Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 2, 2006 12:00 PM

RESCHEDULED: The Friday, April 28 show has been rescheduled forTuesday, May 2, at Noon ET.

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.


Harrisburg, Pa.: Is it Friday already? Do you have advice for someone like me with no sense of time?

Carolyn Hax: It is Friday, but it's actually last Friday, not this Friday.

Thanks everybody for rolling with the time change.


Control Freak Knock Knock: Joker: Knock Knock

Jokee: Who's there?

Joker: Control Freak - Now you say "control freak who?"

Carolyn Hax: Just in case anyone thinks it's still the Friday before last.


Maryland: Hi Carolyn,

Can you or the peanuts suggest resources for finding a counselor/therapist? I really need to talk to someone about emotional eating issues and all the other issues in my life. I used my EAP through work, but that counselor was over 40 minutes away unless I wanted to take time off work -- not possible for an ongoing weekly therapy session. I asked my primary care physician who referred me again to someone with day hours only. I don't want to just pluck someone out of the phone book randomly and I just moved to a new area, so I don't have friends or family I can really ask. Any help?

Carolyn Hax: The two counselors to whom you were referred will be able to give you some names. Be sure to explain that you have limited flexibility and need someone nearby with night or weekend hours. Hang in there.


Oh no, not *them*: So, are you looking forward with unrestrained delight to all the Weingarten chatters showing up in your chat, because he's gone this week, and yours is in his usual timeslot?

Carolyn Hax: From here, you all look the same to me. Unhinged.


Arlington, Va.: Hi Carolyn -- I recently invited my boyfriend to attend a family wedding. He asked what I intended to give as a gift, and I told him I was giving the couple cash. It was presented at rather informal event with a congratulatory card, signed by me.

After the fact, boyfriend complained that I should have had him sign the card. He had made no offer to contribute, and was only there because I invited him; he had not previously met either the bride or the groom.

Do I owe an apology, or do I just need a new boyfriend?

Carolyn Hax: Not so simple. He could argue that you left him exposed as The Guy Who Showed Up Empty Handed by not including him in the card. Then, you could argue that if he wanted in on the gift credit, he should have said so--or, even better, offered some money. Then he could argue that he thought he did speak up. Then you could argue that he wasn't terribly clear.

So. You should have considered what he ought to do about the gift, and he should learn to speak up before the fact and not after.

What you do with this is up to you guys.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

I'm a very busy and active person (work, second job, volunteer activities, etc.) and I generally enjoy doing most of it. Lately, I've been starting to feel a bit overwhelmed by it all and the fact that someone always seems to want something from me. I genuinely believe that I may be borderline depressed, but the notion of having to find a doctor that my insurance will cover just adds to the overwhelming factor. Any suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: Streamline. Pick out the commitment (or two) that stresses you the most and/or rewards you the least, and drop it. Then, put in a call either to your Employee Assistance Plan or your regular doctor, and explain that you've been feeling down and think you may be depressed. It may seem like you're just trading one stress for another, but the act of seeking help, once you actually get it started, often comes as a relief.


Canada: What do you do with friends who only talk about themselves? I ask a lot of questions of them, and wait patiently for them to ask a question or two about me, but it is usually very one-sided. I'm of the mind that if they don't ask it means they aren't interested.

Carolyn Hax: That happens to me ALL the TIME.


Carolyn Hax: Sorry. Couldn't help myself.

What you do is 1. resist the temptation to fill in the reasons they don't ask about you, since the possibilities are many (self-absorbed, not interested in you, socially inept ... it's also possible the quirk is on your end, maybe that you're too sensitive or prone to keep score); and then 2. accept that this is how your friendships with these people go--they talk, you listen--and if it's not doing it for you, it's time to pull away.


Cashville, Mass.: Hi Carolyn,

I have a follow-up to the cash-wedding gift question. My boyfriend invited me to a wedding and when I asked him what he was giving the couple he said cash. I offered to contribute and he told me not to since I don't know the couple. But now I worry about being the girl who shows up empty handed. What's my next move?

