Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 31, 2006 2:00 PM

Special day and time! Monday, July 31 at 2 p.m. ET!

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

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


McLean, Va.: Hey Carolyn-- love your column and your chats.

I remember at least once reading what you had to say about couples who have the same argument(s) over and over and thinking it was extremely smart. I have a friend who's trapped in that cycle now and I'd love to send him what you said. I haven't been able to find what you said in the archives -- would you mind restating for me?


Carolyn Hax: No no, thank you! And while I should know better than to turn down any extremely-smarts (since you never know when it'll be your last), I think what I said was really basic. There is no reason to have the same argument over and over. You argue, and then either one of you comes around to the other's viewpoint, or you both recognize that the other has a differing viewpoint and you both need to adjust accordingly. It's a decision not to try to win or persuade. (Except possibly by time and example.)


Washington, D.C.: Is there a way to tell, early on in a relationship before you fall in love with a person, that someone is ultimately going to have a fear of intimacy? Certainly the beginning of a relationship is one where the couple is learning about each other, etc., but it's also not exactly the right time to whip out a 20-item questionnaire with questions like, "Have you ever told a woman other than your family members that you love her?" Although, as a friend of mine did say, it would be something to do during an awkward silent moment...

Carolyn Hax: Give it a shot and report back.

But I think the way to tell -is- the early-on-in-a-relationship. If you pay attention to what people are saying to you, you'll hear most of what you need to know about them without having to grade any exams. I wish I could give you a black-and-white example, but different things can say the same thing. For example, someone can betray a fear of intimacy by never talking about her own fears or frailties. Someone else can betray that same fear of intimacy by talking about her fears and frailties to anyhone who will listen. Both of them accomplish the same thing: They empower no one person with access to their soul.


Buying Shoes for a wedding ...: Do I get the cheaper, more sensible shoes that I can wear all fall and winter, or the more expensive shoes I love that I won't be able to wear again until next summer?

Carolyn Hax: You can wear the sensible shoes, but will you? Buy the ones that will be more useful over the life of the shoes, not over the next calendar year.

How'd I do? Sufficiently rationalized?


Atlanta, Ga.: How do you respond to ugly comments in social settings? So my husband and I are at a friend's housewarming bbq party a few weeks ago, and got to chatting with other guests. One couple that we are acquainted with (him more than her) was talking about their move to another part of the country later this summer. In the course of explaining to several of us why they were moving (the usual, closer to family, job opportunities) she said said she was also tired of living in "the black urban mecca" (she is not black). My husband and I were shocked, and quickly extricated ourselves from that conversation. Later we thought we should've done something differently, but didn't know what. How do you handle these kinds of situations?

Carolyn Hax: Like an ostrich, except I bury my head in the clamdip.

If I'd had the presence of mind--I don't always, in these situations especially, something I'd change about me if I could--I would have asked her to explain herself. Not a dukes-up challenge but a raised-eyebrow "Hmm, what makes you say that?" I have to think she would then notice the foot in her mouth, which is all you'd really need to accomplish.


Bowie, Md.: Hi Carolyn,

I really love the chats and column.

How do you avoid "losing yourself" in a long-term relationship? I had a discussion with friends this weekend about how maybe one way you know you might be not immediately doomed to an unhappy marriage is that you are able to completely hold onto your self of self in a relationship. OK, fine, but what now?

Carolyn Hax: Thank yew.

First, I'd like to say some unhappy marriages are foreseeable but that doesn't mean all of them are, and also that "foreseeable" doesn't mean you yourself are in a position, emotionally, to foresee it. See? Often it's the experience itself that opens your eyes to what an unhealthy experience is. All you can do is be kind to yourself, be kind to others and feed your 401K. So take a deep breath and just do your best.

Second, about your specific quesiton, I think there should be some "us" to a couple. A self isn't a fixed object, it's a dynamic, (ideally) growing entity. So you grow with each other. And, you also retain a sense of yourself, yes--but I think you do that not by force of will or design, but by choosing someone who loves and thrives on who you are. That takes away the pressure to change/yield/hide.


Re: Atlanta, Ga.: "She said said she was also tired of living in "the black urban mecca" (she is not black)."

Not to be nitpicky, but would it have mattered if she had been black? It's still an offensive comment.

