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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 14, 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.

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San Francisco, Calif.: I just wanted to comment on the second letter in Wednesday's column. My kids also have a "Grandmaw" with atrocious grammar who also happens to be one of the finest people I know. When my eight-year-old argued with me about correcting his grammar with "but that's how Nanny says it", I told him that Nanny is old enough to speak however she likes and when he is Nanny's age, I won't correct him anymore.

It made my point without denigrating a dear woman and now my kid is looking forward to his retirement.

Carolyn Hax: I like that, thanks.

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Lone Star State: I feel ugly. 24.7.365. I try very hard not to buy into magazine, television, movie, etc messages about youth and beauty. But the fact is I am 30, I have been gaining weight (though at 5 foor 7 and 135 am not exactly overweight), and I still suffer the occasional 7th grade zit. I am also a minimal make-up, jeans and t-shirt, brush-through-my-hair-is-fixing-it kind of girl. It's just the way I am--I have tried putting more effort into clothes and make-up and hair fixing only to be uncomfortable and miserable. I know logically that the big picture is that I am so lucky to have been born white, blonde, and relatively thin (since much of our society seems to ignore or castigate anything else), but in my day to day life I feel gross. I am divorced and not exactly looking to date, so why does it matter so much that I don't feel pretty? I feel like a hypocrite, and an ugly one at that.

Carolyn Hax: Wow. That's a pretty dark view of yourself and society. Please look into counseling. This doesn't sound like a body issue (though certainly people with those can benefit from time with a competent therapist as well), it sounds like a more general self-loathing issue, one that you don't have to carry around with you like this. If you don't know how to network your way to a reliable referral, you can start with your regular doctor, who should have some names at the ready; or, if your employer makes one available, an Employee Assistance ... Plan, right? I just drew a badly timed blank; or www.therapistlocator.net (via the Amer. Assn for Marriage and Family Therapy); or www.psych.org; or www.apa.org.

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Baltimore, Md.: So if you're in a relationship for a couple of years and you still don't KNOW if this person is the person you want to marry... does that mean they're not? Or is it possible for all that to click into place three, four, or five years into a relationship?

Carolyn Hax: Depends on how old you are, how close you've been during the two years you've been together, how settled the rest of your life is, how confident you are of the origins of your uncertainty, how prone you are to use wishful thinking and other truth-avoidance tactics. There's no easy answer.

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Washington, D.C.: In response to a previously submitted question today, the author wrote:

"I know logically that the big picture is that I am so lucky to have been born white, blonde, and relatively thin"

Did that bother anyone else? I find that offensive.

Carolyn Hax: She was attributing that to "society," which was why I remarked on her dark view of society, which i believe is an extension of her dark view of herself. Of course it's profoundly disturbing no matter where you put the responsibility.

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Friend with Benefit: I have gone and developed HUGE feelings with a person I began a sex only relationship with.

Do you think there is any realistic chance that we can grow into an actual romantic long-term relationship?

Should I tell him how I feel? Or should I bail now and try looking elsewhere for a long-term relationship?

What say you?

Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Cop to your feelings, fully prepared for this to be the last conversation you have. I'll pull for a happy ending.

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Ayup. EAP.: Just about everyone has one these days.

Carolyn Hax: Now if we could only locate my brain. Thank you.

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McLean, Va.: Hi Carolyn -- OK, an odd question but still with complications. My wife and I have been married for several years and have good communication and a close, affectionate relationship. So what do I do about the fact that she has recently purchased several ill-fitting bras that do not support her well and don't look good under her clothes. Do I make a mention, sound superficial, and potentially put her on the defensive? Or do I keep quiet because it's just not that big of a deal? She does take pride in her appearance so I am a bit mystified that she would wear these undergarments, other than that they do seem to be very comfortable and she has had trouble finding a good fit in the past. But they just don't look that good. My instinct tells me to clam up, but I figure I might also be the only one to ever tell her. I know this is a crazy question and amounts to a whole lot of nothing, but would appreciate any assistance.

Carolyn Hax: If your instinct says to clam up, I'd do it. You know your wife. Plus, looking a little lumpy is minor by comparison to feeling a little lumpy.

That said, I would want to be told. I'm wincing at the thought of it, but I'd rather wince at that than a photograph a year from now that tells the same truth.

Give her a gift certificate to one of those old-school places that has trained saleswomen who will fit her. Big, big gift certificate.

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To Lone Star State: Get therapy. It's not what you really "look like," it's how you feel about it.