Carolyn Hax: There is absolutely nothing wrong with being the girl who shows up empty-handed. There is no obligation for any of the guests to give a gift, and when you're a guest of a guest, it's asking a bit much for you to give a heartfelt token to people you've never met.

The reason I made the point I did about the guy was that he obviously cared and felt uncomfortable being empty-handed. If that's you, then a nice congratulations/thank you card would certainly suffice--"Thanks for letting me share in the celebration, and sorry for passing out under the cake table" or something like that.


Canada: I think it's tricky; some people really aren't interested in others, and don't ask reciprocal questions. On the other hand, if these people are friends, not just cocktail party fellow attendees, I wouldn't assume they're not interested because they don't ask; perhaps they think you're a private person and are waiting for you to speak up about yourself. Before writing anyone off, how about trying to talk about yourself and see what happens? If they switch it back to themselves immediately, well, then you can reassess.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, that's a great one to add to the list of possible exlpanations.


Sex Therapist: Are there therapists who deal specifically with sexual related issues? I'm one of those women who've never experienced an orgasm with a partner because I can't relax, or feel self-conscious, or deflect attention to him, etc. At 38, I know this should not be a problem. I've never been married, and haven't been sexually active in quite a while, but really want to take control of this issue for when I become so. I know I deserve to be satisfied, too, but I need to learn how to overcome my barriers. Who/what would you or others recommend?

Carolyn Hax: Yes, there are therapists who specialize in sexual issues--but I'm not entirely convinced you need one. What you describe sounds like an emotional problem that's manifesting itself in your sexuality.

But if you would prefer a specialist, I'd suggest you find a reputable one the same way you'd find a regular therapist--talking to your regular doctor, clergyperson, EAP--but since people can barely tell their doctors they have a headache, much less tell Father Fred they have a sexual problem, I'll also suggest,, and the unfortunately named


Just to State the Obvious...: No bride or groom expects a present from someone they've never met and who is just there as a companion to a guest. No worries, you sidekicks.

Carolyn Hax: No -rational- bride or groom.


Washington, D.C.: I'm becoming that girl. You know the one. The one who pressures her boyfriend to propose. I never wanted to be her. I would propose myself but we've agreed this is important to him and I respect that. Or at least I thought I did. We live together. We've known each other for years -- dated for years. I'm 30. It was all fine and then wham-o -- I'm feeling all this crazy urgency. Logically, I'm confident he's going to propose within the next six months. He's all but said he's going to. We talk about it and I have communicated that I have all this irrational urgency and he is patient, sympathetic and reassuring. Argh. How to let go? I think a lot of it has to do with personally being okay with where we are in our relationsip but getting a lot of societal messages about marriage. I'm tired of raised eyebrows when I join a conversation with other women about their husbands and then have to explain when they ask "how long have you been married?"

Yes, I am a bit of a control freak so I think that's coming into play, too. Maybe I should just watch a bunch of disfunctional relationships on Jerry Springer and make myself feel lucky that way. He's a wonderful man who's planning something lovely and I don't feel any urge to throw a chair at him. In the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter much what I call him.

Carolyn Hax: Sounds like you've got it pretty much figured out. For extra credit, though, this might be a great opportunity to start detaching your sense of wellbeing from the expectations of others. You'll never separate them completely, no one can, I don't think--but getting some freedom will help you keep straight when you -should- care about something, and when you actually do. If that makes any sense.


Socially Inept: I often don't ask questions of others because I don't know what's polite to say. There should be books about that. I need "mingle" lessons or something. I'm just saying to let you all know we are out there, and we care, we're that. Phrases the ignored could try: "Guess what I just did! Did I show you my new tennis bracelet? Etc. It helps.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. Another good insight.


East Coast: Carolyn,

I was recently accused of "only talking about myself" by a friend. I was horrified, but instead of getting defensive (as I at first wanted to do) I thought about it for a bit.

I come from an extended family of loving people who are very nosy. They want to know everything about everyone's business. Every time my fiance and I go home to see my folks, I am grilled by the rest of the fam. (The next person who says to me, "So, why haven't you set a date yet?" is going to be told, "Oh, I have, but you weren't invited because I don't like you!")

