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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 24, 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.

Submit your questions and comments any time before or during today's discussion. Other mail can be directed to Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com .

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Carolyn Hax: Hey everybody, happy Friday. Just wanted to respond en masse to the people who are scolding me for not recommending books or parenting classes to the person who was considering having kids but was concerned about not having any experience around kids.

If she needed me to tell her there are such things as books and parenting classes, then all the classes, books and experience in the world weren't going to help her.

What she was looking for (as I read the Q, at least) was a way to be around kids, to get a feel both for them and for her own behavior around them. That of course is a tough thing, since people don't normally rent out their kids for others to practice raising. (Not that some of us dont' consider it.)

I did get one great suggestion from a reader: volunteering at church babysitting rooms during services. They're usually run/supervised by experienced parents, and it's a great way to jump in as a stranger in a way that won't scare people.

Anyone have any other ideas?

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Arlington, Va: I lost my baby last week at 16 weeks. This was my first pregnancy after 18 months of trying. I'm so heartbroken, so devastated, I really don't know what to do. People mean well but say the most insensitive things, i.e. "it was a blessing, you can always try again." My husband practically refuses to even talk about it, he just wants to move on and try again. He is taking the biologist way of thinking it wasn't really a baby yet at 16 weeks. I don't think he really believes this, but it's his way of dealing. How to I move on, keep going from here? My little world consists of so many pregnant women and babies. It also consists of so many people that really shouldn't be parents at all - people that have neglected their children, absued them, and generally treated them like a burden. I'm just so lost and I don't know how to find my way back again. How do I keep myself from becoming hateful and bitter?

Carolyn Hax: I'm so sorry. I think it might be really helpful for you to talk to others who have gone through this. Ask your OB-GYN if there are any support groups near you; you can also try the Web, which I know has some active communities of women struggling with infertility and/or miscarriages.

Next, I think you need to be really direct with your husband. "I realize this may be your way of dealing with this, but I'm lost, and I need you."

Next, I'd suggest, to the extent possible, distancing yourself from the mama-and-baby scene. Doing so physically might not always be possible, if you've got co-workers/friends/neighbors/family members who are in the throes. In that case, though, you can try getting distance emotionally, by not scrutinizing other families so closely. Given your grief you are, subconsciously, going to be looking for people who don't sufficiently appreciate their children, and anyone who looks for that is going to find signs all over the place. People can love their kids madly and put their needs first without fail, and still, on some days, want to sell them on Ebay--and these urges often strike in public places and/or at social events, the places children are most likely to get keyed up and crazed, and also the places most likely to be packed with witnesses.

So instead of putting yourself in the position to have your worst fears confirmed that only the least deserving people have kids, just make a conscious effort to pull your attention away and turn it to something else. At least while you heal.

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Gaithersburg, Md: Carolyn,

I don't have any new suggestions for the woman who isn't familiar with kids, but the church idea is the perfect one. I am a 26 yo single lady, and teach sunday school at my church to first graders. I have a lot of experience around children and do it because I love it, the other teachers are a mom, and another woman about my age who is thinking about having kids and wanted to see how she felt about them after spending some time with them. While it was certainly an eye-opening experience for her, I think it's definitely been a really worthwhile experience and a great way for her to get some "hands on" experience.

Carolyn Hax: Great, thanks.

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re: books and classes on parenting: That's actually kind of funny -- I suspect your readers have more formal education than average. But, really, sometimes you just can't learn about life and yourself from a book.

How about adopt a sibling, volunteering in an afterschool/evening program to help kids with homework, or coaching a kids sports team. (not that these a substitute. But to learn your reaction to kids, better to be with kids than a book about kids).

Carolyn Hax: Good ideas, thanks, though I suspect the kids would be 5 or 6 at the youngest in these cases, when I suspect this person wanted experience around infants and toddlers.

Re learning life from a book--some written instructions can be extremely useful in childrearing, but I've found it's most useful to get it as you need it. E.g., read a whole pregnancy book in one shot, and you'll be overloaded and freaked. Keep one around for reference as things crop up, and you'll get the information you need.

This is one of the reasons it's so important to get good prenatal care and good pediatric care. These providers have the kind of must-know literature ready for you as you need it, usually in the form of brochures, handouts, book titles and class schedules. It's not like a close-your-eyes-and-jump-er is doomed thereafter to remain completely blind. (Not unless s/he chooses to be.)

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I miscarried, too...: I've spent a LOT of time on the bulletin boards at

babycenter.com. There are many rooms for loss. The

women are WONDERFUL, and we've all handled our

miscarriages differently, our husbands have handled them

differently, there are strong Christians, scientists,

everyone. It's been an incredible support, especially

because my husband doesn't/can't understand what I'm

going through. Amanda

Carolyn Hax: Thank you.

