Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 2, 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.


Columbia, Md.: Big fan of your column. After reading your column today I wanted to add, as a engagement-contemplating guy myself, that the reason for his delay may be as simple as the cost of the ring. Sometimes, saving up for several thousands of dollars of rock takes a little while. Yes, I know it doesn't really matter how expensive the ring is... but it kinda does.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you!

Even if I were to kinda agree with you (I repeat, if), I'd still say you could propose without a ring. Cracker Jack with a trade-in clause.

And if your intended gave you a hard time about that, change your intentions asap before 15 years go by and you lose all contact with your soul.


Washington, D.C.: Boyfriend of two-plus years is dropping hints about proposing. Lots of our friends are getting engaged or married. The truth is, I have no idea yet how I would respond. I'm happy, but with doubts. He's great, and yet I want to be as sure as possible before making such a huge decision. How do I know if I'm just being overly Type A, or if there's substance to my hesitation? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: There's always substance, even if the substance is that you're overly Type A. He'd be marrying you, not the person you'd rather be, right? So he needs to be right for you. Keep thinking and maybe he'll read you well enough to wait.


Bethesda, Md.: My boyfriend is great... most of the time. The problem is that he gets SO angry when I get higher grades than him/do better than him on exams (we are in college). Can this guy still be a keeper if he is never happy at my success?

Carolyn Hax: No.


Carolyn Hax: Maybe he'll grow up and be a keeper someday, but "has potential to be a keeper" is not the same thing as a keeper. Just ask anyone who has stayed with someone in the hopes that s/he would transform into somebody else.


If Size Really Does Matter: Then I'd really be concerned -- speaking as a woman, not wearing a rock. Who does it "kinda matter" to, you or her? If it's you, well, then, your issue -- but if it's her, I would really be concerned about what that portends for your future. And if it's "everybody else," well, then, that's a big problem too.

I really just don't get the obsession with a piece of carbon.

Carolyn Hax: Can anyone who gets it explain? (With respect for the fact that a lot of us are trying to eat lunch.) Thanks.


For higher grades: Even worse if he takes pleasure in your failures...

Carolyn Hax: I guess, but at that point it's like saying rotten fish is worse than spoiled meat.

Speaking of trying to eat lunch.


He Gets Angry?!!: Bad enough to not be happy, but to be angry?! I'd be a little worried.

Carolyn Hax: Don't be worried, be gone. Worry is what you do when you're still with the person.


Washington, D.C.: Any ideas for a way out of this vicious cycle: lonely, life events getting me down, could really use a friend, but alienate friends with moping; therefore, lonely, could really use a friend... My few remaining friends would be there for a one-time bitch-and-moan, but if I did it as often as I feel like it would drive them away. So I tend to stay away because I can't put on the happy face they want to see. The drama is just all-consuming.

I'm getting plenty of exercise and treating myself as I can to try and keep my spirits up, but I'd really like friends too. I just wish I could feel that I had more to offer as a friend.

Carolyn Hax: Are you sure you're alienating them, or are you just assuming they'll want you around only with a happy face on? Because while offering your friends nothing but drama and suffering ever after would eventually kill off your friendships, most people do have enough empathy and life experience to understand 1. that if you're going through a life-events-driven bad spell, you're going to be mopey and preoccupied for a while, and 2. that their job as your friend is to help you through it by listening when you want to talk, and distracting you when they can.


Diamonds: I'll try to take this one on... yes, as much as I hate to admit it, I am human and care about what other people think of me. And I like pretty, sparkly things. So therefore I don't want a teeny, tiny stone on my finger. I don't need a ginormous rock by any means, but you want something that says something to the world -- "look at me! I'm just as nice as that girl's ring!" I really hate to put it that way because it sounds awful and I know I'm going to get flamed. But, I will admit to not being perfect and liking material goods.

Carolyn Hax: Fair enough. A few follow-up questions: Would you think any less of the guy if the stone were small; if yes, would your answer change if he were heroically employed and therefore underpaid? And, does it bother you at all to think that some guys put in extra work and feel extra pressure to provide pretty sparkly things?


