washingtonpost.com
Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 7, 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.

Mail can be directed to Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com .

The transcript follows.

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Northern Virginia: I am dating a successful, handsome guy who seems perfect. I met him on a dating Web site and, at the time we began talking, I was in a relationship but was extremely unhappy. When I realized that my Internet relationship was becoming serious, I broke up with my ex-boyfriend and decided to give this new relationship everything I had.

First, let me say that I do not regret my decision and I am very much in love with my new boyfriend. That being said, my new boyfriend cannot seem to move past the fact that I was "cheating" on my old boyfriend. He constantly questions my actions, and says that he is afraid I am going to repeat my pattern of behavior. I am almost certain that he is checking my cell phone voicemail, my emails, my Internet searches, and maybe even following me- just to be certain that I am actually going where I say I am. This is getting crazy!

I really do care about him, but he is starting to push me away. I understand that, in his past, he has never been the jealous one (it has always been his partner who was jealous) and that he doesn't know how to handle it, but we are both adults and this has to stop. I don't know how we are going to have a successful relationship if he can't trust me. Please help!

Carolyn Hax: Okay. End it. It's already over, so this would just be making it official. Even if it were possible for him to get over the way your relationship started--which it isn't, because for that he would have to want to get over it--you'd still have the fact that either 1. he's stalking you, or 2. you're so paranoid that you think he's stalking you. I've seen few relationships as over as this one.

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Reston, Va.: Really need your help on how to handle this situation. Two high school friends are getting married this summer and so I am close to both of them. I am trying to plan the bachelor party and asked the groom what he would like to do. He didn't have too strong of an opinion so myself and the other groomsmen proposed what I think (I have been to several now) is a typical bachelor party and he was ok with it. The problem is the bride is annoyed at me for planning the party. While decorum prevents me from detailing our planned activities I have taken an informal poll of my friends of both genders and the consensus is that she is being a little bit unreasonable. I really don't want to tick off one of my oldest friends (the bride) but don't want to ruin another one of my friends' (the groom)day.

Carolyn Hax: So basically you're making the bride unhappy for no other reason than you want to throw the party you think you're supposed to throw. Even though the groom doesn't care.

Even if the bride is being unreasonable (it wouldn't be the first reported incident of its kind), why not make her happy? If the groom cared, that would be one thing--he and the bride would have to work it out between them. But he doesn't care, so tame it out of respect for her feelings. You'd want the same in her shoes.

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Re: Today's article: Dear Carolyn,

I'm not entirely sure what advice you were offering the woman whose friend basically bullies her. Obviously you were right to point out that she since didn't see the friend for months at a time (by friend's choice), if she maintained the status quo but stopped comparing efforts, this woman would be fine. But I thought the woman asked you whether or not she should openly confront bully-friend.

If you're saying the answer is no, then when, if ever, should such a "friend" be confronted? I, too, have seen and mourned over mutual friends continuing to be doormats to the one I've "divorced", but at least I stood up for myself by confronting her about her behavior before I stepped out. There is a bit of pride that one can get from refusing to be picked on, even though it's not always popular with the mutual friends --and definitely not with the bully.

Carolyn Hax: I saw no signs that she actually wanted to confront the bully. And even if I had gotten that idea from her letter, my advice still wouldn't have been to confront her; it would have been to figure out what on earth she wanted before she marched off to get it. Far as I could tell, she wanted a closer friendship with Candace (that was the pseudonym, right?) ... no wait, civility from Candace ... no wait, to end the toxic friendship with Candace ... no wait, Collegiate Peer Group Harmony ... which is a doomed entity anyway when the underlying friendships are strained ... but that's a whole other column ...

All that said, you're right that there's great value in standing up to a bully. But the first step in standing up for yourself has to be the yourself part, and hers wasn't ready yet.

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lil bit bitter ...: Hey there ... This week my in-laws moved in with us. They have been retired for 10 years, ran out of money and are way behind on bills and now sold their house and moved in with us. My husband is an only child so there was no where else to go. They are set on not getting a job since they are "too used to being retired!" My husband and I have been concerned since they retired because they've been spending their money like no tomorrow on things they really don't need. So now we are stuck supporting them. I'm just angry about that and I feel like I have no where to vent. I could be an A-hat and scream, "We told you so" but I just can't do it. How do I get through this and be sane? We don't know when they will move out ...

Carolyn Hax: You need very very very badly to get into marriage and financial counseling. This situation is untenable, and it's going to kill your marriage unless you and your husband lay out what each of you is doing and feeling and what both of you can do to align your thinking and goals regarding his parents. You need agreement, a plan and a deadline, and then a very frank talk with your new roommates.

