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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 7, 2006; 12:00 PM

Carolyn takes your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

Appearing every Wednesday and Friday in The Washington Post Style section and in Sunday Source, Tell Me About It offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there -- really recently. Carolyn Hax is a 30-something repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.

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Virginia: My ex-boyfriend (we dated for about a year) wants to ask out one of my good friends. I told him it makes me uncomfortable, and that I can deal with him dating other girls, but does it have to be my good friend? Do you think he's out of line for wanting to date her? It wouldn't even be for a true relationship, he is just looking for a sex partner.

Carolyn Hax: And you know this because ... he said so, or because you think so? If he said as much, then it's so out of line on so many fronts that I wouldn't even bother discussing it any more with him, and just warn your friend instead.

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Not healthy (Again... yes, I lied): Okay.... for the seriously last time...

Talk to someone about the anger? To who exactly? And what would I say? ("Hi, I get seriously peeved when I see happy people on the street. Can you help me?")

Carolyn Hax: Talk to your regular doctor, say you'd like names of therapists who have a good reputation for treating people with anger-related problems. You don't even have to cop to the fact that it's about you.

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Washington, D.C.: How do you know when someone is interested in you romantically? I ended a long relationship some time ago and would like to date, but I am really dense about when a man is just being friendly and when he's hitting on me.

I've tried asking male friends, their response is along the lines of, "If a man is talking to you, he's hitting on you. Yes, men are dogs."

So, how do I tune my antenna?

Carolyn Hax: Experience, I guess. More important though is to make sure your you-antenna is working properly, in that your actions are accurately reflecting your own interests. By that I mean you're friendly to people you find interesting, you keep off-putting people at arm's length, you accept only the invitations you find appealing, and you extend invitations to people you'd like to have around. Sending clear signals can help with the way you receive them.

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Washington, D.C.: Were you a recently engaged gal, would you invite someone you know to your wedding who threatened, in writing, to either "puke" or "cause a noticeable scene" should he be invited without your relationship with him "changing" to his (unattainable) liking?

What if this someone is your father?

Carolyn Hax: The best argument for eloping I've ever seen.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

My boyfriend of six months has the good fortune of having a lot of his college buddies in D.C. He goes out with them often, but I rarely get an invite. Most of them are also couples, and I would really enjoy hanging out with them. I know it's probably healthy that we have our own lives and friends, but I tend to take it personally that I'm not asked along. Am I being too sensitive?

Sincerely,

Over-sensitive?

Carolyn Hax: You've been around for six months? If I were this guy's friend, I'd invite you along, unless I didn't know you or didn't like you, both of which you certainly have grounds to take personally. What has your BF said about it?

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Washington, D.C.: Your column about the man who said he doesn't like kids but was willing to have a child for his wife's sake stirred up all sorts of stuff for me and I'd love to get your thoughts.

I recently started dating a guy who says he is fine either having or not having kids, no strong leaning either way. I wonder if you see this as being similar to the guy in your column? In other words, should both people be POSITIVE they absolutely want kids? As a woman who does want children, am I headed down the wrong path dating someone who is ambivalent about children? We are both in our 30s so if things did work out between us it isn't like childrearing would be a decade or two in the future, it would be within the next 5 years or so.

Carolyn Hax: I've known few people who were POSITIVE they wanted kids. So, no, I don't see this as similar. This guy wanted nothing to do with them, and your guy isn't saying that.

The only thing I'd watch for in your case is a half-truth. Since you started dating him only recently, it's possible he's shading his opinion to avoid scaring you off early--and that you don't know him well enough yet to know if he's honest. Even then, I wouldn't worry too much, since it is early, you probably don't have any reason not to take him at face value, and you probably will find out soon if he's yanking your chain.

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Confused: I recently discovered that my boyfriend has been doing internet searches (on my laptop) for women in towns he goes to on business trips. Obviously I feel dismayed and betrayed by this. His response when I asked him about it, however, what was almost more shocking--he turned the tables on me because I broke his trust by checking my internet history (which I was doing for an entirely different purpose, mind you) and finding out what he has been looking at. I have no idea how to respond. I thought you might have an idea though.

Carolyn Hax: By breaking up with him? Radical, but there it is.

