Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 4, 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.


Washington, D.C.: Thanks for taking the time to host these chats. In a recent chat, you mentioned that about half of all marriages end in divorce. This is incorrect, though often cited. It is true that in a year, there are about half as many divorces as marriages. But to determine the divorce rate, one must consider the marriage stock (those already married) and the divorce stock (a much smaller number). Also, some people divorce repeatedly. It's actually hard to calculate the true divorce rate, but it is closer to one-third than one-half. If you cite the 50 percent rate, then under the same logic you would say that 60 percent of Americans die each year (births about 4 million, deaths about 2.4m). I'm not pro- or anti-marriage (for me it seems a silly institution, but if others want to partake, that's fine with me), just a statistician.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. The number I was given was actually in the low forties--reached by a source that also teased the numbers apart by looking at the failure rate of first marriages vs. subsequent ones. Because it does seem to be a hard number to come by, my default has been to say "nearly half," which is how I interpret 42 percent. So, yes, I realize 50 percent is not true, but I feel I also need to speak generally to avoid hearing from statisticians. Er.


Chicago, Ill.: I have rather low-self esteem lately, and I'm really hating my rather large, unfeminine nose. I've hated it all my life. Do you think plastic surgery is a good option? I've tried to tell myself my nose is fine, but no matter how hard I try, I'm still hurt by negative comments people make about it, and I fear that it is all anyone sees when they look at my face.

Carolyn Hax: I'm the wrong person to ask, probably. I think nose jobs just create unnatural looking faces, and I also think interesting noses are beautiful. I won't pretend that I always thought Meryl Streep and Anjelica Huston were strikingly beautiful, but once I figured it out I was a little embarrassed it took me so long.

Plus, I have a schnoz.


Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry, that was probably an incomplete answer. There are certainly cases where a natural feature doesn't look like it fits (or just gives you fits) and plastic surgery can be an esteem-building relief. However, I hesitate even to say this when you're already down, presumably about other things. That's not the time to start cutting your face. Plus, I know neither how old you are nor how accurately you see yourself.

So back to my original answer: There is so much underappreciated beauty in faces that aren't cookie-cutter "beautiful." Even runways are reflecting this now. So, any chance you can give yourself a chance?


Washington, D.C.: My best friend has done something which was at best thoughtless and inconsiderate, at worst, a betrayal. I want to confront her about it, tell her the extent of my hurt and the exact reasons for it. I'm very up-front that way.

She had a baby a few weeks ago. How long should I wait before I have this conversation with her? I don't want to be cruel and add something unpleasant to her already-full plate, but I also don't want to let things slide to the point that I'll be bringing up ancient history by the time we talk.

Carolyn Hax: It's hard to say. Did this thoughtless/inconsiderate thing/possible betrayal have anything to do with the fact that she just had a baby? Did it happen before she gave birth, and you've already waited three weeks? Did it just happen and was it completely unrelated to her having a newborn? Three possibilitis with three different answers.


Arlington, Va.: My husband recently told me he's hurt because thinks I share an intimate relationship with a close male friend of mine. He doesn't mean sex, he means my friend and I can talk effortlessly and have a lot of shared experiences that don't include my husband. How can I keep the friendship but not hurt my husband's feelings?

Carolyn Hax: Sounds like you do talk effortlessly and have a lot of shared experiences that don't include your husband, which wouldn't make you guilty of anything--it certainly happens, all the time--but would make his point a legitimate one. Hard to ask a guy to feel left out of his own marriage.

I don't think you need to end the friendship with the other guy, per se (there is no attraction issue, right?), but you probably should 1. back off a bit; 2. try not to rub your conversational ease in your husband's face; and 3. make a little extra effort at home, in ways that you and your husband are good together.


Greece: Married, 2 kids, love the wife to death. Old high school girlfriend contacts me after her divorce and we strike up email / phone relationship. I see it has good friends conecting but also realized I still love her as well. I see no problem internally (once I am in love, I think it last forever), but worry that my wife would never understand me having this ex as a friend. Basically, if I am friends with one of her girlfriends that is okay, but forget having my own friends of the opposite sex.

Question...Are married men prohibited from having their own female friends? I see this as typical female double standard.

Carolyn Hax: "Typical female double standard"? Way to get on my good side.

Of course married people can have opposite-sex friendships. The alternative is to have a worldview that's sex-crazed to the point of absurdity.

However, no one committed to a marriage should be cultivating "friendships" with people for whom they still have feelings. To ignore how you'd feel if your wife did the same because it doesn't serve your self-interest is typical male double standard.

Just wanted to you see how it felt.


re: nose: Wait, people make negative comments about her nose? These people are jerks. My nose is hardly cute but if someone made a comment about it I'd think they had a problem, not me.

