the seriousness of the challenge the dumpee is about to face. As an example, I think everyone could agree that walking out on one's spouse whilst spouse was in treatment for cancer is high on the list of occasions where the nice thing to do is to fake it.

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RE: Milwaukee, Wis: Sure its weird that mom wants the girl to write/call everyday. I notice it mentions when she goes to college. If mom is paying, she gets to make the rules (or at least thats how it was in my home).

Carolyn Hax: Aaaagh, no, that's so controlling.

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Re: mom wanting contact every day: my mom is like that. It stems from her worrying if I'm OK or not. Even now that I'm married, if she doesn't hear from me one day she'll call to make sure I'm not in a ditch somewhere. I'm used to it, but it drives my husband crazy. Of course, now I have a little boy and I want to know every detail of his day in preschool while I'm at work. It probably drives his teachers crazy (actually there's very sweet). So though you might not a have a normal relationship, we all e-mail everyday, it can't hurt to drop a "hi mom, doing OK" one line e-mail daily.

Carolyn Hax: Aaagh again. Your mom saddled you with this need; don't pass it on to your kid! Feeling compelled to check in daily is a cheap imitation of actually wanting to check in every day, one that actually can prevent you from ever wanting to check in every day. Give your kid room to find his love for you on his own.

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Re: Anxious in D.C.: I completely disagree with your advice. Anxious wants to talk to him in part because she cares about him. But this is also her way of continuing to engage with him and remain connected. Connected to someone who is emotionally abusive. If she doesn't talk to him, she doesn't get whatever it is she values from the relationship (which doesn't sound too appealing to me, but that's me). Anxious: do what you need to find someone who will treat you with kindness and respect. You deserve it. Let him deal with whatever he needs to and if he gets his act together (which he won't) you can be there for him then.

Carolyn Hax: Completely disagree? I don't understand--I told her not to talk to him until she can think clearly about, among other things, her motives for talking to him.

I agree I should have seen the connection between his abusiveness and her desire to remain connected, but I don't think what I advised runs afoul of that connection.

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Re: talking every day: I am very close with my mom. I'm married (no kids yet), but I still call and chat with her every single day. Is this a weird thing? I never thought so. She is retired and approaching 80 and likes to talk about her previous job, the kids she worked with (she worked in a school for problem adolescents), and though I've heard some of the stories quite often, it makes her happy to talk about them. Some days, it's just a two minute "hi how is everything today" type of conversations. I just feel like I should spend this time with her because she won't be around forever. Is it weird?

Carolyn Hax: No, that's wonderful. Because it's something -you- want to do, not something she wants and feels entitled to guilt you into doing. I talked to my mom all the time; all my parents ever asked of me was to call every Sunday when I was a freshman in college. Made sense to me, so I did it, and 1. they never gave me a hard time when I forgot, and 2. over the years I called more often, not less. I don't think that's even remotely coincidental.

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Vienna, Va.: Just in the past year, two freshmen girls have disappeared under mysterious circumstances -- Aruba, anybody? and are presumed dead in horrific ways.

So, I would say this year's crop of parents may be extra paranoid... I would suggest that the freshman give the parent extra contact numbers of her roommate, RA, etc. so they feel like they know who to call if they're flipping out.

My parents never made a big deal of contact (this was pre-e-mail), although they did pay for my college phone line to be sure I would indeed call them. However, one summer at an internship I reported unusual emotional symptoms, my mom freaked and told me to go to the doctor. I did, went back for a nap, didn't show up at work, and next thing I knew an extremely large campus security guard was waking me up with an embarrassed look on his face.

After that I phoned my mom about everyday (I had been diagnosed with a new disease, so she was right) just to let her knw I was OK... didn't want a repeat of that kind of wake-up call.

Carolyn Hax: Good points, both about current perceptions and the remedy of providing extra contact numbers. Thanks.

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Longwood, Fla.: Re: Being single and cats.