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The Other Washington: Can we please get rid of this inane notion that you get to approve who your ex gets to date?

Except in the cases where you broke up with them because they were doing something that is illegal (or even just immoral), in which case you would be justified in sharing that information with the friend the ex- was considering dating, you don't get to pick who they get to see.

If you break up with someone for the more normal reason of "not the right person", or for that matter, they break up with you, you no longer get approval rights on who they date.

Carolyn Hax: I see your point, but I also see the do-you-mind call as more of a friendship-nod than a permission slip. Flip it around and I think you'll see why--your ex-B or GF, now friend, shows up at a party with a close friend of yours, and this is the first you know of their being a couple? That's demanding a lot of poise from people, especially when there are still old feelings lurking around. yes, everyone should be an adult about it, but wouldn;t it be nicer if the ex just put in a call beforehand?

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Richmond, Va: Dear Carolyn,

Late last night after I got out of the shower, I went into my kitchen dressed in my bathrobe to get a drink of water on my way back to my bedroom -- I share my apartment with a good friend and her new husband. In doing so, I put my armload of dirty clothes down on the kitchen table, and forgot about them. My dirty underwear was left on top, and I didn't see this until this morning, when I went into the kitchen for coffee, after my roommate and husband had already been through.

I'm completely mortified at myself. Any advice on how to apologize, or is this not as horrific as it is in my mind?

- Underwhere?

Carolyn Hax: It isn't, I swear, but it wouldn't hurt to promise them tonight that your laundry won't be joining them for breakfast tomorrow.

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Fairfax, Va.: Re: the woman not getting an invite when her boyfriend hangs out with college buddies ... sounds like it's the BOYFRIEND not doing the inviting, rather than the friends not inviting her along. Dunno, but it may be that he's not that sure about the relationship yet and thinks that her meeting the friends is a step he's not ready to take.

Carolyn Hax: Could be. Could also be that he knows the friends don't like her, or he doesn't like how she acts in groups, or he's one of those non-mixers of friends, or he's dating several women and doesn't want to risk exposure. Whatever it is, the answer is still in what he's been saying to her about it (or, if he hasn't said anything, in her asking him about it).

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Cambridge, Mass.: I would really like to propose to my girlfriend, but she's been proposed to before (another guy, before we dated), and has said in the past that she doesn't plan to wed. Should I still give it a shot?

Carolyn Hax: Of course, just do it knowing she may not have changed her mind. Given what she has said, though, you might also want to think about what led her to say it. Do you know her general philosophy on the issue, or was it a tossed-off remark from the early days after you met? I.e., is this a worldview you need to acknowledge and respect in your proposal?

And, think too about what you'd be willing to accept, ebfore you say anything. E.g., are you proposing just becasue you want to spend your life with her paperwork? And if so, would you be willing to go paperless? Would you be okay with indefinite shack-up, no promises?

Or do you need the whole thing? Are you prepared to say why?

I probably just chased that proposal to December.

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Bang my head in a wall, or congratulate?: Not more than a month ago, a friend came to me seriously upset b/c of issues with her boyfriend. It basically boiled down to her just not thinking he was the "one" (her own admission). She says she thinks he's wonderful, would be a great husband, but that something was just "missing" and she had decided to end it. Last night she announced they were engaged. I have no qualms with him or her, and do think he is a wonderful person...but at the same time she's admitted to having serious doubts that she felt attracted to him in the way she wants to. I feel she is just scared that she won't meet anybody else and is taking the first guy who's willing to put a ring on her finger...what do I say, knowing a month ago she was crying in my living room?

Carolyn Hax: She came to you with her doubts, she hasn't forgotten that and in fact she's probably sheepish about it, so I think it would be fine if you said something along the lines of, "I'm a little surprised, but I'm sure I got only part of the story last month."

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Wouldn't it be nicer ...: ...if the ex just put in a call beforehand? Yes, it would be nicer. But just to clarify, the call is to give a heads up, not to ask permission, right? But then what do you do if the person's ex REALLY doesn't want you to date this person, and is more or less willing to stop being your friend over the issue. Then what?

Carolyn Hax: Then the caller needs to point out, uncomfortably, that this was a courtesy call, not a permission call, since people don't own each other.