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Washington, D.C.: I suspect I know the answer to this, but maybe I need to hear it. Here's the deal: I'm happy in a relationship with a woman, and don't intend to leave it. It's great on all levels. Except one. I'm being a bit dishonest. Another man, equally happy in a relationship with a woman, and I have started a physical relationship. We do so with no emotional attachment to one another, and the understanding that nothing emotional ever will. We are both STD-tested negative, we do not engage in anything more than oral sex, and we do not see anyone else.

I know that cheating is cheating, but it's a situation where the woman obviously can't give me the same exact thing. The question, then, is whether I'm obligated to divulge this to my female girlfriend. Or am I okay to ride this out until my male lover and I move on? He's moving out of town in six weeks anyway. We are enjoying it as a one-time chance to enjoy something different.

How wrong am I here?

Carolyn Hax: Thoroughly.

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Washington, DC: I loved the letter on Sunday from the guy who said "I love my girlfriend, but I'd be happier going out with co-workers tonight than with her. And I know telling her this is not even an option because she'd take it so badly."

Who wouldn't take that sort of phrasing badly? As long as you're not bagging out on some existing social obligation with her for the night, just tell her you made plans to go out with some co-workers, sheesh. If you live together, maybe you also estimate when you'll be home so she doesn't worry, or say you'll call when you're on your way home. How hard is that?

I know from experience that some people have an unreasonable need to do everything together, and those people need to learn to deal, but there also are lots of men and women out there who just assume their partner will be hurt if they're not included in everything. And then go on to make that a self-fulfilling prophecy by insulting their partner's intelligence or maturity.

Carolyn Hax: clap clap clap

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Williamsburg, Va.: What to do when you're in a serious relationship and you meet someone who makes you wish you weren't...?

Carolyn Hax: How serious?

How badly do you wish you weren't already committed to someone else?

What specifically is lacking? Is it something you'd be lacking eventually in any relationship--the fresh-infatuation feeling--or is it something essential to your sense of wellbeing?

Is your discontent with your current relationship solely due to this other person, or was the other person merely the means by which you realized something was wrong?

Can you even answer that question yet? How long have you known the person who's caught your interest?

How would your current partner want you to handle all this?

Just to get you started.

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Washington DC: Carolyn - In reading your first poster's message, I'm wondering as a friend of someone who just had a miscarriage - what can I say to help console her? What the poster wrote in from her friends seemed appropriate to me, but I guess I am off base as someone who has never been through this myself. Any suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: Grief really is such an individual experience that one person's insult could be another's emotional lifeline. What I can suggest, though, that I think comes closest to being universal is that you treat a miscarriage as a loss like any other, and the mother's reaction as grief like no other (loss of a person coupled with a sense of personal failure, albeit undeserved). That way, if you're wrong, the mother will assure you she's really okay, which is better than erring the other way.

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How would your current partner want you to handle all this? : And: How would you want your current partner to handle all this if he/she were in your shoes?

Carolyn Hax: Right right, thanks.

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cheating and std's: You are cheating on your SO other with him. He is cheating on his SO with you. You are both LYING to people you supposedly love. How can you be so sure he is not lying to you? Of course we all have to make a judgement of when to trust someone, but you do not have the right to make that choice for your girlfriend. SHE does not know this man, SHE has not chosen to trust her health to his honesty, and YOU do not have the right to make that choice for her.

This is in addition to what should be so incredibly obvious that cheating is cheating whatever the gender of the other wo/man.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

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Re: Sunday Letter: But what about when said co-workers are jerks who:

-bad mouth you to your bf

-make passes at said bf

-indulge in binge drinking episodes (where bf is usually the one taking the ones who made the passes home)

As the gf in this situation, whenever I even hear the word "co-workers" and "activity" together I cringe. It always turns into a fight. I understand the need for freedom and friendships outside of the relationship, but certain friendships just cause problems. Maybe I'm wrong, but I'd prefer my bf be home and miserable rather than holding "X,Y,Z's" hair over a toilet somewhere.

Carolyn Hax: But that's not your choice to make. If he wants to hold hair, then your choices are: 1. Deal with it and get out of his face about it, or 2. Find another boyfriend.

Recurring fights are never justifiable. He has made his choice. Now you make yours.

