Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 14, 2006 12:00 PM

Programming Note: Carolyn will be online Wednesday, June 14 at Noon ET this week!

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.


Washington, D.C.: Should I keep searching for the special one in my life or settle for someone at the moment who will never be able to give me what I want in a relationship?

Carolyn Hax: Read your own question and then ask again if you still want an answer.


Washington, D.C.: I'm a guy who's not well schooled on wedding gift etiquette. I got an invite from a work colleague (for both events) that I am not very close to. I can't make the wedding because I will be out of town but I will be attending the shower (more out of courtesy). Giving two gifts seems excessive in this case (which is what I'm told I should do) given my relationship with the person. What do you advise?

Carolyn Hax: One gift would be prefectly appropriate. A wedding invitation is not a dunning notice.


Fairfax, Va.: Hi Carolyn,

I am pregnant with my second baby and am feeling a bit selfish... no one at work has done anything about a baby shower. Personally I think it is tacky to have a shower for subsequent offspring, but it is the norm at my workplace. Probably the reason is that, of my 5 person team, three people are leaving (2 fired) and the remaining person is new. But I still feel a little left out. Is that wrong?

Carolyn Hax: Um, yes. If the decimated staff isn't enough of an explanation, then the possibility that someone knows your opinion of 2d-baby showers should fill the remaining gap.


Pentagon City, Va.: Hi Carolyn,

I don't know if you remember me but I'm the one that posted back in March after losing my baby at 16 weeks. I just found out that I am pregnant again. Any words of wisdom for how to keep from going crazy with worry? I'm doing everything I can to make myself as healthy as possible physically. It's the emotional part I'm having trouble with. I so want to enjoy this but just feel like I can't let myself for fear of another loss.

Thanks for any advice!

Carolyn Hax: Congratulations!

I'm afraid the kind of reassurance I'm inclined to provide won't be very reassuring:

How does any of us keep from going crazy with worry? We can all care for ourselves meticulously and still fall prey to violence, disease, falling pianos. The reason it's at the front of your mind and at the back of someone else's is that you've learned firsthand how true this is, instead of through some other abstract means.

But the position of this truth in your mind doesn't change the truth itself. It also doesn't change what you do about it: You take meticulous care of yourself, you remind yourself to notice and celebrate the good, and you accept that this is all any of us can do. (And if you find your worry is preventing you from functioning normally, you get some help--ask your OB for a referral.)


Seattle, Wash.: Re: Keep searching or stay with what you have.

I'm in the same situation. After three years together, I know we're not sharing the same values or same expectation as well as how our life would turn out to be, but he seems to be a perfect man to me : professional, very well educated, cute, sweet, honest (well not always but..) and I do love him.

I guess I'm scared of loosing me and the fact that I might not be able to find the same one again. Am I being selfish or stupid?

Carolyn Hax: 1. You're selling yourself short. Trust yourself to handle the unknown and end it.

2. "professional, very well educated, cute" = perfect? I'm going to ralph. If these are the criteria you're using to select your companions, then the only way you're going to find someone who shares your values is by dumb luck. Choose people for traits that matter. Self-reliance, maturity, common interests, emotional compatibility, honesty (as close to "always" as humanly possible).

3. FWIW, you are also being selfish, since this guy deserves to be with someone who appreciates him.


Washington, D.C.: Any tips on getting my parents to understand that my sister-in-law's upcoming wedding will NOT be a chance for the nice relaxing visit they seem to think it will be? My wife and I will be spending money we don't have to attend, no one likes the guy she's marrying, and I'm certain to get drafted into last-minute preparations the day of. And yet my parents keep telling me how nice it will be to see me and becoming selectively deaf when I try to explain things.

Carolyn Hax: Sounds like they've got the right idea, actually. You've decided to go, right? Like it or not? So find at least some way to like it. For example, for the chance to hang with your parents, if only for a stolen hour or two.


And think about the person: Who'll never be able to give you what you want in a relationship. Doesn't sound like it's going to be a heckuva lot of fun for either one of you - but, my serious point: When asking these questions, do think about the person you're planning on partnering with, despite these reservations -- don't they deserve more as well?

Carolyn Hax: Maybe if we gang up on them they will. Thanks.


Talking to the Walls in Europe: Carolyn, PULEEEZE answer this -- it's my third try.

