washingtonpost.com
Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 14, 2006 12:00 PM

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

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

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Radford, Va.: I've been with my boyfriend for six years now. (He's 27 and I'm 25). We've lived together pretty much the entire time. He knows I want to get married and used to have exuse after exuse as to why at that time it wasn't a good idea. Now he says he wants to get married but hasn't gotten a ring or actually asked me. The whole concept is now tarnished for me because I feel like if he really loved me he would desire that next step. He says he does but I guess I just need someone to tell me what my gut already has. Is this completly hopeless?

Just a girlfriend

Carolyn Hax: You're not happy. How many of the past six years have you not been happy? Would marriage really have changed that? Will marriage change it now?

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Penn Quarter, Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

For the past few months I've been thinking about calling the Women's Center in D.C. to set up a counseling appointment to help me work out some relationship issues that have been bothering me. But I haven't gone through with the phone call yet because I'm scared of the unknown. I've never been to therapy, don't know what to expect, am worried that they won't schedule me with a professional that will be a good match for me, and am just generally nervous about the whole thing. Do you have any advice to set me at ease? Or at least some motivational words for me to just "pick up the phone already"? I know I need to do it to make myself feel better, but so far that obviously hasn't been sufficient motivation.

Carolyn Hax: 1. It's not as much of an unknown as you think. When you go to a regular doctor, usually you talk, and then the doctor asks questions to get more information, and you talk some more, and then the doctor makes some sort of recommendation. Ta da. Therapy.

2. If you don't like the person you see, ask to see someone else. You can even ask that person you don't like. You can even make the first appointment with the understanding that it's just an introduction, and you'll decide from there whether to pursue treatment.

Basically, it's the same as any other medical treatment in an even more basic way: People often fear doctors, etc., because they feel powerless, but in fact you're the one ultimately in control of your treatment because you're the one making decisions.

Okay? Will you call now?

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Portland, Ore.: Carolyn,

How do I stop being so judgmental? I have a happy life (great relationship, good job, lots of hobbies, etc) but I feel so critical toward other people when they don't act as I would. I'm getting especially judgemental of my friends as we get older (late 30s) and they keeping making the same mistakes (ie bad financial decisions) they've made for 20 years. I need to cut other people some slack or I'm not going to have any friends left. Any tips for cultivating a more laid back "live and let live" attitude?

Carolyn Hax: It's okay, you spelled judgmental wrong.

Which I point out to make a point: It does sound like you're being rough on your friends, but it also sounds like your friends are doing their part to frustrate you--which can give the impression that your friends need new ideas or you need new friends or you need to look the other way. All of these are probably true to some extent, but the real difference between being judgmental and live-and-let live is humility. You need it. A happy life (great relationship, good job, lots of hobbies, etc.) is something in which to take pride, but there has to be a line where the pride leaves off and a respect for life's fickleness kicks in. Your great relationship can tank, your job can get shipped to China, you can get depressed and see hobbies as a side of the moon you don't expect you'll ever visit. People can make great decisions and get hit by a bus, and they can smoke and live to 90. Make this your mantra as you're about to compare your friends' lives with your thriving own and judge them harshly for it.

And if you still think less of one of them, ask yourself if his/her financial incompetence is really a matter for your friendship to encompass.

And if you still think less of that friend, then maybe the respect is too far gone (your fault or theirs, doesn't matter) and you aren't really friends.

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For Penn Quarter: Also, she should feel free to ask whoever answers the phone exactly what the process will be like, who she'll see when she walks in the door, what will happen during her first visit, etc.

And I second the part about not being afraid to ask for a new therapist if you don't like the one you get. A good therapist will ask you, on the second or third visit, if you feel like you're a good match.

A final suggestion, if she's really nervous, is to have a friend call to get the details and set up the appointment.

Carolyn Hax: Great suggestion on having someone describe the process, thanks.

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Takoma Park, Md.: Hey Radford, VA.