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Washington, DC: Recently married, and kind of panicked. We're having a really hard time communicating--she gets defensive really quickly, I can't tell why, I am having a hard time saying what I want and need for fear of upsetting her--and I just don't know what to do. We had our bumps before, obviously, and part of me wants to see it that way, but I can't help but think the stakes are higher now that I've got this ring on my finger (and we were married recently enough that it still feels funny when I type, a little over a month ago). I am not bad at communication in general-- I've worked at hotlines in the past, I've had all the 'listening' training one can probably get short of getting some kind of degree-- but I'm at a loss. I've aid all of this to her, but it just makes her feel like she's done something wrong-- something I try to tell her over and over again isn't true, but I don't seem to be able to get through. Advice? Please?

Carolyn Hax: Marriage counseling. Sorry to jump to it so quickly, but it sounds like you've already tried the I'm-okay-you're-okay method. It also sounds like she has some Thing she's not saying; so often, people start to act defensive when what they really fear is to go on the offensive. E.g., will say, "What, you don't love me, you aren't happy in the marriage?!" when the version in their mind is more like, "I'm not happy in this marriage."

Not that this is necessarily what's going on in your marriage--just an example of why defensiveness can be so hard to crack. And why it can help to have a "safe" place to say difficult things, like a (good) marriage counselor's office.

Counseling of course can also be a further source of frustration, but worry about that when you have to. Before you go, though--and even before you suggest it--it would be helpful for you to think carefully about "what I want and need." Are you asking for her to be someone she's not, or someone different from who she was before you got married? Are you accusing? Are you on the defensive yourself?

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Washington, DC: Did you ever think the guy in the sexual homosexual relationship on the side has more issues to deal with than that he's "thoroughly" in the wrong. He needs to tell her, and then he needs to spend some time figuring himself out before he jumps into another relationship, purely sexual or otherwise. Your dismissive response didn't really help anyone there. Why include the question if you're not going to be helpful???

Carolyn Hax: I wasn't dismissive of the question. At least, that wasn't my intent. In my opinion, this guy knows -exactly- how wrong his behavior is, and exactly how ludicrous his rationalization is, and wrote in solely to shift the weight of both onto somebody else. While there of course are issues of betrayal and denial and health, just for starters, those all are just elements of the burden that I shifted right back on him. Yes, I was terse. But more words were hardly necessary.

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Anonymous: "Recurring fights are never justifiable."...

You have an incredibly amiable relationship, then... I think that's a very unhelpful statement.

Recurring fights can happen for a whole variety of reasons, and therapy can certainly help-- especially if you've been together a long time and plan to stay together. A partner can be depressed and impossible to live with, but not someone you want to give up on, or suffering a long-term illness and very cranky, or you have to work two jobs because of a family crisis and you fight because of stress...

I did read an interesting article in Oprah once, however, about couples having only one fight- no matter what the disagreement- and that you need to get to the core fight to resolve the dilemmas.

Carolyn Hax: What's the difference between saying they aren't justifiable, and saying you have to get to the core of the fight? It's the same advice. Find it. Face it. Solve it. Even if the only way to solve it is to realize it'll never be "solved" and so you have to choose between living with it or leaving.

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For Newly Married: I remember early on in my marriage (10 years ago), feeling like things SHOULD BE DIFFERENT NOW THAT WE'RE MARRIED and it took me several years, and some therapy, couples and individual, to realize that marriage isn't an ideal to live up to, but something you create together. I wonder if newly married or his wife are concentrating too hard on HOW IT SHOULD BE NOW, instead of each other?

Carolyn Hax: Excellent question. Newly Married?

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Washington, DC: Do you follow your own advice? I think your advice is great, but sometimes it's easier said than done.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. I certainly try to, especially after I've just failed to. I've also come to believe that "it's easier said than done" things are usually easier done than the alternatives, since the tough thing is usually quick and acutely painful (disinfecting a cut) while the alternative is a chronic, throbbing mess (infected cut).

Lunch anyone?

And, for what it's worth, I don't see myself as a paragon of virtue, but as a problem-solver with limited typing skills.

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Bethesda, Md: Here's the situation: A very good friend of mine's wife had an affair and has left him. She says she wants to end the marriage. This was two months aga. Now, my own marriage has fallen apart. In addition to finding out that he cheated, I had to take out a protective order against my husband.

You can guess what happened next. After nights of crying and "comforting" each other, we've gotten very close. Yes, we've already slept together.I regret none of it. We were there for each other and are fulfilling needs that have been unmet for a long time.But here's the problem. He says he holds out some hope that he might get back with his wife, as they have two children together. I understand that intellectually, but I'm not sure I am totally OK with it. He asked me if I would be hurt, and like an idiot, I said no. But the truth is, I don't want him to get back with her, and not just because I want to be with him. I don't think she's right for him. The ongoing affair and the crappy way she's treating him are the primary reasons. How do I now tell him, "I'm not OK with this."