A few months ago I quit my job, rented out my condo and moved to a foreign country to be with a man that I've dated long-distance for three years. So far it's been disastrous. Beyond the fact that I have too much free time, am not learning the language as fast as I'd like, am not finding work as fast as I'd like, am not meeting people as easily as I expected, etc, etc. our relationship is on a slow and steady decline. I feel like he expected me to come here, slap a smile on my face and adapt to his routine. I went from working full time at a stressful job to basically being a housewife in a foreign country (NOT my intention). From my point of view (because I know he probably sees me as the problem), he has not been entirely supportive of me, has not appreciated the position I have put myself in, and does not understand how difficult this is for me. Every time I attempt to talk to him about how difficult this is, he interprets it as me criticizing him, telling him it is his fault, or emotionally blackmailing him (yes he's said that)-- when really I am looking for help. In the heat of the moment he has on several occasions said things that I find hard to forgive, including telling me to go back to my country, telling me that I do not have normal behavior for a person in a relationship, and that I obviously don't love him. When he's cooled off, he says he didn't meant it and says he wants me to stay. I don't know what to do. Should I stay? Should I go? When do I know enough is enough? How do I return to no job, no apartment, no relationship?


Carolyn Hax: Sounds miserable, I'm sorry.

I think your perspective is too close and too far at the same time. From your relationship, I think you need to back away. You're thinking about all the issues you're dealing with right now--Country! Language! Job! Alienation! Fights!--when I think you need to back up and see the one issue for what it is: You are in both a crisis and a relationship, and this is how you and he respond to a crisis. If this isn't the way you want to feel in every crisis ever after, then this probably isn't the relationship for you. (I say "probably" only because couples can learn ways to handle a crisis together. However, if this guy isn't trying, then the chances of learning are nil.)

And once you do make a decision to stay or go--once you get to the take-action part--I think you need to focus in tightly on the specifics. Example: Instead of, "How do I return to no job, no apartment, no relationship?," you just tell yourself: I need to get home, get shelter, get job. (The no-relationship part sounds like a blessing.) Then you put them in domino order--"I can stay with X for a month while I find an apartment and temp job," and then start on the first one, and then the next, and then the next, and so on.


Anonymous: Its so hard though Carolyn if you love the person and they are almost right...but just a little bit wrong.

Carolyn Hax: Agreed, it's awful. But if it isn't right, it only gets worse the longer you stall.


Less Drama: I'm finding I have less and less tolerance for my friends' immaturity/drama/antics and have started separating myself from them. Is this normal? I'm starting to feel like I have much fewer friends which makes me sad.

Carolyn Hax: It's normal to grow apart from friends; it's normal for it to take a while to make new ones (assuming your circle ever does make it back to its old size; often it doesn't); it's normal to miss people you leave behind because it's rarely so simple as, "They're immature so they have no value to me." You can care about people immensely while still not wanting to see them. It is sad. If you feel you've pulled too far away, you can change your mind, assuming you haven't done or said anything unforgivable.


Deserving better?: What's with "deserving XYZ"? Does one earn that by being a good person, by believing that everyone inherently deserves good things, by having a sense of entitlement that one should get good things no matter what, by well-meaning friends who don't want to see you devote yourself to someone UNdeserving?? I deserve an answer!

Carolyn Hax: Why?

I actually see merit to all the reasons on your list except the entitlement. Maybe we can make a hybrid: Not everyone may be strictly "good," but most are doing their best, and so you can't begrudge them their hope for a little happiness in the form of companions who appreciate them and do their best in return.

Then you get to the people who deliberately aren't doing their best and therefore live off those who do--but I guess they get what they deserve, too, eventually.


Re: Talking to the Walls: Hi Carolyn,

There's a lot of information out there about the stages you go through when you are first in a foreign country. I have lived overseas for seven years in four countries, and know firsthand that you often go from "Wow, this is great! Everything's different!" to "I miss my family/I don't know the language/I want some Cheetos" and then you cycle up again. Not that Walls is JUST going thru that (there sounds like other issues too) but that could be a part of it. My 2 pennies.

Carolyn Hax: Appreciated, thanks.


Almost right but not quite: But Carolyn, if you were to poll married or in a fairly satisfying relationship, wouldn't 99 percent of them say that their mate is almost right for them and that there are, of course, some things they'd change if they could? I do completely understand what you mean though. Some traits you can overlook, others you can't. It's up to you to figure out which ones and how important they are to you.

Carolyn Hax: ding ding ding ding


Baltimore, Md.: Got any advice on how to handle a control-freak boss who rarely gives her employees their "own" projects to work on, and when she does, nit-picks every last decision her employee makes about said project?

I'm THIS close to stabbing her in the eye with a paperclip!

Carolyn Hax: Sending out your resume is not only more legal, but probably also more effective.


Always the bridesmaid and never the bride (or in my case, the groom): Quite simply, after years of bad dating and failed relationships, how does one come to terms with the notion of "always the bridesmaid and never the bride" (or in my case, the groom)? I feel like I've exhausted every avenue of meeting people (randomly meeting people, online dating, extracirricular activities, being set up, dating even my closest friends), but nothing ever seems to work. Even when I'm not looking (which is when EVERYONE says you'll meet that special somebody), nothing happens.