One day I told my cat, "It looks like it's just you and me, babe, and I'm happy with that if you are." Two weeks later, I met my future husband. I was 45 and he sure was worth waiting for! (P.S. He told me that two weeks earlier, he'd been saying the same thing to his dog!)

Carolyn Hax: I can just hear your pets swapping their war stories.

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Eek: I can relate to your writer today who's a snooper. I'm trying to be better myself about respecting people's boundaries. What do you do, however, when you find out information accidentally. Such as, the browerser autofilling an internet address? I understand everyone has a private side and is allowed to their preferences but I also feel very weird about what I found.

Carolyn Hax: What you do depends on what you found; a couple of airbrushed fake boobies hardly warrant the same reaction as kiddie porn, for example. Certainly, though, the fact that you came across the information accidentally makes it a lot easier if you do feel you have to say something. For one thing, you don't have to preface your speech with an apology.

And if this was a moment where your respect for boundaries needed improvement, then you don't call it an accident. Maybe gratuitous of me to add, but your first two sentences got me thinking.

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St. Louis, Mo.: I'm being courted by this guy I've known for several years. He's doing all the usual things, calling regularly, asking me out, occassionally sending a considerate note or gift. This is all fine. We have gone on dates but we're not together. I'm still trying to decide if I like him enough to get into a relationship.

The problem: he has taken to calling my mother for advice and guidance and made her part of his support system. Normally, all my friends love my mother. So were he not after me, I would be less creeped out by this. But something about it just doesn't sit right with me. I almost feel like he's trying to come at me through my mother (who thinks he's a wonderful boy). My question is do I have legimitate reason to be irritated? What do I do about this? We're both in our mid 20s.

Carolyn Hax: It doesn't sit right with me, either, but who cares about me. It doesn't sit right with you, so trust it and pass on this relationship.

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Re: Moms wanting contact: Did you just tell the mother of a PRESCHOOLER that she's being too controlling to want to know what her kid does all day for the nine or so hours she can't be with him?

Do YOU know what your three preschool kids are doing all day, or is it a no-questions-asked kind of deal?

Carolyn Hax: AGH AGH AGH. [Tearing out of hair.] If that's really what you wanted to read into my answer, go for it.

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Birthday vs. birthday: So... my boyfriend's birthday and mine are one day apart (his Saturday, mine Sunday).

Last week he gets called and told that an elaborate surprise party has been arranged for me for Saturday night, at a venue that he is totally uncomfortable with (it involves folk dancing).

We had already talked about having a potluck with his friends that night, although nothing was firmed up. Not knowing about the "surprise," I told my friends that I wouldn't be dancing Saturday night.

My friends responded to this by badgering my bf to the point that he finally broke the surprise to me. Boyfriend is willing to go to the dance for "an appearance," but he really feels uncomfortable, and I feel like I'm spoiling his birthday by accepting his offer.

Are we in some way obligated to show up at my surprise party, even though it's not what we really want to do? And, am I an ingrate for not appreciating my friends' desire to be kind, because they didn't test ahead of time before making their plans for my happiness?

And, is there some alternative here I'm not seeing?

hope this makes the slightest sense...

Carolyn Hax: Sounds like your boyfriend is being a whiny PITA, and you're indulging it, egregiously, at the expense of your well-meaning friends.

Anyone else see anything else?

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Ew Yuck!: Hi Carolyn, (online only please!)

Etiquette question for you: I have a relative who constantly talks with her mouth full. It's gotten to the point of her spewing bits of food onto unsuspecting people's plates, and to the point where I gag when I look at her. Her husband has mentioned the problem to her, but she just brushes him off.

What's really bizarre about it is that this woman is completely anal about "propriety" in all other aspects of her life. She could have written the book on manners, etiquette, class, etc., but she either doesn't realize she's spitting food at us, or she just doesn't care.