Carolyn Hax: Interesting. I can see your point, but: A white person in search of a more diverse neigborhood says, "I'm sick of living in white bread mecca." Do you walk away too shocked to speak?


Wuss-ville: Any tips for when/how to initiate one of those Big Talks in a relationship when you are not a naturally assertive person & tend to avoid confrontation at all costs? Of course, there's never a perfect or easy opening to launch into one of these heavy conversations, but it needs to be done. It doesn't even necessarily have to be an awful discussion once it's underway; I just can't bring myself to kick it off. Help?

Carolyn Hax: "I'm awkward at this so I'm just going to blurt it out." Or something else of your creation that accomplishes the same thing, which is, essentially, to push yourself off the conversational high dive.

If anything, getting the other person to brace for the worst, while not ideal, might actually take the edge off what you finally say.


Ugly comments in social situations: I find that even if you try to point out the foot in mouth, some folks seem to feel you are too idealistic, naive or just a dimwit and some day when you're wiser you'll feel the same way they do. I also find the ones who say the most offensive things are the first to get offended by and dissent.

Carolyn Hax: Certainly and possibly, but even then, I think most people will feel a little better for asserting themselves vs. slinking off for more punch, even if no minds are actually changed.


Chicago, Ill.: What's your honest opinion of polyamory? Do you believe the only viable long term relationship is a monogamous one? Can people have simultaneous loves in their lives? I am considering this option but I am skeptical.

Carolyn Hax: I don't think it works for skeptics. It's kind of like shooting the moon. You have to mean it, really mean it, both of you--or else you're short two hearts and going down.


La Baule, France: But Carolyn, if she buys the summer shoes she loves now, will she still love them next summer? These summer romances don't last.

Carolyn Hax: I know, but has that made anyone stop having them?


No city, please: I think I've got to leave my relationship, but we are about to head out on a trip to celebrate a major anniversary. He knows things aren't good, but I haven't talked to him much about it because my struggle has basically been to decide whether or not I love him enough to put up with things that haven't changed and aren't likely to change after years of letting him know that I'm not happy with them.

Do I go on the trip, knowing that I'm about 80% likely to leave? I can find other things to do at our destination, and he can always reroute the trip to visit friends in another city nearby. I'd like to think things can still be fixed, but I think I'm losing this fight.

Carolyn Hax: Talk to him much about it. Right now, you're making the decision without his input, and that will be harder for him to get over, which then will be harder on you.


Bethesda, Md.: I have been married for 12 years; we have two great kids. My husband does not believe in compliments and is quick to criticize. I thought I had made my peace and accepted that this is part of him - have to take the bad with the good. Recently, I have been more and more attuned to guys at work who compliment me or seem to have an interest in me. I have never been a flirt, but I cannot deny my need for this type of attention which I don't get from my husband. I am in such desparate need of affection, its embarrassing. How to cope?

Carolyn Hax: Realize that your kids are in exactly your state of deprivation, but half as equipped to deal with it. Then, help them deal with it, and in the process get some of your own strength back. Seriously. I feel for you, very much, but this isn't just about restorative flirting. This is airplane-emergency time--you put on your oxygen mask first only so you're not too loopy to take care of your children. (Oh no, it's Metaphor Day.) It might even be something worth talking about in counseling, so you can figure out what to look for in your kids and what you need to do to provide balance.


Washington, D.C.: Why can't she say she is tired of living in a black urban mecca. Maybe she is! Not everyone like diversity. She didnt say anything derogatory. I for one am sick of everyone having to say PC things all the time. geeze..

Carolyn Hax: It isn't true diversity without ignorance, I guess.

Linking behavior to skin color isn't heroically anti-PC, it's the very root of racism.


Fairfax, Va.: RE: ugly things -- the other thing you can get tossed at you is that you are hopelessly "politically correct." That's the new fireback to protesting racism or other such comments.

Carolyn Hax: And there you have it. But I'd still rather hear, "I'm socially kind of a dope," or even, "I have no interest in trying to change the mind of an idiot," than, "I don't want to be accused of being PC," as a reason for not speaking up.


Washington, D.C.: How do I tell a friend her breath is beyond bad? It reads like a horrible question but it's true. We have set her up on dates and in confidence the guys separately have made the same comment.