One of my friends told me this motto, "women get married expecting things to change, men get married expecting things to stay the same."

I read your question to Carolyn and I thought it might do you good to hear it.

Carolyn Hax: It's actually an Albert Einstein quote:

"Women marry men hoping they will change. Men marry women hoping they will not. So each is inevitably disappointed."

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Cubeland, Washington, D.C>: Help! I'm ready to kill my coworker! She's been blaring Micheal Bolton's "Time, Love & Tenderness" CD on repeat all week! I'm ready to kill her. I've gently said that I can hear it could she turn it down, but she just laughed it off.

Is murder caused by Michael Bolton a legitimate defense?

Carolyn Hax: No. First you need evidence of having stated clearly, "Would you please turn off that CD? I can't concentrate with it on. Thank you." Then you'd be covered.

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Wedges: I hear wedges are on their way out? what dya think? what are you wearing these days in footwear?

Carolyn Hax: Everything that's in is on its way out. Wear what works on you.

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Boston, Mass.: Hi Carolyn!

A good friend of mine from work has been out the last two days because she has miscarried for the second time. I'm going to see her tomorrow at her house for a BBQ that she's throwing and doesn't want to cancel because she wants to see all of her friends but she doesn't want it to feel like "a funeral." I have no idea what she's going through. I mean, I can sympathize, but I can't empathize. What do I do? Show up with a yummy pastry, give her a big hug, and be my normal me?

Carolyn Hax: Sounds like an excellent plan. Everyone deals with something like this differently. The closest thing to foolproof is to care, say you're sorry, and take your cues from her.

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District: RE: Radford, Va., isn't it possible that she HAS been happy with her boyfriend, just not with the status of their relationship? Some people just feel strongly about having that ring around their finger.

Carolyn Hax: Of course. Those were meant as leading questions, but not leading to any one answer. She needs to figure out what she wants and why, and if she's getting it from him--now or ever.

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re: Penn Quarter: Sounds like she may be stalling to avoid hearing what she thinks the therapist will say, i.e., if no one else confirms it, I won't have to leave my SO/go on Prozac/whatever she's afraid of.

Carolyn Hax: Which would add another way in which it's like (not) seeing a regular doctor. Smokers are famous for this.

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New York, N.Y.: Hi Carolyn,

Love the column. I have a semi-work, semi-personal question and I need some advice.

I am 30 and I work as a full-time newspaper repoter. As you can imagine, I spend my days sitting in front of the computer, yaking on the phone, and writing. Most days I like my job, other days, not so much. Just like anyone else.

Thing is, what I most want to do is write a memoir of my childhood, specifically about my sister who died when I was young. There are so few books that tell the story of sick children from the sibling's perspective. I feel I have something to say.

I want more than anything to tell my story, but with my job (deadlines, anxious editors peering over my shoulder, churning out thousands of words a week etc) it's so hard to come home from work and contemplate several more hours in front of the computer. Not to mention the fact that the writing would be a tremendously emotional undertaking. I've managed to carve out a little time on the weekends, but it's still not enough.

What do you recommend I do? How can I make time for a project that is personally meaningful when I am so utterly exhausted from my day to day?

Carolyn Hax: Reporters often work in a roomful of other reporters, and in a roomful of reporters, someone will have written a book. Start asking. You will find that some people have no problem with working after a full day of work, but they're kind of looked upon as zoo exhibits anyway, so just smile and say, "Wow," and move onto the next cube. I think that person will probably tell you s/he shaped the idea in off hours, then took some vacation/leave time to get started, then tried to get an agent to sell it to pay for some leave time to write it. But I'm not as familiar with this world as about 3/4 of The Post's newsroom is.

What I do know is that you're motivated, which means taking some vacation would make sense--doesn't sound like you'd squander it.