Carolyn Hax: Zackly. Thanks.


Keep the schnoz!: I have a big nose. Big whoop-dee-do. I grew up in a town where girls got nose jobs on their 16th birthdays. It was kind of sad that these girls were not only wiping away their individuality, but also their history.

I love looking at old pictures of women in Italy and seeing my nose. That's my history, those are my people...and I have the nose to prove it. And several guys that I've dated have said they thought I was attractive because I didn't look like all the other girls in DC...I had my real nose, my real hair color and have curves.

Please keep your nose! We'll form a group!

Carolyn Hax: Count me in. Just pick restaurants with round tables.


Nose Jobs: Only the bad ones look unnatural. I'd never advocate a nose job for anyone, but I know a few people who had great ones--they still have big noses, but their features are more balanced now. (Yes, I know, love what you have, but humans like symmetry and proportion.)

My advice -- talk to a therapist about the low self-esteem and, possibly, body dysmorphic disorder. If you do decide to get a nose job, look for a surgeon who won't just give you a cookie cutter tiny tip with flared nostrils job.

Carolyn Hax: 1. Did any of the people with bad nose jobs sign up for a bad nose job?

2. If we "like symmetry and proportion," is it better to cut ourselves, or get over ourselves?

Plastic surgery is a miracle for some people, I do believe that. But these days I lump it with online poker--just because it's there doesn't mean you have to do it.


Schnoz job: My best friend's mom offered her a choice of gifts for her 16th bday - nose job or boob job. The poor girl hadn't asked for either one and didn't have a complex until that day!

Carolyn Hax: She needed a Mom job.


Alexandria, Va.: Hi Carolyn. I am pregnant, due today. No sign at the moment that labor is imminent. Please say something to entertain me in these final hours? days? of self-absorbtion and inactivity.

Carolyn Hax: Get a pedicure, read a book, watch a movie from beginning to end in the same day, eat a meal slowly using your knife in one hand and the fork in another, have a conversation that involves the exchange of complete sentences. If I think of anything else I'll come back to it.


11 billionth nose job comment: I'm sure this will be a hot topic today, but here's my two cents: I feel bad for this person because now, on top of the self-esteem "valley" she's going through, she's feeling guilt, confusion, and self-doubt about this nose job. Maybe she should give herself a break, get the nose job if she wants it, and not torture herself over whether she's betraying some great moral/aesthetic principle by doing so.

Carolyn Hax: Point well taken, but I don't think the concern is so much about betraying great moral/aesthetic principles as it is about betraying herself. Plastic surgery isn't the way out of self-esteem valleys. Period. I added my views on the issue because I thought it was only fair to disclose.


Re: Pregnant, due today: Carolyn, you left out sleep. 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep = happiness.

Carolyn Hax: I did, but deliberately. I doubt anyone as pregnant as she is can sleep for more than a few hours at a stretch.


Fluffy Question: Hi Carolyn, Happy friday!

I just moved in with my fantastic boyfriend of one year. He has a cat that I adore and help care for, however the cat was his from before we were together. At what point do I get to refer to her as "my" cat in conversation with casual acquaintances or "our" cat with mutual friends?

Carolyn Hax: I think you need to ask the cat.


Falls Church, Va.: I wish you had given more attention to the second question in today's column. As I read it, the question is whether people should accept or seek "dates" (an unfortunately ambiguous term) when they have no physical interest in the other person. It's not necessarily a matter of free dinners vs. cheap sex, but could be misleading and untimately hurtful.

Carolyn Hax: I dunno, I think the fact that physical interest can develop later means there's no obligation to decide one way or another based on physical interest. Don't mislead or take advantage. That pretty much covers it.


Alexandria, Va.: Boyfriend of three years getting full custody of 15-year-old daughter that I don't like. Is it time to break up?

Carolyn Hax: Maybe. She needs him more than you do. But if you both see your relationship as a lifelong one, you could just lie low till she's out of the house and/or less difficult to like. Early to mid-teens can be hard years.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Is it possible to have a future with someone who is less adventurous? I've been in a relationship with a guy for two years. Lately, I've been bored to the point that I already feel married. He is content with that: His big dream is marriage and kids. I never thought much about that -- more career oriented, more change the world, even though I have a job like everyone else that significantly falls short. He recently commented that he thought our relationship was making progress because I've mellowed out, inferring I don't go out and party as much as I did. I don't know that I want to be mellow. He's wonderfully caring, bends over backwards for me, but sometimes I just wish he would suprise me once in a while. He's afraid of the water and afraid to fly. I love swimming in the river and traveling -- and I'm starting to think that these differences in adventure might be the differences between the one and someone. But I also know the qualities of his patience and humor will probably never be replaced.

