Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 10, 2006; 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.

____________________ Carolyn's running a few minutes late, but she's making her way to her computer right now.


Alexandria, Va.: Why didn't you, and I've noticed that you don't in these cases, point out to the letter-writer today who is dating a separated man that she is dating a married man? Until one is divorced, one is still, technically, married. I see you don't have a problem with that -- what's your explanation?

Carolyn Hax: I don't have a problem with that. The state of the commitment means so much more than the paperwork. If it's over, it's over.


Washington, D.C. Burbs: Hello, Hax,

I've done a really stupid thing: I left my husband. I thought he was the cause of my problems. I was wrong. I'm not with him and I still have the same old problems plus the new one of not having him. I was an a**.

How do ya think I should approach him about getting back together?

Carolyn Hax: By telling him what you just told us. Though I would add that you would understand if he were reluctant to give you another chance, and that you're ready to give him whatever time he needs to think abotu it.


Arlington, Va.: I feel like I'm not very good at my job. I like the people I work with, the hours, the salary, and the benefits, so I don't want to quit. But I just feel like I'm being asked to do a lot of organizational stuff that doesn't mesh with my talents, and as a result I've screwed some things up. Do you think there's anything I should do to improve the situation?

Carolyn Hax: Is there another job in the same company that you feel would suit you better? That would be the natural solution. Another one is to talk to someone who does the same job well to try to pick up some ideas.


The Commonwealth: As a young 20-something how do you convince a parent to stop worrying so much about you and your other siblings? (ranging from high school to grad school)

Carolyn Hax: Stop trying to convince, and just live your life. By trying to explain away each of their worries, you just give them an opening to keep offering their opinions. Pull back a little on what you tell them, kindly but firmly wave off their concerns, and keep marching.


Lovey Dovey: Caroline!! I can't believe you said someone is insecure just because she is comfortable saying I love you. I was raised in an expressive family that says this all the time... It's just a family/personality difference, IMHO.

That said, her boyfriend should be able to just say, in a general conversational way (not after she says I love you,) "I've always felt 'I love you' should be said sparingly to make it more special." If she doesn't get the hint he should just get over it.

Carolyn Hax: Please reread the letter. Being comfortable saying "I love you" has little to nothing to do with the situation the guy described.


Re: Washington, D.C. Burbs: ...and to your good advice I would add that her ex is much more likely to take her seriously if she can add that she has started counseling to solve the problems. That she understands that she has to show him that she can make progress in resolving them without resorting to blaming other people, and that she's willing to let him wait until he sees she has made progress before he decides if a reconciliation is possible.

Carolyn Hax: Well done, thanks.


Washington, D.C.: So I have this girlfriend who just can't decide what to make of our relationship. One day she loves me, wants us to grow old together, and then the next moment she's so skeptical. Do I give her space, get out of this roller coaster, what?

Carolyn Hax: (b.) Get out of the roller coaster.


Herndon, Va.: Re: Dating a separated person

Hi! Love your column!

I usually agree with your perspective on most matters... but as far as dating a separated person... you really don't think that's ill-advised until someone is completely free? I just can't imagine you NOT telling a little sister to hold off on dating someone in such a situation until they had completely wrapped up their previous business. This has nothing to do with morality... just the reality that sometimes self-discovery occurs during a separation period and people realize they really DO want to remain married.


Carolyn Hax: The reality also is that sometimes it is just paperwork. Obviously people need to use their judgment and not just assume everything's over because a couple is separated. But divorce laws vary, people drag feet, love dissipates in different ways. It would actually be inconsistent of me to urge people to wait till all the T's are crossed, because I believe an unmarried couple can be just as committed as a married one, if not more, so why can't a married couple be just as done with the marriage as a divorced one, if not more? Again--what matters is the state of the commitment, not the state of the paperwork.


Anonymous: Carolyn,

RE: the wed piece on the girlfriend that says I love you too much.

I just wanted to put this out there, and I may be wrong but it never hurts.

I say I love you constantly to my boyfriend, I also say it to my friends and family. There is one good reason for this. My mother's father died when she was a young adult, they had just had a fight and then not an hour later he was in a freak accident. She was able to see him in the hospital conscious once and then he drifted into a comma and died. When she saw him she said she loved him one last time, and he did not die with the memory of her explosion of post adolescent angst.

She raised us to say it often and with feeling, to never go to bed or part angry and to most of all make sure that everyone in your life knows how you feel all of the time because those last few minutes with them are a gift that not everyone is given.