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re: Penn Quarter: I work at the American Psychological Association and on our Web site, we have a "Find a Psychologist" function. It is a good way to find a therapist in your area who specializes in whatever issues you want to discuss ( http://www.apa.org/ ). Although it may not be made obvious, psychologists and other mental health care providers -expect- to be asked all kinds of questions about what kind of therapy they do, their approach, and philosophy. It is -your- treatment and you have every right to find someone you trust and like. Good luck!

Carolyn Hax: Good stuff, thanks.

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Philly : Hi Carolyn,

Any words of wisdom about relationships with the ex? My boyfriend has a strong, positive friendship with his ex. They were together for several years before splitting and they try to see each other once or twice a month for dinner or a drink, only the new significant others are not asked to come (actually, both go to lengths to make sure that new BF and GF do not meet old BF and GF). I don't particularly care to meet this girl... just feels weird that I can't!

Carolyn Hax: Sounds weird, too. Certainly it can be weird to trot out all the new loves for the ex to check out, but to go the other way and deliberately exclude them strikes me as the kind of thing that gives friendships with exes a bad name. Why isn't he treating it like any other friendship? That's the question I'd be asking him if he were here.

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To friend of woman who miscarried: And if your friend breaks down crying in the middle of the cookout, hug her, hand her tissues, take her indoors to talk, and let the party carry on. Assure her that being emotional is OK.

Carolyn Hax: And if she doesn't break down crying in the middle of the cookout, don't make her feel like a freak. The grief process is so personal. The childbearing process is so personal. Combine the two and you really need to resist any urge to impose your own expectations. Thanks for weighing in.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

I want to get along well with my mom, but for some reason I am constantly irritated by her neediness and general approach toward life. I feel as though I resort to acting like I am 16 (I am 24) every time I am with her. But on the flip side, she is incredibly supportive of me, listens when I have problems... all that great mom stuff. I just wish I could spend a weekend with her and treat her like I would a friend - just ignore the things that bother me and enjoy the rest. But without fail, every time I tell myself I am going to do this I fall back into the same old habits and our time together isn't as nice as it could be. Any tips for how to be better about this? Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Off the top of my head:

1. Don't let it freak you out too much. You're still trying to define yourself, and mommies cast long shadows, and so you're going to have heightened awareness of your differences. Maybe always, but most intensely so in the fuzzy years between solid childhood and solid adulthood.

2. Keep your visits short. If a weekend is too taxing, try overnights. If long stretches of time are the problem, schedule other things to break up your visits.

3. Maybe don't lean on her as Mommy as much. If you want to change the sensation of being her adolescent daughter, then I think you need to look at the side of the equation that does work.

4. If you have any energy left, try to figure out what the triggers are to your "old habits." Minimum, you learn to avoid them, and at best you understand them.

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For Portland, Ore. Judgmental Person: It's usually been my experience that those who want everyone else to make the same decisions they do are the very people who are not too sure of their own decisions -- in other words, they need bolstering, they need reassurance, and the only way to get it is if everyone lives the way they do. I would urge Portland to examine her life and her decisions -- if she's really comfortable with them, then she doesn't need everyone else to do likewise in order to affirm her choices.

Carolyn Hax: Oh my goodness yes. Thanks.

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North: How do you apologize for being a lousy friend? A while ago a (far away) friend's father died, which brought back lousy traumatic memories of my own father's passing. Instead of reaching out, I clammed up. I sent out a heartfelt card, but WAY too late, and have heard nothing in the 2 months since.

Do I assume I've blown it? This happened once before in a situation with more shared blame, and when I made tentative apologies I was dragged over the coals. I'd rather not go through the painful friendship-death experience again and just let this go if necessary. And know that I'm an ass and never let it happen again, of course.

How does one apologize for such a nasty bit of childishness like this?