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San Mateo, Calif.: So a close friend is getting married, and he asked me what I thought about a "destination" wedding, where the couple and their friends and family would all go spend a week in Hawaii together. I told him this was a terrible, selfish idea, since it puts a huge financial burden on his guests, not to mention it kills whatever other vacation plans we already had this year. At the time he said he agreed, but guess what ... that's what they're doing. Do I have any other choices besides sucking it up, going into debt and canceling my other vacation? How can I tactfully say I can't go?

Carolyn Hax: "I'm sorry, I can't go--I've already made vacation plans for this year." That you're already on the record with your prior plans should make it even easier.

FWIW--I agree that destination weddings can ask too much of guests, but only if the couple actually expects people to come. If they made their decision knowing full well that most people wouldn't make it, and they aren't going to pressure people or pout, then your resentment might be misplaced. Yes, it's a close friend and his decision essentially excludes you from a party you don't want to miss, and that stinks, but the part about its putting a huge financial burden on you is true only if you choose to assume the burden (or, again, if the couple pressures you to go).

FWIW addendum: Anyone who uses the above as a defense for a destination wedding can do so only if every family member expected to be in attendance has been determined in advance to be eager to spend the money and vacation time on your wedding.

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Re: bachelor party: The bachelor party question made me wonder what to do from the other perspective Suppose you're the bride or the groom, and the bachelor(ette) party your friend has planned for you ends up venturing into territory that you would consider unreasonable, or that your fiance(e) would consider unreasonable and you don't find it worth the bother of upsetting your fiance(e). How do you get out of it gracefully? Is it okay to just leave if the party-planner isn't willing or able to change the plan?

Carolyn Hax: Of course. Any plan can be changed, and anyone who refuses to change the plan at the request of the guest of honor is asking for a walk-out.

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Condolence Letters: Two coworkers lost loved ones this week. What's a good way to express one's condolences when you've never met or know anything about the deceased? Or, it is wrong to write a note since I don't know the deceased? I thought a short note expressing my sympathy might be okay, but all the etiquette books say you should make some comment regarding the deceased, which is not really possible. It seems like form over substance. What's your take?

Carolyn Hax: You're sorry for their loss, not yours, so there's no need for you to have known the deceased or even heard your co-workers mentioning them. The etiquette books suggest mentioning the person because it can be nice to hear, when you've just lost someone, that this person lives on in others' memories. But that's by no means the only option you have. There's, "My thoughts are with you during this difficult time," since they truly are, and "I'm sorry for your loss" is a stalwart. I'd say to use your judgment and speak from your heart and all that, but given how few people feel comfortable around grief and how many grieving people feel wounded by people's awkward attempts at kindness, I'm going to advise the safest route possible of using one of the two above phrases, or both. That you send a card at all matters so much more than scoring originality points.

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Portland, Ore.: Can you have a successful relationship without physical attraction?

I'm a lonely 46 year old man, divorced for two years, and I've been dating a woman who I find to be charming company, but is overweight.

I like the companionship, but am unsure about how far to go.

Carolyn Hax: Does she like being with someone who finds her unattractive but good enough as long as he's desperate? Phrased like a poke in the eye, I know, but her definition of "successful" matters too here.

If you want to see her Platonically, then do so, but also make sure you say so. Loneliness is awful and everyone can sympathize, but not if you use it to excuse giving someone false hopes.

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Re: Destination Weddings....: What if the situation were turned around?

My cousin is having a destination wedding this coming fall. We can't make because my husband is a teacher and there wedding is during the first week of school.

We have received a lot of flack from our family because we will not be attending, we have informed them of our reasons.

Is there anything else we can say?

TIA!

Carolyn Hax: Nope. Sorry they're doing this to you.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn:

In last week's chat, you admonished a chatter for equating job/house hunting with finding a relationship (in that relationships shouldn't be prioritized and "hunted for" in the same way that most people treat jobs and finding dream homes). I'm all for "the best relationship will happen when you're not looking for it" but do you really think that is true? In today's busy society, sometimes I feel that if you truly desire to be find someone to marry, you won't find that someone unless you make it a priority to find that someone. Otherwise, work, school, and all the other matters you have to handle will suck up all the time you have, and before you know it, years have gone by, and you are alone.

Washington, D.C.: Does that go for job and house hunting too? Am I more likely to find my dream job and perfect home if I just sit back and wait, or busy myself shopping?

Carolyn Hax: Please tell me you don't really equate these things.