As a good friend how do I say something?

Carolyn Hax: You just say you're sorry for how much it's going to suck to hear this, but that she has been having bad breath lately. Somebody's got to do it.


Washington, D.C.: My gal pal and I escaped the heat of D.C. for the beach for a long weekend. Many people thought that we were a couple... both men and women. When they asked... which they did... we immediately let the questioner know that we are both very much into men and have boyfriends. What's the deal? Are two women traveling together as friends not acceptable?

Carolyn Hax: Asking them if they're a couple is not acceptable. On behalf of the armies against incredibly nosy questions, please consider not giving a straight (sorry) answer to questions like these. How you choose to avoid is up to you--evade, confront, make jokes, whatever comes most naturally.


Re: talk to him: OK, but how do I tell him "I don't know if I love you enough to put up with X, Y, and Z"? It seems cruel to ask him to make me love him more than I do.

Some of X, Y and Z are habits/tendencies that I've been telling him for years are making it really hard for me to stay in the relationship, and some are irreversible or hard-to-reverse decisions that he made after I asked/begged him not to. He still loves me, but I don't think X, Y, and Z are going to change. See my dilemma?

Carolyn Hax: What is it, exactly, that you're still trying to fix? From what you say, I get the impression that it's all an internal decision--i.e., there's nothing he can do at this point to change, you just need to figure out if you can love him as-is--but I'm inclined to believe that if it's anything short of a certainty that you're going to leave, you need to tell him. Obviously, "I don't know if I love you enough to put up with X, Y, and Z," is cruel, but it wouldn't be cruel to say, "I thought I could live with/get used to X, Y and Z, but they're still bothering me enough that I'm not sure if I can stay."

That way, you give him a chance to ask or offer possible solutions. That's what you're doing right now, isn't it? Working through possible solutions? So let him offer some. That doesn't mean you have to agree to them, it just means you owe it to him to listen, and to see whether his ideas will make any difference. And if not, then it won't be so much a shot to his blind side as a decision you both come to, albeit a painful one.


Bad breath...: And see a doctor or dentist about it!

Carolyn Hax: Right! I was going to say that, but last time I did (in column form, I believe), it served as an accidental invitation for hundreds of theories on halitosis, which put me off three weeks of lunch. So. Tell a dentist, then if needed tell a doctor, and then tell your blank page if you just can't resist, but please don't hit send. Thanks.


Richmond, Va.: Do you think it's important to say "I love you" often in a relationship if it's shown? Like the old phrase goes, actions speak louder than words...

Carolyn Hax: Does your beloved love to hear it? Then saying it is an important action to take.


No acceptable?: "Are two women traveling together as friends not acceptable?"

So if you were lesbians, it would somehow be "not acceptable", but since you're just traveling as friends it's okay?

If I were on vacation and started chatting with two women or men or whatever, I would probably ask, too. Do I treat you as a romantic unit or not? Hard to be social if I don't know and hardly an unreasonable question.

And, um.... Just what beach were you at? You (as straight women) may very well have been in the minority in Rehoboth, Outer Banks, etc.

Carolyn Hax: NO NO NO it IS an unreasonable question. The romantic state of the people you chat with on vacation is none of your business and of no import socially. You're just talking! You can do that without labels. If it is relevant--say, you want to hit on one of them and so their status matters--decency probably demands that you at least know them well enough for the answer to come out in conversation before you go pawing one of them anyway.


Richmond, Va.: For the gal pals...a sking if they were a couple only says "it's not OK to travel with a female friend" IF you consider being viewed as a lesbian as a negative thing. It's not. It may be nosy to ask about two people's couple status, but really its ridiculous to get offended. Be flattered you and your friend seem like you're in love. There is no need to "rush to assure" nosy people that you like men. Why do you feel the need to explain that?

Carolyn Hax: That may have been what she was suggesting, but it could also be read that she found it disturbing that they attracted so much attention--meaning, the nosy people apparently had an issue with it, while the friends themselves didn't. You have to admit, it is weird that anyone would make an issue of it, much less several people on one short trip.

(Yeah, unless it was to Rehoboth, as many of you have pointed out ...)