Carolyn Hax: You just do it. I.e., you don't treat a mistake of avoidance with more avoidance. It's not 100 percent clear from your question, but it sounds like your over-coal-raking experience was with a different friend over a different mistake. To make that your excuse for not facing your friend now is pretty lame. Admit you failed this person, say why, acknowledge that it's an explanation but not an excuse, apologize and ask for forgiveness. Unless you have a history of bailing and this is a last straw, a good friend will pick up on the sincerity and freely forgive.

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Writing a book: The reporter can also buy a cheap, portable recording device (I have a microcassette that records 60 or 90 mins.) and dictate her book. This at least gets the words flowing. Later she can transcribe her tape or have someone else do it. For an emotional story like this, it might work well. She can record any thoughts she has even when she's away from a computer.

Carolyn Hax: Great idea, thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: Wait -- if "Women marry men hoping they will change" and "Men marry women hoping they will not," isn't there a good chance one party will be satisfied? If people don't change when they get married, doesn't it mean that just the women will be disappointed?

Carolyn Hax: Show of hands--do I explain the joke?

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For the mommy person: I had the same issues when I was in my early-20s. I'm now 33 and my mom and I get along famously. It takes them (moms and dads) awhile to see that you're an adult. And to cut the apron strings. Humor them a little bit- they're having a hard time with it. Don't abuse adult privileges (i.e. respect their house rules, not yours) but be a good kid (call home). They'll adjust. You'll adjust.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for adding that last part. I agree with what you said, but it's missing the parallel adjustment process of the chick who has just left the nest.

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Washington, D.C.: So, how long can two people try to compromise on something before it't time to call it quits?

My boyfiend is super-affectionate. All the time. Basically, if we're in the same room at the same time, he's right on top of me. Even while I try to cook or clean. I hesitate to even invite him over anymore. At least in restaurants he's more restrained.

I've tried, gently, to explain that wanting a little breathing room doesn't mean I'm not interested in him, as that's always his conclusion if I ask for a little room on the couch. If we're watching a movie, for example, he wants me leaning on him the whole time, which eventually becomes uncomfortable, so I'll move over, and he's offended. Also, he thinks he should be able to kiss me at any time, no matter what, which is usually every few minutes. Frankly, it's just more than I can take.

I've been with him for almost two years, so it's not just that first flush of passion. Honestly, I thought he'd have cooled off a bit by now. There's always a brief reprieve after we talk about it, but that never lasts more than a month, and I'm beginning to feel like a terrible nag. I hate to think some one being too affectionate is a break-upable offense.

Carolyn Hax: It's not. Being unable/unwilling to respect that your partner has different needs and styles is a break-upable offense.

(No doubt you both feel you can lob this charge at each other, but from where I sit it looks like he's the one actually taking offense at your being different and wanting you to change, whereas you just want him to respect that you're different. FWIW.)

And, if you disagree with that, you can just say that having someone draped over you 24-7 is a break-upable offense. Gah.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi C:

How do I make more professional friends? The friends I have are great, but often times we don't share some of the same interests. Several of them are in retail or the service industry (I have a really good gov't job), and while I love them dearly, I'd like to be able to share more work related things with them (e.g. they have varied schedules and no "project deadlines") I think they get annoyed that I talk about things going on at work, like they have no clue what I'm talking about so they don't understand (or want to). I don't know how to find more professional friends. Most colleagues are significantly older. I think I'm the youngest non-intern employee. Or am I just being snobby here and need to appreciate what I have?

Thanks

Carolyn Hax: Um. They're annoyed because they're bored out of their shoes. People who -do- have "project deadlines" don't want to hear about your "project deadlines." Work is work; we get paid to do it because we wouldn't show up otherwise. Occasionally a story will come out of work that is interesting, but only because it passes the test of all stories, be they from gov't or service industry or the moon: 1. Does it say anything illuminating about you, someone you all know, or life in general, and 2. is it funny?

So, find more friends by being a good judge of standards 1. and 2. We're all very proud of you, by the way.