Carolyn Hax: With whom do you work and go to school and handle other matters? Crash test dummies? People are everywhere. Connections are everywhere to be made. And if you're in one of those situations that truly yield zero prospects (you're 25, straight and male and everyone in both your office and tiny grad program is 60, straight, male and socializes only with other straight male 60-year-olds), then, yes, you'll need to work a bit harder. Not by donning a safari suit and forcing yourself out to the best reputed hunting grounds, but by broadening your exposure through other things you enjoy. If you believe in a cause, sign up to help and go to its fundraisers. If you enjoy a sport, join a league. Not with the intention of meeting a spouse, but with the intention of having a good time at life.

If you have zero other interests and/or zero time to pursue them, stop and look around you every once in a while in the course of your regular stuff, and say hi, and ask a friendly question. The much older married whoever could know all kinds of interesting people. Maybe not one who becomes your life partner, but certainly one or two could add something to your life.

I know I sound like Pollyanna here, but this is how human interaction works. People aren't houses, you don't pick one from a description and a virtual tour, and then hire an inspector to check its foundation. Which moves me to say, please don't tell me I really needed to point this out.

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An aside...: Okay, what's with all the "confronting"?

It's like in the last 10-12 years I've noticed an increase in people wanting to confront their friends/relatives/co-workers for being a--es or whatever. Do we all live on a Jerry Springer show? Do we all live with a Ricki Lake code of ethics now? (I know - I'm dating myself with that one)

Don't the people who want to confront others for these ridiculous reasons (you don't call me enough, etc.) know that if the person really cares, getting in their face isn't the way to work things out; and if they don't care, no matter how in their face you get, it's not going to make them change, and you look bad on top of it!

(simmering down) Sorry - I've been holding that in for a while.

Carolyn Hax: Throw a chair! Throw a chair!

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Decorum prevents me from detailing our planned activities: Shouldn't decorum also prevent you from participating in said activities?

Carolyn Hax: MWA. Can't believe I missed that. Thank you.

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Northern Va.: Hi Carolyn, "Just end it" seems to come up now and again in this column...and I think I need some advice on the practicalities of this. I'm currently in a relationship which is nearing end. As in, I think I need to end it, but I'm not entirely sure, and it would definitely be a one-sided break-up. How do I go about this without really hurting my bf? When I have previously been in relationships, the ending has always been fairly mutual, which in a sense makes it much easier. But whenever I bring up something along the lines of "this isn't working for me" somehow the conversation ends with him just wanting to make it work, and professions of love etc. I really care about him.. how do I do this without hurting him? Or do I just suck it up and be a meanie?

Carolyn Hax: The object is not to hurt a person -gratuitously-. Where feelings are involved, people tend to get hurt, it's just part of the deal--and where unequal feelings are involved, the hurt is a done deal. Your only choice now is to hurt him by breaking up (acute pain), or to hurt him by letting things drag on even though you don't want to be with him (chronic pain). Denying him a chance to start his recovery to me is the definition of gratuitous pain.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi, online only please. Hope I'm not too late. I found out that my high school sweetheart is getting married in a few weeks. Out of curiosity, I looked up his registry online. Then I started entering the names of my other exes and ALL five of them are married or engaged. I am freaking out! How did this happen? I feel weird and alone and I feel like I can't talk to my boyfriend about it because I'm 29 and he's 25 and not ready for that discussion, I'm not sure if I am ready either. But I feel like I missed something along the way and I'll never be able to get it back. I don't even know what it is. Any ideas? The exes are all 30 or 31, if that helps.

Carolyn Hax: If you missed anything, it's the lecture on how other people's lives aren't an accurate measure of the value of your own. You made your choices and you had your reasons--and if they aren't seeming clear or wise right now, that's where you need to focus your attention, not on other people's taste in cappuccino machines they'll never use.

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Decorum: What's MWA?

And Amen to that poster for pointing that out.

Carolyn Hax: Say it out loud (especially if you're in a cubicle).

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Chesterfield, Va.: Okay, since we're ranting, here's mine. What is with family members treating perfect strangers with more respect and kindness than their own family members? With regard to the teacher's wife, since when is a wedding invitation on par with a military draft call up (even that's got outs)? With family like that, I think spending the day with a room full of kids (even middle schoolers) would be preferable.

Carolyn Hax: Even ... toddlers?

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Groomzilla: Gender Bias alert. Isn't the Groom getting married too? And isn't the best man planning the Bachelor Party for the Groom, not the bride? He's given the Groom a chance to weigh in. The Groom doesn't seem uncomfortable with the plans. Why does it always have to be about the bride? (See my first question) Why not go to the groom, tell him of the Bride's concerns and let the groom decide? As a married man and a veteran of many bachelor parties, I can tell you that the bride's unreasonableness is a huge red flag. Can you say controlling?