Confused: How do you know the difference between a run of bad luck in relationships and you (meaning me) being the cause? I know I'm the common thread, but I am an insightful person and I can't see what I'm doing wrong. How does one figure this out?

Carolyn Hax: You can be insightful and still miss a lot; you can be the common thread in a series of disasters and not be doing anything wrong. When it gets too hard to figure out what's going on, sometimes the best thing is to just reduce the number of things going on. Stand down, simplify, regroup, all that good stuff. It's a great time to get in shape or catch up on your reading or learn to cook or whatever solitary thing you've been putting off for later.


Diamonds: From a guy's perspective. Disclaimer: I don't subscribe to this at all, but some guys do. A big rock = lots of money = I sacrificed in order to get it = I am prepared to continue to put my wife first.

Carolyn Hax: The Rock as Symbol argument. Thanks.


Sparkly things: The magic of sparkly things disappears the moment you are married and you are making the monthly payments on the rock, writing the checks yourself as the fresh, new wife in charge of the check book...

Carolyn Hax: And, the flip side of that argument. Thanks.


In some circles: Size is all that matters. I woman I used to work with told her BF..."3 carats or don't bother."

Carolyn Hax: Which would scare off all BFs but those who are just as awful as she is, so I guess we should applaud it.


Carbon: I'm not obsessed with carbon. And I am a feminist who believes that either partner can propose, and a ring (carbon or otherwise) isn't needed in order to be engaged. However, I like jewelry. And I wanted a ring with one of those shiny carbon pieces in it. We got engaged without a ring. (He got down on one knee at a secluded spot along Rock Creek.) Later that day, he gave me a ring pop, as well as a package of Halloween bat rings. I wore a bat ring until the pretty antique ring with a small piece of carbon was presented to me a couple of weeks later. And I look at it every day, thinking that it is so pretty and about the memories associated with it. That's what I believe the ring is for- and I don't care that it is a small stone, since it suits me!

Carolyn Hax: Last word, because it's sane and honest. Thanks.


Columbia, Md.: Carolyn,

I can't take it anymore! My best friend turns 30 tomorrow, and she is whining about it so much that I want to strangle her! Of course, she says that I just can't understand because I'm only 28 and I live with my boyfriend, whereas she is 30 and single. Like that means her life is over. To top it off, I'm throwing her a party tomorrow but I want to cancel if she's just going to be grumpy.

So do I have any other choices? I figure right now I can either go through with the party or kill her.

Advice much appreciated!

Carolyn Hax: "I'm your best friend and I want to strangle you. Imagine how your whining must sound to everyone else."

I'll give you 20 dollars.


Pondside: Hi Carolyn,

Would you please remind folks that just because a friend is having a rough time that calling and visiting with your own news is a good thing? I'm in what's turned into a really long and difficult dry spell, which is hard, but made harder by the folks who no longer call to give me their own news.

I happen to know all about what's going on with me, please call with what's going on with you. Talk with me about ideas, events, experiences so I know what's up with you and have some friendly contact. It'll help us stay friends (unlike choosing to not call/talk because you don't want to talk about my situation) and keep me engaged. And hey, I may even have some perspective to share on what you're reading/doing that's interesting or useful. I didn't lose my brain, just my job.

Thanks for passing the word along.

Carolyn Hax: It's the least I could do. Hang in there.


Washington, D.C.: So, there is a new woman that recently started working at my company and sits in the "officle" (cubicle office) next to mine. She speaks another language and is unaware that I know the language very well after having lived in her country of origin for about six years. Since starting, she has spent the bulk of her day on her cell phone speaking disparaging comments about my co-workers and the place of employment. She has said some pretty distasteful things, for example, about people's clothing, weight, etc. I'm thinking of going up to her one morning and saying hello to her in her native tongue to get the point across that I can understand her. Should I do it? Also, after some of the things she's said about my coworkers, it's pretty hard to want to befriend her. How do I get over what I heard?