I am not saying that this is what that girl in the column is going through, and maybe if she is really touchy about stuff she needs to grow up, but letting someone know you love them should never be considered a sign of insecurity, unless you think that insecurity is based on the precarious nature of life.

Carolyn Hax: I think you're saying really impotant stuff here, but, again--this and what the guy described aren't the same thing. This is not filling every conversational lull with I love you, or saying it reflexively as you keep typing numbers into your spreadsheet.

Besides, it was the touchiness, not the ILY thing, that screamed insecurity--though the ILY thing is probably an offshoot, in that it sounds like she's not so much participating in an intimate relationship as play-acting a romance, a la high school.


Hia! Carolyn: My sister (who has been professional complainer all her life) has recently told me that the most important thing she can teach her infant son is the ability to whine to get what you want. I almost choked, what do you say to that. She honestly thinks that whining is a good way to get things dome, or I guess, get her way.

Carolyn Hax: This can't be real. This can't be real. This can't be real.

Tell it'll get him what he wants, but repel everyone within earshot.


Slight amendment to the last chat: Hi Carolyn,

I was reading last week's chat and I noticed this list: Questions You Just Don't Ask People, right between, "Are you pregnant," and, "So when are you guys getting married?"

Love it! But you missed one: "So, when are you guys having kids?"

That's MY personal favorite.

Carolyn Hax: I actually skipped a bunch of others, too, in the interest of brevity. So why is it you never got married? Was the pregnancy planned? When will you start trying again? Why did you guys break up? We could be at this till nightfall.


Seattle: You haven't plugged your essay in "Mommy Wars" yet so I'll do it for you. I thought it was a very well written, well thought out piece, and it was very interesting to see how you've mellowed since you answered the letter that starts the essay.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you! That was on my list, but, as usual, I forgot I even had a list.

"Mommy Wars" is the anthology I mentioned a couple of months back, when someone asked whether my opinion on working/at-home parenting has evolved. It came out this week, and a few of us, including Leslie Morgan Steiner, its creator, will be talking about our essays at Politics and Prose on Sunday, March 26. I'll remind you again and have details as we get closer to the date.


Paperwork...: Hey Carolyn,

Does your opinion change if there are children involved in the dissolving marriage?

Carolyn Hax: See next post.


RE: divorce not final yet: Carolyn,

I'm so glad to hear you say that what is important in a relationship is the state of the committement.

I have been trying to get my divorce finalized for the last four-and-a-half years. Have been dating my boyfriend for four years. It is an incredibly complex situation. The ex suffers from ADD and depression, and I am trying to reach an agreement with him that both truly agree with (he will not abide if he feels forced -- he is kinda passive aggressive). I am trying to keep things sane and civil for my kids. There's way more here than I can tell you...

Anyway,I love my boyfriend. There hasn't been anything between me and my ex since way before we even split up (we were really just staying together for the kids). He knows all about and has met the bf. In fact I am taking the kids for the ex this Saturday (it's his weekend), so he can go on a date.

My children have special needs, and I can't afford to alienate their Dad (I need his help). One has ADD, like his Dad and the other a physical handicap. Also, my parents divorced when I was 5, and it was a really ugly break up. They used me and my brother to fight with each other. I and my ex are determined to make our kids our priority and to give them permission to love both their parents.

This is why I have allowed this to drag on, while ex keeps wanting to change the custody agreement (we are both in agreement on finances).

Meanwhile, my boyfriend doesn't want to tell his family about me, because they are very conservative, and he doesn't think they would understand him dating a "married" woman. I respect his position, and don't push him to do anything that would make him uncomfortable.

Anyway, I just wanted to give an example of how the "paperwork" can hold up something that is emotionally long over.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

Until you know the situation, I don't think you can judge the situation.


Bethesda, Md.: Why do you answer questions or respond to people that write in and call you Caroline?

It annoys me when I read it so I can only imagine how much it must annoy you. People are writing in to ask your advice and they don't even have the decency to call you by your (correct) name!

Carolyn Hax: Dunno. It's kind of like a hangnail, annoying but easily ignored.


Atlanta, Ga.: I recently had my first child and am in love! The problem is that I have a stepdaughter, whom I also love, but must admit not the same way. I don't want her to feel growing up that I don't love her "as much" but I do feel differently about her than I do my own child. Growing up with a stepfather who didn't even bother to pretend he loved us (much less even really liked us) makes me sensitive to this. How can I reconcile my feelings for each child so that one or the other doesn't feel favored or slighted?