Ugly Comments, USA: What wouold your suggestion be if it's your in-laws who feel the need to make anti-semitic comments everytime you are around? In the past, I've ignored it but now with my 2.5 year old present, I feel I need to address it. By the way, my wife is absolutely useless in these situations (meaning she makes no attempt to defend me or criticize her family for the comments).

Carolyn Hax: That you address it with your 2.5-year-old--starting now, pre-comprehension, so that the groundwork is there when the lights go on--is far more important than getting your in-laws to stop. You are the one who's around your child the most, your influence will far exceed your in-laws'. But you could get extra points if you demonstrate a good response to your in-laws' bigotry. When you say, "Please don't say such things around X," you'll be equipping your child, vs. sheltering.


Carolyn Hax: I had one of these opportunities recently with my 3-year-old, who now, every once in a while, out of the blue, says, "It's not nice to say [offensive thing]." Just thought I'd share.


On the outside looking in: Carolyn -

I appreciate your advice so much and would love to hear your take. I have a friend who is dating a guy. No, wait, no they're not. Oh, they're back on again. And so it goes. In the last two months alone, I've spent more than one night listening to her cry and trying to cheer her up. The reasons for their breakup and reconciliation aside, I'm tired of spending countless nights helping her through, just to see her go back to him AGAIN. I feel myself just not caring, not wanting to call her, and I definitely don't ask her any questions about HIM anymore. I sense she feels me pulling away, is a little hurt and now I feel guilty. But there's this part of me that says I can't seem to do anything about the fact that she's banging her head on a wall, and to just let her. What to do?

Carolyn Hax: "Do you like things this way? Do you like yourself this way? What are you going to DO about it?" Useful maybe not as a direct quote, but certainly as a discussion guide for you when she tries to bring it up. "Okay, so what are you going to DO about it," is the perfect response to, "I just want him to ..."


Rehoboth Beach, Del.: I was going to write in and state how narrow-minded to make the assumption that two women travelling to Rehoboth were romantically involved. Then I realized if everyone continues to think it's gay-only I'll still be able to get a room. So, never mind.

Carolyn Hax: If they thought it was gay only, they wouldn't have had to ask.

Does anyone really ever think a place is gay-only?


Washington, D.C.: How do you kindly explain to some one that they're smothering you? Especially when he thinks that the smothering is showing you how much he loves you? And by the way, is any one else's creepy alarm set off by the phrase "I love you more than anyone else love you"?


But: The fact that you;re creeped out is all you need here. Get out. People work so hard to fight their own judgment. Listen to yourself, please.

Which obviates the advice you were seeking, but here it is anyway, in case someone else is dating a boa constrictor: Part of showing love is noting and honoring how your mate likes to receive love--and so sometimes the most loving thing a person can do is grant a little space. Request it. Ask for your requests to be treated with respect. Leave if they aren't. I do think it's that simple.


Arlington, Va.: Carolyn,

I made a mistake, and married an abusive jerk. Long story, should've known better, etc.. The good news is that I finally wised up and left him, and have moved on nicely.

I have filed for divorce, and I can't wait for it to be finalized. Unfortunately, he has decided to make it a "nasty" divorce, and has hired a goon of a lawyer who seems to take pleasure in delaying, hiding assets, and putting up legal barriers.

As I see it, I have two choices. I can give up all the assets (he has effectively hijacked them), let him have everything, but walk away faster and cleaner. Or, I can hire my own shark, and fight for the assets. It will likely be an expensive and protracted battle for what is, ultimately, not that much money. The assets are truly and rightfully mine (I owned the house and had the savings account prior to the relationship), and would undoubtedly be awarded to me (this from every lawyer I have consulted), but the conflict and time lapse is weighing heavily on me.

I make a decent living, and could easily start over, but the little voice in my head is calling me a wimp, and telling me to stay and fight for what's mine.

Your thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: I wish I had an answer for you. There's a lot to recommend both courses of action, since you're either standing up for what matters (and letting him think a small amount of money is a victory, wee haw) or standing up for yourself against bullying. In a way, the only advice I see here is to go to the proverbial mountaintop and see what would bring you the most peace. It's such a personal question. (I also think it wouldn't hurt to know beforehand exactly how long and how expensive a battle you're talking about, if it's possible to know that with any certainty, since the scope of the battle will probably have a lot to do with how well you can live with your choice.) Good luck, and congratulations on winning the battle that mattered.


re: ugly comments: I have a similar situation, though no kids involved. How do you address a person of close relation and/or friendship who says anti-Semitic things to you (knowing you're Jewish)? Is step one to determine if it is ignorance or malice (but then how does one make that determination?) or is step one to just explain that it is hurtful and why?