Carolyn Hax: No, gender jerk alert. The groom's not caring isn't the same as the groom's wanting this. And the bride's taking offense doesn't make this about the bride. It makes it about the person who cares and who would get hurt. Deferring to her here is wrong, why--because she's female and getting married? And therefore refusing to accommodate her can be seen as a principled strike against other people's wholly irrelevant wedding insanity?

Could be the bride is controlling. Yes. Could also be that she finds a night full of strippers offensive, and if she finds that offensive and he doesn't care, then the best man can book a casino night or golf outing or knitting cruise.

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Carolyn Hax: Furthermore, if the bride is in fact controlling, it's not the best man's job to teach her a lesson. There is no justification for forcing his plans his way when the groom himself doesn't care.

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Re: Confronting: Many years ago, when I was a freshman in college and my best female friend and best male friend fell for each other, which hurt my feelings a great deal (as I had feelings for him), I behaved like an A-hat.

And I didn't realize I was doing so. I really thought (stupidly, I'm sure, but really) my snarky mean comments/other (now recognized as bad) behavior were rolling off her back like water off a duck's. They weren't, and once someone confronted me about it -- gently, in a "did you know how much your comments/behavior are hurting her" kind of way -- the behavior stopped, immediately.

Kudos to the person who had the guts to tell me! It saved someone I care about -- yes, we're still friends, even decades later -- a lot of pain, and saved me from being even more of a jerk.

Carolyn Hax: This is a great story, thanks, and I'm posting it as such.

There are a million different greys between the blackness of taking everyone on about everything, and the whiteness of living and let live. Some of the greys are beautiful. I also don't think they're what the poster from Ricki Lakeville was talking about.

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And Bachelorette Parties?: Are you telling me that women don't get wild and crazy at bachelorette parties? Stop pretending, already.

Carolyn Hax: Who's telling anyone anything of the sort?

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Washington DC: Carolyn, I am gay and get invited to straight weddings all the time. The problem is that since I can't marry, and such is the subject of a raging political controversy, I get very depressed about going to straight weddings. The last time I went I spent the next three months hating my life for being gay. Suffice it to say that going to weddings is a very self-negating experience for me. The question is: what to do when I get invited? I have no problem turning down invites from people I don't know that well but I do want to support my close friends and family. I just find that I do think I can go to any more weddings; it just takes too much of an emotional toll on me.

Carolyn Hax: I can certainly sympathize with your anger and frustration on this issue, but it strikes me that you're internalizing it beyond its true importance. To be told you're of lesser value--in the eyes of the law or God or whatever else gay marriage opponents trot out to defend their stance--is a terrible thing to endure. But your close friends and family presumably aren't the ones telling you that, and they (also presumably) would eagerly celebrate your wedding if they could. In fact, there's nothing to keep you from committing your life to someone, celebrating that commitment with people you both care about, and registering for a cappuccino maker you'll never use.

Again, presumably. If however there are people in your life, meaningful people, who would deny you your equal value simply because you're gay, then that is going to take the kind of emotional toll you describe--and that's not about going or not going weddings.

So. I think either possibility--that you're allowing impersonal societal relics to undermine your self-worth, or that you have other undermining forces in your life that are in fact personal--points to counseling. Please talk to someone about this. Three months of hating your life for any reason is an ordeal you neither want nor need to repeat.

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Boston, Mass.: My fiance and I want to be married. We do not, however, want to organize or pay for a wedding. Just seeing those magazines gives me the shivers. Will we really regret going to city hall with our parents and six friends, or can I tell the naysayers to stuff it? They seem to think our lack of interest in all things wedding-related is a sign we're "feeling conflicted about marriage." I want a husband, not a swan ice sculpture.

Carolyn Hax: But the swan will be out of your hair the next day.

Kidding! Sheesh.

If you do live to regret your city hall decision, you can always throw a killer 10th anniversary party. If you live to regret spending $40,000 on melting swans, there really is no recourse.

But remember whom you just asked.

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Pollyanna: Ok, so, I really have to weigh-in here about the poster who argued that perhaps you really to have to go out and "find" a relationship or life just sails along and before you know it, you're old and livin' alone in a trailer down by the river. . . As a happily single woman in her late 30s who doesn't live in a closet, "gets out," has many interesting hobbies, travels frequently and has lived on three different continents -- your prescribed method of the relationship finding you -- i.e., through co-workers, extracurriculars and the like -- really doesn't hold much water. It has been ten years since I have even MET, much less have had a relationship with, a man who was both available and who returned my feelings. Again, I am very happily single - - but I know that if what I also wanted was a relationship, I would really have to go for it -- change my schedule, my hobbies, do the Internet thing, etc. - that is to say, really put it out there. My two cents.