Carolyn Hax: Look at it this way--no doubt your stepdaughter also doesn't love you the same way she loves her mom and dad. You wouldn't expect her to, right? So the best thing you can do is take the lead--since you are the adult--in demonstrating that you two can have a great relationship on your own terms, rooted in the things about her that you think are special.


Chicago, Ill.: Hi Carolyn,I'm recently married and I'm having a hard time walking the line between standing my ground/asking for what I need and just being a general cranky nag. Mostly this has to do with household issues -- neatness, cleanliness, respect for our belonging and our home. Having lived with a neat-freak mom, I know how it sounds to be constantly told to pick up, straighten up, put away. But I feel like I can't move without crossing paths with a mess of some sort that I can either decide to fix or ask to be fixed. I've relaxed my standards a lot, but I can't seem to get a good compromise from his side. I'm left muttering, commenting, sighing, nagging, and being unpleasant. I've tried addressing it at times when I'm not feeling frustrated and make sure not to sound like I'm attacking him, and he understands that it's important to me that I be comfortable at home. But it doesn't stick. I guess I'm looking for communication or coping tips, because it's not just the neatness issue that causes me to drift towards nagging.


Carolyn Hax: Over the years people have tried, suggested and reported back on different ways to deal with a chore imbalance at home, and the only one that seems to work is a distribution of chores that takes into account people's natural preferences. So you're a picker-upper, straightener, putter-away of things--and your husband is not. The trick now is to find something he does gravitate to (or at least doesn't mind) that you conveniently dislike. Yard work, bills, grocery shopping, cooking, laundry ... ? Talk about it, figure something out, get him to assume enough other burdens for you both to agree the division of labor is fair. That way you'll still be in charge of his messes, but you'll just be doing your share cheerfully (I hope) instead of doing his share angrily.


Mommy Wars Essay: Did you know that Morgan Steiner now has a blog? Will you be chiming in there as well? On Balance

Carolyn Hax: My chime card is full right now, but I will be reading. Zanks, Leez.


Re: Atlanta, Ga: With a major exception being if the stepdaughter's mother is no longer living or a part of her life. Then, the stepmother must make EVERY EFFORT POSSIBLE to not let the stepdaughter ever realize the extent to her feelings. The stepdaughter will already feel like an outsider in the household to some extent, as there is now a child that shares the blood of both parents.

Carolyn Hax: Great point, thank you. I still think the stepmom has to concentrate on building a relationship on areas of genuine affinity, vs. trying to fake it as Replacement Mommy, which could be disastrous--but you're absolutely right that she has to go out of her way--waaay out of her way--to make it clear through actions that the stepdaughetr is no less a member of the family than the new baby.


Confused in the Metro Area: I have a friend that was venting to me the other day. It seems that she can't understand why the guys that she picks up at bars and has one night stands with don't call her afterwards. I tried to explain to her that I thought, in general, guys who participate in one night stands are looking only for that and not a relationship... so maybe she should put a hold on the sex. She thought I was judging her morality and got kinda miffed. Though I am not the "wait for marriage" kind of person. I wonder if I should have said something differently.

Carolyn Hax: Anyone who's still looking for people to call after repeated one-night stands with people who haven't called is not someone you can trust to hear the truth. But you still can try: "I'm not judging your morality, I'm questioning your judgment. If you want sex, have sex, but if you want people to call you, then having sex with them apparently doesn't work."

Which will go over just as badly, but, cheez. It's time somebody pointed this out.


Aliso Viejo, Calif.: There's a group of us that used to have lunch together at work. Then one of the girls started to act weird and started avoiding me during lunchtime. I found out from another girl that she was mad with something I said. Needless to say, I'm not comfortable with around her anymore. She doesn't know that I know why she was avoiding me. Should I say anything to her or just have lunch with other people?

Carolyn Hax: Can I have lunch with other people?

If you want your old lunch crowd back, then go up to her and ask, "I sense you've been avoiding me. Is it something I said?"

If you'd rather chew cardboard at your desk than relive junior high with your old lunch crowd, then just have lunch with other people.