Carolyn Hax: Seems like just saying it's hurtful is best, since that leaves room for apology and/or discussion that a counterstrike never does.


I even googled BWA and Carolyn Hax: But didn't find the definition. Battered Women's Alternative? Please help decipher. Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Say it out loud (ideally if you work in a cubicle). It's the sound of an alarm going off.


Austin, Tex.: Can people change?

Carolyn Hax: Of course. Just not when you want them to.


Arlington, Va.: Hi Carolyn:

I'm having one of those days where I can't stop internalizing every bad thing that's happening in the world. I read a terrible article today about child abuse and I spent at least half an hour dwelling on those types of atrocities. How do you cope with (or how do you recommend one copes with) reading about these types of things, but also being able to move on with your day and be productive. I'm just having a terrible time with it today. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: I know the feeling. Most days our minds can process effortlessly the natural balance of things, and some days it takes a special effort, bordering on force, to keep in mind that the best and worst of human nature have coexisted, do coexist, and will always coexist. Some days you have to call someone special, write a check to charity, go to bed early with a stupid book. We're built to keep going--ideally with a new commitment to be good. I'm not sure what else I can say. I'm sorry.

(Though if the feeling persists for more than the occasional day, that might suggest depression.)


Washington, D.C.: My boyfriend is very very insecure. He needs a lot of reassurance about our relationship and my feelings for him. I'm not the kind to end every conversation with an I-love-you. I'd though that as time went by he'd become more secure, as I am, after all, still with him. But it's not happening, and it's making me crazy. If the name of a male comes up in conversation, he tells me "I bet he wants to be with you." I call him on it, an argument ensures, which ends with him apologizing and saying it's only because he's so insecure.

Considering your first post about having the same argument over and over, I'm way overdue on dumping him, aren't I?

Carolyn Hax: "It's making me crazy" plus no changes usually does equal that, yes.


Re: BWA: I thought it was the sound of wretching... Y'know, because of the whole "I love you more than anyone else loves you" thing...

Carolyn Hax: No, that was too scary for e-hurling.


re: ugly comments: I dunno, maybe I'm too hasty, but why would anybody remain friends with someone who would make anti-Semitic comments in front of them KNOWING that they are Jewish? And the earlier poster has a huge problem with his wife if he is Jewish and she sits still for her family members making such comments.

Carolyn Hax: I don't think you're too hasty, which is why I wrote what I wrote in yesterday's column.


Perplexed and Confused: Carolyn and 'nuts:

My favorite columnist has been moving the on-line chat to different days. This throws off my whole week and causes undue tension at home. What should I do? Blame the producer, who was on vacation and asked Carolyn to reschedule.

Carolyn Hax: ... but you can blame me in a few weeks when I take a break in August. (Remember, too, we do these because we want to, not because we have to, if that helps with the tension at home.)

That's it for today. Thanks for rolling with the time change, and type to you Friday as always, unless I have a whim and need to go out for ice cream.


Arlington should fight for what is hers: I went with the "get out asap and get some peace" route. And then I was so upset at myself for not fighting to get what was mine. I let it go because it was so stressful to fight him and yet I would have won if I'd just hung in there, and I'd also have respected myself and not been so angry for so long afterward.

It's possible that she'll feel peace at first, but then rage against herself as I did for letting the bas&$%d take what belonged to her.

Carolyn Hax: And, the other side:


Family Lawyer: It might help to realize that if you're fighting over "not that much money" there's a good chance you will end up with negative dollars when the lawyers fees are taken into account. I've seen couples spend $15,000 EACH in legal fees over $10,000 in assets. Ultimately it is this particular woman's choice, and I understand the need to not let a bully think you're slinking off. It may, however, be equally satisfying to hire a 12 year old to leave a weekly bag of flaming dog poop on the creeps door step. (Not that I advocate illegal uses of fire and excrement).

Carolyn Hax: Of course not. Thanks.


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