For the record, I'm 5'6, 166 pounds, brown hair, glasses, and very casual dress. I'm happy, therefore I feel good about it. In the past, however, I've had serious depressive periods (ages 13-18) during which I believed myself to be uglier than a naked mole rat in a bridesmaid's dress and fright wig. My actual appearance, if anything, was much nicer -- I was thinner, I wore makeup and did my hair more often, and cared more about my clothes. But it's the attitude that matters, not the actual look. Really.

Carolyn Hax: I was going to compliment you on your description, but then I realized you must have obtained pictures from my senior prom.

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Washington, D.C.: Guuurl. I need your help. My boyfriend has many female friends, including exes. Which is fine, since I have met several of them and they are very nice, and some I would even consider as casual friends. However, he keeps in touch with and occasionally goes out with a couple women friends who he doesn't want me to meet, because he says they are very mean to other women and would probably be rude to me. This makes me unbelievably mad because I don't understand why he would want to be friends with people who he believes would be mean to his girlfriend. He doesn't understand what the big deal is. Am I just being a jealous girlfriend or would any sane woman feel the same way? Is it ever okay in a relationship to say "I don't want you seeing so-and-so?"

Carolyn Hax: No. But it is okay to say, "Either give me a little credit, or stop giving them so much."

I think it's also okay, fwiw, for people in relationships to to have certain people they see solo--but because they're agreed-upon solo friends, not because they're secret or off-limits friends. Your BF is being either disingenuous or dense.

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Huh?: I have no idea what this means.

Ayup. EAP.: Just about everyone has one these days.

Carolyn Hax: EAP for Employee Assistance Plan, the name that I blanked on earlier.

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Bad bras: I've had my husband point out something similar to me once and, as over sensitive as I am, he did it well. He just said one morning while I was dressing, "Sweetie, I know you didn't ask, but that [garment] isn't my favorite on you. Where's that other one? That one makes you look like a million bucks." Message delivered.

Carolyn Hax: Nice work, though it can stop at "Sweetie." No good news can be coming after that.

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New York: Carolyn -- My mother is nuts and I'm terrified of her. But I still love her and don't want to hurt her. How can I tell her I've eloped with my fiance of three years? And should I do it over the phone or in person?

-Shaking in my Satin Slippers

Carolyn Hax: If this were a poem, its title would be, "Ode to Spring: Questions I Should Have Asked Myself Before I Eloped."

Fortunately, it's never too late to sort out your intentions, something I beg you to do before you talk to your mom. Things to get you started: Why did you elope; knowing both your mom and your fear of her, why did you put yourself in a position you knew would upset her; is this reason, whatever it is, a gun you're prepared to stick to when it's time to talk to mom (figuratively speaking of course); if it is, then what gives you a better chance of a satisfying outcome, phone or in-person? (Taking into account her likely preference and your likely resolve.)

And if it isn't, is that the reason mom is so scary; and if so, isn't the more important thing that you face this fear, vs. how you choose to face it?

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Staten Island, N.Y.: I'm usually a big fan, but I was so disturbed by partof your response to "The Queen of It's Not You It'sMe," that I had to write, which I've never donebefore. I don't understand why you saw her desire fora financially-equal partner as the need to "reach intoa man's pocket." The one-salary family may still workfor some people (obviously it does for you, as you noted in your response), but for most of us these days thereality is that there will be no activities like worldtravel -- or even basic local vacations -- without twosalaries, and for many it's difficult to raisechildren at all without two salaries. And I'm talkingabout college-educated people in their 30searning supposedly middle-class salaries, living inmodest homes, driving modest cars, and gladlyaccepting hand-me-down kid's clothes from friends andrelatives as well as financial help from parents. Isee it all the time. Needing a partner who cancontribute financially is hardly "retro".

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for weighing in. I have real problem with people who set out their material demands and then look for a partner to meet them. I don't care how expensive modern life has (supposedly) become; judging a man's marriage value based on his ability to provide European vacations is still '50s all the way, and, to me, disturbing.

I can also rebut your rebuttal in practical terms. Salaries come and go, jobs come and go, even professions come and go. But good qualities--responsibility, resourcefulness, a good work ethic, dedication to one's chosen profession, whatever it may be--are a far more reliable bet.

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RE: Bad Bras: Or could it be possible that the wife finally bought a non-underwire non-lace 100% cotton bra that is actually really comfortable but not sexy? Maybe the husband should just let his wife buy her own bras.

Carolyn Hax: Now now. He made the point that his wife does care about these things, and there is such thing as a comfortable bra that fits.

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Huh?: Why are people offended by that earlier poster's acknowledgment of her privilege? Why do you think that it means she needs counseling? Anyone who's born white, and can stay thin, enjoys a load of advantages that others without those characteristics don't have. People just flat out treat you better. The blond hair, maybe not so much -- but I've never been blond, so I don't know.