As a result, I tend to talk more about myself than ask other people questions. Not because I don't care, but because my parents and I are fairly private people who chafe under a million questions and I guess I just assume most other people are like that as well.

...Any advice as to how to get a decent balance?

Carolyn Hax: Maybe give some thought to questions you've been asked that didn't rankle? For example, "So, why haven't you set a date yet?" is way over the line, but, "How has [fiance] been?" is well within the bounds of friendly interest.

Granted, it's a bit generic and can solicit a one-word thud, but it's also a safe little conversational lob for people who 1. aren't sure what to ask of 2. people who might be sensitive 3. whom they don't see often. If you're talking to people you do see frequently, ask about specifics: Has the work crisis passed, or are you still in the throes? Or even better, draw people out without drawing on their private lives: Have you tried that new restaurant? What do you think of XX?


Sex Therapy, Washington, D.C.: I'd suggest that the woman with problems achieving orgasm talk to her OB/GYN too. Turns out that my GYN is a specialist in this field. (She used to be affiliated with Drs. Berman & Berman, who now have a TV show.) If they can rule out a physical issue, then the doc can probably recommend a therapist.

Carolyn Hax: Right, right, I missed that. Thank you.


Pregnant and Crabby, Washington, D.C.: I am a few weeks shy of being able to tell people of my condition, but am having pretty substantial morning sickness and am incredibly cross. I am mildly concerned that by the time this is all over, I will have lost my job and alienated all of my family and friends. Any words of wisdom?

Carolyn Hax: "Being able to tell people of my condition" is usually a subjective measure. If you're just waiting for an arbitrary mark, like 12 weeks, then you might consider just sharing your news and giving yourself one less thing to be concerned about. If you have a more serious reason--an upcoming procedure, a professional concern--then you just put on a happy face (I'm ducking right now) and trust that they'll forgive you retroactively when they know what's up.

That said--even hormonal crabbies need to be kept in check. Try, try. (I'm now under my desk wearing Kevlar.)


Re: Socially Inept: I used to be quite the wallflower but through years of social "practice" for lack of a better word and am now much more comfortable in social situations. What I did was practice my social stills over and over with new people. Early on I made an ass of myself more often than not, but it taught me what not to do. Hard lesson to learn by being the misfit but you gotta start somewhere. Hope that helps.

Carolyn Hax: I think so. But then I'm under my desk. Thanks.


Vacation land: Hi Carolyn! My boyfriend is taking his Blackberry on our two-week vacation despite his vow not to work on vacation. Any tips for keeping my sanity as I ooh and ahh at European sites and he has his eyes glued to the screen the whole time? Maybe I should start by not expecting the worst??

Carolyn Hax: If you haven't really traveled together, then you definitely do need to give him a chance.

But if you have enough history to be confident that this is who he is, then the thing that needs to change is your expectation that he'll change because you want him to or because it's Europe. Either see his screen-gluage time as time you can take for yourself, or rethink the guy.


Bethesda, Md.: Regarding being asked about yourself, I've found things work out better for everyone involved if people are honest and proactively move towards what they want in relationships. If you want to talk about yourself then go ahead. Why would this person be your friend if they didn't care about you? That makes more sense than waiting for approval to fulfill your needs, which are talking about yourself, in this case. I don't want to be asked about me because then I feel trapped in small talk about "how things are going at work" or whatever. If I've got something to say about me I'll do it myself.

Carolyn Hax: Sums it up nicely. Thanks.


Fairfax, Va.: Hi Carolyn,

My husband tells me I take things too "personally". Like when our son gets in trouble at school (minor stuff) I freak out and think it's a reflection on me. Being a teacher I do think it's a reflection on parents when kids get in trouble (at least a tiny glimmer) although I realize the kids make their own decisions, too. My question is, how else should I take things? Not like a person? I find it very hard not to be emotionally affected by things. That is how I have always been-and now I am five months pregnant so it's somewhat amplified.

Carolyn Hax: I think the key is not getting disproportionately affected by things. Life has a way of humbling people who make direct connections between cause and effect--such as, good parents raise good kids and bad kids have bad parents. (Another popular one: People with self-discipline don't get fat, and fat people have no self-discipline.)