Carolyn Hax: I think you should tip her off, if only so you don't have to spend all day listening to a next-cube neighbor gossip all day on the phone (pure hell in any language). I also think you're fine just staying at a civil professional distance.


Vienna, Va.: Carolyn,

My husband and I have a 15-month old daughter (we are both 31). Most of my girlfriends are married and many also have babies; most of his close friends, while many of them married, still go out and party on the weekends, sleep in till 9 or 10 on Saturdays and Sundays, etc. I know that my husband in a way resents the fact that he is so tied down when he sees his friends living his old lifestyle (he was pretty set in his ways and has had a hard time adjusting to things like getting up at 6:30 or 7 a.m. and not being able to leisurely read the paper for hours on Sundays). My question is, is there any way for me to help him come to peace with his life as it is now with a child, or do I need to just wait and watch him be agitated much of the time? (and deal with his irritated moods) I just wish he had some more buddies that were in the same boat that we are; he hasn't particularly hit it off with my friends' husbands (other than seeing each other as couples).

Carolyn Hax: I know this is a battle of principle and what he really needs to do is grow up, but I actually think it would be more productive to treat it as a practical issue. Tell him you both need a regular break from the tyranny of small children. So, from now on, every Sunday, one of you gets to sleep until 9 or 10 and then read the paper for hours. You alternate weeks, and the one who's "on duty" gets up with your daughter and takes her out on an adventure morning till noon. That way he gets to relive his youth with his close friends two nights a month, and you get to relieve him of his excuse not to act like a grownup on the other 28. Deal?


Re: trash talk in another language: By all means, tip her off, if only for the fun of watching her face fall. This happened to me in a communal dressing room once: the girls next to me were badmouthing me, unaware that I could understand every word (hell-lo! French is not the most obscure language!). I turned to them and said, "Careful. You never know who will be listening." The look on their faces was priceless.

Carolyn Hax: I've always wished I were bilingual, but this seals it.


Just got an awkward email...: Hi Carolyn,

How do you respond to a question from a very close friend who is trying to choose three from seven "candidates" for bridesmaid? If you're one of the seven? I tried "just have your sister as the maid of honor, with no one else" that didn't work. I tried, "have all seven" which also didn't work. My latest attempt of "just choose and give no reasons for the choice" has not yet been responded to. Um, how awkward is this?

Carolyn Hax: Maybe "third time's the charm" applies with insanity, too. But if not:

1. "I'll make it easier for you--scratch me off the list."

2. Stop trying to reason with the unreasonable, and don't reply any more.

3. Be busy that weekend.

Choose any one or combination of the three.


Is it really snotty to bring up...: the whole conflict diamonds, kids-with-severed-limbs thing? Because that moved my disinterest in some potential future ring into a (diamond-) hard rejection of the things.

Carolyn Hax: No, not snotty at all. As long as the reminders remain necessary, I'll keep posting them.


Middle of the Way, U.K.: Hey Carolyn,

Just found out I am pregnant (I'm in my mid 20's). This was unplanned but my boyfriend and I have decided to keep the baby and plan to get married later. However, I can't seem to get over the "what people will say" factor (I come from a verry conservative family.) As a result, I'm sad, disappointed in myself and generally very anxious and stressed. How do I cope at this time?

Carolyn Hax: Go get married this weekend.

Or, don't, and show some respect for your own choices. Either you're ready to reject your conservative roots, or you aren't. Both are fine, rejecting or not rejecting; what isn't fine is believing one way and acting another. Make up your mind, and then stand up for your choice. If nothing else, the nubbin will appreciate that from his/her mom.


Re: The Ring Thing: So what about a man who says he's been saving up for a ring for three years? We've been together for six, he initiated the marriage topic, yet he has a long list of things he "needs" to buy before a ring: a new car, a couch, a wide-screen TV. I've told him Cracker Jack is fine with me but he says a fancy ring is important to him. So why is it below a couch on his list of priorities?

He's otherwise wonderful and with the exception of our shopping differences (I couldn't care less about a new TV), we're on solid ground. There's a nagging voice in my head telling me that this is a stall. Should I listen to the nagging voice? He swears it's not a stall.