But yes, she's "lucky" -- or I would say privileged -- to be white and thin. Would it be preferable if she claimed credit for being morally superior on the basis of being white and thin? That's what most people do with their privilege.

Carolyn Hax: That one comment wasn't the entire reason I felt she should seek counseling. However, when the day comes that I feel saggy or lumpy or whatever and I try to reassure myself by thinking, "Well, at least I'm white," I hope I have the presence of mind to get help.

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"Country" grammar - Whoa Nelly!: I would rather spend my time with people who say "ain't" because they never learned otherwise than with so-called sophisticates who go around saying, "Well, just between you and I" because they think it's more correct.

Carolyn Hax: Hey. We're all doing our best.

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Eloping: I eloped and came back telling everyone I had gotten engaged. We later had a destination wedding with family and friends (about a hundred people) that my family paid for. A year later, I confessed everything to my mother and she has never forgiven me. She cries and says it is terrible that I didn't want her at the most important day of my life. She also complains, perhaps rightly so, that she had to pay for my "sham" wedding. I have tried to explain to her that the elopement was something special between me and my husband, to no avail. I vote for not telling her.

Carolyn Hax: I vote you pay your mom back. Envision the freedom.

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Woodley Park, Washington, D.C.: I thought about submitting this to a workplace-related chat but I feel like this is more of a personal issue.

How do I get over a case of bad sibling rivalry with a co-worker? She came on board ten months after me and was assigned a project which has really blossomed, while my own projects remain stale. I know that's just the way it is, it's the luck of the draw but she now gets to spend so much time with our boss that I don't exist anymore and it's really painful. If it were a personal relationship, I would speak up but this is business and I don't want to seem like a brat. How do I get over it?

Carolyn Hax: Work harder? Make an appointment with your boss to figure out how you can coax your projects to bloom (but have many ideas before you go in)? Work on your resume?

All these are, in fact, better raised in a workplace related chat. The part that belongs in mine is: This is not a relationship problem, it is a swift kick in your professional butt. Please recognize it as one and get to work.

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Eloping...: is a wonderful thing. I did it. You may wish to call your mom with a plan in hand, such as, "We just eloped and are planning a party for close friends and family and would be so pleased if you would co-host it with us." Everyone needs his and her own version, but it worked for us. But a plan, especially one with an active role for the crazy mom, can help a lot because it deflects passions into a productive outlet instead of protracted crying/shouting/haranging. Or you can move to Ougadougou. That works, too.

Carolyn Hax: Unless someone has tried it, I don't think we can be sure.

I do like the idea of giving an active role, though more in a general sense since dysfunction levels vary widely, and can make this idea either brilliant or hide-the-cake-knife bad.

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Relying on a partner's salary: With all due respect, I think you missed Staten Island's point about having two-income families. I grew up with two middle class parents and after my dad lost his job, my mother really struggled to pay for the basic necessities around the house using only her income. Furthermore, among many friends and colleagues, the only ones I know who own houses are either two-income relationships or a single person who happens to bring home a huge income. I also think you may be missing another factor which is that, for example, I am college educated and make a modest income... My family raised me to be educated and earn at least enough money to take care of myself. There's nothing wrong about my wanting to find those same values in a potential mate, but judging by your response, I feel like my desires are materialistic or like I'm looking to marry a rich man. I'm not materialistic or looking to marry rich, but if I value having a college education and being smart with money, it's not unusual that I'd only be attracted to partners with the same values.

Carolyn Hax: With the same due respect, you need to go back and read the letter in the column. "I want to travel the world, go to graduate school, have a really cool career and raise a family" is what the woman said. And she translates that into needing a man who's on a traditional career path. I still think that's horrible. Housing prices are horrible, too, but the horror is neither so profound nor so widespread as to justify chucking out artists as worthy potential husbands. Come on, do not defend this.

Not sharing or respecting his values is defensible.

Ruling out a potential mate because he's an adult who can't even support himself is defensible.

Even not wanting someone who's career goal is to work almost every weekend is defensible.

But do not fix on my remark about single income families so hard that you don't see that the he-doesn't-make-enough-money line of thinking is indefensible. If nothing else, it's gotten you off the point. A lot of what you say is true, just not relevant here (though the single earner is not as rare as you suggest, nor as rich). You're actually supporting my point with the example of your dad losing his job.