Being human just isn't that tidy, and even when it is--even when someone does botch the job of childrearing or get fat from eating too much--who ever said it was incumbent upon others to point and scold? So your kid got in trouble in school. Of course you're going to get upset, but instead of freaking out, try remembering the you are human and your husband is human and your son is human and the spectators to your sons misbehavior (both the forgiving ones and the scolds) are human. A little slack all around sounds like a winner here--especially for your son, who has to be feeling your pressure to get it all right.


Future proposal: The whole concept of "he is going to propose but I don't know when" is so hard to get past, especially in a long-term relationship. Are you going to get married or aren't you? I think it is a legitimate question if "somehow" he just never gets around to proposing even though he is "probably" going to "sometime". There is something larger there than the lack of a proposal "yet" or the fact that other people in their social group are getting married.

I say this because I have known similar situations that drag on literally for YEARS (her waiting for the proposal that he assures her is forthcoming), and then it develops that really he doesn't want to get married to her, has harbored doubts he hasn't expressed, thought he would get over them, etc. Frequently followed by the guy marrying the next woman he dates seriously, within a year or two.

She is right to be concerned and shouldn't just assume his answer is accurate.

Carolyn Hax: I think there is -often- something larger. Could be he's as caught up in setting the perfect stage as she is. (Which is something larger of a different sort. Introducing the new Mr. and Mrs. Controlfreak.)

That doesn't diminish your point, though, that passive aggression is often behind foot-dragging of all kinds. I also think it's not unusual for a toe-tapping would-be-bride who finally "gets what she wants" to find out that really she didn't want to marry him, either. The fact of the wedding can get so big it obscures what everyone's really feeling.


Obsteperous Extrovert: I think this is a meet in the middle proposition. We extroverts have to learn to pause and bring the conversation back to the other folks at the table. Introverts can learn to be more bold. It took me a while to learn that other folks are sometimes just waiting for an opening and if you give them an invitation they'll step right up. Often it's a real difference in disposition and the same thing doesn't work for everyone.

Carolyn Hax: Okay, -that- sums it up. Do we have a plan? Everyone okay with this?


From one blackberry widow to another:

Don't worry; he may just be bringing the BB along for emergencies. It is really helpful in situations where you need to look up phone numbers or get confirmation numbers etc., but may not have the time to stop at an Internet cafe. It can be a good thing.

But to make it work you have to have real boundaries. Like I may not be able to stop you from working all day long but when we eat meals together phones and e-mails are off limits. Don't worry about him having fun, if you are seeing cool stuff and he chooses to be glued to the screen, don't worry, but if it is one on one time then he needs to pay attention to you.

Oh and also don't worry too much rates in Europe are much more expensive and his bb might not always work.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.


For Washington, D.C.: Why doesn't she just propose to him?

Carolyn Hax: Didn't she say why? Even if she didn't, it might be time to move away from suggesting this. It's kind of like suggesting to an infertile couple, "Have you considered adoption?" as if they've never heard of it.


How do you break bad news: Hubby recently out of the blue told me he wants a divorce, no interest in counseling (all a result of combat PTSD that just manifested a few months ago). I've got a list of social engagements coming up, lunch w/the girls, etc... and I just don't know how to tell people. Especially when it is still so raw to me....

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry. First, tell the people you normally count on to make you feel really good. See how that goes. You can also cancel any engagements with people you particularly dread telling. Not that you even have to tell these people, necessarily--theoretically it's your call what to reveal, when, and to whom--but sometimes things don't work out perfectly and word gets out and suddenly you're trying to arrange your face as you try to locate the rest room.


re: Fairfax, VA: In case you need a more utilitarian reasoning behind not taking your son's getting in trouble personally:

Which do you think is going to resonate more with a kid..."I want you to do your best because I believe you're capable of great things, and you owe it to yourself to strive for the best you can do" or "I want you to do your best because when you don't, it reflects badly on me."

Trust me, I was that kid. Even if you're not saying it, that's the message they are getting.