Any suggestions for how to say something without appearing insensitive? Or should we just suck it up because we only see her 4 or 5 times a year? I'm tempted to say something like "I'm sorry, I couldn't understand what you said because you were chewing," but that seems somewhat passive agressive and backhanded. What would YOU do?

Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Enjoy the fact that someone so anal about "propriety" lets her hypocrisy fly out of her mouth in globlets.

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New York, N.Y.: Wednesday's column on going out to meet men vs. spending time with family and friends whose company you enjoy resonated with me. Wondering if you could expand on your opinion of dating for dating's sake, as opposed to living your life as you see fit and just seeing what comes along. To me, the former feels forced, but is it unrealistic to be passive (in a dating sense) and hope that potential desirable mates will just happen to cross my path, especially when it seems like so many others are out there playing the game and being more pro-active? Am I missing out on valuable experience?

Carolyn Hax: I don't think there's any one "right" way. Just that, if the dating is starting to feel forced and unpleasant, you have nothing to lose by chucking it in favor of something that feels more natural, like hanging with family and friends. If you come to feel that attitude isn't serving you well any more, you can always go to Plan C. (Or back to A, or whatever.) You don't "miss out" by ajdusting for, and therefore being true to, your moods and circumstances.

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Call me Snowball....: Forget the deep, dank November of your soul. I'm history as soon as you leave the door open.

Carolyn Hax: That's just cruel.

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Carolyn Hax: I hear wolves and coyotes are making a comeback.

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St. Paul, Minn.: I recently received a wedding invitation which specified "no gifts - but if you insist, a contribution to our honeymoon fund would be nice."

I know you get letters similar to this all the time, but my question is this: Which is (or would have been) ruder -- the request itself, or taking them up on their "no gifts" suggestion by not sending anything, including the honeymoon cash? (For what it's worth -- I sent the cash.)

Carolyn Hax: It's official. Today's theme is "forehead trauma." Declining to give them a gift would NOT have been RUDE. Their request was awful, and not only were you under no obligation to send them anything, you are never under any obligation to give a gift, even to people polite enough not to pat you down for your wallet in the receiving line. If you are invited to a wedding, you are obliged to accept or decline the invitation--and if you accept, you are obliged to go unless something horrible prevents you from going. A gift is a Purely Optional way for you express your congratulations to the couple.

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Dallas, Tex.: Carolyn,I need some help on what to say to some of my friends. I am a 25-year-old single female. I have suffered from "female problems" since I was 16. I have undergone three surgeries and several hormonal treatments. The pain has returned and it's worse than ever. My doctor told me I need a hysterectomy. I got a second opinion, which agreed with the first. I have weighed my options and have decided that this is the best thing for me.

Here's the dilemma: A couple of close friends are telling me that I'm being selfish by choosing to have this surgery. They believe that I should wait until I find "Mr. Right" and then we should make a joint decision on the surgery since having this surgery will "rob him of being able to have children." One friend even told me that no one would want to marry a woman who purposely chose to not have children. What do you say to someone who refuses to see that this surgery is my only chance of living a pain free life? This is a very emotional time for me and they are making it worse. How do I respond?

Carolyn Hax: These people are not your friends. I typed that, backed over it as too extreme, but then my fingers typed it again for me. (They're very opinionated.)

These non-friends of yours have said a horrible thing to you. You are whole person unto yourself. You have the right to make your own decisions about your own health. You are more than your ability to reproduce. You deserve to be with people who not only agree with this, but also wouldn't dream of thinking otherwise.

Conveniently, Mr. Right wouldn't want to marry a woman who would ever judge another woman's choice not to have children.

So, your question, how to respond to them. I can't think of any better way to respond than stunned silence. But if you'd like, you can express dismay that any friend of yours would want to you live in pain. And then go do what you have to do. Good luck with it, and take care.