Carolyn Hax: Hello, his whole life is a stall. If that's okay with you, on balance, then just love him for it and get used to being an indefinite girlfriend and co-staller.

If that's not okay with you, call him on it. Just be sure your quiver is stocked with enough oh-brothers for this particular battle.


Baby Tradeoffs, Md.: My husband and I trade off sleep-in mornings every week (I get Saturday, he gets Sunday). I get some much-needed rest, he gets to use his a.m. to go play golf with the guys -- or go stay up late the night before (though with him, it's more likely to be computer games than drinking with the guys). Keeps both of us sane (and me reasonably coherent).

Of course, it's a bigger problem if she doesn't WANT him to be going out with the guys. Time off is always manageable (especially with just one kid -- two is MUCH more exhausting!). But it seems to me that not being able to figure out a way to give time off can really be a subtle way of controlling what your partner would do if he actually had some kid-free time to do it in. Or on the other hand, complaining about never having time off can really be a subtle way of saying you want to be "free" all the time.

Not saying either of those is necessarily the case here. But then again, I'm also not getting why it's so hard to figure out how to manage one morning or evening a month off that you need to ask Carolyn about it, unless there's something more going on.

Carolyn Hax: Could be there's something more. Sometimes, though, you get an idea of how things should be; you realize that what you actually have bears no resemblance to that idea; you fixate on everything that doesn't align with your expectations as The Problem; and you wind up holding onto your initial vision so hard that your fingers have to be pried from it one by one before you'll let go.

Unless that's what you meant by something more.


What people will say: What people MIGHT say is not what might be POLITE for them to say. The polite response to "I'm pregnant." is along the lines of "Congratulations!" "How wonderful!" and the like.

If people say other things that are Not Polite, they are rude.

Rude comments and questions such as "Did you plan this?" should be answered with "We are thrilled!"

Don't let rude people get to you!

Carolyn Hax: And if they're being rude behind your back, it's not your problem. Thanks.


For "what people will say.": I got pregnant last year. Although I love my partner very much, we chose not to get married. Convinced myself that my very conservative family was going to yell, scream, cut me off, etc. Felt sad, anxious, even ashamed.

Finally called them and... they have been supportive, kind, encouraging and delighted to have a grandson. I have the most support for the non-marriage from the most conservative amongst them (has to do with not marrying outside the faith). Go figure.

It will all turn out. Enjoy your baby and your new family and let the chips fall. And if they fall the wrong way, hold your head up and know that a baby (in the actual event) tends to soften even hard hearts.

Carolyn Hax: And (all together now ...) if it doesn't, these are the people/hearts who aren't destined to play much of a role in your life anyway. An essential aspect of its all turning out.


Dulles, Va.: Okay... feeling guilty... Girl Scout cookies came in and just ate a whole box of Thin Mints.

Carolyn Hax: Understandable, but I would take them out of the box next time.


Online only, please: Hi Carolyn,

A friend I used to be very close to is getting married in a month. We haven't stayed in touch as much as either of us would like, though I still really care about her. It is going to cost me over $1000 to attend her wedding, which is doable for me, but just barely, and it means I will have to give up any other vacation plans, etc. I am feeling bitter about having to spend the money, partly because she doesn't seem aware of the burden it's putting on me. However, most of her family is refusing to accept the marriage (because it is between two women and therefore, as they see it, not a "real" marriage) and so I know that as an old friend, it is especially important to her that I attend. How can I get over the expense and have a good time? I am feeling really over-burdened by this and I am not totally sure why. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: That your friend isn't aware of the burden is certainly enough to explain it.

But it's money you've essentially already spent, so the only thing you can do now is make sure you don't waste it by having a miserable time. This is the vacation you chose, right? So see it as a vacation.


Conflict Diamonds: While I can certainly see the distaste in knowing that one's diamond potentially supported a bloody conflict, it's important to keep in mind that the vast majority of diamonds come from stable but poor countries such as Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, all of which could really use the money to deal with their crippling HIV problems.