Carolyn Hax: Nothing to add, thanks.


Paris, France: Dear Carolyn, I'll give you a nickel if you'll tell me what bacon pants are.

Carolyn Hax: They're what we want horrible people to wear before they go swimming with sharks. Tres chic.

I guess it's time for a FAQ. For which I don't have time.


The sins of the son visited upon the fathers: Fairfax said: "Being a teacher I do think it's a reflection on parents when kids get in trouble (at least a tiny glimmer) although I realize the kids make their own decisions, too."

Fairfax, you do realize that you are a great argument for

A: not raising teacher's salaries

B: Private Schools

I have a two-year-old's two-year-old and I do my best. And according to you, I must be a bad parent because my kid is always acting up. Well, guess what, I'm doing the best I can and the last thing I need is some ignorant moron like you blaming me for my kid's crying. Why is he crying? Probably because I wouldn't let him (Pick one)

1. Play in traffic

2. Buy every toy in the toy store

3. Pull a big dog's hair.

But thanks to you, I now know I'm a bad parent.

Carolyn Hax: It's okay. I was up all night, too.


Wedding Question: We have two out-of-town wedding invites. Both will require two plane tickets, hotel and car rental, due to their locations. Our budgets and our vacation time-off allow us to only go to one of the two.

Behind Door Number 1, we have my cousin and her fiance. Haven't seen the cousin in years (we grew up on different sides of the continent) and have never met her fiance. Wedding will be a very formal, very large (300+) affair. Location: hotel in the middle of New Jersey.

Behind Door Number 2, we have our good friend and his partner, both of whom we're very close. The wedding will be small (40 or so), and casual, which is more our style (ie: we will actually get to talk to groom & groom). Location: the beach!

Is it wrong of us to want to go to our friend's wedding over the cousin's? I will probably get some slack (but not a lot) from family about not choosing my cousins'. Plus I don't feel as comfortable skipping our friend's wedding and dragging my partner along to watch a cousin he's never met marry a guy whom I've never met.

FWIW, regardless of which we chose, a nice gift will be sent to both couples.

Carolyn Hax: This is a no-brainer, and remains one whether you meant "slack" or "flak." Go to the small wedding of the people you care more about.


New York: I've got issues with your answer in the column to the guy who resented the pictures of the ex. and complained "now she's got scrapbooks full of ex-boyfriend memorabilia all over the house we now share."

You said he had been reasonable.

I've got scrapbooks dating back to high school in my house that I share with my husband of nine years. In the books are my high school track photos, college parties, graduation photos and, yes, batches of ex-boyfriends. I would never give away my scrapbooks--or even put them in the attic. They're about my life and the ex boyfriends were part of it.

The boyfriend was within his rights to object to wall photos but I think it's controlling to want to expunge books that sit closed on a shelf.

Carolyn Hax: What you describe and what he described sound to me like two very different things. Scrapbooks in scrapbooky places holding a proportionate amount of ex-guy stuff are the documents of a life. (I actually typed "crapbooky" there. Just thought I'd share.) Scrapbooks all over the place full of ex-boyfriend memorabilia are the documents of someone making a point, even if it's a subconscious one. Maybe I was wrong to take his description at face value--and if her scrapbooks are as varied as yours, then I was wrong--but I guess it didn't strike me as an obvious rock to look under. He did come across as reasonable to me.


Silver Spring, Md.: I can't take another "Don't you get lonely attending these events alone?" Stupid weddings with nosy family friends. SHUT UP! If I was lonely, I'd find someone to bring.

Thanks for the opportunity to vent.

Carolyn Hax: "Don't you get ashamed of asking the same rude question?"

You're welcome.


RE: "That girl", the one who wants her guy to propose: Why are you okaying this kind of behavior by the guy? Why is his need to put on a fancy show more important than how she's feeling?

I'm sure it's must be fun for him to be totally in control of the situation ("The proposal will happen when I say it will! You have to wait!") but frankly just hearing about it makes me want to slap him.

Her feelings are not irrational at all: they're a result of being kept powerless with regards to status of the relationship.