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Re: Birthday vs. Birthday: Did the friends realize his birthday was on the Saturday? If they did, it's strange they would plan something that could potentially overlap with celebrating his birthday. Since that's the way it is now - I agree with you. He is being childish and they should celebrate his birthday at a different time since the potluck wasn't concrete yet. Maybe they could just trade birthdays this year; they both fall on the same weekend and it doesn't seem like a huge deal.

Carolyn Hax: That's what I was thinking--he dances to please her on his birthday, and she whatever-he-doeses to please him on hers. Have potluck, complain about everyone's cooking, expect the other to clean up the mess.

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Carolyn Hax: Buch of weighers-in on the birthday couple:

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Carolyn Hax: I completely disagree with myself: "Bunch" is spelled with an "n."

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Surprise party pooper: There's gotta be someone in her folkdancing group who would make a better boyfriend than the one she's got. The part that makes me anxious for her is that she is "we" on what "they" want to do. How could a potluck with your boyfriend's friends be something you'd rather do than go to your own surprise party with your dancing people? Step back on this one and have a good think.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. More:

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Downtown Washington, D.C.: Disagree completely on the birthday couple.

It sounds to me like the ideal solution would be to combine both events, if possible. Do a potluck earlier in the day, and then the "surprise" party later on.

However, it also sounds like the woman's friends have been planning this for a while, and only now checked in with the boyfriend. Assuming they are all close, they might've realized it was also rather inconsiderate to select the night of her party to be on HIS birthday, especially at a venue that he's not comfortable with (folk dancing???). I don't think he's whining -- he said he'd go, and it sounds like he's even giving up having his friends over for his own birthday.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. More:

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Birthdays Squared: Actually it sounds like the big baby boyfriend might be annoyed that he doesn't get to spend his birthday with his friends and instead has to spend it with her friends celebrating her birthday. At a surprise party that her friends so kindly planned for her when his friends apparently didn't do anything.

So tell your boyfriend that either he goes -it's folk dancing not sword swallowing or walking on hot coals - and enjoys or does something with his friends and lets you go enjoy your birthday.

Then you both go do something together for your respective birthdays that you both like.

And next year, assuming you make it to next year, just put your names in a hat and someone does the 6month birthday and someone the real one and no one has to write into an advice column!!

Carolyn Hax: Or they just let their friends in on the fact that they have back-to-back b-days. Or they break up by next year.

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Bethesda, Md.: Reply to Dallas, Tex.: assuming Dallas's religious/moral beliefs support this, could she freeze down some of her eggs in case she ever decided to have children with a surrogate?

Carolyn Hax: Just putting it out there. Thanks.

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Birthday thingie: This is their perfect opportunity to elope and escape both sets of friends with the perfect excuse.

Carolyn Hax: Aagh! But the friends went to the trouble to plan this nice thing! How terrible to no-show it, consciously.

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Surprise party: Yucko to friends who would do that to her. If someone wants to spring a surprise party on a person, they should take their lumps if the person has other plans. She shouldn't be obliged to cater to them when the party is supposed to be in her honor.

Why do people do surprise parties? I think they are a really bad idea unless you KNOW that the person being surprised just loves them. Doesn't sound like this person is all that thrilled. She should go ahead with her previous plans and let those who planned the party enjoy it themselves.

Carolyn Hax: Okay--I definitely agree that people who plan surprise parties need to consider that not everyone loves a surprise.

But I still think the deliberate no-show is cold.

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To Unicorn or Not to Unicorn?: In the spirit of laughing our bacon pants off and yet doing some serious understanding, I have a good friend I love dearly, whose husband recently revealed an affair of some years with an old girlfriend. My friend has thrown the cheat out but he still continues to insist that, although he isn't seeing the other woman anymore, he still loves the other woman AND that he wants my friend back.

My question: I would like to buy my friend a Revenge Unicorn. It is a plastic unicorn that has a large horn. It comes with three figures: a guy in a business suit that looks somewhat like my friend's erstwhile hubby, a woman who may resemble the other woman -- and well, yes, a mime. They all have holes in their stomachs so you can place the unicorn's horn through their middles.This struck me as the perfect gift. But my possibly more mature husband thinks that the Revenge Unicorn would be a bad idea. What do you say?