To which the callee in this case could say, of course they don't, but certainly you could find somebody else to use for sex than my close friend.

After which they both can be relieved they aren't going out with each other any more.

I think the important thing in these cases is for the caller to have really strong feelings for, and therefore a really, really good reason to take up with, an ex's good friend. Otherwise it's just a big pie in the ex's face.

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Austin, Tex.: My friend has becoming so boring. I don't know if she's aware of it but I wish I could help.

She used to be up for fun and adventure; nothing overboard but maybe a drive to a city a few hours away or a night of dancing with our friends.

She has been fighting a chronic flu for a while and her job does stress her out but I'm worried for her because she never seems to have FUN anymore.

Is there any way to broach this with her? Or do I just keep extending her the invitations to our outings and hope she eventually takes us up on one?

Carolyn Hax: You could try conceiving a less physically ambitious outing to better appeal to her stressed-out, flu-wracked self. She could probably use some FUN that won't wipe her out for the entire next day.

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Baltimore, Md.: My live-in boyfriend has suggested to me more than once that he'd like me to participate, with him and another woman, in a threesome. I have no interest in this -- I've thought about it a couple of times but I just get squicked out. I feel like it's some indication that he's unhappy with me -- otherwise, why would he want some other, presumably hotter and sexier (because why else would you bother?), person to join us? I've asked him to lay off, and his response has been to go from outright asking me to hinting about it.

It makes me feel really awkward and insecure. Why am I not enough?

Carolyn Hax: Have you asked him that? And explained that his hints make you feel pressured? You guys need to air this one out.

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Not a Life Or Death Question: My fiance and I took the day off from work, and went for a long walk. We worked up quite a sweat. I'm cooling down at the computer with a cold drink, but he is lounging on our nearly-new, cloth couch, getting it all nasty.

I said cheerfully, as I walked by, "Can I get you something to drink at your computer chair? I'm awfully sweaty, myself." He actually wriggled deeper into the cushions before saying that he was fine, thanks honey.

It was his money that bought the couch, though.

Carolyn Hax: Agh! It is life an death! At least, if I were your spouse, and if you had something to say to me, and you non-said it to me in that non-saying way, after a few years of this I would do myself in.

1. "Ew, you're sweating all over the couch!"

or:

2. "Ew, he's sweating all over the couch! But I guess there are worse things, so I'll keep my mouth shut and save my complaints for when it matters."

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Arlington, Va.: I have a girlfriend I don't invite out with the groups I hang out with a lot (but I do if I know other girlfriends/wives will be there). It's because I want to drink, make crude jokes, and be a jerk. And even though she says she's OK with me acting like that sometimes, I don't want to be a jerk around her. That's all and just saying that seemed to make her feel better in my case.

Carolyn Hax: Okay. But if you marry her, and it doesn't work out, and you get married again, and the happier second marriage is to someone around whom you feel comfortable being a beery jerk, then I want you to email me.

Not that she doesn't sound cool, for backing off the way she did.

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Virginia with the ex again: My ex told me he just wants a physical relationship with my good friend. He was the one who broke up with me and I had a hard time getting over him. What bothers me the most is that he only wants a physical relationship with my friend. If he'd thought he'd found his soulmate or something, I'd feel better about it, but it feels like he's willing to discard my feelings about it for a physical relationship.

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, I think this is a calculated move to make you suffer all over again. He sounds like a real peach.

Of course if your friend goes for it, at least you'll get to be doubly relieved--that you aren't with this guy or this friend any more.

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Chicago, Ill.: What are your thoughts about taking a job for less money? I was recently offered a job that I'm absolutely positive I would love. However, it pays a lot less than my current job. I would have to move out of my apartment, which I really like, because I wouldn't be able to afford the rent anymore. I would also have to go out to dinner less often, see fewer movies, etc., and those are things I enjoy. Is there some mathematical equation out there where I can just plug in the salary, subtract the apartment, dinner and movies, and find out if I'm making the right decision?

Carolyn Hax: Great job - so-so apartment - fewer luxuries = X

Great apartment + luxuries - so-so job = Y

X > Y?

I guess you could go, quickly, to see a few apartments you could afford on the new salary, and spend this weekend a la broke. I.e., at least try on your pared-down life before you buy it.