Basically, buying a diamond does far more good for Africa than bad.

Just thought I'd put this issue in perspective (and there are certainly other valid reasons not to want a diamond).

Carolyn Hax: I don't know the intricacies of this problem (and from what I do know, it's got a lot of them), but the most important thing is for people in the market for a diamond to be conscientious and informed, whether that means researching origins and certification or passing on the diamond and donating the money directly.


Need a little pick-him-up: My partner and I (more him than I) are having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that his family are just plain rotten people. Things came to a head this past weekend with the holiday. They're his only family, but they're mean-spirited and bigoted.

We have openly talked about it this past week, and I've seen him more hurt about it than I have ever seen him in 10 years. We (and he's said this out loud himself) don't want to spend any time with them any more. No Christmasses, holidays, road-trips to visit them, etc. (Part of me thought I'd be jumping up and down at those words coming out of my beloved's mouth, but I'm just plain sad).

What to say/do to cheer him up? "Be glad that you 'escaped' that" doesn't seem to have much of an impact.

Carolyn Hax: No, I can see why that might not work.

First of all, you might want to get off the pick-me-up trail. Sometimes there is no pick-me-up, and the search for one only serves to trivialize and therefore worsen the pain you're trying to ease.

Let him talk about it. Let him know you support the decision. Let him know that supporting the decision doesn't mean you'll give him a hard time if he ever changes his mind, since life is long and it's okay to revisit decisions like this as circumstances shift.

Remind him too that something good came of his family--he did.

And beyond that, let him be sad.


"And if they're being rude behind your back, it's not your problem.": Truly? I so want this to be true. Had to break up with a friend last year because she lied All The Time. Now she's out there lying about me, and I think people are believing her. (She's nuts, but it's not immediately apparent. Took me years to figure it out!) She's accused me of some completely random, bizarre things -- these aren't things we could each have interepreted differently but things that were flat-out made-up. I don't want to trash her in return, and I can't see calling people up and saying "by the way, if you hear someone accuse me of something and you think 'whoa, that doesn't sound like her' you'll be right -- it never happened." Is there anything I can do apart from keeping on being myself and hoping they eventually see through her?

Carolyn Hax: Your last line is exactly what I mean by its not being your problem. There's nothing you can do apart from being yourself and hoping they eventually see through her. So, in essence, you're free to treat it as a non-problem by ignoring it (and hope your friends are savvier types).


Southern Maryland: The path not taken,

I got pregnant out of wedlock in my early 20's. My boyfriend proposed and we had a lovely quickie wedding. It turned out to be the best day of our entire marriage. A year and a half later all three of us went through a really rough divorce when my young groom realized he couldn't handle family life. I wished at the time that I could go back and tell myself that all of that heartache wasn't worth the avoidance of a few snide comments. Get married when you're sure you're ready and not a moment sooner, no matter what anyone says.

Carolyn Hax: Enough said, thanks.


Don't feel guilty: That's the wrong emotion. Feel disappointed in yourself, feel motivated to hit the gym and eat a salad, feel embarrassed about the chocolate stains on your fingers and the mint-breath that can be smelled 30 feet away.

But don't feel guilty.

Carolyn Hax: You're both wrong. The proper emotion is, "Hoo hoo, none for you!"


Dealbreaker?: My boyfriend let me know that his idea of marriage is to live in separate homes down the street from each other. I let him know that that sounded like divorce. He said it didn't and changed the subject. It hasn't come up again, and he's stopped asking general future-planning questions.

This is at the very least a red flag; my problem is that I'm otherwise wildly in love with him. But I want to live with him, not down the street from him, assuming we marry.

So my first step is to stop assuming we'll marry. What are my next steps? Not at all sure I can see straight right now. We're both acting like we've hit a bump in the road. How to find out if that's all it is, or something bigger, without an unintended blowup? Whatever happens here I'll do anything I can to make it happen gently.