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Eloped: Do you plan on ever telling your mom? Because unless you plan on her never knowing your married, or having a fake wedding (both of which seem like bad ideas to me) you should tell her sooner rather than later. If she scares you, tell her over the phone. Even phrase it as something that wasn't planned if you have to... like you took a trip, and decided it was time to get married right then.

Now if you really fear a violent reaction (as in she could seriously hurt you or someone else) as a result of the info, maybe it's better to keep quiet about it, but she'll probably find out eventually, and will it be worse if she finds out from someone else?

Carolyn Hax: If she really fears a violent reaction, it's time to call in professional help. Thanks for all the suggestions.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Carolyn, I'm about to make a huge change in my life. I quit my job, am taking another one that is totally different (with a huge pay cut but 1,000 times more interesting), am moving 1,000 miles away, will finally again live in the same city as my three-year long-distance boyfriend (and in the same 300 square foot apartment for the first two months), am even leaving behind my car! I'm excited but also a bit terrified. Any words of encouragement or sage wisdom?

Carolyn Hax: I'm sure Atlanta is grateful you won't be adding a car.

I could try to be encouraging or sage, but congratulations seem more appropriate here. So, congratulations. What you're doing takes guts. It wouldn't be exciting if it weren't also terrifying.

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Guy in Washington, D.C.: So the girl and I haven't ever really dated. There was a brief moment when it looked like it would happen, but it didn't work out. No biggie. Then another time when it seemed like a sure thing, but she was juggling two guys and picked the other one. Well that sucked. But now she's back, better than ever, and seems pretty interested this time. There's still something amazing about her, and there's a lot of chemistry, but I am having major concerns about trusting her, believing it's the right thing to do without getting my heart stomped on, because the history is in the back of my mind. But when we hang out, it's pretty great.

Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Could it be the right thing to do even if you -did- get your heart stomped? Meaning, is its working out the only reason you'd try, or would the heart-stomping be worth it if it put all the what-ifs to rest? If it's the latter, go for it, and if the former, tell her no thanks.

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Respect the irony gods, or else: How much you wanna bet, if she dumps him, in 20 years the artist will be rich and famous and travelling the world, and she'll be working too hard to take a week off?

Carolyn Hax: This is where my mind went, too. It's an easily dismissed extreme, but the fundamentals are rock solid: Judge the character, not the job, and foresee the unforeseeable--including that the steady earner you marry will crash and burn and leave you supporting yourself.

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For sibling rivalry in workplace: Wow. I could have written that a few years ago. A woman hired after me got the "plum" project and we were all green with envy. Turns out, when that project was over, the boss was really grateful to those of us who kept the place running while the glory project ran its course. Its always great to work on "the" project -- but they can't all be "the" project. Do a good job with the not-so-glamorous stuff. Oh, and for what its worth, I ended up with the next promotion.

Carolyn Hax: Good to know, thanks.

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Winchester, Va.: I was a really shy kid growing up. I had a hard time talking to girls, and I ended up marrying the first girl I kissed. A year ago, I told my wife that I wanted to have children. She agreed, but told me that there was a very good chance she couldn't get pregnant. She knew about this long before we got married, and she never bothered to tell me. After a year of trying, my wife is still not pregnant. I'm really angry at my wife for never telling my that she couldn't have kids before we got married, but I can't get up the nerve to talk to her about this. I feel like this betrayal is grounds for divorce. However, I have a fear that I'll never find anyone else to marry if I ever left my wife, and as angry as I am at my wife, the idea of hurting just turns my stomach. I'm not sure why my question is really. I guess I needed to just get this stuff off my chest.

Carolyn Hax: You do, yes--I hope in marriage counseling. (As always when I suggest this, I mean after doing your homework to choose a reputable therapist.)

Some things to think about in the meantime: What's the relative place of this betrayal in your life with her? Do you love her? Would you still be happy with your life with her had you not learned this about her, or were there quiet, lurking regrets about not dating other women, which her revelation stirred up? Were you angry a year ago, or is the non-pregnancy the true source of the anger? If you took the emotion away (almost impossible, I know), would you see that withholding bad or scary news has always been her way of (not) dealing with things? And if so, is this a part of her nature that you've come to accept, maybe even love, in other contexts? And could you ever see yourself making peace with it in this context, too?

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Terrified in the Tri-State Area: Oh God, Carolyn! I saw a man I'd never seen before leaving my parents' house the other day when my Mom was home alone. They shared a way too comfortable embrace before he left. My Mom never saw me in my car, so I drove away, terrified of what I may have just discovered. I can't say -for sure- that she's having an affair, but it sure looked bad.

Now I don't know what to do! Do I ask her? Confront her? Ignore it and see if there's something more later? Totally lost here.