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Re: beery jerks: No offense, but burp and fart jokes tend not to translate across the gender barrier.

My wife is also OK with me being a beery jerk -- elsewhere. We've been together for 10 wonderful years, and hopefully many more.

Carolyn Hax: Offense taken. I hate that stereotype. I'm glad it works for you, but that's it--it works for you.

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Washington, D.C.: Why shouldn't people in relationships (not married, not even living together) have separate social spheres and different groups of friends?? Doesn't that in fact make it less isolating when the couple splits up?

Carolyn Hax: I'm not saying they shouldn't, it's just that making them off-limits to each other is a different (and not very attractive) beast.

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High road vs. doormat: Hi,

I got dumped a month ago. He took another month to move out. Knowing he was short on money and not wanting to hinder his ability to move out in any way, I didn't ask for any contribution to rent or bills that last month. He was supposed to have ALL of his stuff out. Most is right now but that isn't all. I want to take the high road and not toss the rest of his crap on the curb but I am feeling a little taken advantage of.

Please advise. Where does the high road end and doormat-land begin?

Carolyn Hax: 1. Re-key the locks. 2. "I gave you a lot of time, but now I feel you're taking advantage of me. Please come get the rest of your stuff at [mutually doable time and date]." If he blows it off, do the easiest, non-vindictive thing with his stuff. (No bonfires.)

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In Response to Chicago, Ill.: Isn't the theory that if you love what you do you are more likely to excel at it eventually leading to more $ anyway. Theoretical eventual ideal scenario vs. practical and immediate living situation, of course.

Carolyn Hax: Right. Good point, thanks.

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Hanging out with boyfriend's pals: The girlfriend asking the question mentioned that there were other "couples" in the group of college friends of her bf's. Maybe her boyfriend doesn't yet think of them as a "couple" and bringing her to the group would be a silent announcement to his pals that they were. Sorry if it hurts the gf's feelings, but sometimes this is the case. I think the worst thing she could do is make an issue of it. If it goes on for a couple more months, then there might be other ways in which she can see he doesn't consider them a couple and she should move on if "dating" isn't enough.

I had a bf who insisted in the most immature way that I introduce him into my circle way too soon for my comfort. I reluctantly brought him along to a gathering and totally regretted it as he clung to me like a vine and then complained afterward that my friends "ignored" him. Ugh, grounds for breakup. Had he waited, it might have gone much better.

Carolyn Hax: No, had he waited, you would have taken even longer to find out he was immature and clingy.

If it's bothering her, she should say something (not necessarily the same thing as making an issue of it); she shouldn't shrink from asking a legitimate question just because her boyfriend might not like her any more.

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Bethesda, Md.: Re: "Country Bumpkin"

I have a Masters Degree from a fairly prestigious school but I know very little about Muenster cheese and quesadillas other than the fact I enjoy eating them! Must be my bumpkin background. I can't imagine what my husband saw in me.

Carolyn Hax: I don't know anything about them, either, which might be why I picked that question. (After I recovered from the particularly emphatic forehead slap.)

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Carolyn, you are FAST today!!!: Am I the only one that thinks so?!!

Carolyn Hax: I'm posting this only because it's been a few minutes and I haven't found a question I want to answer yet.

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Re: Ex's Stuff: Might want to watch some Judge Judy or Mathis -- your choice -- to make sure you know your rights so you don't get sued when you destroy/givaway ex's stuff. Seems like a good portion of the cases that end up in tv courts about this kind of situation. Ah...educational television.

Carolyn Hax: You know, I did hesitate when I was posting that answer. But surely there has to be a better way to learn the law here than to risk daytime TV exposure.

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Meet the (dry) parents: Hi,

I recently got engaged and my finance's family is on the dry side when it come to alcohol. One aunt and uncle who live nearby are recovering alcholohics but the rest don't drink mainly for religious reasons. We're having the whole bunch over for a meal soon so that our families can meet. My finance and I disagree on the appropriateness of serving alcohol (in addition to non-alcoholic drinks or course) at this or other dinners. any suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: This seems like more of an Emily Post question, but on the relationship side I think it's important to consider what precedent you want to establish. If you two as a couple want to establish your home as one where alcohol is served, then serve it in moderation and tip off the drinking half of the family that the other half is dry, so they know not to get sloppy. (Be as specific as you can about the prevailing attitude, since not all non-drinkers are the same.)