Carolyn Hax: Appreciated, both of them.

But aside from looking or a mate online--a possibility that didn't even exist a few years ago, except in its primitive and far less popular form, personal ads--what you say doesn't necessarily contradict what I described. I accounted for the schedule change, the hobby change; I'm just arguing that it'll work better if it's a schedule or hobby change that you would also benefit from for your own reasons and not just for its mate-finding potential. I know I've had this opinion forever, but I'm getting support for it from years and years of reading mail from all you guys. Some people who go out and hunt certainly do find what they're looking for, but there's actually more anecdotal support for a less goal-driven, more personal-pursuit-of-happiness-driven approach to relationships. Just as the former doesn't guarantee you'll never find someone, the latter doesn't guarantee you will find someone.

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Washington, D.C. : Online only please. BF's friends are in town for three weeks and are staying in our large studio apartment. I was under the impression that these very nice folks were only staying with us for part of the trip. But no, and we're in week 2. And I'm tearing my hair out and my BF and I have had several fights about it. Don't want to kick them out, but am having trouble keeping my anger and frustration in check for the next week. I'm angry with the lack of space/privacy and the disregard of my feelings and letting them stay with us for so long. Help?

Carolyn Hax: What do you really want him to do about it now?

Have you asked him for that explicitly and nicely?

Whether it is to kick his friends out immediately, or just to apologize for not being clear with them/not being clear with you/not taking your feelings into account/not understanding how against your nature this is, your only hope of getting it is to let him know that you want it. Unloading anger and fighting and seething and throwing off sparks may all be justified (I'd be out of my mind with three-week houseguests) but they're not productive at this point. Figure out how you're going to get through this, and then do it.

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Re: Destination Wedding: Why can't the wife with the husband who teaches go to the wedding without him? She didn't mention her constraints, just her husband's.

Carolyn Hax: I actually typed that suggestion and deleted it after putting myself in the husband's shoes. Even one "destination" vacation would be a major indulgence, both in money and vacation time--and sending half of a couple off for a spa week while the other not only works, but also then suffers the effects of a depleted vacation budget, is pretty crappy. If they have a big budget or enjoy separate vacations or if the wedding wouldn't be that expensive, fine, but those are some pretty big ifs.

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Married my on-line date, USA: You seem to be fairly anti-online dating, and I don't quite get it. I had a full and happy single life...friends, career, hobbies, etc. I did online dating with two of my girlfriends and met my husband. Granted, I wasn't putting all of my eggs in the on-line basket, but I think it can be another great way to meet people.

Carolyn Hax: I'm not anti-online-dating, I'm anti-expectations-of-online-dating. If you see it as just another thing you can do, great, enjoy; if you see it as making it possible to shop for mates like you would a shirt, it's somewhere between delusional and depressing. It's clear you didn't see it that way; many if not most people seem not to. But some people do, and I see the fallout from it almost every day.

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Are you kidding me?!: Kick the freeloaders out.

Not only is it presumptuous and rude of your boyfriend to not be upfront and get your approval on this, normal people realize that three weeks in a studio is outside the bounds of hospitality. That is just insane.

Carolyn Hax: Three weeks in a castle is outside the bounds of hospitality, if I have to see you in my kitchen in the morning.

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Denver: You point out that looking online for dates didn't exist a few years ago, like that means it's not a legitimate way to look. But, remember that even looking for romantic love is a 20th century phenomenon, and that arranged (or at least parents very heavily involved in fixing up their kids) marriages used to be the norm. Or, as my mom describes the 1950s, you found a spouse by the end of college, whether you really wanted to marry that person or not. So it's the 21st Century now, we don't do it that way anymore, so we have to find new ways to meet mates.

Carolyn Hax: " ... like that means it's not a legitimate way to look." You're putting words into my mouth. I said it to make the point that people spent the 20th century using other means to find romantic love, like getting out and interacting with people, and were often successful.

Find new means, but keep the old?

Is there a way out of this rabbit hole?

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Carolyn Hax: Time! Time solves everything! How could I forget that. 2:36. Bye bye. Thanks, everyone, and type to you next week.

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I give up!: I've been hitting my head against a wall for an hour... I don't get the MWA reference! And I am usually good at this stuff!! Please explain Carolyn!

Carolyn Hax: Oops, sorry. It's a big stagey kiss.

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