So how does one begin to cope with these feelings of utter failure and rejection (not to mention reproach and guilt from parents who desperately want to be grandparents)?

Carolyn Hax: It's not about the not looking, it's about what you're doing when you're not looking. If it's, "Living my life on my terms and otherwise appreciating the unique opportunities afforded to me because I'm single," then you won't care so much about being the eternal groomsmen--because being happier, in the simplest sense, means caring less about what you don't have. COnveniently, it also means you care less about what others think about what you don't have.

Since few answers couldn't be improved by a playing-card cliche: This is the hand you've been dealt. Stop waiting for a better one and start playing as well as you can.

Oh, and for those who are going to crab about the "unique opportunities afforded to me because I'm single" comment: Don't. Send in better suggestions instead. Thanks.


Settling or Waiting?: How important are common interests, anyway? He's sweet, nice, good-looking, smart, and he loves me more than he's ever loved anyone. But all we've got in common is a love of certain TV shows and movies. I love old music and dancing and partake in both regularly; he hates both. He loves baseball and comics; I'm indifferent. I'm 30 and thinking I need to figure this out NOW, so that I know if I need to get out of this and find someone more compatible before my marriage-and-biological clocks explode.

Carolyn Hax: It's not whether you share interests so much as how important it is to you to share interests. I guess this is why the shorthand is always "similar values": Some people hate that a partner doesn't love baseball dancing and feel lonely or underappreciated or whatever. Some people love that they're free to baseball dance on their own time, and thereby retain some sense of individuality or even separateness. Some people support a partner with outside interests, some guilt-trip. There's no universal answer.


Wrong Person: Hey Hax,

I was married for ten years when she told me I was the wrong person and that she had know that for years...

Even though she was the right person for me, I wish she had made that decision a lot eariler.

If puts a weird light on all my happy memories of that time with her to think that she was unhappy but wouldn't tell me.

Been there.

Carolyn Hax: Memorably put, thanks.

Though to me the definition of "right person" includes your being the right person for her. So she wasn't your right person. But you can pretend I didn't add this if it doesn't help.


I need permission to be lazy...: ...or a swift kick in the rear. I'm accompanying my husband on a business trip to LA next week. No kids, no work, just us on the west coast (I've never been, but he has). Our friends and family have given me a whole list of things to do while we're out there, since he'll be working and I'll have a lot of time to myself. But I don't want to do anything. I guess I might regret it if I waste the whole trip, but all I want to do is sit by the pool and read and have a drink. Am I a total lazy bum?

Carolyn Hax: Plan to spend Days 1 and 2 poolside. Cut the list to three things that sound the most appealing (or least unappealing), and plan to do the No. 1 thing on the third day. If you feel like it.

In other words, just because you and the West Coast will be in the same place at the same time, you are under no obligation to hang out together. Just keep an open mind and be prepared in case it changes. Seems to me though that the rest is harder to come by than the travel, and so should be treated as such.


Confusion, USA: Dear Carolyn,

Just discovered that my husband of three years has been having an affair of several months with a secretary at his firm. Completely shock. We're in therapy, but the thing that horrifies me is his ambivalence, that he still might consider leaving what has always seemed an ideal relationship for such a deeply questionable one, one that even he acknowledges would not likely last long. I hate living in limbo, but I also don't want to lose him, despite all this. Are there signs even in the worst moments of such a crisis as to whether there is any real hope?

Carolyn Hax: Sure, of course. I think in your case the signs are in the reasons you don't want to lose him. If they're about him specifically, then you give it your best shot (knowing, of course, you have say only in your actions, not his). And if your reasons are about the marriage in general, then have another look at your hopes.


Richmond, Va.: I'm in my 30's, been around the block way too many times, but I find myself being obsessed with a girl's sexual history. To me there is an acceptable and unacceptable number of sexual partners (I exclude myself from this theory). I know I sound like an ass, but I can't stop being so judgmental. Once a girl I really liked slept with me on the first date, her number was high (15) and that chruned in my gut as I looked at rings, finally breaking up with here. I am not looking for a virgin, just some with strict virtue! I don't think I'll change on this issue. Am I destined for bachelorhood?

Carolyn Hax: That, or the Senate.

I can't decide whether to take you seriously or not.

Maybe a one-jerk-fits-all approach: As long as you treat a potential mate as a lesser being (and this applies to men and women alike), you may find someone who has a particular trait you seek, but you won't ever find a healthy, self-respecting mate, because people with those two traits don't accept second-class status.

So, go for it.


Washington, D.C.: Could there be more than one special person in your life at different times?

Carolyn Hax: Do you mean different serious, sexual relationships at different points in your life? Of course.