Not quite singledom: Just thought I'd warn some of your readers that I doubt you mean that the state of just one person's committment in the marriage is what matters in the date-a-sep-but-not-divorced discussion (as I can already see people using that as an excuse to have extramarital affairs). I guess what I'm trying to say is that BOTH parties in the marriage need to agree that the committment is gone, with or without the paperwork, before new relationship is established.

Carolyn Hax: I believe that was in the original answer, but that was also about 500 opinions ago, so a refresher can't hurt. Thanks.


Reston, Va.: For the stepmom: Also bear in mind that "loving differently" doesn't mean "loving less." Might help ease some of the guilt she may be feeling about her stepdaughter.

Carolyn Hax: Ya. Thanks.


Division of Chores: I agree with your answer, but wanted to add that my husband and I often do different parts of the same chore. He likes stuff to be put away, and I like things to be clean. So I'll wash the dishes and clean the kitchen counters, but he'll put the dishes away. He's good at weeding through junk and picking out papers and things that need saving. I'm good at filing stuff into categories and paying the bills. We've turned the chores into part of our together time. We laugh and joke and make plans while we're doing the chores.

Carolyn Hax: Yes, but do you sing the "Clean up" song?


Mesa, Ariz.: Acck! My husband, two children and I live with my mother-in-law, whom I love. She raised three kids, mostly by herself, and seemed to do it very well. My problem is that sometimes she advises me about things I think I need to learn on my own. In fact, I quite rudely pointed this out to her a while back. The thing is, she's usually right, or her advice is smack on. So now she keeps totally quiet, even so far as disappearing when she used to say something. I've already apologized for my rudeness, but I don't know how to let me know I do need her help and advice... but only sometimes. I know I can't have it both ways, so is there some kind of happy medium?

Carolyn Hax: Maybe start asking her? You've leveled the old dynamic, which maybe wasn't your intent but it's the reality nonetheless. So instead of trying to build a whole new dynamic at once, try establishing it over a series of small, day-to-day gestures. When she disappears, for example, you know she has something to say, so maybe you can seek her out: "Hey, I was wondering if you could help me with X." After a while of your not biting her head off, maybe she'll start to feel comfortable again, at least enough to give solicited advice, which is always better than its evil unsolicited twin.


Winston-Salem, N.C.: My in-laws told my husband that they have designated in their will that his brother and sister each inherit a house and five acres of land. They told him they are leaving him nothing because he has done so well for himself. He said he did not say anything because he did not want them to see how hurt he was. Do you think my husband should be penalized because he has worked so hard to be successful? His brother and sister have always borrowed money from the parents, etc.

Carolyn Hax: He "shouldn't" be penalized, no, but it's his parents' prerogative. Think of it this way. If he learned his industrious/responsible habits from his parents, then he already received the greater inheritance. What can you do.


Chores: After trying every suggestion to get my husband to do SOME chores, I gave up, made a budget, and hired a maid. That leaves the lesser chores still to be done, but I don't feel that my entire life is devoted to keeping the mess at bay. My husband was resistant at first, he thought it was a waste of money. I pointed out that it was cheaper than marital counseling, or divorce. We argue over other things now.

Carolyn Hax: I'm feeling all warm and fuzzy. Thanks.


Anchorage, Alaska: I give up. What is the "Clean Up" song?

Carolyn Hax: Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere;

Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share.


Baltimore, Md.: Hi Carolyn,My boyfriend is black, I am white. We've been dating for 1.5 years and although we are very different have a great time together. I am 23, independent with a good job and apartment. He's 26, in debt, just graduated from broadcasting school and is trying to enter the industry. My mother dislikes him because he's black and doesn't have a college degree. Mentioning him at all gets the stony silence or an invitation to fight with her about it. I have tried to talk to her about this but she acts more childishly about it every day. My father is more OK with the situation but sides with my mother. I am very sad and hurt by this because it has led to the cooling of a once close relationship with both my parents. Why does the honest answer to "How was your weekend" have to be a blow-out fight? Marriage hasn't even entered the picture here. Why do I feel like I have to either choose or date in secrecy? ARRRGGGHH!

Carolyn Hax: This is going to come out sounding more weary than I intend it to, but sometimes you just have to choose and sometimes the choices just suck. It's part of the joy of dealing with other people--who are going to do and think and say whatever they're going to do and think and say and you can't do a thing about it. Even when you think someone else is racist, judgmental, wrong, unfair, and even when you're right, that doesn't grant you any more influence over that person. All you can do is conduct yourself the best way you know how and hope something eventually gives.