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For the lousy friend: My dad passed away when I was in high school and a lot of my friends at the time weren't old enough or mature enough to say or do anything at all. I didn't hold that against them. A real friend will forgive you if you are sincere. It might be a blessing to have someone willing to discuss her situation now since sometimes two or three months after a death (or longer), the sympathizers that were at the funeral and bringing casseroles are nowhere to be found (i.e. have returned to normal life).

Carolyn Hax: Or two or three or 10 years after. From experience. And I think we're all the better if we refrain from reflexively punishing the people who have let us down, and instead take a chance on an explanation and another chance. (Except, again, when we've heard so many and given so many there just arent' any more left.)

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Death: I'm checking into your chat as I go over what needs to be updated in our estate plan. Could we have a frivolous question, maybe about shoes, or bridezillas?

Carolyn Hax: I hope neither of you is in the Death Chair. Though your heirs might be happy.

There's a question. Is the Death Chair the Death Chair in July?

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Arlington, Va.: Yes, explain the joke!

Carolyn Hax: Women want men to mature, and men want women not to gain 50 lbs and sag to the tops of their socks. Expecting men to change, expecting women not to change. C?

I'm going to go bang my head now.

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Falls Church, Va.: The over-affectionate boyfriend almost seems to cross the line into control-freak territory (i.e., telling her where and how to sit, having to be able to kiss her at any time he wishes). The writer of that letter might want to think about whether he has controlling tendencies in other aspects of their relationship as well, and factor that into her decision as to how much of this she can take.

Carolyn Hax: Ding-ding-ding-ding!

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Alexandria, Va.: I have had a rough year. I was unemployed for most of it, and it affected my relationship with my girlfriend of four years. I eventually found a job, but two days later she broke up with me unexpectedly (actually we were supposed to go to dinner to celebrate that day). She has always had trouble communicating her emotions, and I was concentrating on the future too much and not focusing on her on the day to day. I know that I dealt with the unemployment poorly, and I was in a grumpy and bad mood a lot. I apologized to her and told her I would learn how to deal with problems better, but she wasn't hearing it, I think it was too much for her. After talking to friends and family, I have realized that I am showing signs of clinical depression (high anxiety, restlessness). I feel like I am getting better, but I am not sure if the how to get over the guilt of not handling problems well. I felt like I used to be fine handling stuff, but not anymore. Do you think that therapy soon after all these traumatic events is a good move, or should I wait a little while?

Carolyn Hax: See a doctor to get screened for depression; what treatment option you choose, if any, based on that info will be entirely your decision. You don't have to take on anything you don't feel ready to take on.

As for the relationship implosion, it sounds like you took away something really important--awareness of your own mistake--and she took away something (herself) that probably wasn't good for you anyway. People unconsciously seek an emotional match. She was your emotional match when you were absorbed in your own problem, not communicating, and leaking out your bottled-up anxiety in the form of cranky behavior. Now that you know you need to be a partner in these things, in addition to having one, you're better suited to someone who will be able to call you on how disrespectful your moodiness is, and still be able to invite you to say what's on your mind.

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Today's Column: I was wondering about the part in today's column when the Boy in Trouble mentioned that he didn't want things to get too serious, and how much of an impact that may have had on the relationship between BiT and the girl?

Maybe she really did like him, but since BiT told her off the bat that he didn't want to get seriously involved, she set her own brakes before she started falling for the roommate?

I guess if I were the girl, and a guy told me he really liked me but didn't want to get too seriously invovled, that I woudldn't necessarily invest too much into that relationship.

Carolyn Hax: I was wondering how that factored in, too, but since it didn't change my answer and the answer was getting long, I just left it alone.

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Hey!: What happened to the slightly OCD chatter who compiled an FAQ? Did it pass muster? Weingarten had readers submit individual FAQ's if you need more.

Carolyn Hax: It's still waiting for me to get to it. I moved right around when it came in and I'm still catching up.