Do you mean different serious, sexual relationships at the same point in your life? Of course. But with their permission, not mine.


Culture Shock Lady: The woman who wrote in about her relationship deteriorating could have been me a couple of years ago. I moved abroad for my husband, who was so caught up in the "adventure" and "excitement" of living where we were that he pointedly ignored my homesickness and depression. When I would speak up about my concerns or ask for support, he wrote me off as unappreciative, xenophobic, or whiny. Yeah, I'm sure I wasn't a picnic to be around at the time, but who's happy all the time?

The point? He couldn't pull himself out of his own fantasies and goals to consider my feelings. Needless to say, he's not my husband any more.

A true partner will always support you emotionally, whether or not they understand what you're going through. A true partner won't make you feel bad for being depressed or lonely, and will at least try to see things from your perspective.

I'd a long sight rather be single than be with someone who doesn't care about my feelings. If you want to go home, go home.

Carolyn Hax: Also memorably said. Thank you.


Wondering: I appreciate and agree with the idea that not splitting up with someone you're not really in love/happy with is selfish (that person deserves to be happier, too). I'm wondering if you could comment on that in relationships involving kids (and does age of kids matter?). If both partners are fairly clearly not happy in the relationship, but both feel strongly that they don't want to mess up the kids' lives...? Not being the potential custodial parent particularly sucks, it just isn't the same not living under the same roof as your kids, no matter how stressful staying can be. There is more clear support nowadays for the idea that two happy parents living separately is better for kids than two unhappy ones under the same roof, but I knew that when I was in an unhappy relationship and -still- my reaction was 'yes, I believe that generally, but not for -my- kid' - and now I see a friend going through something similar (worse, because he would likely end up non-custodial). Sorry, not exactly a question...

Carolyn Hax: No, it's fine, I think I understand the question in there. Kids complicate things--immeasurably. Which is why I don't "support" either camp, the stay-for-the-kids or the go-get-happy-for-the-kids. I've seen both decisions up close and -so- much of the choice hinges on the specific personalities/strains/temperaments/life circumstances involved. I guess what happens is that the definition of "selfish" gets a lot more complicated, because you're not thinking "your needs, my needs" anymore, which of course is complicated enough. But kids mean it's yours, mine, theirs--and you are the guardian of theirs. No one can know what will tip his or her own family's scale, much less someone else's.


College Park, Md.: What do you do if your boyfriend has a female friend who he is nicer to than he is to you, and it seems like he likes her better than you, but he swears he doesn't?

Carolyn Hax: Stop thinking about her and think about what you have with him. If you like it, like it, and if you don't, leave. Really--what are you looking for from his answer? Even if he admitted it, it wouldn't mean anything unless he also made a permanent, eager, apologetic change to treat you as kindly as he treats her. That apparently isn't happening. So, assess what you have, and decide.


Rockville, Md.: Hi,

I am now in a situation mostly of my own making and need my husband's cooperation to put it right (almost). On a visit to my parents' place, they and my husband got into a big argument and I walked away with my baby for a number of reasons -- I was tired of the fighting, I did not want to take sides etc.. Now, my husband does not want to visit them and doesn't want my family to visit our family and me to take our daughter to visit them. What can I do?

Carolyn Hax: Were your parents in the wrong, was he, were they both?

It changes the answer only a little bit, but if your parents were wrong, you will need to at least acknowledge that with your husband, and think carefully what you're asking him to do in accepting your parents again.

Plus, if either party did something particularly egregious, you don't have the luxury of not taking sides.

Another question: Why "my" baby? Maybe it doesn't mean something, but, maybe it does.

Otherwise, my answer can apply to all three. Give your husband time to cool off, and agree to not having your parents visit for a while and not asking him to come with you to visit them. He has no right to ask you to keep the baby from them unless he has legitimate fear of harm.

Agree to these things in return for one thing from him: A promise to revisit this issue in X months. These are your parents; they love you, you love them, he loves you, and you love him. That means both parties are going to have to eat a little dirt here to make nice--for you. That's just how it works with family by association. (Again, excepting egregious offenses and/or risks of harm.)


Rockville, Md.: Carolyn -- How long is reasonable to wait for a thank-you note before e-mailing the bride (daughter of a friend) to make sure she got my present? Three months ago I selected a gift from her registry and had the store ship it to her. I understand the bride hasn't written thank-you notes (yet?) so I have no way of knowing if she actually received the present or not. I don't want to ask her mother -- who wouldn't know anyway -- but just want to make sure that the bride did indeed get the present. Is it tacky to e-mail her and ask?

Carolyn Hax: No, no. Just say hi, this isn't a guilt trip, just writing to make sure the gift got there.

That's it for today. Thanks for stopping in, and remember, I'm off next week so I'll type to you ... June 30. Have a good one.


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