Carolyn Hax: Off the cuff, I'm thinking ask. Not confront, ask.

Accepting other votes for the next ... 15 minutes.

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Re: Guy in Washington: Your story sounds nearly identical to what I went through not long ago. Girl and I were friends, and one point she picked some other guy over me, then when that didn't work out, she and I got together. Got engaged, and a few months before the wedding, she suddenly broke it off, saying she'd been questioning things for months without giving me any indication whatsoever. Just sharing my outcome following a similar fact pattern.

Carolyn Hax: I'm generally skeptical of parallel advice ("this happened to me, therefore this will happen to you"), but you're not representing it that way, thank you, and he probably does need to ask himself if this outcome is one he can handle.

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Alexandria, Va.: since eloping is on the table today, is there a good reason to elope beyond the fact that we both just want to avoid being adults and dealing with all the family obligations of having a big wedding? we don't want to hurt those that are close to us by excluding them, but we also don't want to be forced by cultural traditions to host a party for people we either don't really know or don't really like. so far our approach has been to procrastinate (the wedding is supposed to be in 6 months) and hope that putting off the planning our options will limit us to a small affair. thansk!

Carolyn Hax: Think of the people you would really want at your wedding. Say, five or 10 each. Immediate family plus.

If getting those people together would involve excluding people you like, add five more and see if that does it. You can celebrate with 10 to 40 people in the party room of a nice, non-extravagant restaurant without stressing out or going bankrupt.

If getting those ideal wedding guests together would involve excluding someone you can't stand but feel obligated to invite, and that's the complication you dread, then pick a representative from each family to witness your civil ceremony.

And if even that doesn't sit right, bon voyagee.

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He's afraid to be alone: Does Winchester love his wife? Did he ever? Or did he marry her because she was there? He is reluctant to divorce because he's afraid no one else will want him. Hey, Winchester, does your wife know this? If not, she isn't the only one who has been concealing important things.

Carolyn Hax: THAT. Yes. So well-said. Thank you.

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For Terrified in the Tri-State: "Mom, I saw this the other day, and before I jump to conclusions, is there anything you want to tell me?"

But yeah, she needs to ask or there will be perpetual weirdness between her and mom.

And be willing to accept what she says at face value. No accusations or inquisitions.

Carolyn Hax: Sits right with me, thanks.

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Re: Terrified in Tri-state: I vote for do nothing. This was one incident the poster saw with zero context, and it's a phenomenal speculative leap to decide something nefarious is going on. It's not his/her job to police mom's interactions with others, and I think if I were in the mom's shoes I would have a hard time not feeling defensive if asked, no matter how inocuous the phrasing. Why? Because after seeing something that has a huge spectrum of possible interpretations, my child jumped to the most negative without giving me the benefit of the doubt.

Carolyn Hax: Good points all, thanks. Though I don't think the leap was necessarily "phenomenal"; this is Mom, someone whose body language you've been watching your whole life. The jumped-to conclusion may indeed be the wrong one, but I doubt it's way-out-there wrong.

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Bethesda: Regarding the allegedly cheating mom. I found out my father was cheating on my mother when I was 17. I struggled with all these ideas and fortunately did nothing. A year later they got divorced. They were aware of their problems long before I was. My immature over emotional addition to their problems would have only made everything even more horrible. My father wanted to talk about these things after the divorce. I wasn't so much interested in it then either. Parents have relationships their children don't always understand and probably never will get all the details on. You just have to accept it and try and love them for who they are.

Carolyn Hax: Very nice, the last two lines. Thank you.

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Anonymous: I know there's no nice way to say that although I'm leaving you and dating someone else, I'm leaving you because of you, not him, but is there a better way?

Carolyn Hax: "The someone else had nothing to do with it, this was about us." Barely different, but somehow different, right? It's like "wrong" vs. "not right for you."

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"I'm sorry for your loss": When I was widowed a few years ago, that was definitely not one of the sentiments I wanted to hear. "My loss?!" I exclaimed (to myself) -- "What about HIS loss?!" Yes, I had "lost" my husband. But he had lost his life. Made my loss pale in comparison.

"My thoughts are with you" is always a good one.

Carolyn Hax: Noted, but I think you're being awfully hard on people.

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McLean, Va.: Re today's column: Was it even appropriate to give her boyfriend her married friend's e-mail? I think she should have given her married friend her boyfriend's email and let her contact him if she chose. My .02

Carolyn Hax: Right. I missed that. Thanks.

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Carolyn Hax: Sorry, I was looking for a zippy exit question and nothing presented itself. So, bye bye, thank you, and I'll type to you next week.

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