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Anonymous: I've written in several times (I hope not in an obnoxious way - just need an answer) about the same question and it doesn't seem to get picked up, which I suppose means that it isn't super interesting or applicable to most people. But I really think it is and I need some advice on HOW to get my head around the issue. When you make the decision to date someone and you know it is leading toward marriage and you also know that they are not what you pictured your SO to be, despite the fact that you want to date them for THEM, is that reasonable? If there is a big, glaring thing that isn't there that you always pictured would be there and you look past it (or try to) anyway, will your marriage eventually be doomed to failure? Will that one inadequacy arise down the road?

Carolyn Hax: All it means is that I get a lot of questions.

If your SO is missing a taste for opera and you're okay with going alone, then you're okay. If your SO is missing a head, you're not okay. You really need to be more specific about how important this "inadequacy" is to get a decent answer.

Maybe that's why I haven't answered it.

"Inadequacy." Ouch. If you chose that word carefully, then I'm leaning toward "doomed to failure." Now that I think about it.

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Icy shoulder: So does your advice change if the only affection he gets is what he initiates? I realize a relationship requires compromise and boundaries need to be respected, but what if his boundary is that he shouldn't have to do without affection?

Carolyn Hax: Then they need to see other people. It shouldn't be this hard.

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Nashville, Tenn.: Hi Carolyn

I need advice on how to handle my mom. She listens to radio shows all afternoon, some with health topics. She seems to think that everything she hears is the gospel truth and calls me telling me to change this or that because some person I have never heard of claims it is bad. Her latest is soy. Stop drinking soy milk and eating soy. I'm being a bad mom because my children drink soy milk.

Its driving me batty and it happens all the time. She'll hear something and then expect me to change my ways. It doesn't matter thati may have talked to our pediatrician about it, or talked to my doctor about it. If my mom heard something different on the radio, then my doctors are wrong.

I don't want to yell at her, but my telling her I have talked to my doctors doesn't seem to faze her.

Help!!!!

Carolyn Hax: "Thanks, mom!"

"Thanks, mom!"

"Thanks, mom!"

"Thanks, mom!"

"Thanks, mom!"

"Thanks, mom!"

"Thanks, mom!"

"Thanks, mom!"

"Thanks, mom!"

There comes a point where all you can do is decline to engage.

By the way, your mom sounds bored and/or lonely. A self-fulfilling prophecy when all one does is meddle, I know, but still something to think about.

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Anonymous: Helllloooo, is anybody there?????????

Carolyn Hax: Helllloooo, is anybody there?????????

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For drapey boyfriend: Dude sounds seriously gross. Also, being upset if she just moves over on the couch? Wow, talk about controlling!

Carolyn Hax: Ya.

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Washington, D.C.: My perfect husband of several years has suddenly been revealed as a cheating scoundrel. He moved out a few weeks ago to collect his thoughts about us, but has continued to see the woman after initially breaking it off, though he claims he is "ambivalent" -- doesn't want our marriage to end either, although he fears he may never be committed such that this doesn't happen again. It is hard to know when to just end things -- I desperately want him to come back, but his present behavior is so unlike anything I loved about him that I fear he's just not the same person. What to do with this ambivalence? When will I know it is time for me to go?

Carolyn Hax: Bringing the chat full circle--this is an excellent question/situation to bat around with a good therapist. Lots of things to explore before you make a decision, like, why do you think you were blindsided? Why do you want him back so desperately given the drastic change in terms? How do you feel about not making any decisions until the dust has settled a bit? Does this infidelity change what you believed about him, or does it fit in in ways you never considered? I could go on, but this is big stuff that a paragraph can't do justice.

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Hey Cubeland!: I'd love to invite you to spend a day in my cubicle, which I share with another person. If I move my chair back an inch I hit her chair. Which is bad enough, but top that off with the fact that she likes to smack gum, chew her lunch loudly with her mouth open, and slurp her water. She does this on purpose all day long because she likes to hear it. The constant gross noises make me nauseous. Not bad enough for you? She also likes to chat constantly, reads articles she finds interesting out loud to me, and I don't appear to be listening she jabs me in the back to get my attention.