Carolyn Hax: You know your friend; this is about what she'd enjoy. If you're not sure, though, or if she hasn't shown any signs yet of a sense of humor about this, err on the side espoused by possibly more mature husbands.

Poor mimes.

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To the woman who needs a hysterectomy...: No man who fits the name "Mr. Right" would want to put his future wife through years of pain just on the chance that he might show up someday and want a biological child. That's just stupid. I mean, for all you know, Mr. Right is divorced with a great kid or kids of his own, or doesn't want kids, or wants to adopt, or is himself infertile and desperately wants to find a woman who doesn't view infertility as a relationship-killer. The future is unpredictable. Your pain is now, and real, and you have every right to do something real about it now.

Carolyn Hax: Well said, thanks.

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Denmark: Dear Carolyn,

I've got three deadlines for school work (college exams) all happening within the next three weeks. I should have been preparing for this for a long time, but unfortunantly did not! Now I am soo stressed out that I can't handle any of the work (in fact I have been for the last couple of weeks which partly explains why I am now soo behind). I tried making a plan for the next three weeks and my husband made me a studyplan for each day (sooo sweet). But I still feel so lost and pressured. I can't seem to concentrate on my work, I keep feeling sooo sad and tired and my heart is constantly pumping. Also I haven't wanted to see any of my friends for weeks -- in fact most plans seem like such a burden and stress me out days in advance, even if its just hanging out with people. Please give me some advice for getting through this period -- these are my very last exams before I start my master thesis and although I've been stressed before, its been nothing like this.

Ever since I lived in D.C. I always read your column and would really appreciate your thoughts on this.

Lost in Denmark

Carolyn Hax: At this point, abandon any expectations that you can get everything done the way you "should," and realize you'll have accomplished a lot just by doing what you can.

And you can do a lot in three weeks. Starting with the easiest things on your list. Look at the study plan, and find something on there that you actually want to do. Then do it. Then the next easiest thing. Then the next. Then adapt the study plan accordingly. Take planned, short breaks every 1.5-2 hours.

And, if you still can't get your body out of stress mode, please try to see there's no outcome so horrible that you can't handle it.

And if you still can't get your body out of stress mode, please visit the health center. Could be you have an anxiety condition that took a situation like this to present itself.

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Washington, D.C.: Why do you insist that friends planning a surprise party ought to take precedence over the honoree's personal plans? If it's such a "nice" thing to do, then why do they have to bully their friend into coming, rather than changing the date of the party to suit her convenience? If they're trying to be "nice" to her, why does she have to be the one to accomodate their plans rather than vice versa?

Carolyn Hax: The person they were "bullying" was the reluctant boyfriend, and my point is that I can't see why he didn't just find out about the party, and be glad his girlfriend's friends rallied for her, and be a good sport about it. Really, how many of you would have resisted these friends as he did, because HE wasn't interested in going?

My understanding is the honoree herself only just found out, and the party is "elaborate," and tomorrow, and the honoree had no firm personal plans.

Does it really have to be all this complicated? Everybody does the generous thing, and maybe the best time isn't had by all, but the memories will be of people acting out of good intentions and kindness to others, and not out of self-interest. Worth a cake for that alone.

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Ambivelent, Ill.: Is it normal to feel ambivelent about a relationship that is ending, and find yourself still loving that person and wishing you could work things out? We seem to not be able to reconcile our differences after living together for three years. What is the normal way to feel about that? I feel mostly sad, lost and wistful. Do most people have this hard a time giving up on something they wanted? And have to keep reminding themselves how bad it had gotten?

Carolyn Hax: One of the hardest things in any loss (breakup, death, whatever) is throwing away an entire vision of your future. The result is having, for a while, no sense at all of what your future will look like, which can be scary and disorienting. In time you'll probably start to make out something else on the horizon, and just being able to see again can be comforting, enough for you not to feel the person's absence so keenly.