Carolyn Hax: Just that way is fine. "I'm not okay with this." Tell him you were trying to be agreeable and hew to your intellectual beliefs, but you feel better admitting now, to him and to yourself, that his wanting to reconcile does hurt your feelings and you don't think it's good for him, either.

And then you need to admit, to him and to yourself, that it's not your decision to make. It's just not.

What is your decision is whether you remain in a position of extreme vulnerability to someone whose priorities are elsewhere. I really, really wouldn't recommend it. I think you should treat him like a painkiller--okay as prescribed, but dangerous and self-defeating the moment you come to depend on it. Please try to lean on less volatile relationships for comfort and wait till you're stronger before you get into another romance.

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Boston, Mass: For the bisexual cheater - I am a wife who discovered her husband had a "harmless, strictly physical" fling with another man over a year ago and I am acutely aware every day of how I can never fulfill this desire he has - even though he says he will never do it again (not to mention the worrisome and degrading experience of having to get STD and AIDS tests as a married woman). Be fair to her - work this out yourself and then decide if you need to be in a relationship or not - and with what gender. Don't expose her to your risky behavior, both physically and emotionally.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

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Newly Married: I'm sure that unrealistic expectations on my part-- ie, now that I have a ring on my finger everything should be different, like I'm a hobbit or something-- are part of it. I recognize that, and whenever I catch myself doing it I try to stop. But I still can't help shake the feeling that, like you said, there's something going on underneath. And, well, I'm worried. It seems kind of absurd to say it, and suggesting counseling this early might make her even more defensive, but I personally am not averse to it-- I listen to experts in every other area in my life, why not my marriage?--so I think I'll try to go in that direction. I just feel like any more direct efforts on my part, without an intermediary there, aren't going to help-- she gets upset every time it feels to her like I'm 'counseling' her, no matter how I present it, even though she does it for me just as often-- she really doesn't want to be seen as needy, and assuring her that I don't doesn't get very far. But maybe an expert would help. It can't hurt, though I am guessing I'm going to have to present this REALLY tactfully, given the circumstances. Thank you.

Carolyn Hax: Yer welcome. But now I'm thinking two more things: 1. being REALLY tactful might actually make things worse. Sometimes admitting how lost you feel and how you think you need help--i.e., treating your wife as your partner--is better than treating her like live ordnance.

2. Why are you both counselnig each other so much? If you haven't yet tried just sitting back and letting things be the way they are--and letting her be herself, and seeing whether things aren't more pleasant that way--then maybe that would be more constructive at this point than another confrontation.

The counseling suggestion may still await you after you do try this, but if it does, maybe the air will at least be a little less charged.

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RE: No experience around kids: Seriously? Either you want kids or you don't. You can be around kids you're entire life and decide that you never want to see another one -- ever. You can never have held a baby and decide you want to have 3 anyhow. How does time being around kids correlate to any innate knowledge of wanting/raising kids?

Carolyn Hax: Some people are live-and-learners, some people are learn-and-live-ers. We all try to do what works for our temperaments.

Plus, people who didn't have happy childhoods often don't trust themselves to provide happy ones for their own kids. Not so much about innate knowledge as learned doubt.

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Risky Behavior: Carolyn,

Last week (or longer, i can't recall), you did not think it ok to rat on someone about cheating simply because of the whole risk of std thing. It was a hetero couple and the guy was cheating w/a woman. Now that' it's a gay thing, everyone seems to think "her life is at risk." In this day and age, are we safer with hetero cheating than homo cheating? I think homosexuals have come far with the whole safe sex thing. Any homosexuals out there who agree or disagree with me??

Carolyn Hax: I'm straight and I disagree. To my knowledge, there has been no change in what defines high-risk for HIV. Gay men were leaders in education on sexual health, but there has been documented regression as the effectiveness of HIV and AIDS treatments have given people a false sense of security. That has affected straight people as well as gay, but there are also two other factors here: the invasiveness of the sex, and the secretiveness of someone who is hiding a homosexual behavior. The latter is probably the biggest issue here--people who are hiding something tend not only to take on more risk, but also to lie more to cover their behavior, and both of these guys are hiding. So, yes, this wife is at higher risk than the girlfriend of columns past.

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today's column: How does one parse the difference between the guilt ridden/used & abused girl you describe, and just a plain old-fashioned psycho stalker wench? Does one necessarily precede the other?