The initiative should belong to whoever wants to take it, it should not be his by default or his because he's claimed the right to use it in the future. If she want to propose tomorrow, she should just do it. If he can't handle that, he's got MAJOR issues that need to be addressed.

Carolyn Hax: That's one side, and here's the other:


Washington, D.C.: Okay but what if he says he is going to propose, but just wants to wait for the right time? I think some guys feel immense pressure from people that make the proposal into a big deal. Not to mention all of the "so, how did he do it" questions that she will get afterwards. I'm actually in this situation myself (go figure), and there's a fine line. He says he wants it to be special, and that if I ask about it then it ruins the surprise. Should this make me nervous?

Carolyn Hax: Oh, wait a minute, I stopped when I got to the "I'm actually in this situation myself" thinking you were the guy. Sorry. This isn't the other side, it's another argument for not jerking people around while you contemplate which knee to use.

If you're really both worried about the "so how did he do it" questions, then I guess you're great for each other, but, really, so many of these perfect opening scenes end up as the punchline to the divorce story. Make each other's feelings your priority, and send the orchestra home.


You're proposing when?: I have been waiting for my boyfriend to propose, literally for years. We have known each other for 10 years and have dated most of that. I don't want to ask him myself -- some days I feel like I make all the other decisions, so why this one too? I'd love to think he is planning something, but he never really plans anything. For Valentine's day I asked him to make reservations at a nice restaurant for us to go out. I looked up the number, dialed it, and handed him the phone. Literally. I don't know if it's laziness or me being controlling or what, but I am so tired of waiting I could spit. It's hard to explain to people, and it hurts my feelings and makes me question my self-worth.

I guess this is less of a question and more of an in-sympathy with the other peanut who's waiting on something interminable. Venting makes me feel less cranky about the whole thing.

Carolyn Hax: So, year 11. That's when he becomes someone else?


Anti-confrontationville: Carolyn --

I'm the one who wrote you last week about the ex who won't let go (he sends cards, letters, etc. every month or so)and I feel guilty because I simply cut off contact with him rather than face the music and make a clean break.

New development: he knocked on my door the other night! I know he's not dangerous, and he looked sincere -- but I was still too scared to answer. What should I do? He's not stalking me, and I don't see what good can come from me contacting him.

Carolyn Hax: You say you know he's not dangerous, and yet he's frightening you. Showing up at your door is a sign that he's refusing to accept your decision to break up with him, and, regardless of how badly you executed it, it's still a decision he has to accept. So, I'm going to be cautious here and suggest you call the local police non-emergency number and ask to speak to someone who handles domestic issues, and get the advice of someone who is trained to give it. Too many bad things can happen to people who overrule their creep alarms.


Washington, D.C.: For the woman who was self-conscious in bed, you said that she may have an emotional problem that is affecting her sexual function. What did you mean?

Carolyn Hax: She could have problems with trusting people--that's the most obvious example. She could have low self-esteem, body issues, depression ... it's a long list. Sexual confidence is so much more an emotional thing than a physical one.


Austin, Tex.: I have been living with my boyfriend for two years and we plan to get married when I finish college. However, recently he has been "googling" his ex-girlfriends, one of them he was engaged to for two years. He has not made an effort to hide it, but he does not know that I have seen it, and I am not sure if I should let it bother me the way it does. Is it something worth a confrontation?

Carolyn Hax: Nah. Googling exes can be a sign of dissatisfaction, but it can also be a sign of having Google. I'd worry only if you're also getting a sense that he's withdrawing or avoiding you or otherwise acting funny.


Arlington, Va.: Carolyn, please tell us what you are doing in Gene's slot. This is very unnerving. I would be less troubled if you were trying on each other's clothes.

Okay, I would be AS troubled. But still.

Carolyn Hax: I'm wearing a knit tie. And ... and ... comfortable shoes.

Counselors will be made available.


As Jackson Browne said:: "People only ask you how you're doin' 'cause it's easier than letting on how little they could care."

Bitter food for thought.

Carolyn Hax: Food! Great idea. That's all, bye-bye, thanks and type to you Friday.


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