And in the interim, it can be useful to keep reminding yourself of the facts, to counter all that emotion.

So it sounds pretty normal to me.

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Home of the worst Thanksgiving ever: Dear Carolyn,

Finally, I stopped crying and am able to post. I was unable to go home for Thanksgiving this year, and I found out that eight friends also weren't going home. I suggested that we have Thanksgiving dinner at my home. I would supply the turkey, and they agreed to bring stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry relish, green bean casserole, wine, and pies.

Imagine how upset I was when no one showed up. I called all of their home numbers and cell phones and left messages, and no one called me back. Today, I managed to reach one of them, and even though she said that she didn't have time to talk to me, I insisted on her telling me why she didn't show up on Thanksgiving. She said that they all talked among themselves and decided that they didn't feel like cooking and bringing stuff to my home, so they all went to a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner. I asked her why no one called me to tell me this, and she said that they didn't want to call me because they were afraid that I would get angry. Then she said that she had to go and she hung up.

I'm so upset that I don't know what to do. What should I do?

Carolyn Hax: Be proud of yourself that you've stopped crying, since I'd probably still be.

You, like Dallas, are in the (currently) unenviable position of having to start over and find new friends, preferably ones who aren't complete idiots. But when you do, even if it's just one friend who isn't a complete idiot, you'll be able to look back and be grateful you went to the trouble to start over.

In the meantime, I'm really sorry.

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Denver, Colo.: The other day I was going into my office at the same time as a female coworker. She was wearing a really nice pair of boots. I was going to say something to her about them, but then I thought that might seem kind of creepy, especially since I don't know her that well.

That got me wondering what women think about men complimenting them on their clothing. If one woman said to another something like "those are great boots", it would turn into a 15 minute discussion. But coming from a man, it just seems weird. And I am married, so I'm not looking to use it as a way to flirt or anything like that.

So I'm curious what other people think about it, and I'm sure you and the 'nuts will have some good feedback. Can a man compliment a woman on her clothing without seeming like a creep or a weirdo?

Carolyn Hax: Yes, as long as he isn't a creep or a weirdo for a host of other reasons. One compliment alone isn't enough to earn the label.

In fact, non-creepy men who notice and compliment shoes are way cool.

The hitch is, I'm not sure a creepy man would be able to recognize his own creepiness. So I'm not sure where that leaves us.

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re: Unicorn: Google and Froogle have not revealed said Unicorn. Can the unicorn poster reveal the source. I must have one!

Carolyn Hax: Anyone?

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi Carolyn. I have been separated from my wife of seven years for about two months at my initiation. I care about her very much and it pains me to do this to her and to us, but I'm just no longer sure I want her as a lover and life partner. How do you let go of someone you care deeply about or how do you become lovers and partners again when you just don't feel like that anymore?

Carolyn Hax: I don't think either question has a definitive answer, but knowing -why- you "don't feel like that anymore" can go a long way toward coming up with an answer that works. Are you incompatible, angry all the time, lonely, physically turned off (raising a whole other series of whys)? Are they things you can change, or are they immutable facts of your values or characters or temperaments? If they can change, do you want to change them? If they can't change, can you find a way to live with them happily--say, by letting go of your expectation of X, or learning to appreciate Y, or deciding you'll no longer demand Z?

Use your separation to ask these things of yourself.

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For the stressed: Instead of making a really long list, figure out your top three tasks. Do those and then pick another three to focus on and so on. This helps me prioritize and avoid the panic and "freezing up" that occurs with staring at a mile long to-do list.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

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Carolyn Hax: Time to go. Thanks everybody, and type to you next week, half of it from the Death Chair.

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Rockville, MD: It's called the Avenging Unicorn.

Carolyn Hax: Ta da. Thanks.

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