Alexandria, Va.: A friend of mine is in her mid twenties and is a virgin. She still has not done anything more than kiss one guy. One of our friends has volunteered to have sex with her just so that she can get over this hurdle. Is this a terrible idea? I think it might be.

Carolyn Hax: Might be. Might also be exactly what she wants. They're both adults, so they can figure it out between them.


Re: Winston Salem: If the husband has done well for himself, why should he be concerned about the distribution of the estate? He should make sure his parents know if there are a few sentimental items that he'd like to receive, and leave it at that. (This doesn't have to be a "gimme" conversation-- I find many aging parents honestly don't know what of their possessions would be important to their offspring.)

My brother, bless him, is kind of useless: chronically unemployed, really into big-boy toys, but has kids to provide for. (That's a longer gripe.) My husband and I are childless and very well-off, due to lots of hard work. I'd feel strange if I got an equal share in the estate, knowing it would only go to my stock portfolio, wheras my brother's kids would get an education and a little security.

Of course, ideally, my parents will live long, healthy, active lives, and spend every cent they've saved on a fun, fun retirement. That would be the -real- preferred outcome!

Carolyn Hax: Second-best might be that your equal share goes into a college account for your nieces/nephews, since your brother might just buy more toys. You could set up a 529, for example, in their names and yours (as custodian). As always, consult yer tax adviser ...

Yay to the part about sentimental items, thanks.


How can you have the "clean up" song wrong??: It's "Clean up, clean up, put your toys away.

Save them, save them, for another day."

That song is a lifesaver in my house. My daughter is extremely rules-oriented, but like any toddler hated being told to stop playing. But we discovered that, no matter how much she wanted to keep playing, if you started singing the clean-up song, she'd stop playing and start putting her toys away -- tears streaming down her face the whole time!

Carolyn Hax: No, YOU have it wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.


Rockville, Md.: I hope that virgin question was made up.

But if not, um, why is being a virgin a "hurdle"? Mind your own business, and you may first this virginity thing isn't her issue, it's yours. I'm just sayin.


Former mid-20s virgin

Carolyn Hax: Hurdle could also be the virgin's term. Seems that way, what with her friends stepping up to volunteer their services and all.

More important, we have another Thing Not to Ask to add to our list: "So, did you choose to remain a virgin, or was it just bad luck?"


Legal Separation: As a recovering attorney who practiced domestic relations law, I just want to point out that one of the hazards of dating someone who is separated but not yet divorced is the risk of finding yourself as Exhibit A when the spouse decides that they now have enough ammunition to file for a fault-based divorce on the grounds of adultery.

I have frequently advised friends and family members to at least make sure that a still-married dating prospect has a signed Separation Agreement, which is an agreement that establishes temporary terms while the final divorce is being hashed out. Most divorces with any degree of complication (children, alimony, significant property and/or debt to divide up) feature these, and most SA's have a clause specifically freeing each other to pursue relationships without the risk of being accused of committing adultery.

If there is no signed SA, it could be a red flag that one or both of the parties is not on the same page as far as extramarital relationships are concerned.

Just my two cents...

Carolyn Hax: Excellent point about SA's, thanks. The key is still whether both parties agree the commitment is over, and an agreement can save you from having to take one spouse's word for it that the other agrees that it's over.


Thing not to ask: Are you hoping to have a boy or a girl?

Have you had amnio?

Why are you having amnio?

Why aren't you having amnio?

Are you on fertility meds?

Are you pregnant?

Carolyn Hax: Ugh, forgot about the amnio questions. Those are truly special.


Washington, D.C.: Three weeks ago I met a guy who I really like. He is a little shy, and a little low on confidence. I am a Type A, some might say aggressive. My friends are warning that I am taking too much charge of our dating (emailing first, suggesting where to go for dinner, asking him for dates), and tell me that guys like "the chase." The thing is, I fear that he is a little too diffident for me to leave the whole thing up to him -- it will fizzle, not for lack of interest on either part, but for lack of his initiative.

My instinct is to keep being myself, and at least alternating with him in initiating contact and not stressing about whose "turn" it is. But my instinct has left me single at 31.

Should I ask him if he feels like I'm taking the fun out of his "chase"? But I think voicing it and saying that he can chase me probably ruins the experience just as much.

Carolyn Hax: Single at 31! Egad.