Carolyn Hax: Next step is, "I'm wildly in love with you, which means you can be honest with me about why your idea of marriage is to live in separate homes down the street from each other." Ask nicely, don't accuse, and then listen. There can't be a blowup if you don't blow up.

Of course, the drop-a-bag-of-shneesh-and-run communication tactic is a bigger red flag than the separate homes thing, and it doesn't look promising that he'll be honest with you even under such honest circumstances. But then you go to step 3: "When you're ready to be honest with me, you know where to find me."


Silver Spring, Md.: About choosing to not see family anymore. I have a grandmother that I have realized over the years is really a mean and terrible person. Very manipulative, always criticizing, saying mean things. One of her children has cut her out completely and some grandchildren as well. At the same time she obviously loves her grandchildren very much and has done a lot for them. When does one say enough and decide they want nothing more to do with a family member? And yes, we have told her point blank that she is rude and needs to change but that hasn't happened.

Carolyn Hax: It's such an individual thing. You, personally, for yourself alone, weigh the good in maintaining a relationship with this person against the bad, and you see which one tips the scales. We all do it every day with all of our relationships; it's just that usually it isn't such a close or emotionally harrowing call.

I harped on its being a personal choice b/c in cases like you describe, it's not uncommon for the people who choose one side to punish those who choose the other. The key to limiting the damage of a toxic person is respect everyone's right (and need) to make some kind of peace.


Detroit, Mich.: Don't mention Thin Mints! I found out in February that I have diabetes. Much kerfuffle ensues as I learn to self-test, the proper diet, etc., etc. Two weeks later, best friend of 26 years presents me with a birthday present -- four boxes of Thin Mints. Worst part of it was finding out that she'd asked my daughter about it before hand; daughter had firmly discouraged her as I'm having a rough time not eating sweets. I think there's a message here, but what?

Carolyn Hax: I have no idea. Have you asked her?


Please pick me: Hi Carolyn! I'm having a problem -- my mom, who I'm very, very close to -- is being really weird about all things related to my relationship. Asking over and over why we're not yet engaged, not accepting that I have a style of ring I want already, etc. I've tried rationally, calmly telling her to snap out of it and it's not working. It really saddens me to think the only solution is for me to deal (which I can't), or just stop talking to her for a while, or not ever asking her advice or telling her anything about my relationship. We're so close and I want her to be part of this exciting time for me, but she's driving me nuts!

Carolyn Hax: Be patient. If it's true you're very very close, she's probably very very scared, which tends to manifest itself as very very weird and suffocating. You're going to need to adjust your relationship with her anyway, as you shift your center of intimacy to someone besides her. Try shaking off the weirdness by consciously redirecting the conversation somewhere else. Eg, when she pesters you about getting engaged, tell her it'll happen when it happens and then ask her a question about something else. If that something else still has to be about you and engagements, fine, but at least you'll be making it a discussion that leads to something instead of an interrogation toward a dead-end.


I'm Thinking the Thin Mints are a VERY far-out form of love: Denial-based love. Like "No one would give cookies to someone who was truly seriously ill with diabetes. And I am giving you cookies, therefore you cannot possibly be seriously ill, and I will have my friend forever.

But I'm one of those "Hey, this glass is four percent full!" or "I'll bet 'bastard' is a term of endearment, where that guy comes from" kind of person.

Carolyn Hax: Bless you for it.


Wow...: ...are you working extended hours today? (not that I'm complaining...)

Carolyn Hax: Actually, by quitting now, I will be slinking out early.

So, bye bye, and thanks. I'll type to you next Friday, but then things will get a bit weird because I'll be off the two Fridays after that. One session I'll make up ahead of time (on Wed., June 14), but then nothing till June 30, when you all blow me off to get an early start on the long weekend.


Feeling like a stalker:: If, hypothetically, someone spent an entire Sunday compulsively digging through Hax chat archives and coming up with a pretty good FAQ, would you prefer that person put it on the Web, give it to you to put on the Web, or seek help before you get a restraining order?

Carolyn Hax: b. and c. Would you pls email it to I'll run it by Liz from there. Thanks! Wow.


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