Carolyn Hax: A quiz: Which is the clearest sign it's time to go?

1. When you're giving yourself reasons to stay.

2. When you're bored out of you're mind.

3. When you're desperate to go swimming.

We all have something to recommend us. That doesn't mean everyone's a worthy mate for everyone else.

I do feel bad for the guy, but only temporarily. More pain now is less pain later. You're not his girl.


Dates, with or without: The dates/sex question is a spillover from Weingarten's chat Tuesday.

Carolyn Hax: I haven't read the transcript, but I imagine the person emailed the question to both of us.


Warrenton, Va.: All other things equal, if you are dating a woman who just got out of, say, a one-year serious relationship with another guy, does it generally take longer to form a serious relationship with her; do you just need to give her time if, emotionally, everything else seems to be progressing fine in the new relationship? Thank you.

Carolyn Hax: All other things can't be equal. Did the one-year relationship end abruptly and painfully, or did it fade? Did she end it, or did he, or was it mutual? Was it over an absence of passion, or was there passion but disagreement on, say, geography or family size? Did one of them cheat on the other? You could be her forced attempt to recover, or her short-lived passion while she rediscovers her nerve endings, or her blissful reward after years of educational near-misses.

Loosen your expectations, err on the side of patience and see where it goes. It's when you try to anticipate people's words that you're most likely to miss what they actaully say.


Cosmetic refurbishment: so where do you draw the line?: Okay, so "Plastic surgery isn't the way out of self-esteem valleys. Period."

But where do you draw the line? I'm 49, staring 50 in the face, and these last couple of years, every time I look in the mirror a person with more and more grey hair stares back at me. If I color my hair to set the clock back a couple years and it makes me feel better, does that mean I'm a shallow person with questionable values? Is it only if we make changes to the flesh that we need to question if we're trying to raise our self-esteem at the blade of a scalpel? In that case, what if I go for a tattoo and multiple cartilage piercings of my ears? Does doing that make me more or less suspect than someone who wants a nose job?

Good grief, Carolyn, the cosmetics industry, hair-care industry, and fashion industries are all founded on the basis that none of us is "good enough" in our natural state to pass muster, and there are a gazillion women who wouldn't dream of facing the world without "putting on their face" or coloring/perming their hair or wearing a garment that is 5 minutes out of fashion. What say you about that?

Carolyn Hax: I'd ask you to put the curling iron down and back away slowly. I meant only that people who are struggling with deeper issues--low self-esteem, depression, even just "blues"--should stay away from major surgery. This is neither radical stuff, nor a moral imperative not to cover your gray. Knock yourself out.

But while we're here--is it so wrong to resist, vocally, the influences that have us questioning our worth based on unrealistic physical standards? It's a long road from pedicures to surgery, and I resent that there's pressure to travel it.


Natural Woman: A friend and I are having a debate about wearing make-up (we're both women; she won't leave the house without it, whereas I seldom use it). She maintains that she wears it "for herself," in order to "feel good about herself"; I maintain that it's illogical to say one wears it for oneself when one can't see it on ones' self and, in fact, the only reason it makes any woman "feel better about herself" is because societal expectations make her feel there's something wrong with herself if she doesn't enhance/camoflague her real self.

Your take?

Carolyn Hax: Different women, different faces, different standards of beauty. She's tending to hers, you to yours, and to say hers is somehow wrong or externally imposed because it involves makeup is awfully rigid. Nothing she's doing is irreversible or damaging to her health, so score a point for diversity and give the girl a break.


Over him, but not what happened: Hi Carolyn,

I have finally accepted that my relationship is over. We tried to be friends but he treats me like crap and I don't want to know him anymore. Fine. But I can't seem to get over the five years of time and energy and love I spent on someone who still keeps hurting me. It was such a figgin' waste. I can't stop aching over it. Help. Please.

Carolyn Hax: It wasn't a waste, it was a slap in the face. Use it to help you wake up. If you're not sure to what, find yourself a competent, compatible therapist and go figure it out. This will sound harsh but it isn't, I swear. Painful five-year flameouts -are- the road to happiness, because it's often the exact kind of misery you're feeling that motivates change. I say "often" only because to get there, you have to fight the impulse to eat ice cream and pretend it never happened, and that impulse can be pretty strong.


Bored to the point that I already feel married?: Another reason not to stay with this guy. Why does she equate being married with being bored? Wouldn't it be nice if she found someone just as adventurous as her, who could be her partner in adventure forever? I know lots of married people who do fun stuff together -- hiking in South America, scuba diving, visiting the pyramids. That stuff doesn't appeal only to single people.