Carolyn Hax: "Plain old-fashioned psycho stalker wench" is such a dehumanizing cartoon. You know I'll have as much fun as anyone at your or my expense, but when it comes to being part of a relationship with someone (even if it's only to sever that relationship), reducing someone to a cartoon is a great way for one or both of you to get hurt. She is a person. She could be a mean one, or an unstable one, or a stalker, one you never want to see again, or whatever, but a person nevertheless. So the important thing is to be direct and clear and ever mindful that this is a person. "I am sorry I misled you. I am not interested in a relationship," followed, if necessary, by a request that she stop calling. Good for used and abused, stalker, and combinations thereof.

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Babyland, USA: Love your advice -- you are always right on. I am writing regarding a question last week about a woman contemplating telling her mom she can come into the labor/delivery room but has to leave, no questions asked, if she says so. Just wanted to add another wrinkle. Wanted your thoughts on the aspect that this is a decision the parents-to-be should attempt to make together. Granted the mom-to-be is doing the work, but seems both should discuss the matter since it is a life changing moment for both. For example, my MIL asked to be in the delivery room with my wife and me, however, I wanted this to be a private moment I shared with my wife and new child. This was not an issue since our baby was breech and my wife had a C-section, but we are expecting another child soon and this issue will surely come up again.

Carolyn Hax: Absolutely both of you should talk about what you envision. It may be that your wife feels so strongly about having her mom there that you, as the one without contractions, have to defer to her wishes. But she should at least know your preference before making any decisions, and you should both consider compromises--someone in the room doesn't have to be there the entire time. It can be a long process, and there might be part of the process for which she specifically wants her mom around, while the rest is just the two of you. Obviously, to the extent that even she has a say in these things.

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Syracuse, NY: I'm in a small Moms group that meets in members' homes. I had a falling out with one of the moms last year and now play nice at the get-togethers, but don't talk to her otherwise. I never talked to her about how I felt after she snubbed me, because I realized I was better off without her as a friend. So, my problem, she's hosting tomorrow's get-together, and only a couple other moms will be there. My little ones have been asking to go to her house. Do I accept her hospitality, or bow out? Arrive late/leave early? She's never come to get-togethers at my house since the snubbing.

Carolyn Hax: Eh, just go. The more you avoid her, the bigger this tension gets.

Unless of course you can avoid her completely without locking yourself in your house--by moving to San Diego, say--but since that's apparently not what you want, then going makes sense.

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re: risky behavior: I don't remember the details of cheater and girlfriend from columns past, but I think your advice does seem at odds. Part of your rationale for why the homosexual cheater should tell his girlfriend is that hiding a homosexual behavior is lying, and liars tend to take on more risk. Well, isn't hiding a heterosexual cheating behavior lying too? I don't see the difference in secretiveness and lying just becaues the cheatee is a man.

Carolyn Hax: The bi-cheater guy is hiding two things, not one, and the second one is a much bigger issue to hide. Surely we can all agree on that.

I don't like generalizations or stereotypes, and I really really don't like hanging myself out there with a statement that could easily be tagged as a generalization or a stereotype--yes, I'm slow on a normal day, but there's nothing like walking a series of fine lines to make me outright glacial. But, cheez. Wanting peace, love and understanding does not change the factors of risk.

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Carolyn Hax: Kay, I'm going to go have a headache. Thanks everybody, and type to you next week.

Oh, and remember, Politics & Prose Sunday at 5 for "Mommy Wars" discussion and signing.

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People in the delivery room: I've never had a baby so I could be way off on this, but isn't it exclusively the mother's decision not just because she's doing the work, but also because she's in rather a state of undress at the time? Regardless of any other factors, doesn't the standard everyday veto over who can be in the room when you don't have any pants on apply here too?

Carolyn Hax: Maybe the father plans to be sympathetically pantless.

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Unmotivated Friday, DC: I'm surprised no one has addressed today's column yet--is there still time?

Carolyn, your answer was absolutely perfect, but can the guys out there tell me exactly when they started believing that no matter how many reasonable women they meet, they still believe that we're all out to tie them down and make them miserable? We get out of relationships and feel beaten down and sick of being coupled and miss the physical stuff too, you know.

Is it really that hard for everyone to say what they're feeling and try to understand what everyone else is feeling when given the opportunity? Please tell me there's a time when some of these generalizations will stop!

Carolyn Hax: [sitcom laughter.]

Thanks, for the compliment and for making sense. You did of course use a whomping generalization yourself, but I'll let it slide because you're a girl and you were nice to me.

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What happened?: Seems like the wheels fell off the discussion right before that hetero/homosexual risk question.

Carolyn Hax: No kidding. But that's the fun of being live.

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