Carolyn Hax: One person's cube hell, another's average marriage.

Gotta go. Thanks everybody, and type to you next Friday.

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to the would-be writer: I am also writing a book, and wasn't getting anywhere. I started coming into the office one or more hours early and writing then. I found I didn't need to change gears (which you have to do at the end of a workday), and my energy level was high.

I've been able to get a lot done this way. Good luck!

Carolyn Hax: Ooh. Good one. Thanks.

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"Thanks, Mom": Why do you suggest people say "Thank you" to unwelcome, unsolicited, stupid, offensive, etc., advice/comments? As if the advice/comment was needed/appreciated?

Plenty of people I know that say such things would take "Thank you" to mean, "Thank you, that advice/comment is useful to me, please keep 'em coming."

Carolyn Hax: I advise it only as a last resort, when it's already clear that rejecting the advice, asking for the advice to stop, ignoring the advice, explaining why you've chosen not to take the advice, and moving to Pluto have all been interpreted as "Please keep it coming."

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Carolyn Hax: Not that I've been there or anything.

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Annapolis: Re the suffocator: My husband is very affectionate, as am I. He is moreso. I can never get a chance to initiate affection on my own, so he complains that he never gets it from me. I told him to STFU and give me some breathing room or he never would. Then I gave him a hug.

Carolyn Hax: Standing O.

Now I'm really leaving.

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Tired of Waiting: Do you read any of the thought provoking questions, or just the dopey ones as evidence of the last few? Are some questions (i.e. mine!) just too difficult for you?

Carolyn Hax: Hang on--I have to look up "dopey."

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re: inadequacy: Probably a poorly chosen word. It is his looks. He does not have an attractive body or face. But he has an attractive soul.

Carolyn Hax: Ah. Well, if you can get past it, you can get past it. What can I say.

Maybe this: If he's becoming more attractive to you over time, then that's at least promising. If you're less affectionate than normal, though, it's probably a non-starter.

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San Francisco, CA: Hey Carolyn!

Hope all is well! Any airline advice for trying to find a flight into DC for less than $700?

Carolyn Hax: Move there. Or, fly to Baltimore.

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dc: Caro, how much longer will you do the chat?

Soon you will no lober be thirty-something.

Carolyn Hax: It'll happen during this session if I don't leave. Buh bye. Seriously this time.

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What if...: "Inadequacy" means he is not a lawyer, that you always pictured yourself with a lawyer.

Carolyn Hax: Forehead. Plaster. Ow.

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Carolyn Hax: Wow, you guys are on different coasts with the good-gov't-job person. Half annoyed that I went too easy, half annoyed that I was too hostile.

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washington, d.c.: As a person who writes all day for my job and then goes home to write fiction, I would not recommend the full-time reporter take vacation time to start working seriously on the book. Unless you have a very clear idea what you want to say, it can be very frustrating to get writer's block, and since there would be so much pressure on that week or so of time, I can almost guarantee writer's block would show up.

What I would do is take vacation time, yes, but use it to go to a reputable writer's workshop on memoir writing. The University of Iowa's summer workshop is particularly good, and they have weekend or week-long sessions on every topic, including memoir. I think there was even a "memoirs of illness" one earlier this summer.

I always come out of workshops super-motivated and with great ideas about HOW to proceed in my writing. I think after you got that energy from the workshop you would find more time to write either on evenings or weekends, or both.

Also, and this isn't for everyone, but consider getting up early to write BEFORE work. I can't do it but some of my writer friends swear by it.

Good luck! And don't expect to make any money -- do it for yourself. It sounds like that's what you're after anyway, the satisfaction of sharing your story.

Carolyn Hax: Great idea, thanks.

Walking away from the computer now.

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