Carolyn Hax: There are also married people who stay home and watch TV but aren't bored with each other. (And bungee-jumping couples who have nothing to say to each other.) You're right, it's a terrible view of marriage. Thanks.


Arlington, Va.: I am friends with both members of a couple. Each has told me, seperately, of a desire to break up with the other. Each is sure that the other wouldn't want to break up. I just want to shout "get it over with, already!" Pretty sure it's not my job to let that cat out of that bag, though. Thoughts on staying sane in the meanwhile?

Carolyn Hax: You can't even throw in a, "What makes you so sure?" Your restraint is admirable. For sanity, I don't know, maybe tell them both it's time to rip the Band-Aid and hope one of them listens. Or, keep posting every Friday with updates, for our amusement. A little serialized pulp fiction to carry us to Labor Day.


When you're giving yourself reasons to stay...: But what if those reasons are because you just found out you have a serious illness that will likely become debilitating? I was on the verge of leaving a wonderful, kind husband, because I'm not his girl (to steal your words). Now I'm having serious doubts, mostly because I'm scared out of my mind. I realize this is a horribly selfish motive, but it's hard to pick up and leave a situation that, in many ways, is good and solid and secure. How do I re-gather my courage?

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry. Is there a support network for people with your illness? Maybe educating yourself on the practical aspects of what you face will make it less of a scary unknown--and also allow you to choose a course that works instead of just fall back on one out of fear. More fair to your husband that way regardless, whether you ultimately stay or go.


Natural Woman: The point was that -- whether we're talking about wearing makeup, dying gray hair, or getting a nose job -- it's all because we fear people will think we're not okay in our natural state; the "permanence of the coverup doesn't seem to me relevent, but rather the perceived necessity for one...

Carolyn Hax: I don't know that I agree with that. Makeup isn't always a coverup, but instead can be an enhancement. Lipstick to call attention to a nice mouth, mascara to frame pretty eyes, toenail polish to call attention to a finacially unjustifiable shoe collection. It doesn't mean plain toes are too ugly to be seen, but that red toes are like jewelry on your feet.

In fact, jewelry is a good parallel--it enhances, right? It just seems to me that making the effort to buy pretty or flattering clothes--which I assume passes moral-aesthetic muster here--is really just the same act as putting on lipstick.

Where I think things diverge is on the issue of concealing--but even then, a non-permanent hair-color change is artifice on such a small scale. The gray I think we need to be more comfortable with here is the point where concealing crosses over from, "Hey, I look pretty good" to "I'm lethal and can;t inflict myself on the public unadorned."


Carolyn Hax: I'm still here, I'm just up to my nose in noses and got carried away reading all your comments on this.


New York, N.Y.: Am I in need of an attitude adjustment?

I dated a guy in my building who initally seemed really into a relationship -- he worried about whether I'd move out of state for grad school next fall, talked about canceling an upcoming visit with an ex for me, pulled his Match profile, things like that. I thought we should be careful and take things slow, but we both moved way too fast from there, and we slept together. Well, a week later he dumped me. The next Friday night, he was calling me to see if I wanted to hang out, since he thought it would be great for us to be friends (we weren't friends before we hooked up).

Here's the attitude adjustment part: I'm not interested in letting him have it both ways by ignoring me, dumping me, and then still getting to hang out with me. I feel like, he didn't want to be with me, so he doesn't get to be with me -- as a girlfriend OR as a friend. Am I being bratty? Punitive? Missing out on a friendship just to prove a point?

Carolyn Hax: Thinking too much? This doesn't sound like someone I'd want to hang out with.


Carolyn Hax: Okay, now I've made a technical mistake and erased the question I was answering. I think this is A Sign. But I'll try one more before I give up.


Movingonville, USA: Classic question: how do you move on from a friendship that you valued that ended because the two of you tried to became more than friends? It was a mistake to become more than friends for a variety of reasons. And now that things are over, I am left feeling like he lied to me and he believes that I used and manipulated him. I miss him and I hate that!

Carolyn Hax: If both of you think the other did something to hurt you, then maybe neither of you was trying to hurt the other. Discuss.


Can't resist the nose thread: I never met my great grandmother. She was a bit of a hermit, and lived hundreds of miles away. En route to visit her for the first time (I was about 12 yrs old), she died. So I "met" her at her funeral.

It was an open casket funeral, and I spent most of it marvelling to myself, "So THAT'S where I got this nose!" It felt nice, in a circle of life kind of way.

Carolyn Hax: I just liked "nose thread." Like some kind of breakthrough in the science of floss.


Carolyn Hax: Okay, looks like I won't have time to reconstruct the answer I lost, so I'm going to go. Sorry for all the skittishness at the end. And, thanks for dropping in, as always. Have a great weekend and I'll type to you next week.


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