If on the other hand you, as a couple, feel it's important to find the common denominator among your guests and make that the goal of your entertaining, then you don't serve alcohol. E.g., half are vegetarians, half old-school meat eaters, so you serve pasta.

Since I don't know how zealous the non-drinking side is (which might affect my answer; I'd have to think about it more), the most important thing I see here is your values as a couple, toward hosting, family, etc. Always worth resolving before vows.

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"...has to be a better way ..." (abandoned property): Poster needs to examine her state's abandoned property statutes before she tosses-destroys the guy's stuff.

Carolyn Hax: Thank yew.

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About the distraught sister: From your column... She doesn't even know there's already a barrier between them. Her values are clearly quite different from her sister. Her sister probably also has to explain to the fiance why the older sister is so nasty and condescending.

Carolyn Hax: For this premarital meeting of families, I would suggest serving alcohol.

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RE: Hanging out with boyfriend's pals: Earlier poster guessed that BF didn't think of himself and GF as a "couple". I always thought that when you are referred to as the "girlfriend", that implies you are an established couple. Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: That I could really go for a piece of cake. Yellow with chocolate frosting.

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Girlfriend without an invite: OK, I should clarify... I have met his friends a couple times. I'm just not a regular invite. He considers us a couple as much as I do -- I've met his family and the whole 9 yards, which is one reason I think maybe it's not such a big deal, yet I can't quite shake that it's bothering me.

Carolyn Hax: Then please do say something. Even include the part about your not being sure yourself whether it's a big deal, but that you haven't been able to shake it.

BTW, I think we still don't know who's doing the non-inviting. Is he not including you, or are his friends not including you? I assume it's he, but since it does make a difference I thought I'd ask.

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Alexandria, Va.: More on bumpkin bigotry:

You probably said it better this morning but I just want to add that people like her are the reason people like me keep asking questions. And if people like her judge people like me, I hope that people like me are smart enough to understand that people like her know NOTHING. I also hope people like me (I'm "The Questioner") are not intimidated by the vapid intellectual snobery of people like her, disguising itself as "I'm better than you are".

By the way, how does SHE know the etymology of Muenster cheese? By osmosis? Or did it blossom in her little brain on its own, a knowledge seed planted by the brain gods?

okay, 'nuff for now. Boy she riled me up, though.

Carolyn Hax: It's okay. Have some cheese.

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Arlington, Va.: Don't know if I will get this in before the buzzer. I have a friend who is getting to be very annoying, and I don't know how to deal with her. We met in college, were great pals and I graduated six months before her. I got her a job at the place I work, same position on the same team (team meaning 150 people). The problem is, she is constantly bragging to me about the experience she is getting on her project. I am not saying she is telling me so that I can congratulate her, I'm saying she is bragging. Example: she asked me what I was doing for lunch and I said that I was going to lunch with a client. She asked me if that was allowed. I said yes, then quipped that it was mandatory for this client. Then I laughed (it was supposed to be a joke. A bad joke, but a joke). She then looks at me and says, "Well, ha!" -sticks tongue out] "On my project, I get to brief -this group.] I bet you will never get to do that." Oh, and if you could hear her tone, it would drive you nuts. Well, I let it slide. Now, it has come to the point where she has LIED to me about the work she is doing to make it sound more important. I am by definition a non-competitive person, but this is bugging me!

Carolyn Hax: I'm inclined to suggest keeping her at arm's length and not giving her any satisfaction. "Oh, great, congratulations." This is a workplace thing now, which means you need to act as if it's possible you'll report to her someday, which dictates behavior in neutral colors.

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More bumpkin: Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if the fiance is asking those questions to get the sister-in-law-to-be all riled up. I know I tend to get sarcastic like that around people who think they're so much more special than the rest of the world.

Carolyn Hax: Wouldn't that be great? That he was in fact, all along, kicking her butt at social chess? It would also explain the sister's attraction to him.

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Vienna Va.: The Other, Other Washington:

Can we please get rid of this inane notion that a reasonable adult should want to date your ex's friends if it makes your ex uncomfortable.