Be yourself. If it continues not to serve you well, in your opinion, then you will probably find yourself adapting here and there over time. Better that than trying to strategize how and what to change so you can get this guy to like you--which, if it works, means you're with a guy who likes you better when you're suppressing your nature to please him. Bleah.

Besides--just as some women like the chase, some men dread the chase with every molecule of their beings. Pay attention to him, listen to him, get to know him; hope he does the same with you; then see what you get.


Washington, D.C.: Hey Carolyn -- I know its really tacky to ASK for money for wedding presents. but what about GIVING money (unasked)? My best friend is getting married next weekend, she and her wonderful fiance are both aspiring actors and thus, not very well off. Their parents are paying for a modest wedding, they aren't taking a honeymoon, they have only a modest registry at Target and the like, and they definately haven't outright asked for money. In short, they've done everything right. But I know them well, and I know that extra money would be really great for them right now. So, can I write them a check, with maybe a really thoughtful card? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Please do. Money is a great wedding gift, particularly for couples who have none.


Richmond, Va.: Carolyn,

How do you get a marriage that's going through a very rough patch back on track? It seems everything that continues to happen (arguements, etc.) just pushes us farther away. I think the underlying relationship is okay, but there is this veneer of anger, resentment, confusion that shuts out honest communication. There's no infidelity to deal with, just a lot of drifting related to depression and unrealized expectations. The depression is being treated, and some work on unrealized expectations is underway. Is it just time for patience? Honestly, not to be co-dependent, but the "distance" and loss of my friend/spouse is very isolating.


Carolyn Hax: A very vague question, but I'll try: Two things you can do in this situation are drop your dukes, and make a conscious effort to initiate some kind of closeness. For the former, you start paying attention to the fight patterns, and when you get to the point where you recognize where it's you're turn to push your viewpoint, or get defensive, or whatever, you just choose not to.

For the latter, the intimacy can be physical, like extra touches or hugs, or emotional, by sharing stuff that's on your mind, or asking questions, or suggesting you do things together that you used to do. Choosing to do these things again consciously can bring you back, eventually, to the state where you do them naturally. Good luck.


Separation Agreement: But as the person dating the soon-to-be-divorced man how do you know if the separation agreement contains such a clause about other relationships? Doesn't asking go against your question in today's column?

Carolyn Hax: I believe the point is that if the couple has gone so far as to obtain a separation agreement, then you can be reasonably confident neither one is trying to reconcile. You don't need to ask about clauses.


Carolyn Hax: Alrightythen. Time to go. One last thing, though--a follow up to last week's issue of the student who had the anxiety attack in class. I got a really great suggestion in the mail that I'll post here, since it applies to anyone who might be in a similar situation at work or school:

Hi Carolyn,

In addition to what you've already told the undergrad who had the panic attack (talk to the teacher about why she left class), I would suggest that she:

a) get a note from her doctor or counselor, explaining her disorder;

b) give the note to the teacher when she explains what happened, pointing out that she's been embarrassed to talk to him about it since then;

c) talk to the chair of the department that the professor teaches in, just in case...

Speaking as a prof, you would not believe the bizarre behavior and lame excuses we get from students (or maybe you would, given your job). Over time, it tends to make us jaded. (How many times can one student's grandma die in a semester?)

That's not to say this is an excuse for this professor's behavior. I'm just saying that if he's a decent educator (and person), then when the student explains what happened, he'll be mortified at what he did, and will think twice about doing anything so insensitive to another student in the future. If he's not a decent person...well, at least she'll have documentation that she tried to address the situation with the prof. If her grade suffers at the end of the semester, she'll have recourse through the Chair. (Bonus: you can bet your a** that the Chair will have something to say to the prof. about this behavior, especially if the prof is untenured.)

However, that all depends on the documented proof, so there's no way prof can say "I thought she was just another flake..."

Finally, if you are worried about future attacks, you can ask that the letter be given to your professors and TAs before class starts. We get these kind of notes all the time, and it discreetly lets us know what might be in store for us--for instance, I've had students with everything from

ADD to narcolepsy. If we're prepared, we can help prevent problems from occurring (such as giving ADD students extra time on exams, or let them take exams in a classroom by themselves), and if problems DO occur, we can help sort them out more quickly and with less embarrassment to the student.

Finally, tell her to keep her chin up, and to be proud of herself. Being an undergrad is tough under any circumstances, and she should be proud of herself for returning to class after this incident.


Me again. Thank you to the professor for this info, and everyone else for stopping by. Type to you next Friday.


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