If the object of your new desire is a good friend of your ex and already part of their life, find someone else to date if it bothers them. Would you find it acceptable to date their relatives? Go find friends/mates of your own. There are over 6 billion people on this planet. All though you don't have access to each and every one of them, I doubt that your ex's friend is now the only one of those billions of folks you'll be compatible with if you're in the market for someone new. You do have more options than swimming in your ex's pond. From a strictly selfish point of view, why on earth would anyone want to complicate their own life in such a manner ? I can't get over how entitled we all are now days and think that anything we want should be ours no matter the consequence to someone else. There are reasonable limits to what you "get" to do without being a real a$$.

Carolyn Hax: Rarin. With one caveat: Often this call gets placed after the romance has already started, and often it starts without any ill intentions--or any intentions at all, given that the ex and the friend might themselves be friends, and neither may realize right away that their friendship is taking a turn.

Not that any of this applies to today's I-just-want-to-flip-you-the-bird-and-boink-your-good-friend situation. But I do think it's important to consider how complex these inter-datings can be before condemning all of them as unacceptable.

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what? huh? what?: Who is this bumpkin you all are talking about? Cheese? Sisters, fiances? Did I miss something?

Carolyn Hax: Today's column. (Right? Today's? I lose track.)

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Re: Arlington, Va.: I have a boyfriend who invites me out with his friends all the time. He drinks (I drink more) tells crude jokes (I laugh), but can also be sort of a jerk (as can his friends)(it annoys me). Should I be happy that I am dating a guy who feels comfortable being different versions of himself around me, or sad that I'm dating a sometimes jerk?

Carolyn Hax: Be happy that you're getting a chance to see enough of him to make the best decision for yourself. What can I say.

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Nothing major but...: I've been noticing lately that people don't seem to help others out the way they used to. I have two friends that I am throwing a bridal shower for because their families are so emotionally checked out of lives other than their own. Last weekend my fiance and I helped an aquaintance move out of her apt. because her "close" friends bailed on her. I feel like I am a good friend but am always treated like the clean up crew. I think it's important to help friends out so I do it but the rats scurry when I need something. What gives? Are we that selfish nowadays?

Carolyn Hax: 1. I don't like to make such huge generalizations. Was it "Freakonomics" that pointed out how wrong we can be in what's considered to be common social knowledge? People do seem to be out in the world more while also being less engaged with it (e.g., tooling around in cars, on phones, at drive-through windows), but whether that translates into mass selfishness, or if your immediate peer group is just having a bad moment, I can't really say.

2. Friends are supposed to throw showers. It's an etiquette yellow-card for family to do it; it gives the appearance of self-enrichment through gifts.

3. If the moving thing made you feel like a good person, collect your mensch points and be done with it. If it made you feel angry and used, then you need to learn to say no. It's possible to feel both, like a good but over-used person, but sometimes just figuring that out is enough to make you glad you helped this acquaintance move. I.e., given a choice between saying no and saying yes and feeling good but over-used, you'd still say yes.

Last thing (since I've squandered all my fast points): I think all of us have probably felt the scurrying-rat sensation. Sometimes, though, it's friends of whom a real effort would be asking too much, since truly close friendships are actually rare, and we'd have expected certain friends to disappear at a tough time if we'd really thought about it.

It's when the few and special abandon you that you need to do some serious thinking about the quality of these friends and friendships. And, even, talking. Say you feel abandoned. What the hell. Maybe some of them didn't realize what they were doing.

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No Invite: It's his invitation to make -- he's generally the organizer. I'll say something, but I just hate being the klingy girlfriend! Thanks for the advice... that cake idea also sounds pretty good.

Carolyn Hax: Saying, "Um, do I smell bad?" is not being klingy. Uttering a mental bleep-you and going out with your own darn friends--and inviting him or not, depending only on whether you want him around or not--is not being klingy. Klingy is waiting anxiously on the sidelines for him to grant you audience with his friends, or demanding it, or, worst of all, hinting that you want it.

How that translates into direct action, I can't say, but in this case I think it is the attitude that counts.

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Carolyn Hax: That would be all. Thanks for coming, and type to you next week, when I expect all of you to have done this week's homnework assignment, to research the etymology of the word "quesadilla."

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